Ms Annette Seeler
Paper: "The Significance of Black and White in the Work of Käthe Kollwitz"
Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) is certainly one of the world's famous printmakers. Besides the quality of her work another reason for this fame must be, that her work is wide-spread all over the world. An important contributing factor is of course the fact that the artist is well-known - art sellers may say "notorious" - for the big size of the editions she allowed to be printed from her plates, stones and wood blocks, major factors.
The artist deliberately decided to do so. In a retrospective letter to her son from 1943 she puts it as follows: "Whenever I was asked why I do not publish small editions for an exclusive group of collectors and art-expert, I used to answer: 'It's because I would rather work for the large public.'" And in another letter to an unknown adressee of 1924 she explains, that next time her War-Cycle would be reproduced from Galvano-plates in a large edition "for the people" in order to be sold for a small price. Everybody should have been able to afford these sheets the message of which she wanted to deliver all over the world if possible.
Considering this motivation, Käthe Kollwitz' decision to work in black-and-white seems mainly caused by economic reasons, since the process of reproduction takes less trouble and time and as a consequence, is less costly. In the beginning of her career her decision to
make prints seems to have had pragmatic reasons. It is often told (even by herself) that her specialisation in printmaking was a result of her reading the aesthetic manifesto by Max Klinger. This however is very questionable, because the earliest she could have read it was in 1891, when a printed version was available. The year prior to this, in 1890, Kollwitz had decided to pursue printmaking. Max Klinger was a draughtsman, printmaker, painter and sculptor born in 1857 who died in 1920. After a long period of a widely shared disregard for printmaking, which was considered as a secondary medium, Klinger privileged it again and promoted the conviction that printmaking is an effective form of wide spread communication, a medium to deliver distinct messages the masses.
Obviously Käthe Kollwitz herself as an artist wished to keep in contact with "the people" as she put it. In 1916 she wrote in her diary that she preferred to create art which could be understood by the common man instead of what she called "workshop art" meant mainly for an exclusive circle of specialists.
But in this same diary entry we could find an important and interesting "but." The artist noted that art for common people need not be flat (meaning, one dimensional). Art for an average viewer should be simple, easy to grasp at the first sight but not at all flat. She always attached importance to this idea, that her art should be properly done, not only from a technical viewpoint but from the idea of its composition. Obviously Käthe Kollwitz, who was a thoroughly well-educated and well-read person, tried to mediate a high standard of her artistic ideas with a commitment to a seemingly simpleform of expression.
In 1917 she writes in her diary that she appreciates mystery in a work of art. So therefore we have to be aware of a hidden sense, a subtext in her work that can be understood only at a second or third viewing. My presentation is about this second significance, especially of the her use of black and the white in her woodcuts. It explains the philosophical implications that become evident in these works through multiple viewings.
ANNETTE SEELER studied art history and comparative literary criticism. From 1989 to 1998 she worked as a curator of the Käthe-Kollwitz-Museum Berlin. Thereafter she became a freelance author and curator, commissioned by a variety of museums including the Käthe-Kollwitz-Museum Berlin, the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum in Bremen, and the Käthe Kollwitz Museum in Cologne. She conceived and implemented several exhibitions about artists of the 19th and 20th century and published about these topics in journals, reviews and exhibition catalogues. Larger publications by Annette Seeler are the stock catalogue of the Käthe-Kollwitz-Museums Berlin, first edition in 1999 and a second updated version in 2004. Her latest book is bilingual (German/English), titled Hommage an / Homage to Käthe Kollwitz (edited by Martin Fritsch, E. A. Seemann, Leipzig 2005).