Wilhelm Reich: The Psychology of Fascism

A few weeks ago my friend Chris recommended Wilhelm Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism. I didn’t know of the book but Reich’s name sounded familiar. I looked on my bookshelf and found Reich’s Character Analysis that I had inherited from another friend who had passed. I had not read the book yet, but once I started, I became fascinated by his work. Reich’s psychology challenges the trends in culture which deny the wholeness of the person; mind, heart and body. Friedrich Nietzsche recognized the modern asceticism when he wrote, “To the despisers of the body will I speak my word. I wish them neither to learn afresh, nor teach anew, but only to bid farewell to their own bodies,—and thus be dumb.”

Wilhelm Reich (1897–1957) was an Austrian-born student of Sigmund Freud’s. He was one of the most radical and controversial figures in the history of psychiatry. He coined the term “sexual revolution” and it seems his writings were at the height of popularity during the 1960s. Reich used Freud’s framework for the development of his theories. However, Reich did not accept Freud’s assumption that a child’s impulses were primarily anti-social which were in need of repression in order to maintain social stability. Reich came to the conclusion from his treatment of his patients that the mechanized organization of civilization was the main cause of the psychic disturbance in modern society.


Burning The Mass Psychology of Fascism

Reich worked in Germany in the early 1930s as the Nazis came to power. Although Reich was active in socialist organizations in Germany, he thought Marxist analysis was not adequate to account for the rise of Fascism. I believe Reich’s understanding of fascism is his most important contribution. Fascism should not be regarded as a political party which had formed authoritarian states in Germany and Italy, rather fascism is the manifestation of the irrational attitude of the suppressed individual in machine civilization. What is of great interest, is the cause of the neurotic fascist character. Reich was certain that the sexual repression of the child destroyed the individual’s ability to resist authoritarianism. Reich wrote:

When the patriarchal organization of society began to replace the matriarchal organization, suppression and repression of genital sexuality in children and adolescents were the principal mechanisms used to adapt the human structure of the authoritarian order. The suppression of nature, of “the animal” in the child, was and has remained the principal tool in the production of mechanical subjects. Society’s socio-economic development has continued its mechanical course until today in an independent way. The basis of all ideological and cultural formations developed and branched out hand in hand with the socio-economic development: “Away from geniality” and “away from the animal.”

I felt the need to bring attention to Reich’s work to the Pigtails community, without being aware of it, Pigtails has challenged the collective superego of fascism. The psychodynamic mechanism of repression caused the Nazis to project their self-hatred onto the Jews. The projections of the contemporary corporate culture are more directly related to the source of its repression, since the neurotic culture projects its hatred onto the new shadow monster: the pedophile.

Reich’s view of sexuality was not the only radical position he held. He also thought that cancer was caused by the neurotic repression of libido energy he called “orgone”. In 1940 he began to build “orgone accumulators,” for his patients to sit in which he claimed were “definitely able to destroy cancerous growth.” The FDA did not agree, Reich was accused by the government of being a medical fraud. His orgone accumulators were seized and destroyed and six tons of his books, journals and papers were burned. Reich died in a prison cell in Lewisberg, Pennsylvania in 1957. In his will, he established the Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust to safeguard his legacy and ensure access to his work.

William Steig – illustration for Listen, Little Man! (page 80) 1948

William Steig – illustration for Listen, Little Man! (page 60) 1948

Before I was able to find a copy of the The Mass Psychology of Fascism, I checked out Listen, Little Man! from the library. Reich wrote the text in the summer of 1946 to express his grief over the state of the “little man” but had no intention to publish it. However, his supporters recognized the value of Listen, Little Man! for the understanding of Reich’s philosophy. Below is a passage from the book, such frankness today is regarded as simply politically incorrect:

Little woman, if without any particular vocation you drifted into teaching merely because you had no children of your own, you’re doing unconscionable harm. You’re supposed to be bringing up children. The rearing of children, if taken seriously, implies the correct handling of their sexuality. In order to handle a child’s sexuality correctly, one must know from one’s own experience what love is. But you’re built like a tub, you’re awkward and physically repulsive. That alone is enough to give you a bitter, deep-seated hatred for every attractive, living body. Naturally I don’t blame you for being built like a tub, or for never having experienced love (no healthy man could have loved you), or for failing to understand love in children. But I do blame you for making a virtue of your affliction, of your wrecked, tublike body, of your lack of beauty and grace and your incapacity for love, and for stifling love in children. That, you ugly little woman, is a crime. Your existence is harmful because you turn healthy children against their healthy fathers, because you treat healthy childlike love as a symptom of a disease, because, ugly little woman, not content with looking like a tub, you think and teach like a tub; because instead of withdrawing modestly into a quiet corner of life, you do your best to imprint all life with your ugliness, your tub-like ungainliness, your hypocrisy, and with the bitter hatred that you hide behind your phony smile.

