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


27 thoughts on “Oskar Kokoschka and the Expressionist Side of the Vienna Secessionists

  1. I can agree with what Kokoschka is trying to get at. Personally, I believe that our dreams and visions are a window into our psyche; they tell us what we want and what we yearn for. As Kokoschka mentioned, even the simplest peasant girl can imagine something. The beauty here is that one does not have to be a genius or rich to dream; it is something we are all capable of doing.
    While it is important to be practical, I do think dreams play an important role in shaping a higher vision for ourselves. Quite often, before I start something, I usually envision it in my head and go from there. To a degree, I think it’s important to keep a healthy imagination throughout our daily lives. Otherwise, we become dull and lifeless with nothing to look forward to.

  2. For most of my artwork, it comes from the imagination–anything that comes to mind, along with certain themes I’m interested in. I agree with what was said in the above post. Everyone is capable of dreaming; it isn’t a privilege. The only thing I disagree with somewhat is what Kokoshka said about there being only pictures and not words. Sometimes, when I have dreams that I can clearly remember, there are words involved–such as what people (or things) say to me or reading what is written somewhere. But with everything else in the dream, it is nothing in reality; however, it can be made into something–giving it life, as he mentions. It can become something seen by everyone.

  3. Before there was written or verbal language, there were images. Some created by man, some viewed by man. Imagine that you have never seen an ocean or large sea, and don’t even know that something like that existed until you came upon it. Would it seem like a mirage, a vision, not real? Is that what consciousness is? A place to enter and see visions. There are some who believe that consciousness is collective and we all have the ability to see whatever is, was, will be if we just take the time to see.

    When I paint, I usually have an image in my mind when I start but the final painting is rarely like the image I started with. My hand and brush start out being connected to my mind but, if I am lucky, seem to be connected to something else by the time I have finished. If I stay in my mind the entire time, the final work is not very vibrant.

  4. Kokoschka’s understanding of dreams and fantasies is very accurate. The mind has the potential to be an unlimited source of inspiration. There are no boundaries in dreams. Anything and everything is possible. Dreams and fantasies take one away to a world of wonder where the creative possibilities are endless. In order to access this world, all one needs to do is close their eyes and listen to the “inner voice” to which Kokoschka refers. Before I begin a project, be it studio work or otherwise, I always try to picture the outcome in my mind. It helps me figure out what I need to do in order to produce the best work that I possibly can. There are times when I need to look to others for ideas, but more often than not, all the inspiration I need can be found within my own mind.

  5. I think that the idea of an “inner voice” is problematic because it implies that there is some inner truth that artists or enlightened people have rather than a collection of experiences and contexts that shape who they are and what they see. Dreams can provide wonderful experiences and can provide visual inspiration for work, but to assume they are anything more than random firings of neurons, especially in 2013, ignores science. In my own life, I find that my work influences my dreams rather than the opposite. Through dreams I can reflect on life, work, and direction.

  6. I strongly agree with what the artist has spoken about dreams and fantasies. Images during our times of consciousness are what you would say, “an incomplete download” from origin of it all; our unconsciousness. So, as artists, we try to tap back into those collections of boundless and endless imagination and put it into our works. That imagination is where everything began; inventions, transportation, books, movies, anything that is concrete came from of us that artist cannot enter in in our awaken state. Our dreams and fantasies are closed desires of our reality, which, as artist, need to pay close attention to

  7. I do agree with Kokoschka, that as artists we should be able to see our dreams as clearly as reality. Without the ability to bring dreams into the physical world, artists would not be able to create art. I do use my dreams to create anything I do, wether it be art or dinner. When creating something from nothing, I have to dig into my inner most thoughts for inspiration and ideas. I can’t think of how to create without doing so. Sometimes, though, it is difficult to bring dreams to life and the dreams can become a deterrent rather than inspirational. Kokoschka stated, “we must harken closely to our inner voices.” So as artists we must pay close attention to our dreams to be able to create something out of nothing.

  8. I don’t agree with Kokoschka; I believe dreams are influenced by our subjective mind; but appear in the subconscious as a way of dealing with the stress of the visible world. I believe that bringing dreams into the visible takes imagination. You always dream better scenarios than you could ever explain to someone else. The true talent is to be able to create the dream.

