Kathe Kollwitz and Communal Memory

Artists are individual, but we are also representatives of communities. Eventually though, artwork becomes simply part of human history. Art and art forms are shared.

For some reason this makes me think of Kathe Kollwitz (July 8, 1867 – April 22, 1945.) The current Kollwitz wikipedia entry says she “was a German painter, printmaker, and sculptor, whose work offered an eloquent and often searing account of the human condition in the first half of the 20th century. Her empathy for the less fortunate, expressed most famously through the graphic means of drawing, etching, lithography, and woodcut, embraced the victims of poverty, hunger, and war.” Here is a small gallery of her work:

I saw her work as a child in the home of my paternal grandparents. They had two of her prints in the hall of their home. The met in New York having fled the Holocaust, and as a child, and a generation removed, I had no idea what that really meant. That reality, their reality, was told to me, but it was so far removed from my experience (blessings) that of course I couldn’t understand it. One of the ways that I did consciously, in my childish way, relate to it was through the memory I experienced in the Kollwitz images. Art is like that; it eventually becomes unhinged from the personal and communal associations that fed its creation.

Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.