Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Example of an AH 365 Paper

The Strength of the Message

As I circled around the Posters, Prints, and Propaganda exhibit at the Riverside Art Museum for the third time, I began to realize why some prints affected me more than others. It was due to the strength of their message. If an artist seeks to communicate their message effectively, they must first, choose an image and composition that will capture their audience’s attention, and secondly, they must convey their idea clearly enough to cause the emotional impact they intend. In other words, a successful image is one that does not go "in one eye and out the other," but rather, one that invites the viewer to understand and participate in its essence.

The collection of seventy prints at this exhibit, which displayed a wide range of subject matter and printmaking techniques, were well-organized into six different sections. The first section consisted of woodcut and linoleum relief prints, the second, consisted of etchings and engravings, and the third, illustrative lithography. The fourth section, which I found most interesting, consisted of various types of prints and posters used for advertising and propaganda. The fifth section displayed a few ‘community and education’ prints, and the sixth section consisted of personal prints, titled "Art for Art’s Sake." These prints were made by a diverse community of artists such as Leonard Baskin, William Bradley, Joseph Mugnaini, Hiroshige, and Salvador Dali. But the artist whose message spoke most strongly to me was the German Expressionist, Kathe Kollwitz.
Kathe Kollwitz’s reductive woodcut titled The Widow may have seemed to be one of the most humble prints in the exhibit due to its poor frame, relatively small size, solitary use of black ink, and economically simplified figure, but it was, in fact, one of the most powerful. It is through Kollwitz’s abandonment of naturalism, through her process of stripping her subjects down to raw emotion, that enables her to effectively communicate her message to her audience. And it is by her raw, expressionist style that her intended emotional impact is amplified.

In this print, ‘the widow’ stands alone; a monolithic figure engulfing the entire space. The sparse background behind her is left white, with minimal chatter from the woodblock. Her entire body, apart from her hands and face, is clothed in a flat, black dress, defined only by its simple contour edge. Thus, her hands and face are the sole vehicles through which Kollwitz expresses her grief and loss. The widow’s unkept hair adds to the expression of her despair, as a stray strand mimicks a black tear flowing down her cheek. Her large, rough, working hands appear to be embracing something very precious, as her downcast, mournful face gently caresses it. However, the object of her embrace is left undefined, enveloped in the black shadows of her dress. Perhaps she is taking comfort from the coat of her dead husband, or perhaps she is embracing her new-born child whose father has been taken by the war. Or maybe she is grasping onto the limp form of her beloved, who has slipped away from her forever. Or maybe her embrace is empty, and she is clinging to the memories of a life when all these things were hers. It seems it was Kollwitz’s intent to leave the object of the widow’s embrace "unseen," in order to make the woman’s loss universal. By doing so, her message speaks to a wide audience, to anyone who has ever lost something dear to them. All they need do is "fill in the blank," and then they too become The Widow.
The reason I connected most with Kathe Kollwitz’s work in the Posters, Prints and Propaganda exhibit was because she did not make her prints for "the sake of art," she made them for "the sake of the people." Her message was stronger than that of a pretty landscape, or an abstract riddle to interpret. She used her artwork to speak for the impoverished, working-class people of her time - to give them a voice in a socially unjust world. And this is what I too, hope to do, someday.

1 comment:

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