I’d love to read the above passage in a feminist studies program but if I dared to, I would certainty need to wear full riot gear! Reich’s idea of education seems to reflect the view of Plato and Rousseau, they thought that education should flow through the sense, the limbs and muscles, and not primarily through the faculty of abstraction. As Sir Herbert Read put it,”education must be through arts, through gymnastics, through creative play of all kinds; it must be under the patronage of Dionysus rather than Apollo.”

Reich recognized that children should be allowed to express their innocent sexuality, otherwise the repression would likely be distructive to their ego. Today, the alienation from human nature has progressed to the point that a 9-year-old boy may face sexual harassment charges for passing a love note in class. I believe Reich hit on the neurosis of many postmodern feminists, since many of the troubled souls have never experienced genuine romantic love, they take vengeance in political and aesthetic forms of sadism. The little women ban Valentine’s Day in school but claim it was done in respect to political correctness. They remove a painting of nymphs from a museum and claim it was done to “prompt conversation”. Estranged from their biological core, the little women certainly hate pigtails.

Wilhelm Reich – Children

I wish Reich had not used the term “sex” so much in his writing since it led to a vulgar misunderstanding of his intentions. I believe Reich was endorsing an environment for children to nurture a love of life in which sexuality would be included since it is a part of life. Reich did some painting as a hobby, his picture Children reflects a reverence for life.

I was writing an article on the artist Mary Cassatt when my friend recommended Reich’s book to me. The cold academic indifference to Cassatt’s warm paintings of mothers and children prompted me to apply Alice Miller’s insights in child rearing and alienation. Miller was a Swiss psychologist who had a profound understanding of the “soul murder” of the child in the authoritarian state, her account of the psychology of fascism parallels the work of Reich. My article “Mary Cassatt: Nurturing the Soul” can be found here.

Although I appreciate Susan for bringing this philosopher-psychologist to the readers’ attention, I feel it important to inform readers that Pigtails in Paint does not espouse the ideas of Reich in full.  Reich, like many of us at Pigtails, trusted his instincts that there is something neurotic about society and that one of the keys to that is the bizarre way we indoctrinate children regarding their sexuality.  The flaw in Reich’s pedagogy, apart from his lack of tact and oversimplification, is how strongly he adhered to Freudian theory.  Freud is a problematic character; on the one hand, he was a kind of genius, but in his rational explanation of his ideas, he comes off as a kind of crackpot.  He did not realize, as Carl Jung did, that the subconscious mind does not conform to rational explanation.  What we should be advocating is a balance between our animal spirits and our reasoning mind.  The two should work in accord to mitigate the pressures that lead to neurosis and psychosis, both individually and in civilized society as a whole.  Healthy men and women both need a way to express their humanity that is not dependent on their presumed reproductive imperatives.  -Ron

Igor Stravinsky: Dances of the Young Girls

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) was a Russian Neoclassical composer, pianist, and conductor. He is arguably the most influential composer of the 20th century. His style of composition is still noticeable in the work of film soundtrack composers. He first gained acclaim for three ballets commissioned by the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev, The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). In last of these, Stravinsky developed a new system of bitonality and polyrhythms which gave him enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary.

Dancers in Nicholas Roerich’s costumes for The Rite of Spring

The premiere of the The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du printemps) on May 29, 1913, at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées in Paris started a riot; some accounts of the performance claim the police were called. The audience was shocked by Stravinsky’s unprecedented use of dissonance and rhythm as well as Vaslav Nijinsky’s unusual choreography of the dancers. The performance of the Introduction was uneventful, the riot really broke out according to Stravinsky, “when the curtain opened on the group of knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down”. Danses des Adolescentes  or Dances of the Young Girls is the first scene in The Rite of Spring in which Stravinsky employed his bewildering rhythms. The audience responded by whistling and stamping their feet, the noise was so great the performers could barely hear each other.

Beethoven 6th Symphony 2nd Movement (At the Brook)

Ludwig van Beethoven 6th Symphony 2nd Movement (At the Brook)

One would expect the music for a dance of young girls in Spring to be light-hearted in mood, perhaps something like this passage from Beethoven’s 6th “Pastoral” Symphony is what could be expected. ( At least this what Walt Disney had in mind for the Centaurettes in Fantasia)

Igor Stravinsky ~ The Rite of Spring ~ Dances of the Young Girls

Stravinsky shatters our expectations by instead having the girl’s dance begin with a loud pulse with unpredictable dissonant chord strikes, which ironically, later inspired John William’s theme for the attacking shark in the film Jaws! Erik Heine noted, “The accents in the shark’s music mirror the accents from the Dance of the Young Girls in Stravinsky’s ballet”. Stravinsky upset the meter most are accustomed to hear, a measure of four eighth notes — 1234, 1234, etc. instead, the accents (reinforced by of 8 French Horns!) make us hear 1234, 12345, 12, 123456, 123, 1234, 12345,123! melodic fragments from Russian folk songs are introduced which give the sense of a dance in an immense kaleidoscope.  Dances of the Young Girls can be heard here.