  9. It is true. Our dreams and fantasies are ringed with visions. I definitely respond to my own dreams and visions as I create art. However, I feel that there are many times that my art reflects my unconscious more than my conscious self. Sometimes, after I finish a painting, it reveals to me more about myself that I did not already know. For instance, sometimes my artwork has much more feminist themes than I thought they would because I do not consciously involve myself in feminist practices, though, apparently, those values still live within me. Or, sometimes, I will finish a song and it turns out much more depressed and sorrowful than originally intended. Just the way it develops and the way it moves me is dictated by how I feel in that moment. I guess, in that case, I do not agree with Kokoschka that we must be aware of the imagery of our inner voice because I feel that it always presents itself to us whether it was intended or not.

  10. While Kokoschka wrote about visions, true dreams, consciousness and the inner voice, it is difficult for me to understand what he was really trying to say. Dreams are in the unconscious realm as well as what we imagine. While unconscious dreams often don’t materialize into reality our conscious dreams and listening to our inner voice can be a source of inspiration for visual imagery. It takes the discipline of listening with a quiet ear and faith that our inner voice does and will speak to us.

    I respond to my own visions and dreams by painting, sculpting, drawing or printing subjects that are important to me. The challenge is to create work that gives life to what I am passionate about, to spawn a dialogue between the work and the viewer about the things that are important to me.

  11. I half agree and don’t agree with Kokoschka’s statement about dreams and fantasies. I agree that our unconscious mind is a very powerful tool in the process of creation. Dreams and fantasies are our way to escape reality and it is absolutely fantastic when an artists can share this through their preferred medium. On the other hand, I don’t agree with his statement, because I believe that our views of reality is what shapes our dreams and fantasies. The physical world is full of amazing inspirations if we only looked closely. Sometimes it is not very apparent, but we must be able to focus and observe to find genius. I usually get inspired with reality when I’m creating. I tend to observe more and use my imagination less because I want my works to show skill rather than originality.

  12. It not that I agree or disagree with the artist’s ideas of “fantasies and dreams”. But rather, I see that OK was entirely ahead of his time when the aforementioned quote [pertaining to consciousness-awareness] is applied to what is now written and known of the inner experience [Michael Singer’s, “The Untethered Soul”.) OK essentially ascribes the heightened sense of awareness/consciousness one has as akin to the testimony of yogis, mystics and the “gifted.” I think the only thing lacking in OK’s profound statement on the nature of consciousness is the absence of the affect on the soul, spirit, or nous which may not receive in visual imagery, but nevertheless is impressed upon in affective measures.

  13. I do agree to some extent in the Oskar’s ideas of fantasies and dreams. I believe that our dreams are influenced by the real world and our fantasies influence the real world. There is a balance or connection in a sense. In my own personal work I like to take the imaginations and fantasies of my inner self and bring to life. However, nothing in your mind can truly be reconstructed in the real world because in your mind there is infinite potential but the real world is finite. So I believe that we have certain intuitions and innate knowledge that becomes apparent when we truly acknowledge our dreams and we can then apply it to that which we create in the real world.

  14. Kokoschka makes a valid statement when talking about dreams and visions being translated into art. When looking at one’s inner mind, there are no words, only pictures. There are only thoughts, visions, dreams, and nightmares. However, it can sometimes be difficult to clearly assess these when our perception is intertwined with the outside world. On the question of whether or not I respond to my own dreams and fantasies, I think it depends on where or what effect I want to produce. The artist might chose not to represent the world viewed from the inside, one might want to interpret other subjects viewed from a social perspective. In the end, it is a choice that an artist makes, not necessarily being right or wrong.

  15. I agree with Kokoschko’s understanding of dreams and fantasies, the life of the consciousness is boundless as he states. The potential that the human brain is capable of has no end; every mind in the world is unique. Based on our own understanding of life and experiences we create our own visionary world. In our dreams is the only place we are free. As I develop my work I don’t respond to my dreams or fantasies I tend to respond more based on how I feel. What I dream about and how I develop my work are in two completely different categories.

  16. I agree that our dreams and fantasies can most definitely be apparent in our artwork. Through our dreams is an imagined world based on our reality through which our fears and desires can be explored. In both my studio and non studio work, I sometimes use these as inspiration into both creativity and being an outlet through which I can explore my subconscious.

  17. I agree that art is the result of dreams, as there are times where I get ideas for my work from my dreams. I also agree with OK’s statement about how consciousness is boundless because art is created through one’s conscious, and it is also boundless.
    OK mentioned that the “book of the world” has no words, and I agree with that statement because words are represented by letters, which are considered symbols, and symbols are images.

