Michael Hafftka and the (changing) art of portraiture

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DevontéHynes:Hafftka

Michael Hafftka and the (changing) art of portraiture
by Claudia Moscovici
 
James Abbott McNeill Whistler once stated “It takes a long time for a man to look like his portrait”. A great portrait captures someone’s character, not just a characteristic pose. It isn’t easy for an artist to depict a person’s sense of identity and past in a single image. The contemporary artist Michael Hafftka achieves this challenging task. Hafftka has painted the portraits of numerous leading American figures in the arts–poets, musicians and writers–in an Expressionist manner with a touch of the abstract. While his paintings bear some visual resemblance to the persons he depicts, the artist prioritizes their inner essence and, sometimes, the emotional rapport (with the artist). This is especially the case in his family portrait of his beloved wife (Yonat) and daughter (Raina):
 
YonatandRaina-Hafftka
True to the modernist tradition that inspires him, Hafftka is less interested in a photographic, externally realistic representation than he is in conveying in a realist manner their inner landscape. Focused on family, the mother places a protective arm around her daughter, turning to her rather than to the viewer. The daughter, arms folded on her lap, faces the painter–her father–with an open gaze. The mother wears vibrant colors, red lipstick, giving the impression of a forceful personality. The daughter wears a muted pink shirt, expressing her softer, budding femininity. Behind them we see the background of light blue, evoking the sky and perhaps unbounded creativity. Underneath it the artist places a dark grid pattern, almost mathematical since, after all, art requires both imagination and precision.
DevontéHynes:Hafftka
 
Centuries ago, kings, queens and members of the aristocracy were the favorite subjects of portrait painters. Today, celebrities–singers and actors–are the new faces of royalty. Recently, Hafftka painted the portrait of the popular singer Devonté Hynes (a.k.a. Blood Orange), featured also on the poster for a concert Devonté is giving in Central Park on Saturday, August 16. If you’ve seen Blood Orange perform on stage or in a music video, you know that he’s not only a great singer but also an agile, accomplished dancer. In his portrait, Hafftka captures the singer’s agility and rhythm even though the subject is sitting down. The position of his hands, one directed upward the other downwards, and the sinuous curve of his torso nonetheless suggest energy and motion. Blood Orange is dressed in a casual teeshirt: the painting manages to convey his simple yet elegant style. In this portrait, as on stage, Blood Orange is recognizable not only through his signature songs but also through his hairstyle and hat. While some rap songs may be ostentatious and aggressive, that’s clearly not Blood Orange’s style. Surrounded by pinkish-mauve hues, the talented singer gives off a vibe of harmony, rhythm and melody.
ZebraKatz:Hafftka
 
In the portrait of rapper Zebra Katz (the stage name of Ojay Morgan, image above), Hafftka shows the singer standing straight, poised yet relaxed, in a stance as powerful and defiant as his songs. The rapper’s also dressed simply, in a teeshirt and slacks, but the contrast of red and black draw attention to him nonetheless. The atmosphere around him–palette knife strokes of blue, black and white with only a few touches of yellow and blood red–suggest power and masculinity, perhaps even hinting at potential violence.
 
Both as an artist and as a person, Michael Hafftka has a special relationship to poetry. This genre goes well with his emotionally charged paintings. The poet Robert Creely argued that art shifts one’s emotional center. He described his collaboration the artist Francesco Clemente as a symbiotic rapport of two artists resonating through different mediums: “Any person reading what I’ve written and seeing what he’s made is moving back and forth between two emotional fields… It’s not a question of understanding the paintings, but of picking up their vibes – more like playing in a band”. Hafftka, who, incidentally, is himself a talented musician as well, has collaborated with several notable poets–including Tom Sleigh, Peter Klappert and Rodger Kamenetz–on art books. His paintings complement the poetry but are not mere illustrations. As the Hafftka states in his introduction of KM4, the book co-authored with the poet Tom Sleigh, he tries to convey through art “his experience of the poem” thus avoiding the trap of describing its content, or as he puts it, “the trap of illustration”.
 
EdwardHirsch-Hafftka

Given his sensibility for poetry and literature, it’s not surprising that Hafftka has painted the portraits of world-renowned poets and writers, many of whom he considers his friends. His portrait of the American poet Edward Hirsch, who was appointed the fourth President of the Guggenheim Foundation in 2002, seems to capture both sensibility and sorrow. The somber colors of his blue shirt against the dark background convey a sense that this person has suffered a lot. The intelligent, piercing eyes gaze straight at the viewer. The white strokes of the graying hair seem to blend in the luminosity of the face. Time, and life, have weighed heavily upon this sensitive poet, who has gone through and–more remarkably–found a way to express through poetry some of the most difficult experience a parent can go through: the loss of his son, Gabriel, at the young age of 22. Alec Wilkinson, a friend of Edward Hirsch, describes this painful experience in an article published on August 4, 2014 in the New Yorker called, “Finding the Words”.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/08/04/finding-words

To convey human suffering through Expressionist art–a style given to exploring the range of human emotions–may seem natural. As I’ve discussed in previous articles, Hafftka, who is himself the son of two Holocaust survivors, finds inspiration in the Expressionist movement as well as in abstract expressionism to depict in his paintings the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis and their collaborators upon countless innocent human beings:

http://fineartebooks.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/the-legacy-of-michael-hafftka-emotion-and-expressionism-in-holocaust-art/

Irena Klepfitz-Hafftka

It is, I believe, an even greater challenge to convey this painful historical past in a portrait. Yet Hafftka manages to allude to this experience in his portrait of the poet Irena Klepfisz, who was born in 1941 in the Polish Ghetto and survived, by miracle, by virtue of being hidden with her mother by farmers in the Polish countryside. Klepfisz was only two years old when her father, Michal, a member of the Jewish Labor Bund, was killed on the second day of the Jewish Ghetto uprising, a subject which I have written about in an  article called “Heroism in Hell”:
 
 
After the war, Klepfisz went on to immigrate first to Sweden and then to the United States, where she studied with the Yiddish linguist Max Weinreich, founder of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Although she’s known for being a Yiddishist and for her translations of the poets Kadya Molodowsky and Fradl Shtok, Klepfisz, a polyglot, describes her sense of rootlessness, both culturally and linguistically, in the anthology The Tribe of Dina: A Jewish Women’s Anthology, coedited with Melanie Kaye.  In her portrait, Hafftka also focuses on dark blue, as if alluding to Picasso’s blue period, to suggest a darker mood. The poet is standing, her hands folded before her, perhaps with nervous energy, perhaps lost in contemplation. Dressed in blue jeans and a trench coat, her hair white and wearing glasses, she’s appears as the embodiment of today’s American intellectual: casually dressed and approachable, yet at the same time learned and distinguished.
 
The changing art of portraiture

E. H. Gombrich declared in his monumental history of art, The Story of Art,  that “There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists”(15). By this he meant that art has no timeless standards of value or beauty; there is no essence that encompasses that which different periods and cultures call artistic. Rather than trying to capture the essence of art, Gombrich focuses instead on the particularity of artistic movements and the accomplishments of individual artists. Hafftka, I believe, is one of the contemporary artists whose legacy will last. His series of portraits usually depict fellow artists working in different fields. They represent a kind of solidarity among the arts as well as feelings of friendship for the accomplished individuals he depicts. They also evoke the now dying tradition of “immortalizing” consecrated writers, musicians and artists. In this sense, Michael Hafftka belongs in a rich and longstanding yet constantly changing tradition of portrait painters.

One of the main functions of art, particularly of the (changing) art of portraiture, was to “immortalize” or, more modestly put, preserve the memory of the person depicted. This tradition dates back to the Egyptians, for whom, however, art had a sacred rather than secular meaning.  Simply put, Egyptian artists sought to immortalize the pharaos.Tombs, busts and paintings were used as a means of preserving and glorifying the souls of kings, queens and other privileged members of society. E.H. Gombrich tells us that, appropriately enough, one Egyptian word for sculptor was “He-who-keeps-alive.” Egyptian artists depicted the human figure not as they saw it, nor to express or provoke emotion, but to capture the essence of an important person’s spirit for the afterlife by representing his or her body from its most characteristic angles. The face was shown in profile; the eye from the front; the shoulders and chest from the front; the legs from the side, with the feet seen from the inside and toes pointed upward. (The Story of Art, 60-1). For millennia Egyptian figures had a frozen and immobile, non-expressive look that strove to freeze the souls of powerful men and women in time and to safeguard their happiness in the afterlife.Mona_Lisa-1During the Renaissance, artists were often hired by rich and powerful patrons, among which the most important (in Italy) were members of the Medici family, to represent them in a way that expressed their political prestige and left an enduring cultural legacy. Next to having children, art has always been regarded as one of the most important ways to leave a trace of oneself for future generations. Artists themselves often prioritized this means of “reproduction”. As the fourteenth-century artist Giotto di Bondone is said to have replied, partly in jest, when someone asked him why his paintings are so beautiful and his children so ugly, “I paint by daylight but reproduce by the darkness of night.” Nothing immortalizes an individual’s status and power as much as art does.Ingres:NapoleonNapoleon Bonaparte realized the political and cultural importance of portraiture. He commissioned France’s leading artists of the Neoclassical period–Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres–to evoke the glory of ancient Rome in order to symbolize his power as Emperor. In the portrait “Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne” (1806), Ingres represents Napoleon with scepter and staff, reigning supreme, in all of his imperial glory.John-Singer-Sargent - Tutt'Art@ -  (106)