While it is true The Rite of Spring is a masterpiece of modern music in terms of form. Is it really modern in terms of content? Although Stravinsky gained reputation of being avant-garde, I’m certain he did not intend to cause offense, he said in an interview,”I knew the music (The Rite of Spring) so well and it was so dear to me that I couldn’t understand why people were protesting against it.” Gill Perry recognized that “Many artists whom we now label ‘modern’ were in fact opposed to the processes of modernization (by which I mean the forces of industrialization and urbanization in Western capitalist society).”

When Stravinsky was completing The Firebird in 1910, an image flashed in his mind:

“…there arose a picture of a sacred pagan ritual: the wise elders are seated in a circle and observing the dance before death of a girl whom they are offering as a sacrifice to the god of Spring in order to gain his benevolence. This became the subject of The Rite of Spring“.

Scott Affleck ~ Rite of Spring (sketch) 2013

Many remain blind to the trend in art between the late 19th Century and early 20th Century I refer to as Jugend. Many artists of the period felt the need to find “roots” away from the sophistication and materialism of the modern world. Very often rural peasants were chosen as a subject of great moral worth, others turned to youth. It seems that no one wants to notice this, for example Die Brücke paintings of young girls were central to the school but are not included in art history books. I make a point of the loss of sensitivity modernism has brought in my post ‘The Zeitgeist’ on Celestial Venus. The rites of passage have been done away with in modern society so Stravinsky, like many other artists, return to the initiation folklore of youth. Leonard Bernstein observed, “This is one very obvious sense in which Stravinsky’s music can be understood as Poetry of Earth; these pieces are deeply rooted in the earth of folklore, at times seeming to reach back even further than traditional folk music, reaching atavistically back to prehistory.”

Children of All Nations

Hetty Brody - Children of all Nations (1972)

Hetty Brody – Children of all Nations (1972)

When I was cleaning my parent’s basement a few weeks ago, I came across a book of rug designs in which I found this charming Children of All Nations rug. Little information was given about it other than it was a punch hook by Hetty Brody of Hollywood California. The book of rug designs was published in 1972, the rug certainly reflects the spirit of the time. The image of children of different races holding hands appears to be inspired by Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It seems appropriate to consider this rug due to the current racial tension after the fatal shooting of an African-American man by a Louisiana police officer. Many sociologists believe that racial tension is approaching a point of the street riots that swept urban American in the late 1960s.

When I discovered the rug, I admired the optimism of the image of nude girls but realize such a spirit can hardly be found today. Why is it so? There’s an atmosphere of skepticism today. The Australian philosopher David Stove called the epistemological gloom “cognitive Calvinism”; Stove observed, “Calvinists believe in the total depravity of human nature: if an impulse is one of ours, it is bad, because it is one of ours.” A cognitive Calvinist in contrast to a religious Calvinist, is one who has no faith in God but still presumes all motives are of self-interest even if actions may appear outwardly good. Contemporary thought operates along these lines of skepticism of intent. Traditional literature and works of art are deconstructed to expose the supposed hypocrisy behind the humanist ideals expressed in the works. Many postmodernists dismiss the notion of universal human qualities and values as an oppressive construction, and if so, why not deconstruct this text?

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.

Our society is falling apart due to “cognitive Calvinism”, the presumption of the total depravity of human nature, the idealism found in the 1960’s is greatly needed. No society can function based on distrust. This is why I have come to love images of this kind, it is the very antithesis of our “Orwellian” culture. The irony is, I find that people who have a traditional religious background tend to be open-minded to images of nude children because they still respect the idea of innocence. I have good reason to believe the current state of self-consciousness is due to the “hermeneutics of suspicion”, where things are not accepted at face value. Most feminists presume images of beautiful females are some form of sexploitation. This ideology has atomized society, which I have reason to believe is intentional. The authors of anti-utopias predicted that authoritarianism would intentionally break the ties of the family. The only solution I see is a return to romantic idealism which recognizes how industrialization has alienated the perception of life.

Children of All Nations pattern (1972)

Children of All Nations pattern (1972)

Michael G. Laster

About 12 years ago I discovered the work of the American artist Michael G. Laster on the web. I was impressed by the artist’s imaginative figurative paintings of adolescents. The paintings reflected a rare sincerity which gave the work an emotional beauty. Eric Fischl’s paintings from the 1980s are the only other contemporary works that come to my mind that are similar. Contemporary figurative art is expected to be “cool”; the artist is expected to wear a mask and avoid any sensitivity.

