May 17: Art meets Labor
Vincent Van Gogh’s early work is heavy on the hardships of peasant life.As time passes, however, he becomes less involved with subject, and more with execution. Manner overtakes matter. The subject is much the same, but the dancing, suggestive brush strokes are what engage the viewer, and set a lighter tone. As opposed to Georges Seurat, who in his mature manner could depict hard labor without distancing or diminishing it. Then there is the Victory Garden poster of WWI: it’s work, but redolent of spiritual uplift. And the Victory Bond poster, which manages to extol hard, unglamorous labor without presenting it as absolutely dismal (how clean their clothes are!) or reproachful; someone else will drag the plow, all you’re expected to do is buy bonds.
But with Kathe Kollwitz we come back to early Van Gogh, and even beyond him. Kollwitz never did progress to light-heartedness. To grim observation and dreams of peasant revolt she added only the terror or, alternatively, the liberation of death.