A few decades later, the Impressionists changed what would be regarded as acceptable subjects for portraiture, a genre formerly reserved mostly to royalty and the aristocracy. Depicting the middle and upper middle classes became a favorite theme for new generations of artists. One of the greatest portrait painters of the nineteenth century, John Singer Sargent, depicted his wealthy patrons, particularly women, in portraits that conveyed their social status, beauty and grace.  “Consider the word ‘portrait,’ the critic and philosopher Arthur Danto invites us. “Narrower in its reference than the word ‘picture,’ in the sense that something can be a picture of a generalized woman or tree or apple without representing any specific woman… a portrait is a picture of a particular individual… But portraiture must have involved an even more mysterious achievement, the drawing forth, as it were, of the inner self or soul… Sargent’s personages are, in Lucy Flint’s words, ‘all face and fashion,’ shown as they appear or wanted to appear, as if they had stood before a mirror in which they composed their features, put on their best face, arranged their garments to suit themselves’.” (Arthur Danto, The Nation, February 7, 1987)
 
warhol_Marylin_medium
 
Even Warhol’s pop art, while undermining the whole notion of a stable identity in its
infinitely reproducible images, nonetheless immortalizes the “celebrity” status of cultural icons such as Marylin Monroe and Elvis Presley. Michael Hafftka’s portraits of poets, musicians and writers not only offer an homage to the individuals he paints, but also reveal a collaboration among different artistic fields and constitute a celebration of the arts in general.
 
Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com  

Yad Vashem: “A place and a name” of remembrance

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The Hall of Names, Yad Vashem.org

The Hall of Names, Yad Vashem.org

It’s impossible to write a book about “Holocaust memory” without mentioning Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Israel, which is dedicated, precisely, to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and to educating the public about the Jewish disaster. The goal of the Holocaust was not only to exterminate millions of Jews from the face of the Earth. It was also to erase their memory: efface every trace that they had perished at the hands of the Nazis and even that they had ever existed. This was Hitler’s intention from the start. It is also why the Nazis avoided, as much as possible, leaving a written trace of their commands and destroyed the evidence of their crimes. The mass murder of millions of Jews was kept, for the most part, a secret in Germany. Orders for extermination were referred to in code: mass murder was called “the Final Solution”; hunting victims to send them to concentration camps was called “actions” or “operations”; extermination of the Jews was euphemistically called “special treatment”. These orders were generally passed down verbally, from Hitler to Himmler, and so on down to the chain of command. Given the Nazi emphasis upon the systematic erasure of this criminal past, it’s all the more important for the Jewish people—and for the world at large—to have places of remembrance of the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem, which literally means “a place and a name,” commemorates the memory of those who have perished in the Holocaust. It also honors those who have helped the Jewish people escape from the Nazis. Plans for Yad Vashem began as early as 1942, with the first confirmed reports of the mass murder of Jews throughout Europe. In 1953 the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, unanimously passed a law establishing Yad Vashem. In 1957 the museum opened to the public. Since its inception, Yad Vashem has been one of the most visited sites in Israel, along with the Western Wall (the Wailing Wall). Located on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, the museum contains a Holocaust History Museum, a Children’s Memorial, a Hall of Remembrance, a Museum of Holocaust Art, an International School of Holocaust Studies, a library, a research center and a publishing house. The section about the Holocaust contains documents, photos and videos in English, Hebrew, German, Russian and Arabic. The museum has several interrelated objectives: 1) commemorating the past and Holocaust victims, survivors, and those who have helped victims escape from the Nazis; 2) offering the most up-to-date documentation about the Holocaust; 3) conducting further research on the Holocaust, and 4) educating the general public about the Holocaust.

To preserve the memory of the Holocaust—or of any historical disaster—well beyond the lifespan of its victims and their families, one needs to keep those memories alive for present and future generations around the world. Yad Vashem treads the delicate balance between retrieving the past as accurately as possible and using technologically modern and engaging tools of mass media communication to render that past relevant to as many people, cultures and generations as possible.

The Nazis claimed the lives of the victims and deprived them of dignity both in life and in death. They disposed of their bodies anonymously, throwing them in a heap, burying them in mass graves, or incinerating them. To preserve the memory of the millions of victims of Nazi extermination, one of the museum’s main research tasks is to identify and honor each victim as an individual. In 2005, Yad Vashem created a permanent exhibition devoted to this purpose in the new Holocaust History Museum. The explicit goal of this vast and growing display of photographs is “Identifying the men, women and children who appear in the photographic display restores names and identities to unknown faces, thereby rescuing them from anonymity…” (http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/museum_photos/index.asp). The Hall of Names, in particular, includes hundreds of photographs of victims of the Holocaust.

The new museum, a triangular structure with a luminous, 200 meter long prism skylight, was designed by Moshe Safdie, a Canadian architect born in Haifa who also created the spectacular Kauffmann Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, The Musée de la Civilisation in Quebec City and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. I have not yet had the opportunity to visit the new museum, but many of those who have describe it as an incredibly moving and uplifting experience.

One of the main reasons to remember the past is to shape the future, so that younger generations learn how to identify the warning signs of the hatred and racism that engulfed previous generations. Consequently, in the words of Moshe Katzav, the former President of Israel, Yad Vashem stands as “an important signpost to all of humankind, a signpost that warns how short the distance is between hatred and murder, between racism and genocide”.

Claudia Moscovici, Holocaust Memory

The images of Thomas Dodd: A photographic journey through art history

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"Behind the Veil" by Thomas Dodd

“Behind the Veil” by Thomas Dodd

The images of Thomas Dodd: A photographic journey through art history

by Claudia Moscovici

To explain the conceptual revolution that occurred in art at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, some art historians claim that photography eliminated the need for representational art, or the kind of art that tries to imitate “nature” by depicting faithfully what the eye can see. We can add in parentheses, as E. H. Gombrich observes in The Story of Art, that the notion of the representation of what the eye can see has changed throughout the history of art. Needless to say, it too is shaped by social assumptions. Nonetheless, the difference between a kind of art that aims at faithful visual imitation of the three-dimensional qualities of physical objects and one that doesn’t remains relatively easy to discern.

The invention of photography had a lot to do with the move away from visual representation. To say that photography eliminated the need for representational art, however, is an overstatement. Undoubtedly, the invention of the camera encouraged artists to experiment with other means of representation in the same way that the invention of machines displaced hand-made crafts. The camera probably did for painting what the industrial revolution did for artisanship. But that doesn’t mean that artisanship—or hand-made beautiful objects—are no longer valuable. For what the human imagination, sensibility, eye and hand can create will always be somewhat different from what can be made with the aid of machines. The texture, sense of color and vision that are captured by painters are not identical to those that photography can produce, even though photography can bring us closer to visual reality and even though photography is also artistic. The painterly photography of Thomas Dodd illustrates that rather than replacing painting, photography can transpose and “immortalize” it, so to speak, in a new medium. In fact, Thomas Dodd, an Atlanta-based photographer whose works are featured in galleries and magazines throughout the world, offers a journey through art history. His images allude to the paintings of some of the best-known artists in the world, including William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Gustav Klimt, the Pre-Raphaelites, Maxfield Parrish and René Magritte.

"Aphrodite" by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

“Aphrodite” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

William-Adolphe Bouguereau  (http://www.bouguereau.org/)

During the nineteenth-century, the painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) came to epitomize the standards set by the French Academy for Salon art: a polished execution and idealized genre paintings that focused on mythological themes and usually represented women and girls of an other-worldly beauty and perfection.  During the second half of the century, however, the Impressionists, though originally ridiculed by critics, set new aesthetic standards for art. The changes they created became irreversible. The Impressionists’ greatest contribution to art was not so much to change the notion of painting as representing what the eye can see—or the standards of verisimilitude that had been dominant since the Renaissance—but to alter what the eye should see as well as where and how it should see it. Their violation of the rules of the Beaux-Arts system was not revolutionary—in the sense of transgressing its underlying premises or goals–but it was thorough, in the sense of changing almost all of the means of reaching those goals. The Impressionists considered that the best forum to observe and represent nature would be in the open air—which is why their works were called plein air paintings–where the play of light and shadows would be most natural, striking and intense, rather than under the dim and artificial lighting of the studio. Furthermore, the art students in the academies conveyed the three-dimensionality of forms by means of the subtle shading which was first perfected by the Renaissance masters. The Impressionists, on the other hand, evoked a sense of three-dimensionality by representing the dramatic contrasts of color that could be observed in vibrant sunlight. In seeking to capture visually the play of light and shadow—and its transformations—the Impressionists used rapid brushstrokes to produce paintings that looked rushed and unfinished as opposed to the well-rounded, glossy and polished forms and subtle shadings respected by the Beaux-Arts system. Similarly, rather than depicting a posed or characteristic angle of the objects painted, Manet and the Impressionists showed objects from uncharacteristic, and often, truncated perspectives. This truncation of subjects and objects, which is especially obvious in the paintings of Renoir and Degas, openly acknowledges the incompleteness of our field of vision and powers of representation.

