Monsters for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

A bit of madness, an inch of kindness, 2 grams of compassion, a squeeze of foresight, a millimeter of imagination … if you want peace for Europe you need to strive for peace outside Europe. Integrating newcomers to Europe, keeping refugee children from drowning and securing them safe passage instead ( as agreed to in the UN convention on the rights of the Child), offering them education and safety as the convention requires us to, is not charity but a powerful instrument for global stability within a generation.
   

  

Artist’s logic: to a friend who just celebrated an important birthday, (isn’t any birthday?)

While I travel between two very different worlds, one might just as well say, universes, between the paper world of the lawyer backed up by the many stories and needs of my clients, as different from one another as one … Continue reading

The elusive act of teaching children how to be creative …

To be creative is a basic desire of humans, all humans. It is a genuine expression of who we are even before we are defined by our social and economic circumstances. To teach a child to be creative therefore seems … Continue reading

Alice at Night or the long way since Chauvet

The longer I “make art”, the more I am intrigued by the uniquely human need to conjure up coherent images that are  no direct translations of the visual environment as our eyes and brain perceive it.  We know that this … Continue reading

Fall from Grace / excerpt from a new novel, working title: the stone mason

Foto

For the stonemason in particular the death of his stillborn son felt like a betrayal. It was as if he had livd in the never acknowledged faith that his profession granted him some kind of special reprieve from death, that someone had agreed to that it was not to occur in his private life as long as he continued to carve memorials for the dead, and that this someone now had let him down. He was an atheist in the service of the church and loosing his unborn child felt like a disciplinary measure for his godlessness. Like many atheists he had a system of inner convictions that replaced religion. He did not believe in a creator, an organizer, a final judge, and yet he felt like he had fallen from grace.

Iris quietly  lived in the shadow of their loss, simply mourning and nourishing the inconceivable thought that they should now never know him, their son, certainly not by the way of a new pregnancy as friends and relatives suggested. These well-meaning people did not realize that the depth of her grief was rooted in the very circumstances that they thought would alleviate the loss – the fact that neither she nor anybody else had ever seen this child alive; that it had in fact never been born in the true sense as he had died in utero. Her grief was that her child had lived, if ever so briefly, unknown to her, and that she would never know it. She sat at the kitchen table with her encyclopedia and with a three hair sable brush paint stamp-sized paintings on miniature panels of oak wood while thinking about all the small things she would not ever know about her son. She wouldn’t know his face. She wouldn’t know the sound of his voice. She would never hear him laugh. She would never hold him in her arms. And yet he had lived.

ART – creativity from down the rabbit hole …

the white rabbit's cardTo be creative is a basic desire of humans, all humans. It is a genuine expression of who we are even before we are defined by our social and economic circumstances. To teach a child to be creative therefore seems to me an elusive act. I look at children with a sense of awe, they are still there, right at the origin, and all I do as an art teacher is to take them on the same kind of  long walk that I had been privileged to undertake with my grandparents and I simply allow them to discover their world and to collect at will what responds to their own desire of creating this world new. If we’d allow our children more freedom and time to explore their own world and provide them with materials that are not dedicated to specific purposes, we could cut back on many extracurricular activities. Let them venture out there and the artist that lives in every one of us but is acutely alive in our children is ready to meet all the great challenges of art right in our neighborhood.

Working with young artists

IMG_5531Working with Young Artists

By trade I am a lawyer. Many lawyers do have a passion besides their original profession though, I happen to have three, if you count my love for children in general and my own children in particular. The other two are writing and art. I mention this because you will surely want to know how I am qualified to “teach art” or as I prefer to say: to work with and alongside young artists.

My grandmother used to say I have been born with a brush in one and in pen in my other hand – and as far as I can remember I have been scribbling and drawing on every appropriate surface – and some less suited. That I came to study law is strange, all things considered, but I guess I wanted to try out if I could succeed doing something else and law had always been intriguing to me. It turned out that I could succeed. I graduated with two law degrees – and came straight back to art. And at some point I started doing it both: art and law. Kids have always played a role. I have been teaching all kinds of classes, art and law, over the last ten years, and it has been a truly rewarding part of my life, not just my professional life. As you might imagine, I am never asked how I qualify to teach legal workshops, I am a lawyer after all, but often how come I teach art as well.

I do believe that art is not the esoteric, isolated endeavor that people sometimes take it to be. Artists are well advised to take notice of their world and have an understanding of it that transcends the visual. Beuys pointed out that every person is an artist, that artistic creation is at the center of human life. He went as far as demanding that every physician, scientist, philosopher be first trained in art. I will venture further by saying that the art world would profit if artists would first be trained in a trade that explores the practical aspects of their environment. Every artist is part of a tangible social reality. The training to become a lawyer might in the end not be either so far from or so detrimental to artistic process as is might seem at first.

