Can there be art after Auschwitz?
The devastating effects left by World War II upon the countries involved was horrific enough to make people impossibly make, let alone think, of art. One can not simply erase the images from the concentration camps out of their minds. People who did not go to concentration camps, too, suffered from the after-effects of war. Economic downfall, heavy trauma, shifting political powers (this affected the rules imposed on the lifestyle of the people); those were traumatizing enough for them to not think of art.
Yet, art is something we, humans, could not live without. Art is a media where humans escape to when the reality they are facing is too heavy a burden. Therefore, in spite of the horrors after war, people seek art as a type of meditation for their crushed soul. They needed to express their anguish and their feelings.
How to represent the devastating situation in art, without having to revoke the horror or fear within one’s self.
In my opinion, post-WWII artists try to express their opinions, after being repressed by the horrors before, in a way that will remind people of the horrors of World War II, without making their works disturbing. These types of works are categorized in the “Abstract Expressionism” movement, where artists express their thoughts in an abstract way, making their works disturbing, yet not disturbing, at the same time.
“Head VI” by Francis Bacon (1948)
A surge of horror flowed from this painting into the minds of the viewers. Though the pope was based on a portrait of a holy figure, Pope Innocent X, by Velazquez, Bacon has transformed the saintly figure in a figure of terror. Mouth open as if screaming, this painting seemed to represent terror in a small repressive space (we can all see a cube-like form surrounding the figure).
This work can be seen as a representation of the horrors from World War II, in which Bacon resided in London after being discharged from the army. He also painted other “Heads”, all featuring the same cube-like space which represses the figure (though not all figures are the pope). The figure seemed to be distorted in some of his paintings.
Post World War II also saw European artists emigrating to the ‘new land’, the United States of America, in which they run away from the war. However, their memories were not automatically wiped out by stepping on the new land; instead, they had the chance to express their thoughts and experiences through art.
“No. 5” by Jackson Pollock (1948)
I believe that Jackson Pollock’s style represents his necessity and desire to break away from traditional painting techniques. This, conceptually, can be seen as how he wants to show his own liberty. This type of painting is called “action painting”, where the painting techniques shown on the canvas is not the only thing that matters, but rather, the action of painting the work also matters.
Lines going on various angles show how variable was his ways of dripping and splattering his paint. The painting shows that it is not only the result that matters, but the process, too.
The reason I paint them, however . . . is precisely because I want to be very intimate and human. – Mark Rothko
I personally love the works of Mark Rothko. They are simple, yet intimate, as the artist himself wanted the works to be. His painting large pictures was to create an intimacy for the viewers. His works differ from those of Pollock, for his works are neat and ordered, while Pollock’s are disordered and messy. His works speak of calmness, tranquility, and silence. He wanted his work to function as what interior designer do today: to be able to manipulate the sensations in a room where his paintings are. Large and full of neat blocks of color, that is how Rothko created intimacy through his paintings.
Rothko chapel, Texas
And here we have an example of an interior filled with Rothko’s paintings. Commissioned to paint site-specific paintings for a meditative space, Rothko created “fourteen black but color hued paintings” to manipulate the sensations of the visitors; to give them a sensation of meditation and relaxation of the mind.
I strongly believe he succeeded in creating atmospheres through paintings.