 

The Little Sheperdess, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

The Little Sheperdess, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Sometimes photography preserves and honors our artistic heritage, despite the irreversible changes that occur in the history of art. This is certainly the case with the photography of Thomas Dodd, who devotes several of his images to experimenting with the rich artistic legacy of Bouguereau. “Spellbound” retains the same softness and fluidity of forms and represents a similarly idealized feminine beauty that we found in the nineteenth-century French master. The woman’s sweeping movement, in a veil-like dress that envelops not only her, but the entire image, creates an aura of mystery. The focus, however, lies in her gaze: bold, powerful yet undeniably feminine. As if to emphasize that she’s the center of this imaginary narrative, Dodd surrounds the female figure with soft clouds that dissipate, at the corners, in a painterly roughness that seems created by a palette knife in oils. This contemporary image, however, doesn’t reproduce Bouguereau’s works. It borrows from and pays homage to them, taking us on an evocative voyage through art history.

"Spellbound" by Thomas Dodd

“Spellbound” by Thomas Dodd

While “Spellbound” only alludes to Bouguereau’s paintings,  “Maybe Someday” deliberately mimics their setting and figures. The woman in this image (below) has a very contemporary look. Yet she appears cast in a Bouguereau painting, as if she were an actress on a painted stage. Her sideway glance, her costume, her posture, the clouds that surround her: all these gestures and props appear staged by Bouguereau, over a century ago. But her slim face, her painted toenail, her tossled hairdo remain contemporary, reminding us that the past cannot be fully recreated or brought back in its original form. It can only be taught, respected and evoked.

Maybe Someday by Thomas Dodd

Maybe Someday by Thomas Dodd  http://thomasdodd.com/

Maxfield Parrish

The American painter and illustrator Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) was an iconoclast, though many see him as a traditionalist. He deliberately went against the modernist trends in art of his times to bring back Neoclassical standards. He is known for his luminous paintings, pastoral settings and idealized Neoclassical imagery. In the painting “Daybreak,” the girl’s calm repose has an angelic quality, as if she herself, not only her state, were in a liminal space, somewhere between reality and dream.

"Daybreak" by Maxfield Parrish

“Daybreak” by Maxfield Parrish

With digital photography and a masterful control of light, Thomas Dodd captures the spirit of Maxfield Parrish in the image “Daydream”(below). Like Parrish, he depicts a young woman, dressed in a white in a flowing dress, at sunrise (or sunset), when the light changes–and play of shadows–are most colorful, nuanced and intense.

"Daydream" by Thomas Dodd

“Daydream” by Thomas Dodd

Gustav Klimt

There are certain art movements that never go out of style: Art Nouveau can be counted among them. Highly stylized yet in harmony with nature; ornamental yet profoundly philosophical; sexually daring and controversial yet utterly refined, Art Nouveau continues to please the public. It’s therefore not all that surprising that one of Dodd’s biggest artistic inspirations is the Art Nouveau movement, particularly the works of Gustav Klimt. As we know, art Nouveau is an ornamental style of art, architecture and decoration, which peaked in popularity at the turn of the 20th century, sometime between 1890-1905. Seen as, quite literally, the “new art”, Art Nouveau employed ornamental, floral motifs and stylized, curvilinear forms that are coming back in style today. Although the Art Nouveau movement was greatly influenced by the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha, some of the its main motifs and decorative designs were also associated with even more popular artists, including Gustav KlimtAntoni Gaudi and Louis Comfort Tiffany, each of whom adapted and reshaped the movement according to his unique artistic style.

"The Kiss" by Gustav Klimt

“The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt

In his article “Live Flesh” (“The Nation,” January 23, 2006), the critic and philosopher Arthur Danto describes Klimt’s gilded, ornamental paintings as efforts to depict erotism to its limits, transcending, and perhaps immortalizing, the flesh: “Klimt, of course, depicted lovers clasped to each other in intense erotic embrace. There is nevertheless something operatic about Klimt’s lovers, as if they were figures in a myth. Like Tristan and Isolde they are caught up in the sweep of passion as the music swells around them. Sex is somehow meant to be transfigurative, a way of transcending the sweaty realities of the flesh depicted.”

"Echo" by Thomas Dodd

“Echo” by Thomas Dodd

This is precisely what Thomas Dodd does in his image “Echo,” an homage to Klimt. Although the painting doesn’t have the usual art deco floral motifs, the background becomes a gilded decoration which envelops the delicate face of the young woman. With her lips half-open and her eyes closed, the young woman’s state seems to waver between dream and fantasy. The erotism in this image, like the one depicted by Klimt’s paintings, is powerful yet subtle. Dodd’s image suggests a beauty not only beyond the realm of the possible, but also already transcendental, as the human form blends into the golden background: fluid yet at the same time, somehow, dry and crisp like a gilded leaf pressed for ages between the pages of an old book.

"Dogma" By Thomas Dodd

“Dogma” By Thomas Dodd

René Magritte

When we look at the image “Dogma” (above), it becomes clear that Dodd finds inspiration in Surrealism as well: particularly in the works of the Belgian modernist artist René Magritte (1898–1967) . Surrealist art often combines the best of both worlds: a “realistic” representation of objects, which requires talent and technical skill, and a fantastic imagination that takes us past the threshold of the rational and the knowable, so we can explore the mysteries of the subconscious. Surrealism offers an escape from the real world yet also probes the depths of a perhaps truer and deeper reality: the reality of human desire; of our dreams and nightmares; of our hopes and fears; of our collective past and a visionary future we can barely imagine. Surrealism can also be playful: at least in the hands of an artist like Miró as well as in Magritte‘s linguistic imagination, whose paintings are filled with visual puns and paradoxes.

"Not to be Reproduced" by Rene Magritte

“Not to be Reproduced” by Rene Magritte

In “Dogma” the young woman, looking poised and professional, holds firmly with one hand a book. Yet her head dissipates, along with the memorized and predigested knowledge of the book, into thin air. The background around her, rather than sustaining life, appears caustic, as if an acid were spilled upon the image to destroy its contents. Knowledge can be fleeting and even harmful.

Brainstorm by Thomas Dodd

Brainstorm by Thomas Dodd

One of Dodd’s most interesting Surrealist images, “Brainstorm”, depicts a more complex process of creativity. Dodd explains that “Brainstorm,” also called “Woodshedding“, refers to a phenomenon called “woodshedding” in Jazz music, whereby a musician shuts himself in a woodshed to practice and improvise new songs until he or she creates is satisfied with the performance. This creative process plays a central role in all kinds of creativity, be it music, the plastic arts, creative writing, or photography. As Thomas Edison famously stated, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration”. For further information about Thomas Dodd’s painterly photography, please take a look at his website http://thomasdodd.com.

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com 

Romanian masterpieces at the Grimberg Gallery

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Mihai Zgondoiu - Artist's Golden Hand Triptic

Mihai Zgondoiu – Artist’s Golden Hand Triptic

Romanian masterpices at the Grimberg Gallery: Balancing originality and autonomy with tradition and patronage in contemporary artistic styles

By Claudia Moscovici, art critic, founder of the postromantic art movement, and author of Romanticism and Postromanticism (2007)

Since the modern era the notion of “artistic style” has become synonymous with “originality”. Originality represents a step beyond individuality. It traces each artist’s unique fingerprint, setting his art apart from the works of other artists. This understanding of “style”, however, is relatively new in the history of art. Before the nineteenth-century, originality and individuality were not the most highly prized qualities of art. As for autonomy, or regarding art as separate from social functions, this notion didn’t even exist before the modern period.

800px-davinci_lastsupper_high_res_2_nowatmrk

During the Renaissance, the artist emerged as an individual assumed to have a unique talent that was in some way useful to those in power. Artists helped elevate the status of the Church or the State through their masterpieces. They were also considered useful to society in general, by providing works of rare and incredible beauty that the educated public could enjoy. Despite, in fact, being “original”, Renaissance artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo perceived their paintings and sculptures as a means of elevating and preserving the social order of their times not only as a mark of their individual genius. No doubt, both Leonardo and Michelangelo could afford to select among patrons and to aggravate those they did serve by postponing deadlines to perfect their masterpieces. In this way, they created the blueprint of the temperamental and independent “artistic” personality that would emerge more fully with Romanticism. Despite the increased prestige of masterful artists, however, Renaissance art contributed to the glory of the patrons and the community (or the nation) it was created for. In other words, art’s undeniable beauty was inseparable from its social usefulness.

Rodin-The-Kiss

As artists’ prestige increased during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, so did their relative power and independence from patrons. Romanticism marked this transformation by explicitly declaring the artist to be a creative genius and by regarding individuality and originality as the supreme qualities of true art. Yet for most Romantic poets, writers and artists, as for the Renaissance masters, art was still bound to its social function. The artist or writer imagined by poets like Wordsworth, Lamartine and Hugo spread to the public, through his unique aesthetic sensibility, imagination, discernment and talent, not only aesthetic pleasure but also a heightened and more empathetic moral and political consciousness.