Michael G. Laster Birthright Boy and Girl

Michael G. Laster – Birthright Boy and Girl (c2004)

Laster’s Birthright is a diptych of a boy in a field of wheat and a girl in a field of flowers. The painting technique is very crude but it actually gives the work a child-like charm. The boy and girl each hold symbols of the opposite sex, the boy holds a cute cat while the girl holds a spooky bird. I only recently noticed that the boy is holding flowers in his hand from the field the girl stands in while the girl holds wheat in her hand from the field of the boy. Although the symbols are clear, the meaning of the work is still ambiguous; it is very poetic.

Michael G. Laster Playing Doctor 2004 ca

Michael G. Laster – Playing Doctor (c2004)

Laster’s drawing, Playing Doctor is like Eric Fischl’s classic work from the 1980s.

Michael G. Laster Girl Refuting Hegel's

Michael G. Laster – Girl Refuting Hegel’s Dialectic Model of History (c2006)

Unfortunately there is little information on the web about the paintings because the artist’s site has been down. The info I could find was from a post from 10 years ago by Gary Sauer-Thompson about the exhibition Based on a Thorough Understanding of the Way Things Are. A photograph from the exhibit titled Girl Refuting Hegel’s Dialectic Model of History, may be of Laster with his daughter. Either Laster has a sense of humor or she is just a really smart girl! If anyone has information about this charming work let us know. I would like to arrange an exhibit of his work. I’m afraid Laster may have stopped painting due to the cultural environment, which is a great loss.

Michael G. Laster Spring Fever

Michael G. Laster – Spring Fever (c2004)

Michael G. Laster The Little Red Haired Girl

Michael G. Laster – The Little Red Haired Girl (c2004)

Other work by Laster can be found here.

Arthur B. Davies

Arthur Bowen Davies (1862–1928) was an American Symbolist artist, who enjoyed great success in his lifetime. In 1924, the art collector Duncan Phillips, founder of Washington’s Phillips Collection, wrote, “Arthur B. Davies is already recognized, not only in this country but in Europe, as one of the few men of original and authentic genius among the painters of our contemporary world.” However, like many artists featured on Pigtails in Paint, his work is not well-known today. He is mainly remembered for organizing the Armory Show which introduced modern European painting styles into early 20th Century America.

Arthur B Davies Two Nude Girls ca. 1915

Arthur B. Davies – Two Nude Girls (c1915)

I came to be interested in work like Davies’ when I was in college taking a course on existentialism and reading books like Kierkegaard’s Sickness unto Death. The vitality of the paintings of young girls by early 20th Century artists seemed to counter such pessimism. It is my intention in my posts to put the figurative works in a cultural context which will enrich one’s understanding of the work. Most articles I find on American early 20th Century artists only give biographical information without recognizing the symbolic content of the work. There appear to be hundreds of paintings and sculptures of young girls which were executed from the 1890s until the 1920s, since such images of girls were very rare in earlier times. The works must reflect a cultural development. I believe the tendency reflects a return of what Plato called the Celestial Venus. An article that covers more of Davies’ nudes can be found on Celestial Venus.

Arthur B Davies The Mountaineers 1913

Arthur B. Davies – The Mountaineers (1913)

Davies also experimented with a cubist style for a short time. I know I have been critical of Duchamp and Picasso but I will admit I like some of their cubist works. But most cubist paintings amuse me in a way, which is similar to the amusement I have from looking a gaudy 1960s fashion; what were they thinking? An example that guys should understand: it’s like the cheesy wah wah guitar effect, which now sounds corny. It appears that Davies could not accept the aesthetics of Cubism since he never fragmented the figures as Picasso did. Davies’ Cubist paintings reflect that he was only appealing to a fad.  In contrast, many of his figurative works are timeless. That’s what is special about a nude, since the person is not wearing clothes which reflects a time period; very often a nude is timeless.

Arthur B. Davies - Heart's Hansel (1916)

Arthur B. Davies – Heart’s Hansel (1916)

Arthur B Davies Drawing ca. 1920

Arthur B. Davies – Drawing (c1920)

Picasso and the CIA

Pablo Picasso Maia's Face 1938

Pablo Picasso – Maia’s Face (1938)

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) needs little introduction since he is probably the most famous artist of the 20th Century. His portraits from his Blue and Rose period reflect a sensitivity for his subjects which was lost when he turned to Cubism. However, occasionally he did some beautiful work after his Cubist phase which reflect a love for the subject, his portrait of his daughter Maia is proof for any Philistines that he could draw in a traditional manner.

Pablo Picasso Guernica 1937

Pablo Picasso Guernica 1937

On the April 26, 1937 the town of Guernica was totally destroyed fom a bombing by the German air force. The town was of no military importance; its destruction was an act of pure terrorism. Picasso responded by painting a surreal cartoonish scene that has the effect of a collage made of old newspapers due to the hard edge forms and the palette of dark browns and white. Guernica is considered a masterpiece of modern art.

