German Expressionist artists like Käthe Kollwitz, Otto Dix, John Heartfield, George Grosz, and Max Pechstein had a profound influence on me over the years. In 1918 Pechstein wrote, “Art will no longer be considered, as it has been in the past, an interesting and genteel occupation for the sons of wealthy loafers. On the contrary, the sons of common people must be given the opportunity, through the crafts, to become artists. Art is no game, but a duty to the people! It is a matter of public concern.” Such eloquence still resonates in the present, especially for those of us concerned with making art a part of everyone’s daily experience. In 1920, Pechstein wrote his Creative Credo, communicating the ecstasy and frenzy of artistic creation:
“Work! Ecstasy! Smash your brains! Chew, stuff yourself, gulp it down, mix it around! The bliss of giving birth! The crack of the brush, best of all as it stabs the canvas. Tubes of color squeezed dry. And the body? It doesn’t matter. Health? Make yourself healthy! Sickness doesn’t exist! Only work and I’ll say that again – only blessed work! Paint! Dive into colors, roll around in tones… in the slush of chaos! Chew the broken off mouthpiece of your pipe, press your naked feet into the earth. Crayon and pen pierce sharply into the brain, they stab into every corner, furiously they press into the whiteness. Black laughs like the devil on paper, grins in bizarre lines, comforts in velvety planes, excites and caresses. The storm roars – sand blows about – the sun shatters to pieces – and nevertheless, the gentle curve of the horizon quietly embraces everything.
Beaten down, exhausted, just a worm, collapse into your bed. A deep sleep will make you forget your defeat. A new day! A new struggle! Ecstasy again! One day after the other, a sparkling, constantly changing chain of days. One experience after the other. That damned brain! What is it that churns and twitches and jumps in there? Hah! Tear your head off. Then we’ll scrape it out and scratch it out. Get rid of every little bit. Sand! Water! Scrub it clean. There now!! Almost as good as new… an unused skull. Night! Night! No stars, pitch black. Without desire! Tomorrow is another day.”
In 1937 the Nazis would prohibit Pechstein from creating or exhibiting. They removed his artworks from museums and instead included them in their infamous Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition. Pechstein survived the reign of fascism and continued to work as an artist in West Berlin until his death in 1955. Read more about Max Pechstein and the German Expressionists.