While earlier forms of Romanticism couple social utility and beauty, late Romantic and Modern art and literature would come to disassociate them. As early as the 1830’s, the autonomy of art from society was proclaimed by Théophile Gautier’s phrase, “art for art’s sake” (l’art pour l’art) and by his criticism of the notion that art had to be in any way useful to society.

postmodern philosopher, Arthur Danto

postmodern philosopher, Arthur Danto

Postmodern art resurrects the notions of art’s utility and individuality, but usually only to critique them. Gautier’s well-known polemic in his 1834 preface to Mademoiselle de Maupin—“the most useful place of a house is the latrine”—seems to have turned into a twisted prophecy almost a hundred years later, when Marcel Duchamp, under the pseudonym R. Mutt, exhibited a urinal as an objet d’art at the 1917 Independents’ Exhibition in New York City. With this partly joking provocation, art took a seemingly irreversible conceptual turn. As the philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto convincingly demonstrates, what constitutes art can no longer be discerned visually.

Ion Dimitriu Barlad - Enescu

Ion Dimitriu Barlad – Enescu

Contemporary Romanian art, however, seems to distinguish itself through a partial return to the worthwhile aesthetic values of the past. And it’s about time. The Grimberg Gallery features some of the best contemporary Romanian artists, each of whom has a unique style; each of whom pays homage to the artistic past rather than only turning away from it. To offer only a few examples, among many talented artists: Ioan Dimitriu Barlad’s masterful sculpture is perhaps the most explicit homage. His bust of the composer George Enescu (1881-1955) captures the musician in a realistic style and paradigmatic pose: a particularly expressive moment of sensibility and contemplation.

Ioan  Stoenescu - Icoana cu medalioane

Ioan Stoenescu – Icoana cu medalioane

Ioan Stoenescu’s Christian icon, “Icoana cu medalioane”, evokes the now lost art form of medieval “illuminations”: smaller oval portraits of revered saints surrounding the central depiction of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, painted with great delicacy and skill. A gilded foil illuminates the composition from within, giving it an otherworldly aura.

 

Adam Baltatu - Nuduri in peisaj

Adam Baltatu – Nuduri in peisaj

The painter Adam Baltatu reawakens our interest in figurative art, which is, indeed, after decades dominated by abstraction and conceptual art, becoming popular once again. His “Nuduri in peisaj” (“Nudes on landscape”) shows the beauty of the countryside enhanced by the beauty of feminine forms. The artist conveys the two women with a sense of harmony, balance and muted colors reminiscent of post-Impressionism, particularly of the paintings of Gauguin and Cézanne.

Iosif Iser- Odalisca

Iosif Iser- Odalisca

Iosif Iser’s “Odalisca” (“Odalisque”) also evokes post-Impressionism in style, although the odalisque was a favorite theme of Neo-classical and Romantic painters (particularly Ingres and Delacroix). Iser’s odalisque holds a relaxed, modern pose, displaying her half-veiled body in an almost defiant manner reminiscent of Manet’s Olympia.

Doru Moscu - Alfred's dream

Doru Moscu – Alfred’s dream

Doru Moscu’s “Alfred’s dream”, painted with broad brushstrokes of blues, grays, browns and greens, is more Expressionist in style. In this painting color assumes extreme importance, suggesting a somber mood, as furtive and enigmatic as the shadowy man on the right side of the canvas.

Mihai Zgondoiu -Artist`s Golden Hand  Triptic

Mihai Zgondoiu -Artist`s Golden Hand Triptic

 

Surrealism has experienced a contemporary rebirth as well, as we can see in Mihai Zgondoiu’s “Artist’s Golden Hand Triptic”. In this monochromatic composition the artist’s hand, in a golden cast, stands out in poses suggestive of classical sculptures yet truncated, headless, and fragmentary: like the pieces of a disjointed dream that assume great symbolic significance.

Aurel Tar - Lectura

Aurel Tar – Lectura

Aurel Tar’s “Lectura” carries the legacy of Impressionism forward, into the relatively new field of digital art. A painting reminiscent in theme and style of the works of Morisot and Cassatt–a mother reading to her tired, sleepy daughter as they wait together at the train station—has a (paradoxically) new feel through its explicitly retro look (the newspaper print-like pointillism of digital art).

Why is it is it so important for contemporary artists to reinvent, in their unique and original styles, some of the greatest traditions in art history? I think, first of all, because no art exists in a cultural vacuum. Complete individuality is an illusion. Originality, when pushed to an extreme, risks degenerating into mere shock value. Just as contemporary artists can’t reject the influence of the artistic movements that came before them, they shouldn’t underestimate the importance of their patrons: the critics, the viewers, the buyers and the lovers of art.

Picasso and Gilot

Picasso and Gilot

For, to conclude my introduction with a citation by Picasso—arguably the most subversive and original modern artist—even subversion cannot exist without tradition, nor can originality exist in the absence of sound aesthetic standards:

“Today we are in the unfortunate position of having no order or canon whereby all artistic production is submitted to rules. They—the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians—did. Their canon was inescapable because beauty, so-called, was, by definition, contained in those rules. But as soon as art had lost all link with tradition, and the kind of liberation that came in with Impressionism permitted every painter to do what he wanted to do, painting was finished. When they decided it was the painter’s sensations and emotions that mattered, and every man could recreate painting as he understood it from any basis whatever, then there was no more painting; there were only individuals. Sculpture died the same death. … Painters no longer live within a tradition and so each one of us must recreate an entire language from A to Z. No criterion can be applied to him a priori, since we don’t believe in rigid standards any longer. In a certain sense, it’s a liberation but at the same time it’s an enormous limitation, because when the individuality of the artist begins to express itself, what the artist gains by way of liberty he loses in the way of order, and when you’re no longer able to attach yourself to an order, basically that’s very bad.” (My life with Picasso, Françoise Gilot, 21)

Returning to some shared artistic criteria and reclaiming art’s role in society doesn’t mean reverting to the rigid criteria of the Ecole des Beaux Arts, which can be respected but not revived. It means revitalizing the importance of art today. As we’ve seen in my brief perusal of Romanian contemporary art featured by the Grimberg Gallery, individuality of style can coexist with respect for past artistic traditions and artistic freedom is entirely compatible with an appreciation of art’s patrons: us, the viewing public.

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com

The legacy of Michael Hafftka: Emotion and expressionism in Holocaust art

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The Selecting Hand, by Michael Hafftka

The Selecting Hand, by Michael Hafftka

The legacy of Michael Hafftka: Emotion and expressionism in Holocaust art

by Claudia Moscovici

Michael Hafftka is an internationally renowned artist, whose works are displayed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Art, among other museums. Art critics have dubbed his powerful and moving painting, “The Selecting Hand,” “the Guernica of the Holocaust”. This comparison with Picasso’s masterpiece is flattering and apt. Both paintings represent the atrocities inflicted upon innocent individuals: in Picasso’s case, the bombing of Guernica in 1937 by German and Italian planes (at the incitement of Spanish Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War); in Hafftka’s case, the suffering and death of millions of innocent victims during the Holocaust. Both paintings express undisguised pain and emotion in a way that is disturbing to viewers. Both stand as compelling anti-war symbols and reminders of the atrocities of the past for future generations.

In this spirit, Hafftka’s “The Selecting Hand” was selected as a representative work of art for the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The date of January 27—the day that Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1945–was designated by the UN General Assembly as a day of commemoration of the Holocaust. On this day, “the UN urges every member state to honor the victims of the Nazi era and to develop educational programs to prevent future genocides” (www.ushmm.org).  This day of international significance also has a profound personal meaning for Michael Hafftka. “I painted it in 1986 in memory of my parents and my family who perished in the Holocaust,” Hafftka declares in his artist profile on The Huffington Post. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-hafftka/)

“The Selecting Hand” alludes to the selection process in Nazi concentration camps. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, this process was quick and, for the most part, arbitrary. As soon as they stepped out of the deportation trains—where, usually, they had been deprived for days of food, water and hygienic conditions—the weakened victims were led by guards into the selection line. The guards first separated men from women and children, ripping apart families whose only solace and strength was each other. Then, following a brief and superficial visual inspection, the Nazi physicians decided whether an individual was fit for work or should be sent to the gas chamber. Babies, children, pregnant women and young mothers with small children were doomed. They were immediately taken to the gas chambers. Disoriented and frightened, the victims often didn’t even know where they were headed, since the death chambers were disguised as public showers. We see this aspect of the selection process featured in Hafftka’s painting, which reveals a woman with her blonde hair half shorn and a young child, crawling to her right, trying hopelessly to cling to life.

Although not painted in a realist style, “The Selecting Hand” is nevertheless a historically realistic painting. It’s accurate right down to the imprint of a hand on the wall and the slots through which the toxic gas Zyklon B (crystalline hydrogen cyanide) was channeled through pellets down the airshafts of the gas chamber. The painting shows the horrific and brutal reality of the Holocaust as it was. We see intertwined human beings fighting for life. Their bodies and individuated features are blurred by the toxic gas as it engulfs them. Darkness surrounds both the dead and the dying.

