Friday, March 6, 2015

Currents of History and Surrealist Streams

Yesterday I went to the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale.  I use that shorthand for the exhibit name, but the exhibit included many other artists too.  I'm sure that Frida Kahlo is the main draw for most people though.

I was surprised by how much I liked the other artists' work more than hers.  I was interested in the surrealist stream that connected so many of the works.  Frida Kahlo is probably most famous for her self-portraits, but she's got some surrealist work too.

I was also intrigued by how many of these artists would likely never have found each other, had they not been fleeing the Nazis.  Would they have created the same art if they had never come together in exile?  I suspect not.

It's one of the currents of history that never was discussed much when I was in school.  We talked about the borders of countries changing and political changes, but we didn't talk about the changes in culture that wars and other kinds of upheaval produced.

I'd love to know more about which artists found each other because of the large currents of war.  I wonder how it varies from war to war.  Would the artists that fled the Nazis have turned to surrealism if they had enjoyed tidy lives in time of quiet?  Was surrealism the only way they could make sense of the horrors?

I've done a lot of this kind of contemplating when it comes to writers, especially the British writers I studied in grad school.  At Mepkin Abbey, my friend and I had a conversation about the Lake poets.  We didn't discuss the influence of the French Revolution, though. 

No, my friend had read a biography of Wordsworth, and we talked about the huge swaths of free time that the middle class seemed to have in the 19th century.  They could go and visit each other for weeks at a time.  They could take long, rambling walks.  She is convinced that in many ways, life was better.

Of course, we were quick to acknowledge that life wasn't better for everyone.  We wouldn't have wanted to be in the working class or the servant class.  I wouldn't want to give up the advances in women's rights that I would have to if I lived back then, but my friend was less concerned about that.

When historian and literary critics and art scholars look back at our time period, I wonder what connections they will make.  Which artists are finding each other, because of or despite the historical currents swirling around them?  What work is being made in response to those currents?

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