Anyone who takes a lingering look at the work of Egon Schiele can’t help but be impressed. A brief, bright star in Austrian art (he died in a flu epidemic in 1918, age 28), his drawings, his painted drawings, and his drawn paintings are electrifying. Depraved subject matter aside, his is a line to behold.
Egon’s markers move slowly and intelligently, often nervously toward description. His form-follows-function lines are an education. An understanding of anatomy is combined with the sensibility of Art Nouveau. Bones morph, flesh purples and becomes visceral. Line holds colour in place. Expression is often understated — blank-faced or stunned lovers stare from their trysts. Children, like dolls, are caught in a nutcracker trance. Where Egon could have been sentimental, or go into the kind of detail that he would have no trouble performing, he resists — some eyes and mouths are mere smudges. At other times, particularly in self-portraits, the subject grimaces or looks out into the world with a life-condemning sneer. It was a time for the extreme pose, the angled arm, the provocative leg, the terror of pointlessness and the boredom of love. Behind academic knowledge there was the vital lisp of idiosyncrasy.
Mere facility does not an artist make. Just because you can do something does not always mean you ought to do it. Egon left out, understated or embellished what he felt like embellishing. Like the senior artist and definer of the form, Gustav Klimt, (who died the same year) he was not afraid of decoration. The curls and angles of the natural landscape were the great teachers. But unlike Klimt’s surface opulence and gold leaf, Egon’s brilliance simply rides on line. His facility was natural but practiced. In his life-drawing he exercised and then perfected his confidence. He hated art school and left prematurely (The Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna) but it was in these classes that his capability grew. Some would call his an extreme talent. Apart from that he learned how to draw lines.
PS: “At present, I am mainly observing the physical motion of mountains, water, trees and flowers. One is everywhere reminded of similar movements in the human body, of similar impulses of joy and suffering in plants.” (Egon Schiele to Franz Hauer) “I am so rich that I must give myself away.” (Egon Schiele, 1890-1918)
Esoterica: In Austria and Germany Art Nouveau was known as “Jugendstil” — after a magazine called “Die Jugend” (Youth). The term “Liberty” as used for Art Nouveau in Italy came from the popular store in London, England. The “Maison de l’Art Nouveau,” from which the movement took its name, was an interior-decorator gallery that opened in Paris in 1896.
Egon Schiele (1890 – 1918)
Something inside him
by B.J. Haugstad, Hayfield, MN, USA
I’m not sure I agree that being able to “morph” the form and leave things out and then embellish other parts of a piece make a creation successful. I would agree that the ability to facilitate does not make an artist, but equally important the same could be said of the opposite. I guess what I saw in the work of Egon Schiele was decorative, but I also got a sense of something inside him, that I can only describe as unsettled. I will never believe that being an artist comes without the ability to draw, nor is an artist exempt from the consequences of what he or she says. If being an artist is only in the appearances then there are a lot of us who appear as artists.
Painful to bear
by Leonard Briskin, London, UK
You touched very little on the erotic art of Egon Schiele. He was criticized and cast down for images that would be commonplace today. To his detractors he said: “I do not deny that I have made drawings and watercolors of an erotic nature. But they are always works of art. Are there no artists who have done erotic pictures?” His drawings came first but were the vehicle for the angst and the pessimistic view that he took on love and relationships. As Erwin Mitsch has written: “Schiele’s eroticism expresses human bondage and is to be understood as a burden that is painful to bear.”
Epidemic of depression
How suitable that your letter on Egon Schiele followed right after your one on depression. Schiele is a good example of the Nihilistic and self-destructive artists that arose particularly up to and during the First World War. Schiele, Hodler, Klimt, Kokoshka and others wallowed in the universal, but particularly German, epidemic of depression. Even though these days we have plenty to be depressed about, most of us seem more inured and protected, and are not as able to take it all quite so seriously. This, however, may be a serious fault of our times — that there is not enough depression and protest around. We are in an age of “humour.” Perhaps it has something to do with the ridiculous nature of some of today’s politicians.
by Fern Louise Shimmel, Sebastapol, CA, USA
Another Austrian that I find creative and exciting is Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000). His use of design, space and color leaves me breathless. Some years ago I bought one of his art calendars. Later I bought a book with his building designs included. I use his work to encourage my students to be ‘crazy with their imaginations,’ get away from painting barns, trees and local landscapes. Geniuses such as Hundertwasser can work the way he did — everyone else wants things to look ‘right.’
Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928 – 2000)
Brings me happiness
by Marilyn Bonnett, Kenna, West Virginia, USA
Most painters are visual. Think of two pictures, one of the ideal and one of reality. The bigger the gap between the two, the more depression and disappointment arises. Accepting where I am now, and working hard towards the ideal brings me happiness.
Source of contentment
by Vickie Turner, Nanoose Bay, BC, Canada
I know depression well, as I know grief well, and both can be crippling, if we let them. However, life is good regardless of expectations unfulfilled, wishes unanswered, dreams unrealized, the basic fact is that Life is good! Add to that the fact that we can express ourselves through our art and life becomes truly special. How many people have this opportunity? Never mind that, how many people even recognize that such an opportunity exists — that creativity and beauty is only a process away, a thought to be indulged in, and can result in such contentment?