Picasso Massacre in Korea 1951

Picasso Massacre in Korea 1951

Picasso painted another painting like Guernica in 1951; this time he drew inspiration from the composition of Francisco de Goya’s The Third of May 1808. I consider the Massacre in Korea to be a much better painting than Guernica since I can empathize with some of the figures. An adolescent girl stands frozen near the center of the painting and she looks to the viewer with expression of grief. To her right, a baby plays near her feet, unaware of the violence. Two younger children run to a group of four terrified women; all the women and children are naked to symbolize defenselessness. To the right of the painting stands a firing squad, as in Goya’s painting. The posture of the soldiers seem to be mechanical—they are a group of executing robots. The painting was not well received since the “robots” represented the United States military.

The New York art community regarded Picasso’s “new Guernica” to be an “aesthetic failure”. Clement Greenberg, who was the most influential art critic of the time claimed that modern art was apolitical and was only an aesthetic pursuit, but some thought otherwise. On August 16, 1949, Congressman Dondero from Michigan gave a condemning speech “Modern art shackled to Communism”. Picasso had a reputation as a genius but his Massacre in Korea didn’t help the position of Nelson Rockefeller and his associates, who were promoting Modernism. A letter was drafted to Picasso in December 1952 by the recently formed Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF). The letter condemned Picasso for supporting communism. The letter was never sent but Irving Kristol who was the executive director of the CCF, was confident that he could count on Greenberg’s signature and probably the signatures of Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and Alexander Clader.

Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell paintings modern wing Piladelphia Museum

Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell –  Paintings in the modern wing of the Philadelphia Museum

In 1967, the magazine Ramparts exposed the CCF to be a CIA-funded organization. The CIA’s promotion of abstract expressionism was so extensive in the 1950’s, an unknown artist couldn’t find representation in New York unless he was painting in a style derived from the New York School. The CIA claimed that the purpose of the program was to improve the United States’ image to liberals who may support communism. The Congress was run by CIA agent Micheal Josselson from 1950 to 1967. At its peak, it had offices in thirty-five countries, published over twenty prestigious magazines, held art exhibitions and rewarded artists with prizes. The realist painter Ben Shahn refused to join and referred to the Congress as the ‘ACCFuck’.

Mark Rothko room, Tate Modern

Mark Rothko Room, Tate Modern

Pablo Picasso Girl with Basket of Flowers 1905

Pablo Picasso Girl with Basket of Flowers 1905

Frances Stonor Saunders’ book Who Paid the Piper? provided much of the information for this article; she writes: “Operating at a remove from the CIA, and therefore offering a plausible disguise for its interests, was the Museum of Modern Art. An inspection of MoMA’s committees and councils reveals a proliferation of links to the Agency.” The program manufactured history and abstract expressionism was promoted as New American painting when in fact most Americans then and now have difficulty accepting the paintings as art. The purpose of the program had nothing to do with freedom—the effect was more like censorship. If respectable art is limited to drips of paint or a field of color, it makes it impossible for an artist to represent anything that could conflict with the ideology of the social system. This is what I found in the account of the response to Massacre in Korea; it was called an “aesthetic failure” for actually being expressive. I regard Korea to be one of Picasso’s best paintings since his Rose Period. I find paintings like Guernica to be ineffective due to the abstractification, the aesthetic distance. I agree with Tolstoy, the essence of art is expression, not just an arrangement of form. The forms in Guernica are cold symbols that fail to evoke empathy.

Wikipedia noted that none of the soldiers in Massacre in Korea have penises. This feature is contrasted by the pregnant state of the women on the left side of the panel. “Many viewers have interpreted that the soldiers, in their capacity as destroyers of life, have substituted guns for their penises, thereby castrating themselves and depriving the world of the next generation of human life”. An expressive image of Americanization indeed.

Andy Warhol Campbell's Soup Cans 1962

Andy Warhol – Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962)

Miles Mathis believes as well as I do, that the CIA allowed for Saunders’ book to surface to distract from the fact that the government is still in control of the ideology of the art establishment. For example, the book makes no reference to Andy Warhol despite the fact that Warhol was being promoted during the time that the CIA’s program was admittedly active. The values of Pop: mass production and consumerism were in complete conflict with the values of the genuine liberals of the 1960s and 1970s. This is why Jock Sturges was persecuted by the FBI; his photographs reflect a connection between people which were in conflict with the emerging post-humanism. The underlining goal of the plutocracy is to maintain a dysfunctional culture since a disconnected society is easier to control.

The artist Miles Mathis examined Frances Stonor Saunders’ book, the PDF can be found here: The Cultural Cold War.