Why I do love to work with young artists? Because it refreshing to leave the stereotypes that people retreat to as they become older. Every child I have ever had the pleasure to meet turned out to be an original artist (albeit sometimes a frustrated one …).
I respect the creative work children are capable of. As a first hand witness and as someone who still draws and paints, saws and glues every day: There is no time like childhood to experience the joy of art.

I had the good luck to be raised by a grandmother who had the wisdom of an older generation to pretty much let me do whatever I thought appropriate as long as I did not nail her good table linens onto a broomstick for a pirate sail (happened only once) or cut out my great grandmother’s lace to make curtains for fairy dwellings, also a one time never to happen again situation.

However I was allowed to make use of any tool that I would find in my grandfathers tool shed or in the kitchen without anyone trying to figure out if they were child appropriate. I was also allowed to make generous use of old newspapers and magazines, of the newsprint paper that my grandfather, who was publisher of a local newspaper, brought home, and in general of every piece of metal, screw, paper, feather, stone or yes, glass! that I would pick up on our long walks. It never occurred to my grandparents that I might pick up some dangerous germs on the way.

I brought everything home and assembled it very much the way every child will when you do not interfere. I do not know where our desire to “make” things has its origin but I do know that we already possess it as children, together with an instinct of how things fit together. If children are not allowed to roam as freely as I was, they will still build markers from pebbles and stones, they’d still use sticks to draw in sand, build strange, improvised gardens in mud, decorate prefabricated play structures with ritual signs.

To be creative is a basic desire of humans, all humans. It is a genuine expression of who we are even before we are defined by our social and economic circumstances. To teach a child to be creative therefore seems to me an elusive act. I look at children with a sense of awe, they are still there, right at the origin, and all I do as an art teacher is to take them on the same kind of  long walk that I had been privileged to undertake with my grandparents and I simply allow them to discover their world and to collect at will what responds to their own desire of creating this world new. If we’d allow our children more freedom and time to explore their own world and provide them with materials that are not dedicated to specific purposes, we could cut back on many extracurricular activities. Let them venture out there and the artist that lives in every one of us but is acutely alive in our children is ready to meet all the great challenges of art right in our neighborhood.

To come back to the question of my own expertise: I do believe with visionary clarity that it is not my academic expertise that is relevant. It is my willingness to acknowledge and celebrate children as the artists they are. I do believe that art is not a matter of paper and ink, of perspective and shading, I do believe though art techniques can be taught art cannot, no more than breathing, walking, seeing. It is something that happens when things go right or when you have to make them come out right. Art is life.

“Degenerate” Art – the scale of removal of art works from German Museums in 1937

To give an idea of the scale of the removal of designated “degenerate” art from german Museums and Institutions in 1937 Nazi Germany I’d like to refer to the MoMa web-site. It is interesting to know that the below mentioned auction of 125 works that were put up for auction in Lucerne in 1939 did not turn out nearly as profitable as Nazi Germany had hoped for as word had gotten about that profits would most likely fuel the German war machinery.

http://www.moma.org/collection/theme.php?theme_id=10077

“By August 1937 the wide-scale confiscation of all works of art in museums designated ‘degenerate’ had already begun. According to records, a total of 15,997 works of fine art were confiscated from 101 German museums. This action was justified by the Law on the Confiscation of Products of Degenerate Art, passed belatedly on 31 May 1938. Works affected were those of classical modernity, works by artists of Jewish descent and works of social criticism. Only a few were retained and hidden through the brave manoeuvring of individual members of museum staff. The artists themselves, assuming they had not already left Germany, were forbidden to paint or exhibit. In addition to confiscation, destruction took place of murals and architectural monuments, among others. In May 1938 Goebbels instigated the establishment of the Kommission zur Verwertung der Beschlagnahmten Werke Entarteter Kunst. Confiscated works were stored in depots and from there sold to interested parties abroad (the Nazis hoped for a source of revenue for foreign currency, which was needed for the rearmament programme), and sometimes exchanged (Hermann Goering made exchanges with older works of art for his private collection). In 1939, 125 works were put up for auction in Lucerne, including works by van Gogh, Gauguin, Franz Marc, Macke, Klee, Kokoschka and Lehmbruck. The end of the Aktion entartete Kunst was signalled by the burning of 4829 art works in the courtyard of the Berlin Fire Brigade.

Anita Kühnel
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

Art and me, or: The crowd at my breakfast table

Wer guckt da durch?

Art and me, we have a strange and very complicated relationship. I have been chasing it with determination and desperation, and it has cold-heartedly denied me. The pain of rejected love is cruel, but I submitted to it only so long. I retreated, admitting defeat was the most dignified thing to do in this situation, I thought, and I became a lawyer. But then, surprise, instead of going its own way, art took up a habit of following me instead, never quite disappearing out of sight, yes, I would say, teasing me, challenging me.