Rise above it
by Gale L Ufert
I agree that we can rise above depression and I work diligently at it. Art is truly my greatest release and that continual drive to please others and achieve that ultimate perfection are constant. However, strong relationships truly provide a positive balance for offsetting the swings of depression as I have found these past 11 years with my husband and four sons.
by John Ford
I have had a life long battle with a mild form of depression that wasn’t exactly debilitating concerning my artwork. But on a social level I was tired of having to deal with it and decided to seek professional help. My doctor prescribed a drug that helped a great deal in combating the depression that was a welcomed relief, but it had one serious side effect. In an O’Henry kind of twist, the drug became my version of The Magi. I no longer had the depressed nature resulting in being a recluse, but I also lost the urge to be an artist. So I discovered that with my particular type of depression the cure was not as therapeutic or as natural as my need to create. I found myself a lot happier as a recluse and enjoying the life of an artist. Not that this would be the case with a person who is experiencing chronic depressed states where a more traumatic therapy is required, but for those who just need to get away from the real world from time to time, your art is your best friend.
by Ken Tighe, MA, USA
Your letter on depression fails to distinguish between “being depressed” and “clinical depression.” Clinical depression can often be a medical emergency. Please read William Styron’s Darkness Visible. Had he not sought medical help he would surely have died by his own hand. I have two daughters. While neither has suffered from depression, both had friends who took their own lives as teens. Had it been merely a matter of plucking fruit from a tree, these two kids surely would have done so, and lived. For some it’s not a matter of looking deeper into oneself (they’ve gone too deep already), but a matter of dialing 911. Everybody feels low from time to time — that ain’t depression.
(RG note) Thanks, Ken. Several artists wrote to point out my error. I will be more careful with the word in the future.
Needs to present clarity
by Caroline Putnam, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Regarding the remarks of Jurate Macnoriute about my work in the recent responses, I paint as I live and say what I say, regardless. I don’t spend a lot of time looking back and asking for approval, rather I just want to communicate and keep my particular skill alive. I do, however, strive to present an uplifting picture. Perhaps it softens the whole of my experience and makes life on this planet more palatable. It gives me a dream to follow and a peaceful environment. I’m not much of a whiner. I like ideal scenes. After all, I could be recreating the all-too-present psychotic nightmares dramatized in the greater neighborhood and in the all too pervasive tele-media.
A language is as useful as it communicates. Artists are presenting a future to an increasingly “dumbed down” public. We have a power that needs to be used toward a purpose on that public because when they riot, they riot to our images and they riot to our music. I’m not talking so much about the buying public. I am talking about the rungs below them. When we present chaos, that’s what we proliferate. The vast majority of the populace is already glued to some chaos-merchant’s concept of reality. Perhaps my need to present an objective clarity, in this case, precludes the desire to allow pure subjectivity a greater voice. More people can understand it.
Jealousy of another artist
by Faith Puleston, Wetter, Germany
Not only is Jurate Macnoriute’s English awful, but his sentiments are biased. People decorate their homes with pictures, murals and objects that please themselves. They are not interested in the artist’s personal agony (presuming he or she has any). Carol Putnam is an artist of skill and experience. If she paints pictures that are pleasing to the eye, then she is giving pleasure to herself and those who buy them as originals or prints. It in no way implies that she is shallow or commercially biased.
Bearing grudges against people who are successful is not the way. Unless he can disprove it, I have to assume (as others will) that his criticism is based on jealousy and maybe even spite.
by Pat Franco
Regarding the recent discussion on the sale of one’s art for reproduction — I understand that one should obtain an “exclusive right of reproduction for artist only” release from the buyer. Is that correct? If so, where could I find a release to copy?
(RG note) You do not need a release from any buyer — unless the buyer has commissioned you to do the work and you take a decision to reproduce it for your own or a third party’s benefit. In the case of all other art you own the right to reproduce it regardless of whether someone buys it from you or from someone else — in most jurisdictions until fifty years after your death. In the case of “lite” reproduction, such as the “free” picking up of images for this website for example, there is supposedly an implied permission for educational or other purposes. Our legal advice is that it falls under the same category as quotations from a book or manuscript. Incidentally, we have never had an artist ask us to remove an illustration from the Painter’s Keys site — other than the request to replace it with another illustration that the artist thought was better, more current or more representative.
Evolution in human consciousness
by Mike Jorden, Langley, BC, Canada
I greatly value your twice-weekly letters — for painting tips, for the sense of connection to a larger artistic community, for the inspiration to go back to the struggle at the easel. Most recently however I feel more like I am being pulled along in a moving river of commentary.
The Internet has been called a great democratizer of information. Farmers in Saskatchewan are moved to challenge the supremacy of the Wheat Board because they can sell their grain internationally through the computer in their kitchen. Dissidents in countries governed by totalitarian regimes can correspond with outsiders free of government censorship. A family in Surrey loses a beloved pet and receives support and consolation from hundreds of people in dozens of countries simultaneously. People whom they have never met.
Something new in human history is happening here. Something that was never possible before because this simultaneity of communication and thought was never available before. This is an evolution in human consciousness. It takes my breath away.
(RG note) I’m boggled too, Mike. From time to time I’ve been sitting down to write a few personal notes to some of the on-line friends who wrote condolences for the loss of our dog Emily. It’s now nearly an impossible task. Yes, we are in remarkable times.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2003. That includes Orling Dominguez, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, who wrote, “I received my free book today and I am very glad to have it… Thanks to you for this gift.”