The Independent’s article can be found here: Modern art was CIA ‘weapon’

Pablo Picasso Le Gourmet 1901

Pablo Picasso – Le Gourmet (1901)

Picasso Girl with Dog 1905

Pablo Picasso – Girl with Dog (1905)

Pablo Picasso Maia-with her Doll 1938

Pablo Picasso – Maia with her Doll (1938)

Lucas Cranach: Charity

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553) was a German Renaissance artist. He was the court painter to the Electors of Saxony for most of his career and is known for his portraits and nude subjects drawn from mythology and religion. I find it interesting that Cranach was close friend of Martin Luther (the leading figure of the Protestant Reformation). Because he is also regarded as an innovator for his nudes, Kenneth Clark commented that “Cranach is one of those rare artists who have added to our imaginative repertoire of physical beauty.”

Lucas Cranach - Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1504)

Lucas Cranach – Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1504)

The playful almost comic mood of Cranach’s paintings gives his work an appeal not found in the work of most of his contemporaries: Albrecht Durer, Mathis Grünewald and Hans Holbein with the exception of Hans Baldung. The earliest large work by Cranach is The Rest on the Flight into Egypt of 1504. Behind Mary and Joseph stands an old fir tree and birch tree that would more likely be found in Germany than in Egypt. Busy angels who make music, bring water and offer the Christ Child birds take the form of cherubs and child nymphs. To the left of Mary’s feet sits an angel in gold that plays the flute; the style of the gown appears to be that of a girl’s because of the style of the sleeve.

Lucas Cranach - Venus Standing in a Landscape (1529)

Lucas Cranach – Venus Standing in a Landscape (1529)

Cranach seldom painted the nude beauties he is known for until the late 1520s—well into the Reformation. Of the standing Venus paintings, this seems to be the most famous; her slender form, tiny breasts an narrow hips, the rounded forehead, are the physical characteristics of an adolescent girl or young woman. We tend to think of the ideal as a busty beauty but that was not the case until the mid-twentieth century. Nudes in the German tradition drew their inspiration from Gothic art which had a juvenile air. Cranach’s innovation was that he took the stiff figures of Gothic art and gave them the grace of Botticelli.

Lucas Cranach - Portrait of Martin Luther as Junker Jörg

Lucas Cranach – Portrait of Martin Luther as Junker Jörg (c1522)

Cranach was a close friend of Martin Luther from the beginning of the Reformation.  Luther was godfather to Cranach’s daughter Anna and Cranach in turn became godfather to Luther’s first-born son, Johannes. This special relationship with its founder enabled Cranach to chronicle the Reformation. At the time of the above portrait, Luther was regarded as an outlaw by the Roman Catholic Church. Luther is shown with the beard he had grown to disguise himself as the nobleman “Junker Jörg”. He was in hiding at the Wartburg, a strong fortress at the top of a mountain, under the protection of the local prince. In a small study in the castle, he translated the New Testament from Greek into German. To providence, Cranach owned the only publishing house in the area. Cranach illustrated and published Luther’s first translation of the Bible into German, which was the first time that the scriptures were translated from the Latin to be made available to the public.

Lucas Cranach-Charity Standing

Lucas Cranach – Charity Standing (1530s)

Cranach is known for conveying Lutheran religious concerns in his paintings, but I believe the influence of the Reformation on his series of Charity paintings has not yet been recognized. Charity is the foremost of the three theological virtues “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity” (I Corinthians 13:13) The word “love”, is a closer definition to the modern ear because the word “charity” has the implication of giving to the needy. The fourteenth century Italian sculptor Tino da Camaino was the first to represent Charity as a loving mother with three or more children. Italian Renaissance artists followed the Graeco-Roman convention of depicting children as only boys.  The Italian masters appear to have been caught in a “patricentric box of language”. In Cranach’s interpretations of Charity, one of the children is represented as a little girl which is likely the first nude of this kind in western art. I believe Cranach broke with convention for a reason.

Cultures have been structured according to two principles: patriarchal and matriarchal. The priority of matriarchal principles is unconditional love: a mother loves her children regardless of whether they are good or bad; they are loved because they are her (or another woman’s) children. The essence of this love is mercy and compassion. In contrast, the priority of patriarchy is conditional love: a child needs to work to be respected by the father. The essence of this love is justice.

Lucas Cranach - Charity Landscape (1830s)

Lucas Cranach – Charity Landscape (1530s)

In the course of the Reformation, Luther ended the devotion to the Virgin Mary, which resulted in the elimination of the matricentric principle that existed in western culture. Erich Fromm recognized the profound influence the removal of the matricentric principle had on the development of society.

“Luther established a purely patriarchal form of Christianity in Northern Europe that was based on the urban middle class and the secular princes. The essence of this new social character is submission under patriarchal authority, with work as the only way to obtain love and approval. Behind the Christian facade arose a new secret religion, ‘industrial religion,’ that is rooted in the character structure of modern society, but is not recognized as ‘religion.’