Since part of the significance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which Hafftka’s “The Selecting Hand” in turn commemorates, is to educate the public about the Holocaust and prevent future genocides, the question arises if we—“we” understood as humanity in general–ever learn from the history of the Holocaust enough not to repeat such disasters. Certainly, if you look at the number of genocides that followed the Holocaust—in Zanzibar, Guatemala, Pakistan, North Korea, Laos, Congo, Cambodia, Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Congo and Somalia among other places—it would seem that humanity hasn’t learned much from the past. Yet, hopefully, the future isn’t entirely bleak.

Our hope of dignity and survival consists in spreading truthful information about atrocities around the world and in combating indifference to human suffering in the places that aren’t immediately affected by them. Totalitarian regimes, ethnic or religious antagonism, and sociopathic rulers will no doubt continue to exist for as long as human beings live on this planet. Such dangerous and dark forces of history will continue to foster hatred and destruction around them.

Many have said after WWII that they didn’t know of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis.  Some have claimed they knew about “pogroms”, but not about mass genocide in concentration camps. Today, in an Internet age where information travels almost instantaneously to all corners of the world, claiming ignorance can’t offer the same shield from knowledge of the truth. We have fewer excuses—or reasons—to remain indifferent to atrocities perpetrated against the innocent. For, as Elie Wiesel reminds us in Night, “The Opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” Michael Hafftka’s painting, “The Selecting Hand,” represents an homage to the victims of the past and a reminder to us today that we cannot afford to be indifferent to genocide ever again: no matter where it takes place and no matter who are its victims.

Emotion in the history of art

To my mind, one of the key aspects of Michael Hafftka’s art is that it evokes emotion. It is certainly inspired by visceral feelings processed through thought, aesthetic intuition (balance, shape, color, harmony) and the mysterious ingredient which we still call talent. It is impossible to look at any of Hafftka’s paintings and not feel the emotions it inspires, even before we analyze it intellectually or ascribe it a specific theme: be it suffering, death, disease, love, betrayal or pain. Because emotion is so central to Hafftka’s process of creation and to the viewer’s experience, it’s worth briefly integrating the artist’s richly emotive art in the history of art.

We tend to associate art and emotion. The Romantic notion of art as the product of an emotive, sensitive and inspired artist who creates masterpieces to move the public has not altogether disappeared from the popular imagination. Yet, in recent history—particularly since the movement of art for art’s sake in the nineteenth century and the formalist and conceptual currents of the twentieth century—emotion has almost disappeared from art itself. Even in the movement of conceptual art most closely associated with emotion and spirituality—abstract expressionism—emotion is a part of the process of artistic creation and palpable in the moving effect of art upon (some) viewers rather than readily recognizable in the artistic object itself. There is, of course, no eternally valid rule that dictates that emotion should be an inherent part of a work of art—or of any part of the artistic process, for that matter. And, in fact, art has not always existed as separate from artifact and artistic objects have not always been valued for their expressive powers.

For the ancient Egyptians, to offer one notable example, art served a largely symbolic and religious function. Tombs, busts and paintings were used as a means of preserving and glorifying the souls of kings, queens and other privileged members of society. E.H. Gombrich tells us that, appropriately enough, one Egyptian word for sculptor was “He-who-keeps-alive.” Egyptian artists depicted the human figure not as they saw it, nor to express or provoke emotion, but to capture the essence of an important person’s spirit for the afterlife by representing his or her body from its most characteristic angles. The face was shown in profile; the eye from the front; the shoulders and chest from the front; the legs from the side, with the feet seen from the inside and toes pointed upward. (The Story of Art, 60-1). For millennia Egyptian figures had a frozen and immobile, non-expressive look that strove to freeze the souls of powerful men and women in time and to safeguard their happiness in the afterlife.

Greek art was perhaps the first—and certainly the most influential art in the Western tradition–to capture the essence not only of the human spirit, but also of the human form, with all its movement and powers of expression. In Greek art, we feel, even the body seems infused with a soul. Myron’s famous sculpture of the discus thrower, Discobolos (c. 450 B.C), which is of the same era as the better known works of the sculptor Pheidias, displays the beauty, poise, force and movement of a young man’s efforts to launch the discus he holds in his hand. The sculpture is not entirely naturalistic—in the sense that athletes who would try to assume the same position would not be able to throw the discus very far. Nonetheless, it captures the elegance and athleticism of the male body in the first blush of youth. Part of this sculpture’s naturalism lies in the way it conveys movement and emotion through the positioning and poise of the body. This artistic video on classical sculpture by Philip Scott Johnson highlights this phenomenon:

More generally, classical Greek and Hellenistic sculptures rarely look stiff or contrived because of the way in which the human form is balanced: often in a position of counterpoise, with the weight shifted upon one leg, which allows sculptors to reveal the muscular curvatures of the body.

While classical Greek sculpture tends to focus upon the beauty of the human form, Hellenistic art—the art of the empires founded by Alexander the Great’s followers—places increasing emphasis upon the expression of emotion. The kinds of feelings represented in Hellenistic sculpture, however, are not those of everyday people in ordinary circumstances. Rather, Hellenistic art usually exhibits the emotions of extraordinary individuals engaged in tragic conflicts. To offer one well-known example, the sculpture Laocöon and his sons (175-50 B.C.)—executed by HagesandrosAnthenodoros and Polydoros of Rhodes–immortalizes the story of a priest who is being punished by the gods for forewarning the Trojans not to accept a giant horse which, as it turns out, carried inside it enemy soldiers.

This sculpture was rediscovered in Rome in 1506 and many art historians believe that what was found was not the original sculpture, but a Roman copy. Whether or not it is the original work, The Laocöon Group made a strong impression upon Italian Renaissance sculptors, especially Michelangelo. Laocoon is frozen in an image of terrible anguish since his punishment consists of having to witness two gigantic snakes emerge from the sea and suffocate with their coils his beloved sons. Hellenistic art, at least in this representative sculpture that would become a favorite during the Renaissance and the Neoclassical periods, privileges the expression of a kind of emotion that is at once mythical and dramatic: mythical in its literary and religious references, dramatic in its depiction of human tragedy.

The painting and sculpture of the Renaissance masters continues to focus upon the expression of emotion on a grand scale and to grapple with the connection—as well as the hiatus–between the human and the divine. Michelangelo’s The Dying Slave (1513), for example, reveals the moment when the slave lets go of earthly life as his soul escapes toward heavenly existence.

Despite the twists and turns of his beautiful, muscular form, the slave’s body reflects the resignation, tranquility and spirituality of the transition from life to death. Emotive expression, Michelangelo shows so well, is not necessarily primarily located in the face. The whole body, every movement and gesture, expresses the feelings and attitudes reflected in the face.

This total, eloquent expressivity of sculpture reaches its apex, many believe, in Lorenzo Bernini’s The ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1645-52). The sculpture represents the sixteenth century mystic in a state of rapture. We witness the moment when the angel of God pierces the young nun with a golden arrow, provoking the paradoxical feelings of pleasure mixed with pain and of sensual abandon mixed with divine illumination. As she swoons, half-closing her eyes and slightly opening her lips with ecstasy, Saint Teresa becomes the very embodiment of religious fervor, spiritual attunement and passion. Even the drapery that enfolds her body swirls and twists around her with the same mixture of passive yet passionate frenzy visible on her face.

But what about the expression of more modest, individuated feelings? In the modern period, few artists were as thoughtful and successful in showing the relation between human form and feeling as Auguste Rodin. Despite the religious allusions of The Gates of Hell, Rodin brings emotion down to earth by materializing a passion that functions not only as a connection between the human and the divine, but also as an intimate and profound connection between earthly lovers. Perhaps no one else has described Rodin’s most sensual and moving sculpture, “The Kiss,” as eloquently as his friend, the art critic Gustave Geffroy:

“The man’s head is bent, that of the woman is lifted, and their mouths meet in a kiss that seals the intimate union of their two beings. Through the extraordinary magic of art, this kiss, which is scarcely indicated by the meeting of their lips, is clearly visible, not only in their meditative expressions, but still more in the shiver that runs equally through both bodies, from the nape of the neck to the soles of the feet, in every fiber of the man’s back, as it bends, straightens, grows still, where everything adores—bones, muscles, nerves, flesh—in his leg, which seems to twist slowly, as if moving to brush against his lover’s leg; and in the woman’s feet, which hardly touch the ground, uplifted with her whole being as she is swept away with ardor and grace.”

Rodin revealed human love and life as a process of mutual creation between women and men. Passion is not only a union with those we desire and adore, but also an elevation through shared feelings and sensuality which is always in process, never complete. His representations of the fragility of our mutual creation were as inchoate, vulnerable yet compelling as the material shapes that seemed to emerge only part-finished from the bronze or blocks of stone.

We have seen that art can serve many different purposes in different contexts such that it’s impossible to define it in relation to any set of common qualities, including emotion. Yet, as I have also suggested, when emotion is materialized in art, it renders artistic objects all the more poignant, moving and palpable for viewers. The expression of emotion not only touches us, but also enables us to connect to artistic creation in a way that’s unique and irreplaceable. Emotion and art don’t have to be interconnected. Yet what powerful and meaningful art is produced when they are! Next I’d like to examine Michael Hafftka’s artwork in the context of the expressionist tradition it’s informed by and continues. 