  18. I agree with Kokoschka’s statement about dreams and fantasies. He describes accurately how art can reflect dreams and what it is like to try to tap into that channel however I do not use dreams as inspiration for my work. Work inspired from dreams can be interesting but I feel like it’s an overdone act. After a certain point a lot of dream work seems to fall into heavy metaphorical meanings and it just does not interest me.

  19. I respond really positively to Kokoschka’s perception on dreams and fantasies, and how his own visionary unconscious streams into his visible art. I feel that such art-making requires the artist to really delve into their own subconscious like their insecurities, taboo fantasies, and radical thinking. I myself really draw upon my dreams and fantasies because they reflect a side of me that cannot be seen from visible reality and social confines. Personally, I feel I get my best ideas and concepts from dreams and whimsical thinking.

  20. I am certain that OK and my definition of ‘vision of dreams and fantasies’ is different. I do however create my own art from imagination, but it never turns out quite as I had envisioned it in my mind.

  21. I do agree with O.K. understanding of dreams and fantasies. I do sometimes respond to my own dream and fantasies into my own work. I feel that being able to, paint, draw or whatever medium an artist chooses to use, and express them into artwork is a gift in its self. I know before I had a hard time trying to develop an image onto paper, from a dream/fantasy. Being able to put these thoughts onto a canvas and feel that you successfully put your thoughts onto it is a gift.

  22. Yes I do agree with Kokoschka’s understanding of dreams and fantasies. “The life of the consciousness is boundless” and it usually comes from what you dream and fantasize about. When you dream you’re in a state where anything is possible and everything can be believed. What your mind thinks and imagines is where your best ideas comes from. Using your own unique ideas from what you fantasize about and exposing it through your works is what makes your work so precious.
    I personally sometimes use what my dreams and fantasies speaks to me about to develop my works. I believe that what your mind comes up with is where you get your best ideas from, and the only thing to do before it disappears is to use it while you have the chance.

  23. Kokoschka’s statement definitely struck a chord that resonated within me; I think he (very eloquently) explained my process better than I ever could’ve in words. The inspiration of my works often come from the ether, at inopportune or unpredictable times. I’d like to think that my design sensibility can be characterized by an affinity for the mid-century modern; an aesthetic that hearkens back to the threshold between the “easy living” of the 50s, and the new technological frontier of the 60s– an era in which I didn’t live. The larger majority of decisions that I make are born from dream, fantasies fathered by wild ambition, daft intuition, and serendipitous “luck”. While mine happen to live within the veins of “daydreams” (as opposed to what I can only assume to be Kokoschka’s nocturnal counterparts), the inspirational wellspring is still the same.

  24. Personally, I agree with this completely. While I don’t put much stock in Freud’s theories on dreams, I can appreciate that the way I interpret my dream is not art, but what I put on paper and call a dream is without a doubt – art. Salvador Dali painted his dreams out onto paper and his nightmares. I tend to do the same. I have never denied myself an opportunity to let the surreal influence my work. It is far more exciting to sit with the strange and dreamlike when the chance arises. There is little I find more inspiring than that which my mind draws up in a dream, but not for what I believe it may say about myself – that part comes later, when I bring it to life on the page with new meaning.

  25. I agree but then I do not agree with Kokoschka’s statement on dreams. Our unconscious mind is a powerful creative tool because it allows us to dream and escape reality. That is what makes me agree with Kokoschka’s statement but then you have reality which I personally believe inspires our dreams. I think without all the fascinating things reality gives us we would not dream of more to our world. It is the artist that is able to do both equally is one that can successfully be an original and skilled artist.

  26. I agree with many of Oscar Kokoschka’s statements. In particular, I can appreciate the idea of the importance of listening an keying into our “inner voice” and that “the life of the consciousness is boundless.” To me the mind is infinite and through exploring our dreams and other states of altered consciousness there is much potential to grow, expand, and create. One thing I disagree with that Kokoschka express is that art is “not an asset in the stock-exchange sense.” In late stage capitalism, nothing is able to transcend economic forces, nothing is sacred.

  27. I do believe that any type of art, not just painting or sculpting, but even writing, are manifestations of our thoughts and feelings. Our ideas have to start somewhere. Some people may work with things they really hate, but for the most part, people create what they love. They focus on subject matter that interests them, that evokes a reaction that can be basal. When something is created, and the artist presents it, they are presenting themselves. They are baring all and waiting to see what others think. Art is very personal.

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