The industrial religion is incompatible with genuine Christianity. It reduces people to servants of the economy and the machinery that their own hands build. The industrial religion had its basis in a new social character. Its center was fear of and submission to powerful male authorities, cultivation of the sense of guilt for disobedience, dissolution of the bond of human solidarity by the supremacy of self-interest and mutual antagonism. The ‘sacred’ in industrial religion was work, property, profit, power, even though it furthered individualism and freedom within the limits of its general principles.”

The Virgin Mary was a predominant figure in Renaissance art—about 1 in 4 paintings of the period represent her. I suspect that Cranach sensed the dangers of the elimination of the image of the Holy Mother and I believe his Charity paintings were intended to compensate because the image of the mother ultimately represents the principle of what ought to be. Traditionally,the father would support the family by going out into the imperfect world; he would deal with objective reality with a focus on prosperity. The mother would remain with the children in the bonds of human solidarity which better reflects genuine Christian principles because they can be compromised in an antagonistic environment.

Lucas Cranach - Charity (1830s)

Lucas Cranach – Charity (1530s) (1)

In all of Cranach’s Charity paintings, one of the children is a little girl. In some works, it is difficult to tell because only a tiny pigtail indicates the child’s gender. In two of the paintings, the girl holds a doll as her role model; the mother holds an infant. Cranach’s paintings are the only Charity paintings I know of that include this iconography. Feminine nature was to be valued and respected. Matriarchy has found expression in humanism and natural law: the idea of the sacredness of life and human equality.

Lucas Cranach - Charity (1830s)

Lucas Cranach – Charity (1530s) (2)

Art that follows the tradition of the Charity paintings has fallen out of favor due to a patriarchal view that regards such work as regressive. While the Reformation had some positive points to the Protestant work ethic, it had the effect in atomizing society. Our perception of human interactions has changed due to loss of the matriarchal perspective. Nudity is interpreted from a subtext of self-interest and mutual antagonism which often leads to misinterpretation. It makes a great difference whether the body is viewed as a commodity or from the perspective of a loving mother who appreciates the sanctity of life. In the past, the matriarchal perspective colored the perception of even sensual subjects, as in Cranch’s Venus paintings; the figures reflect a gentle eroticism. I believe much of contemporary feminism is at fault in being compromised by the values of industrialization. It is actually patriarchal in it’s values; it takes part in what Fromm called the “industrial religion.” Many artists from the beginning of the 20th century sensed the tendency of alienation and created work that embraced the bonds of human solidarity to counterbalance (eg. Lotte Herrlich, Ida Teichmann and Sally Mann), but the current barely exists today.

Anima in Exile: Aron Wiesenfeld

Aron Wiesenfeld (born 1972) is a well-known artist and illustrator that has international recognition. His work has been featured in Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose magazines but he is also represented by the Arcadia Gallery in New York; that is what brought Wiesenfeld to my attention. He has been accepted by both the Classical Realists and the lowbrow artists that seem to be in ideological opposition to each other. I wondered how Wiesenfeld could prosper—able to find his anima in such an environment. Before I majored in Psychology, I studied art for two years, so my impressions come from experience.

I knew of Wiesenfeld’s work for some time but only recently began to appreciate his strength—lying in the fact that much of his work comes completely from his imagination; he is much closer to the old masters because his work is inventive. During the Renaissance, invention was highly valued—the ability to draw and paint an entire scene from imagination. For example, Caravaggio began the trend of working directly form nature; for this, Pietro Bellori scorned him for “neither invention nor decorum nor design nor knowledge of the science of painting” and that “once the model was removed from his eyes, his hand and his mind remained empty.” While I wouldn’t agree with this critique of Caravaggio, the new schools that claim to have revived traditional art only condition artists to be impassive technicians lacking inventiveness. Their standard for art appears to be paintings that are so realistic that they could be mistaken as a photograph. I suspect they would reject Botticelli’s Birth of Venus as amateurish. Because it is a greater challenge to paint a realistic scene in which many parts are invented, most artists are afraid to attempt it. In this context, the whimsical poetry of Wiesenfeld is refreshing.

It’s interesting that Wiesenfeld illustrated comics for a time and developed his skills from that experience; so perhaps it is better for an artist to study in an illustration department. The artist’s background in comics likely brought him in contact with Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose, which are known for showing pop surrealism. His work is actually closer to the magical realism of the 1950s, which is anchored in common reality, but has overtones of wonder and the supernatural. I guess the magazine editors thought Wiesenfeld’s work was weird enough, even though it wasn’t pop surrealism. Instead of drawing from the unconscious as the surrealists did, pop surrealism reflects a state of over-consciousness of media images. Sentiments for subjects are treated with an ironic detachment, as if art is a defense against being a “dupe of advertising” (Ron English). Our culture has reached a state of over-consciousness that is suspicious of the instincts; many artists have be conditioned to avoid pretty girls as a subject or if they do, the girls are painted with some kind of prop in a detached manner.

