artist of the day #52: Käthe Kollwitz

Some artists find their medium before they find their ideal subject matter, and some artists find their subject matter before their ideal medium. As the artists herself would describe it, Käthe Kollwitz was meant to be the champion of the lower class. The medium was of secondary importance.

In today’s world I think many people have this image in their heads of what an artist is. They envision this somewhat anti-social recluse, locked away in some studio, playing with art supplies till they make something interesting. But the truth of it is, that the most important artists throughout history spent much of their time being a part of history. Artists like Kollwitz needed inspiration from that outside world to drive her passion. She simply could not just be an artist that created things in a vacuum, she needed to connect her art to the world.

Much of her work came as direct inspiration from the work of her husband, Karl Kollwitz, who worked as a doctor for the lower class. Käthe Kollwitz saw first hand some of the pain and suffering this group had to face. Different series of work were inspired by different events. Some were influenced by different rebellions, others by more specific events like the death of a child. One of her most personal works was a memorial to her son who died in World War I, entitled Grieving Parents.

Throughout her life she was celebrated by her peers, but often condemned by the powers of her government. She was once forced from her position as a faculty member at Akademie der Kunste because her work was thought to be disparaging to how the government treated its people. Her work was also removed from museums even though one piece mother and child was stolen for use as Nazi propaganda. Gestapo once even threatened her and her husband, but she has received too much international fame for her death to go unheard. She turned down offers to stay with admirers in other countries and opted to stay with the people she had spent a lifetime celebrating.

Kollwitz never took the easy way out of anything. Through her work as a painter, printmaker, and sculptor she uplifted a class of people that had only been pushed down by the rest of the world.