Turning the Gaze Toward the Primitive

Running parallel with the “scientific” findings published by Freud and Jung, the experimental visual artists of the first decade of the 20th century turned their gaze to the primitive forms of non-Western cultures for inspiration.  Within the avant-garde group Der Blau Reiter, The German Expressionist artist/critic August Macke proclaimed:  “Are not the savage artists, who have their own form, strong as the form of thunder?” (August Macke, quoted in Peter Selz, German Expressionist Painting, 1957).  Why do you suppose so many experimental artists in Western Europe chose to turn their gaze away from Western muses for inspiration in favor of non-Western sources such as the primitive masks of African tribes?

August_Macke Self Portrait 1906


August Macke, Self Portrait, 1906


Cubism—“conceived rather than perceived reality”

As we begin to leave Vienna and the Secession Movement, we find ourselves confronting a new approach embraced by experimental artists regarding the process of fixing something into visual form.  This new approach, called Cubism, may be best understood by the following words offered by French poet, playwright, novelist and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire:  “The art of painting original arrangements composed of elements taken from conceived rather than perceived reality.”  (Guillaume Apollinaire, The Beginnings of Cubism, 1912).  Within this context offered by Apollinaire, what are your initial thoughts on Cubism?

Guillaume Apollinaire photo


Photograph of Guillaume Apollinaire


Photograph of Guillaume Apollinaire wounded in WWI


Oskar Kokoschka and the Expressionist Side of the Vienna Secessionists

Oskar Kokoschka, the Austrian painter, poet and playwright, turned his gaze toward the fantasies rummaging around and through his conscious and unconscious mind.  OK, he often signed his works with just his initials, was intrigued by the investigations of Freud and Jung into the complexities of dreams and fantasies.  Kokoschka sought a painterly style which would engage him into the mysteries of dreams.  Fortunately for us, the artist had quite a lot to say verbally on the subject of dreams and fantasies which helps us, the observer, open up the various layers of his imagery for analysis.  With regards to dreams and fantasies, Kokoschka wrote:

“Consciousness is a sea ringed with visions…True dreams and visions should be as visible to the artist as the phenomena of the objective world…The life of the consciousness is boundless. It interpenetrates the world and is woven in all its imagery…Therefore, we must hearken closely to our inner voice…The awareness of imagery is part of living… a life which derives its power from within itself will focus on the perception… of images…How do I define a work of art? It is not an asset in the stock-exchange sense, but a man’s timid attempt to repeat the miracle that the simplest peasant girl is capable of at any time, that of magically producing life out of nothing…Open your eyes at last and see… now I will open the book of the world for you; there are no words in it, just pictures.”

Do you agree with the artist’s understanding of dreams and fantasies?  Do you respond to your own dreams and fantasies as you develop your studio or non-studio work?  Your thoughts?

Kokoschka self portrait

Oskar Kokoschka, Self Portrait

Kokoschka, Bride of the Wind 1913

Oskar Kokoschka, Bride of the Wind, 1913

Vienna and the Secession Artists at the Turn of the Century

During the fin de siecle (i.e., the 1890s), Vienna, Austria was enjoying an infusion of modernist ideas that infiltrated the creative studios of the city’s young artists (within the realm of the visual arts, music, architecture, graphic design, etc.).  These young artists, thoroughly dissatisfied with the staid art establishment’s conservative taste and the seeming stranglehold grip it had on all aspects of creativity, embraced with enthusiasm the new modernist ideas and drew their energies and resources together in order to fund a series of advanced art exhibitions portending that the future had indeed arrived in Vienna.  The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig wrote passionately about this energized period of time in his memoir, published as The World of Yesterday.  A passage from Zweig’s memoir reflected on the utopian atmosphere engulfing the Secession artists who were unaware of growing nationalist tensions and a conservative backlash to the avant-garde movement:  “We had eyes only for books and pictures…The city was aroused at the elections, and we went to the libraries.  The masses rose, and we wrote and discussed poetry.  We did not see the fiery signs on the wall, and like King Belshazzar of old we feasted without care on the precious dishes of art, not looking anxiously into the future.”  If you lived in Vienna during this time period, do you think/believe you would recognize Vienna’s impending historic contribution to culture during the Secession period?  Does Las Vegas have a similar energy now toward post-modern advanced art in our culture?



Photograph of Stefan Zweig

Vienna Secession Building


Joseph Maria Olbrich, Vienna Secession Hall, 1898

Gustav Klimt and Vienna Secessionist Painting at the Turn of the Century

Gustav Klimt, the brilliant Austrian symbolist painter and muralist, was a founding member of the Vienna Secession movement.  As such, Klimt found himself positioned to be a leader of a movement which responded to the energy and vitality of a new century by persuasively arguing that the next generation of Austrian artists needed to turn their back on the conservative Vienna Kunstlerhaus.  By turning the gaze away from the constancy of the past, Klimt and the other founding members of the Vienna Secessionist group no longer pursued aesthetic compositions which responded first and foremost to historicist themes.  The motto of Klimt and the other founders, conspicuously placed above the front door of their group’s headquarters by the structure’s architect Joseph Maria Olbrich, states the following:  “Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit.” (“To every age its art. To art its freedom.”).  What are your thoughts on this Vienna Secession motto and do you see any relevance for this motto in our time?

Vienna Secession Building


Joseph Maria Olbrich, Vienna Secession Building, 1897

Photograph of Gustav Klimt 1914

Photograph of Gustav Klimt, 1914