Aron Wiesenfeld - Runaway (c2009)

Aron Wiesenfeld – Runaway (2006)

What struck me, was how Wiesenfeld’s use of symbolism differs from that of his peers. In Runaway, a young girl is holding onto a cat and a goose making her way through a flood; the other artists who appear in Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose would most likely have rendered the cat and goose as stuffed toys, but the runaway is holding onto animals that have significance to her. That is what makes his work so profound; I think this painting is a reflection of the age—the girl has run away. Her portrayal is like the postmodernists in that they lost their foundations (their home), but she still has something meaningful to hold onto.

Aron Wiesenfeld - The Tree (2012)

Aron Wiesenfeld – The Tree (2012)

Aron Wiesenfeld - The Tree (2012) (detail)

Aron Wiesenfeld – The Tree (2012) (detail)

In The Tree, a young girl has climbed a tree surrounded by a flood; as she feeds a few birds from her hand, a distant ship appears over the horizon. The contrast of the desperate situation with the girl at ease evokes the mood of the great 19th century painting Hope by Puvis de Chavannes; without a doubt, the girls are anima figures.

The anima is an archetype that was described by the psychologist Carl Jung. Jung believed the anima was the expression of a man’s feminine inner personality and that it was a source of creative ability. At the beginning of World War I, Jung recorded his series of dreams of a wise old man and his companion, a little girl. Dr.C.George Boeree acknowledged that “the little girl became anima, the feminine soul, who served as his main medium of communication with the deeper aspects of his unconscious.” Amanda Erlanson recognized the influence of the subconscious in Wiesenfeld’s paintings.

“Unlocking the subconscious reservoirs of the spirit should be the highest goal of art, but few painters in the art world have the courage to attempt it.”

Our culture has really lost contact will the anima; although every female that appears in art isn’t necessarily an anima figure, we usually assume that a male only sees a female as an object and denies that a girl in a painting could be a reflection of an aspect of his own being. Some men seem to exist only to punch in and out for work; a young girl could symbolize the joy or freedom absent from everyday life. The denial of the anima is manifested in contemporary art with the trend in plastic dolls.

Aron Wiesenfeld - Scout (2010)

Aron Wiesenfeld – Scout (2010)

I suppose some will consider my interpretation to be superfluous, but I think that view is mostly due to the state of over-consciousness that Jung discussed. Because Wiesenfeld’s enigmatic girls are from his imagination, I think it is reasonable to say that they represent anima projections; in other words, Scout isn’t just Jenny that lives across the street. That’s why I made the point about invention; the new Classical Realists have been trained to just copy Jenny in the studio staring at the wall. The artist should really be encouraged to paint from intuition. Another artist just posted on Pigtails, Scott Affleck, is one of the few other artists in the same terrain as Wiesenfeld—stepping even further into the unconscious by painting nudes.

Aron Wiesenfeld - Bloom (2014)

Aron Wiesenfeld – Bloom (2014)

My impressions came from an interest in pursuing a career in art; I found the environment of the Classical Realists to be stifling. I changed my major to Psychology. The lowbrows allow more freedom but, as their name implies, content is not taken very seriously. Ron suggested that I should avoid traditional art criticism; I believe serious artists are forced to live in a vacuum where commentary about how their work contributes is almost nonexistent. Weisenfeld’s enchanting Bloom is the kind of painting that would, for example, be criticized by the Classical Realists for lacking a select focus. They would be oblivious to the fact that all the details of the plants enhance the expression of the work. In the paintings Runaway and The Tree there is a threat in the form of water. In Jungian psychology, water often represents the depths of the unconscious. Due to the fact that a state of over-consciousness forfeits the resource of the unconscious, it remains untamed; there has to be a balance between the conscious and unconscious. Our culture lacks equilibrium—expressive art that reflects a worldview between neoconservatism and postmodern cynicism is not represented. From my research on Wiesenfeld, I realized that he didn’t have as many ties to Classical Realism as I at first thought. I came to the conclusion that a passionate traditional artist would likely need to exhibit with lowbrow art. Unfortunately, if Waterhouse were alive today, he would have to exhibit his Hylas and the Nymphs next to work like Ron English’s Precode Minnie.

Aron Wiesenfeld - The Crown (2011)

Aron Wiesenfeld – The Crown (2011)

This is Susan’s first submission to Pigtails in Paint, so thank you for your efforts. Wiesenfeld is a working artist and operates out of San Diego producing a lot of young girl/anima imagery in charcoal and paint and his Official Site and Facebook page are well worth a visit. -Ron