Emotion and Expressionism in Holocaust art

The Holocaust brought out the worst in human emotion: hatred, prejudice, fear and indifference to immeasurable human suffering. Indifference too is an emotion, not merely the absence of feeling. Its underlying foundation is often contempt: in this case, for the lives of specific groups of human beings deemed by the Nazis to be “subhuman”.  After all, as Samuel Beckett famously stated, “Nothing is more real than nothing” (Malone Dies, New York; Grove, 1956, 16).  It is only fitting that the horrors of the Holocaust be captured by an artistic movement known for its emphasis on emotion and reviled by the Nazi regime: Expressionism.

Edvard Munch, Separation

In retrospect, the best-known artist considered to be the forefather of the Expressionist movement is the Norwegian painter, Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Rather than focus, like the Impressionists did, on the optical experiments with play of light in natural settings, Munch turned within, to express through art our most raw human emotions: love, jealousy, hatred, anxiety, fear of death. Munch rendered explicit the goal of his art, stating: “We want more than a mere photograph of nature. We do not want to paint pretty pictures to be hung on drawing-room walls. We want to create, or at least lay the foundations of, an art that gives something to humanity. An art that arrests and engages. An art created of one’s innermost heart” (Edvard Munch, http://www.edvard-munch.com/backg/index.htm).

Edvard Munch, The Scream

His most famous work, “The Scream”, exists in several forms:  two pastels (1893 and 1895), two oil paintings (1893 and 1910) and several lithographs. In fact, “The Scream” remains one of the most well known paintings in the history of art, selling for $119,922,500 in 2012. “The Scream” series began as an introspective expression of agony, or as Munch put it, “the study of the soul, that is to say the study of my own self”, but soon became a general symbol of humanity’s angst in the modern era. The bright colors reflect feelings of madness and hysteria, while the skeletal form on the bridge confronts our mortality, sketching the boundary between life and death.

Expressionism as an art and literary movement, however, crystallized a decade or so later, in Germany, at the beginning of the 20th century. Expressionist painters, poets and writers placed primary emphasis on the expression of emotion, images and impressions that haunt human beings: in dreams, visions, and in life in general. Not shying away from the underside of human emotion, Expressionist artists conveyed anger, hatred, fear, jealousy, often mixing sex and violence. As the psychologist Carl G. Jung observed, “One does not become enlightened by imaging figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious”.

Chain of Command, Michael Hafftka

With this apt citation, Robbin Zella, the Director of the Housatonic Museum of Art introduces the work of Michael Hafftka, an American artist whose paintings convey the horrific experiences and the dark emotions that characterize the Holocaust. The son of two Holocaust survivors, Hafftka experiences the pain and misery of this dark era of history not as a direct witness, but as someone deeply haunted by the experience nonetheless. For him it becomes a revelation as well as a way to commemorate the suffering of his parents and other victims of the Holocaust. Michael states: “I began to paint my dreams and soon enough the experience of painting brought on exciting and mysterious experiences, as suggestive as dreaming. I felt freer than I had ever felt before. Painting became revelatory” (Michael Hafftka: A retrospective: large oils 1985-2003, Housatonic Museum of Art, Bridgeport CT, with an introduction by Robbin Zella).

Externalizing the nightmare that has haunted his family and his childhood, Hafftka expresses the raw emotions and undisguised horrors of the Holocaust. In his oil painting “Chain of Command”, we see mutilated–decapitated and amputated–humanoids whose features have been wiped out by misery and torture. Most of them are naked, deprived of every shred of civilized humanity. It’s not clear anymore who are the victims and who are the victimizers. As we know, in the sordid life of the concentration camp, prisoners acted as guards and torturers of fellow prisoners. With each person fighting for even one more day of survival, empathy was rarely possible in this environment. At Auschwitz, Polish and Ukrainian prisoners guarded the Jews, and some of the Jews were forced to be a part of the group that ran the crematoria. Humanity is desecrated to the core, reduced in its entirety to an emotion that is inseparable from sensation: unspeakable pain.

Ceremony by Michael Hafftka

In the painting “Ceremony”, we see the aftermath of the slaughter of the innocent. The title is somewhat ironic, however, since millions of human beings were ruthlessly sent to their deaths–gassed and burned–with no ceremony whatsoever, and no real burial to commemorate their death. Their truncated, desecrated bodies become intertwined in the last effort to defy death in the gas chambers by climbing upon another body, living or dead, for a last breath of air.

The Charnel House, Pablo Picasso

As Sam Hunter states in his introduction to Hafftka’s series of paintings of the Holocaust, “The maimed and truncated body forms, with their ghastly pallor, recall the visual obscenities of the Nazi death camps seen in postwar photo journalism, not to mention Picasso’s mournful and eloquent Holocaust elegy, “The Charnel House”. (Michael Hafftka, with an introduction by Sam Hunter, DiLaurenti Publishing, 8). Like in Picasso’s masterpiece, there is no human emotion left on the canvas in “Ceremony”. Instead, it’s all transposed to us, the viewers, who observe with horror the gruesome spectacle of death.

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com

 

Emotion and Expressionism in Holocaust art: Michael Hafftka’s Chain of Command and Ceremony

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Ceremony by Michael Hafftka

Ceremony by Michael Hafftka

Emotion and Expressionism in Holocaust art

by Claudia Moscovici

The Holocaust brought out the worst in human emotion: hatred, prejudice, fear and indifference to immeasurable human suffering. Indifference too is an emotion, not merely the absence of feeling. Its underlying foundation is often contempt: in this case, for the lives of specific groups of human beings deemed by the Nazis to be “subhuman”.  After all, as Samuel Beckett famously stated, “Nothing is more real than nothing” (Malone Dies, New York; Grove, 1956, 16).  It is only fitting that the horrors of the Holocaust be captured by an artistic movement known for its emphasis on emotion and reviled by the Nazi regime: Expressionism.

Edvard Munch, Separation

Edvard Munch, Separation

In retrospect, the best-known artist considered to be the forefather of the Expressionist movement is the Norwegian painter, Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Rather than focus, like the Impressionists did, on the optical experiments with play of light in natural settings, Munch turned within, to express through art our most raw human emotions: love, jealousy, hatred, anxiety, fear of death. Munch rendered explicit the goal of his art, stating: “We want more than a mere photograph of nature. We do not want to paint pretty pictures to be hung on drawing-room walls. We want to create, or at least lay the foundations of, an art that gives something to humanity. An art that arrests and engages. An art created of one’s innermost heart” (Edvard Munch, http://www.edvard-munch.com/backg/index.htm).

Edvard Munch, The Scream

Edvard Munch, The Scream

His most famous work, “The Scream”, exists in several forms:  two pastels (1893 and 1895), two oil paintings (1893 and 1910) and several lithographs. In fact, “The Scream” remains one of the most well known paintings in the history of art, selling for $119,922,500 in 2012. “The Scream” series began as an introspective expression of agony, or as Munch put it, “the study of the soul, that is to say the study of my own self”, but soon became a general symbol of humanity’s angst in the modern era. The bright colors reflect feelings of madness and hysteria, while the skeletal form on the bridge confronts our mortality, sketching the boundary between life and death.

Expressionism as an art and literary movement, however, crystallized a decade or so later, in Germany, at the beginning of the 20th century. Expressionist painters, poets and writers placed primary emphasis on the expression of emotion, images and impressions that haunt human beings: in dreams, visions, and in life in general. Not shying away from the underside of human emotion, Expressionist artists conveyed anger, hatred, fear, jealousy, often mixing sex and violence. As the psychologist Carl G. Jung observed, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious”.

Chain of Command, Michael Hafftka

Chain of Command, Michael Hafftka

With this apt citation, Robbin Zella, the Director of the Housatonic Museum of Art introduces the work of Michael Hafftka, an American artist whose paintings convey the horrific experiences and the dark emotions that characterize the Holocaust. The son of two Holocaust survivors, Hafftka experiences the pain and misery of this dark era of history not as a direct witness, but as someone deeply haunted by the experience nonetheless. For him it becomes a revelation as well as a way to commemorate the suffering of his parents and other victims of the Holocaust. Michael states: “I began to paint my dreams and soon enough the experience of painting brought on exciting and mysterious experiences, as suggestive as dreaming. I felt freer than I had ever felt before. Painting became revelatory” (Michael Hafftka: A retrospective: large oils 1985-2003, Housatonic Museum of Art, Bridgeport CT, with an introduction by Robbin Zella).

Externalizing the nightmare that has haunted his family and his childhood, Hafftka expresses the raw emotions and undisguised horrors of the Holocaust. In his oil painting “Chain of Command”, we see mutilated–decapitated and amputated–humanoids whose features have been wiped out by misery and torture. Most of them are naked, deprived of every shred of civilized humanity. It’s not clear anymore who are the victims and who are the victimizers. As we know, in the sordid life of the concentration camp, prisoners acted as guards and torturers of fellow prisoners. With each person fighting for even one more day of survival, empathy was rarely possible in this environment. At Auschwitz, Polish and Ukrainian prisoners guarded the Jews, and some of the Jews were forced to be a part of the group that ran the crematoria. Humanity is desecrated to the core, reduced in its entirety to an emotion that is inseparable from sensation: unspeakable pain.

