“To live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations”

In LECTURES I WILL NEVER GIVE (Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures) Mary Ruefle writes:

Once I wanted to write a lecture on two self-portraits by the German artist Käthe Kollowitz, (…) single self-portraits are not half as interesting as two self-portraits by the same artist painted thirty or forty years apart.

When Käthe painted herself as a young woman (…) the portrait is composed as if to say, “I am a sensitive, curious, intelligent being, and in my search for knowledge and experience I will learn all there is to know about the world around me – here I give you my pledge placing my hand on this open book”

Thirty years later the drawing says, “All that was to be known was inside me and bit by bit it did its work and made this tormented and exhausted head.” Her face has become the open book.

But that – Ruefle says in the end of her text – is a lecture that has to be lived.

For my own part I must hasten to add that the above pictures are not necessarily the pictures Ruefle had in mind when she wrote her text, there are no photos in Ruefle’s book. But for me these two self-portraits function well as visual guidance to the ideas Ruefle are presenting.

If you want to know more about Käthe Kollowitz and her self-portraits, you can click here

 

11 Comments

  1. Have you been to the Kollwitz House/Museum in Berlin? Amazing collection. I was ready to schlep two prints with me on the plane, but reason prevailed. I bought the Martin Fritsch book ‘Homage to Käthe Kollwitz’ for consolation.

    1. I’d love to see more old women’s self-portraits! Maybe I could persuade a gallery to make a special exhibition on it … A great curatorial idea, wouldn’t you agree?

  2. Some posts ago, I, too, wished to thank you for introducing me to Mary Ruefle. I do so now. Your choice of portraits only enhances the prose, as far as I’m concerned. I was drawn to the post because of the Dickinson quote but Ruefle continues to leave me breathless. She is such a find for me. Again, thank you.

    Karen

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