Gustav Klimt

Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer, 1907, oil silver and gold on canvas, 138 x 138cm, Neue Gallery, New York City, USA

I look more and more back to artists for a guideline, for examples of how to be an independent, interesting human in a world that seeks to suppress individuality and autonomy at every turn. Granted, art is a field which by its very nature offers a kind of buffer between the individual and the rest of society. Artists are supposed to be different and so when their behavior veers from the norm people excuse it as artistic temperament. But I don’t think it is. I think what we call artistic temperament is actually more the raw human animal, a kind of purer being that cuts through the crap to scoop the real meat out of life while it is there for the taking.

No kidding, today somebody told me—in regard to some unimportant bit of documentation regarding my marriage of 37 years—that if I resist handing it over it must be because I have something to hide. It couldn’t possibly be because the request is imbecilic, or an over-reach of entitlement and authority. No, the presumption is that if I am not willing to jump through any hoop, then I must be up to something. Really? Are we really such squirrels now that we do anything we’re told no matter what? Didn’t we plan against this kind of nonsense? Hmmmm, Oh yeah, we did. Bill of rights ring a bell? Fifth amendment? The fifth amendment arises from an underlying bit of logic which transcends simple matters of testimony to specifically protect us from such Orwellian manipulation. Our  laws absolutely guarantee that one’s non-compliance with anything  is proof of nothing more than that single incidence of non-compliance. Period.

Two Friends (destroyed), 1916-17, oil on canvas, 99 x 99cm destroyed in a fire set by retreating Nazi forces in 1945 at Schloss Immendorf, Austria

Of course under Stalinist rule and in Nazi Germany (among other fine examples) this kind of reasoning was used all the time. And people just rolled over. Because if they didn’t, hey. Squiiinch!

Gustav Klimt once painted pieces on commission for the Great Hall in the University of Vienna. Critics didn’t like them. Said they were salacious, even pornographic. Klimt said, okey-doke, I will do no more such commissions forever. Because I paint what I want to paint. End of story. Later the Nazis burned them up along with some others of his work. By then he was dead, of course.

Mada Primavesi, 1912, oil on canvas, 149.9 x 110.5cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA

Klimt did his painting in a large muumuu-style robe which he could easily and quickly raise, and beneath which he wore nothing at all so he would always be ready for deployment. He fathered some fourteen children and cuckolded much of Viennese society, but he was discreet, and nobody ever got around to shooting him.

Klimt learned pretty early on that the only good way to enjoy life is on your own terms. He did not believe in compromise and why should he?  He protected the things he loved and performed the work that was important to him and he managed to do it without annoying everyone else. Nor did he tolerate being annoyed.

We Americans used to be that way, too. Yet, in an age when anyone can learn almost anything about any of us with the click of a mouse, “they” want more from us. It is not enough to corral us, we must cut and construct our own enclosure. And, in the end, they will ask us to provide our own rope for our hanging. Squiiinch!

Here are some phrases that have pretty much vanished in our country that we might do well to reintroduce:

  • What’s it to ya?
  • Who wants to know?
  • Nuts to you.
  • How dare you?
  • No.
  • Hell no.

If all else fails, turn your back to them, point to the picture below, and then lift your muumuu above your waist.

The Kiss, 1907-1908, oil on canvas, 180 x 180cm, Austrian Gallery Belvedere, Vienna. Austria

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One Response to Gustav Klimt

  1. Pingback: Egon Schiele | The Automat

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