Ceremony by Michael Hafftka

Ceremony by Michael Hafftka

In the painting “Ceremony”, we see the aftermath of the slaughter of the innocent. The title is somewhat ironic, however, since millions of human beings were ruthlessly sent to their deaths–gassed and burned–with no ceremony whatsoever, and no real burial to commemorate their death. Their truncated, desecrated bodies become intertwined in the last effort to defy death in the gas chambers by climbing upon another body, living or dead, for a last breath of air.

The Charnel House, Pablo Picasso

The Charnel House, Pablo Picasso

As Sam Hunter states in his introduction to Hafftka’s series of paintings of the Holocaust, “The maimed and truncated body forms, with their ghastly pallor, recall the visual obscenities of the Nazi death camps seen in postwar photo journalism, not to mention Picasso’s mournful and eloquent Holocaust elegy, “The Charnel House”. (Michael Hafftka, with an introduction by Sam Hunter, DiLaurenti Publishing, 8). Like in Picasso’s masterpiece, there is no human emotion left on the canvas in “Ceremony”. Instead, it’s all transposed to us, the viewers, who observe with horror the gruesome spectacle of death.

 Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com

On saving European art from the Nazis and The Monuments Men

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The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men

On saving European art from the Nazis and The Monuments Men

by Claudia Moscovici

Winston Churchill is well known for a famous quote (among many others) about the importance of art to civilization. When asked if he planned to cut out art funding to channel more money into the war effort, he responded with a rhetorical question: “Then what are we fighting for?” Indeed, one of the battles against Hitler and the Nazi regime during WWII was over art. Since Hitler’s men pillaged museums and private collections and hid the artworks throughout Europe, the Allies were obliged to look for it and try to retrieve it. This effort was spearheaded, however, not by Winston Churchill, but by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Churchillart

FDR had long supported the arts as an important part of the New Deal projects. The Federal Art Project (FAP) became the visual art component of the New Deal Works Progress (active between August 29, 1935 and June 30, 1943), whose goal was to revive the U.S. economy and overcome the effects of the Great Depression. The FAP encouraged public art of all kinds: paintings, murals and sculptures. It sought to bring art, once again, to the foreground in the country. Unlike Hitler, who repudiated modernism, Roosevelt maintained a pluralist stance, encouraging both representational and abstract art works. FAP displayed, for instance, the works of Jackson Pollock long before abstraction became a mainstream movement during the 1950’s, establishing New York City rather than Paris as the new epicenter of the art world.

Hitler, too, had his own art program and ambitions. A frustrated artist who was denied admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, he nonetheless pursued his artistic dreams in his own way. Hitler wanted to create the world’s largest and best art museum, called the Führermuseum. During WWII, he pillaged many of Europe’s best museums in the countries he conquered, as well as private collections owned by Jews and other people he deported and sent to concentration camps. The art he stole and the art he destroyed reflected his particular taste as well as his intolerance to the tastes of others. Unlike FDR, who embraced all kinds of art, Hitler launched a culture war against modern art, which he viewed as “degenerate”.  He ordered that many of the masterpieces of Cubism, Futurism and Dadaism, including works by Pablo Picasso, modernism’s most notable figure, be systematically destroyed. Launching a propaganda campaign against modern art, Joseph Goebbels called such art “garbage”. On March 20, 1939, Hitler ordered the Berlin Fire Department to burn over a thousand paintings and sculptures and over 3000 watercolors, drawings and prints of modern art.

While repudiating modern art, the Nazis coveted the masterpieces of past centuries. Pillaging conquered and occupied countries, they looted their museums and private collections. Then they surreptitiously shipped and hid the artworks in caves and private houses throughout Europe. Hitler’s plan was to eventually collect most of these works in the Führermuseum, which was to be built in the town of Linz, Austria, where he spent most of his youth and which became a cultural center of the Third Reich.

In 1940, Hermann Göring, known for his ostentatious wealth, greed and pretentiousness, ordered the Nazis to seize Jewish art collections (including the collections of very wealthy, notable families such as Rothschilds, the Rosenbergs and the Goudstikkers) and collect it at the Musée Jeu de Paume in Paris before sending it to Germany. This operation was organized by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (or ERR, the Reischsleiter Rosenberg Institute for Occupied Territories, led by Alfred Rosenberg), which dealt with the patrimony of countries under German control. Göring placed Bruno Lohse in charge of Musée Jeu de Paume, its curators and staff. He supervised the shipping of artifacts to secret places in Belgium and Germany. Between 1940 and 1942, Göring traveled to Paris numerous times to oversee the shipment of art and artifacts. These looting operations, which by 1945 included hundreds of thousands of works of art, spread to other countries around the world, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia and North Africa.

The allies took note of the plunder of European art by Nazi Germany and established their own agency, the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) organization, to protect artwork from destruction by bombing and retrieve the stolen art objects. A recent movie called The Monuments Men (February, 2014), directed by George Clooney, with an all-star cast which includes Clooney himself, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Cate Blanchett, follows the efforts of several art connoisseurs—museum directors, curators, art historians and architects—to enter European combat zones during WWII and reclaim the artworks and private collections stolen by the Nazis. This entertaining and informative film is, in turn, based on Robert M. Edsel’s best-seller, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History (Center Street, New York, 2010).

Although The Monuments Men received mixed critical reviews, I think this  movie deserves a lot of credit for reminding us of Churchill’s wise words about the value of art: if we don’t save art and culture, perhaps the greatest achievements of our civilizations, then, indeed, “what are we fighting for?” Today art is not threatened by war as much as by a growing public indifference to it. It seems that nowadays art and literature risk being replaced with entertainment. Artists, critics, movie producers, actors thus face another challenge: making art and culture visible and relevant again to the general public. After all, to paraphrase Churchill—with a difference–what are we living for?

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com

Do we learn from history? Genocide and “The Selecting Hand” by Michael Hafftka

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The Selecting Hand, by Michael Hafftka

The Selecting Hand, by Michael Hafftka

Do we learn from history? Genocide and “The Selecting Hand” by Michael Hafftka

by Claudia Moscovici

Michael Hafftka is an internationally renowned artist, whose works are displayed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Art, among other museums. Art critics have dubbed his powerful and moving painting, “The Selecting Hand,” “the Guernica of the Holocaust”. This comparison with Picasso’s masterpiece is flattering and apt. Both paintings represent the atrocities inflicted upon innocent individuals: in Picasso’s case, the bombing of Guernica in 1937 by German and Italian planes (at the incitement of Spanish Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War); in Hafftka’s case, the suffering and death of millions of innocent victims during the Holocaust. Both paintings express undisguised pain and emotion in a way that is disturbing to viewers. Both stand as compelling anti-war symbols and reminders of the atrocities of the past for future generations.

In this spirit, Hafftka’s “The Selecting Hand” was selected as a representative work of art for the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The date of January 27—the day that Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1945–was designated by the UN General Assembly as a day of commemoration of the Holocaust. On this day, “the UN urges every member state to honor the victims of the Nazi era and to develop educational programs to prevent future genocides” (www.ushmm.org).  This day of international significance also has a profound personal meaning for Michael Hafftka. “I painted it in 1986 in memory of my parents and my family who perished in the Holocaust,” Hafftka declares in his artist profile on The Huffington Post. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-hafftka/)

“The Selecting Hand” alludes to the selection process in Nazi concentration camps. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, this process was quick and, for the most part, arbitrary. As soon as they stepped out of the deportation trains—where, usually, they had been deprived for days of food, water and hygienic conditions—the weakened victims were led by guards into the selection line. The guards first separated men from women and children, ripping apart families whose only solace and strength was each other. Then, following a brief and superficial visual inspection, the Nazi physicians decided whether an individual was fit for work or should be sent to the gas chamber. Babies, children, pregnant women and young mothers with small children were doomed. They were immediately taken to the gas chambers. Disoriented and frightened, the victims often didn’t even know where they were headed, since the death chambers were disguised as public showers. We see this aspect of the selection process featured in Hafftka’s painting, which reveals a woman with her blonde hair half shorn and a young child, crawling to her right, trying hopelessly to cling to life.

Although not painted in a realist style, “The Selecting Hand” is nevertheless a historically realistic painting. It’s accurate right down to the imprint of a hand on the wall and the slots through which the toxic gas Zyklon B (crystalline hydrogen cyanide) was channeled through pellets down the airshafts of the gas chamber. The painting shows the horrific and brutal reality of the Holocaust as it was. We see intertwined human beings fighting for life. Their bodies and individuated features are blurred by the toxic gas as it engulfs them. Darkness surrounds both the dead and the dying.

Since part of the significance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which Hafftka’s “The Selecting Hand” in turn commemorates, is to educate the public about the Holocaust and prevent future genocides, the question arises if we—“we” understood as humanity in general–ever learn from the history of the Holocaust enough not to repeat such disasters. Certainly, if you look at the number of genocides that followed the Holocaust—in Zanzibar, Guatemala, Pakistan, North Korea, Laos, Congo, Cambodia, Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Congo and Somalia among other places—it would seem that humanity hasn’t learned much from the past. Yet, hopefully, the future isn’t entirely bleak.