Eventually, we made up, kind of, since then I have been treating it with respectful nonchalance,and it has been faithfully and annoyingly waiting for me ever since at the breakfast table, casually asking me: “So, what are you up to today?”, not being offended by my silence while I am hiding behind my crucially important notes for the day, while I am all business, anticipating legal arguments and dictating the first legal brief in my mind, instead asking again, equally casually: “Mind, if I tag along?”, and I – with an air of studied indifference respond: “Sure, why not?”, and out the door we rush.

And when I come home in the evening and I open my very important briefcase out tumble bits of this and that, drawings on note paper, done while I was on the phone, creatures with big eyes while I was thinking about security of data transmission, one of my new wooden drawings “Watch out while you are being watched” over a quick coffee break. At home I don’t know how to archive the mass of these  bits and pieces anymore, nor where to store the heap of casual paintings done at night, JUST because, and during every free moment and I feel like I imagine the husband must be feeling who doesn’t quite know whether he is cheating on his wife when he spends time with a female friend his wife is well aware of or whether he is cheating on said female friend when spending quality time with his wife.

Garbriel Lorca, the beautiful Spanish poet who was murdered by the Nationalist Forces shortly after the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 – who really was a much better poet than an artist expressed it very much the same way, because he loved drawing, tenderly calling it his “mistress” while he stayed married, of course he did, to his writing. I remember reading in a small, illustrated Lorca volume I had bought at the Heinrich Heine Buchhandlung at the main train station of the Berlin Zoo station – a book store that was as great and complicated and deep and full of books and ideas about books as it could possibly get, probably a dependance of Borges library. I was twenty and attending classes by Prof. Robert Kudielka at the HdK, the University of Fine Arts in then still Westberlin – while actually meaning to study law at the Free University. You see, from the beginning this was a complicated thing and the small Lorca volume seem to me like an announcement of something I was not ready to grasp yet. I still own it.

I got constantly side-tracked during those years because of places like the Heinrich-Heine book store where they absolutely supported the idea of spending your entire cash worth a month of earnings at  some student’s job on a heap of books you could just so carry to the register – after first staying for what seemed like days in the sacred railway catacombs, resembling a labyrinth of overpacked shelves. You’d come out with marvelous finds, books that had been hiding for decades, books unknown even to the book seller, and you and the book seller would jointly rejoice in the find, and the book seller would come up with a fantasy price for the book because the one displayed on the inside of the cover seemed – unreal. 51 cents, Pfennige, or something like this. So, you’d pay 2,50 DM, and it wasn’t a used book, it was a book that had been waiting for you to be the first owner patiently since about 1953, well over a decade before you had been born and even more time before you became literate and then some more.

I got constantly side-tracked because there were the collections of old masters in Dahlem, one S-Bahn station before Thielplatz, my law school station, and you’d only guess that I must be a somewhat decent lawyer for passing my exams besides the fact that getting off the train in Dahlem to for a small detour through the beautiful tree-lines streets of Dahlem as often as not ended up with an entire day in the collections, studying Rembrandt and Baehr and flemish artists instead or, if I made it to class in the morning, not returning from the university’s cafeteria at lunch time because it was located pretty much right next to the collections.

I am actually now practicing law, specializing, surprise, on art and law, and art still has a very sly way of side-tracking me. Maybe it has something to do with the fourteen years I spent in New York, idling away time at the MoMA and the Met, and at Crawford Doyle booksellers. Art has always influenced the Why and Where, has seduced me to accept situations I would not have dreamed of for the sake of studying a Vermeer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Calder’s Circus at the Whitney, or rough Miro drawings at MoMA or Gerhard Richter‘s black and white paintings at MoMA, Odilon Redon, Armando Reverón, Richard Serra, Lucian Freud, Swoon, Kiki Smith, Marina Abramović, Nancy Spero, my appetite may have been more voracious than discerning, but it found nourishment as I found distraction from more pressing questions and challenges and time passed swiftly as I was holding still, holding still and just looking and looking.At times that seems my main occupation. Looking. Thinking. Understanding. Reversing. Looking again.

Sometimes now I suspect that I do what I do – including law – because of art not despite, but I am loath to follow up on that suspicion. For now, I like the casual question in the morning, the uncertainty, the “Wow, this is still going on” and with as much determination and desperation as ever before. One could not ask for better. Want me to tag along. Sure.

By the way, above drawing is one done on the side, complementing a serious legal interest of mine. Even as I write this blog. Who is watching you? I am still married to the law. But if you made you way through to here, you realize that I as I have spoken about “art” as a single occupation I have really referred to two loves: Writing and painting. Now, that is – almost – too much for one life. definitely for one blog article that is already stretching the limits of a reasonable article’s length.  It’s a bit crowded at the breakfast table at times.