Our hope of dignity and survival consists in spreading truthful information about atrocities around the world and in combating indifference to human suffering in the places that aren’t immediately affected by them. Totalitarian regimes, ethnic or religious antagonism, and sociopathic rulers will no doubt continue to exist for as long as human beings live on this planet. Such dangerous and dark forces of history will continue to foster hatred and destruction around them.

Many have said after WWII that they didn’t know of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis.  Some have claimed they knew about “pogroms”, but not about mass genocide in concentration camps. Today, in an Internet age where information travels almost instantaneously to all corners of the world, claiming ignorance can’t offer the same shield from knowledge of the truth. We have fewer excuses—or reasons—to remain indifferent to atrocities perpetrated against the innocent. For, as Elie Wiesel reminds us in Night, “The Opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” Michael Hafftka’s painting, “The Selecting Hand,” represents an homage to the victims of the past and a reminder to us today that we cannot afford to be indifferent to genocide ever again: no matter where it takes place and no matter who are its victims.

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com

A Visual Tour of Auschwitz: “Ghosts of Holocaust” by Radoslaw Pujan

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A Visual Tour of Auschwitz: “Ghosts of Holocaust” by Radoslaw Pujan

by Claudia Moscovici

If you look up “Auschwitz” on the Internet, one of the first links that comes up is the following advertisement by Veltra tours: “Poland Auschwitz Birkenau. Book Poland activities, attractions and sightseeing, and fun things to do in Poland from VELTRA. Tours are a great way to experience everything from Auschwitz Birkenau”.

(http://www.veltra.com/en/europe/poland/ctg/160386:auschwitz_birkenau/st:price_low_to_high/.

When I read this upbeat description I did a double take. The ad seemed almost surreal. Somehow, the words “fun” and touring “Auschwitz Birkenau” don’t go together.  Nevertheless, one of the main ways in which people continue to find out about the horrors of Auschwitz is through touring the former concentration camp. For many of us, who haven’t had the opportunity to travel to Poland, this can only be a visual and virtual experience: one that is captured with great sensibility by the Polish-born, Brussels-based photographer Radoslaw Pujan.

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Pujan labeled his series of photographs of Auschwitz “Ghosts of Holocaust”:

http://www.radoslawpujan.com/holocaust.html#!

These stark black and white images can be seen at once as documentary photos; an homage to the victims, and a way to bring people today a little closer to the horrific experiences of the victims of Auschwitz. Gazing at these photos can become for viewers an exercise in empathy as well as a brief impressionistic historical journey. The title of the series is quite fitting since, although seventy years have passed since the Holocaust, the enormity of the genocide continues to haunt us.

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Located in the (then) German-administrated Polish province of Upper Silesia, Auschwitz in particular stands as an indelible symbol of the Holocaust in general. It was, in fact, composed of several camps: Auschwitz I; Auschwitz II-Birkenau (the extermination camp) and Auschwitz III-Monowitz (the Buna complex), a labor camp used by the German chemical company IG Farben to produce synthetic rubber. The region where Auschwitz was located was neither fertile nor scenic. But it was rich in coal. This natural resource, combined with the virtually free slave labor, attracted the attention of IG Farben.

Pujan’s photos take us on a virtual tour of several dilapidated former barracks. These used to be places for holding horses, long before Auschwitz was turned into a labor camp for Polish prisoners of war in April 1940, under the leadership of SS Captain Rudolf Höss. There, the Polish prisoners, used for hard labor, were subject to a grueling work schedule; lack of adequate sleep and shelter; extreme temperatures (too hot during the summer, too cold in the winter months); undernourishment and physical abuse. Half of the initial 23,000 Polish prisoners sent to Auschwitz perished within the first two years.

These statistics, dismal as they are, reflect better odds of survival compared to what the place would soon become for hundreds of thousands of Jewish inmates.  A year later, Auschwitz was turned into a concentration camp for Jews: the biggest killing complex for Hitler’s “Final Solution.” Between 1942 and late 1944, 1.1 million prisoners, 90 percent of which were Jewish, were killed in Auschwitz.

In a striking image—black and white, but mostly shades of drab gray—Pujan shows the footsteps of anonymous prisoners, without bodies or heads, moving from one electrified fence to another, as if to indicate that the only choice left to inmates were between death and death. Survival was implausible and rare.

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Pujan’s photos take us to the gas chambers located a few miles from Auschwitz I: one called the “Little Red House,” the other the “Little White House”.  They resemble two cottages with sealed up windows. There, over one million human beings were gassed to death after being stripped of their belongings, clothes, dignity and even their hair.

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We can also catch a glimpse in “Ghosts of Holocaust” of the railway tracks leading up to the crematoria. Rudolf Höss built these to accommodate more easily the enormous influx of 450,000 Hungarian Jews, most of which were gassed with amazing efficiency in Auschwitz from May to July 1944, after the German occupation of Hungary.  (see Raul Hilberg, Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders, Raul Hilberg, 85). Before this railway was built, prisoners were forced to walk one and a half mile from the train station to the gas chambers. In May 1944, the “productivity” of the death machine peaked. 10,000 human beings were gassed and burned a day in the crematoria of Auschwitz. It is difficult to imagine suffering and murder on such a vast scale. Statistics can’t capture each particular experience: the starvation, pain, humiliation, hunger and–most often–death of each man, woman and child.

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Radoslaw Pujan’s photography can only hint at, and provoke an emotional response to, this gruesome historical reality. Unlike the victim memoirs that I’ll be discussing in the future, “Ghosts of Holocaust” does not depict individual experiences. Instead Pujan’s photo series captures in a few suggestive images the death chambers of the past. In touring these haunting spaces, we take one step closer in remembering, commemorating and identifying with the countless victims, whose experiences were so horrific that most of us can barely imagine them today.

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com 

The George Enescu Festival: Why We (Still) Love Classical Music

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The George Enescu Festival: Why We (Still) Love Classical Music

by Claudia Moscovici

The George Enescu Festival in Bucharest is not only a highlight in Romanian culture, but also one of the most exciting and biggest classical music festivals in Europe. Named after the prestigious Romanian composer and violinist George Enescu  (1881-1955), who is best known for his Romanian Rhapsodies, the festival focuses on Enescu’s work and offers the best in classical music, internationally.

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Every two years, for several weeks during the month of September, Bucharest becomes the classical music capital of Europe. George Enescu and his friend and collaborator George Georgescu organized the first festival in 1958. Although the festival was banned for a period of time during Ceausescu’s dictatorship, it has been reestablished and grown since the Romanian revolution of 1989. It is organized by its Artistic Director Ioan HolenderArtexim, ArClub–The Center for Cultural Projects of the Municipality of Bucharest and the Foundation Art Production.

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In 2013, the festival will take place between September 1st and 28th, featuring concerts  of classical and contemporary music as well as opera and ballet. The festival’s motto, “Magic exists” (“Magia Exista”), emphasizes the beauty of classical music; its capacity to mesmerize all generations across cultural boundaries; its unifying force regardless of our political and ideological differences; its endurance throughout centuries, in a magic that still captivates us. Few products of the human mind, talent and creation have such a lasting power and positive effect on our cultures and psyches. I’ve included below a list of some of the reasons offered by celebrities around the world for why we still love classical music.

1. Classical music soothes the mind and delights the senses.

I had to listen to the classical music because it calms me down, calms my nerves down. “Novak Djokovic

2. Classical music supports the continuity of culture, in an age of mass media onslaught, when we risk losing the best achievements of past cultures.

In these confused times, the role of classical music is at the very core of the struggle to reassert cultural and ethical values that have always characterized our country and for which we have traditionally been honored and respected outside our shores.” Lorin Maazel

3. Much of modern music, such as jazz, rock and pop, is influenced by classical music.

Many fail to realize this great recording industry was built by so-called jazz artists. And at the other end of the spectrum, a base in European classical music as well.” Ahmad Jamal

In a way, the history of jazz’s development is a small mirror of classical music’s development through the centuries.” Mike Figgis

4. Not surprisingly, many of the best contemporary musicians have some training in classical music.

When I was younger, studying classical music, I really had to put in the time. Three hours a day is not even nice – you have to put in six.” Alicia Keys

5. Classical music is international, absorbing influences from diverse cultures and appealing to people across the world. It’s as close to a universal language as we have. In that sense, it’s a unifying force for humanity.

Music has always been transnational; people pick up whatever interests them, and certainly a lot of classical music has absorbed influences from all over the world.” Yo-Yo Ma

6. Classical music appeals to our sense of symmetry and order.

I don’t know if it’s a sign of all the chaos that is happening out there or not, but I’ve lately craved the structure and order of classical music, the balance and symmetry.” Helen Reddy 

7. Classical music is evocative. It provokes the imagination and facilitates introspection.

8. Classical music engages all of our faculties: both our creative and analytical sides. 

Given the many reasons why people  love classical music, the popularity of the George Enescu Festival is not surprising. This year the festival will reach an even wider public through its publicity campaign on the American channel CNN (see ad below) that will air on May 19th, as well as the broadcast of some of its concerts live in cinemas across Romania, in cooperation with Grand Cinema Digiplex.

For more information about the highlights of the festival this year, please find below the George Enescu Festival program, found on their website,

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