Doubleife – Because one life is never enough

Carpe Diem

Egon Schiele

As an avid art lover and aspiring educator I would like to introduce you to the powerful work of Egon Schiele. He was highly controvercial for his time and died at 28 but his work LIVES in every line. The following excerpts below describes his work and the time in which he worked.


scheile2His work has a specific presence, aggressive, unignorable, practical. They are pornographic. They insist that the erotic is as great and heroic a subject as wars or religion. And they question whether art has to confine itself to representing life second-hand. That’s what is extraordinary about Schiele’s art: it does not comment on life, it takes part in life. It is not like pornography. It is pornography. It is also high and serious art, a doubleness that may only have been possible in Vienna on the eve of the first world war.

In Vienna at the beginning of the 20th century there was a fascination with sex as the subject of speech and image, and specifically, sex as words, as pictures – with saying and showing. When you read Freud’s Three Essays On Sexuality, it’s hard to miss his glee at finding a scientific context in which to say these things, to discuss, in the most clinical way yet with a sly sense of humour, anal intercourse, masturbation, bestiality, sadomasochism, fetishism, and infantile sexuality.

Most of Freud’s daringly flaunted taboos wouldn’t raise a blush nowadays, but the last – and the phenomenon central to his theory of sexuality as published in 1905 – is probably far more troubling today than it was then. The idea of sexual activity in young children is the most assaulted aspect of psychoanalysis. Freud has been accused of misinterpreting cases of child abuse in his eagerness to find evidence of sexuality in the young. All of this is toxically controversial stuff. What is certain is that in Freud’s Vienna, in its modern, liberal surgeries and studios at any rate, there was a sense of revolutionary discovery – by people who had not necessarily read Freud – of desire as the energy of youth.

schiele3And Schiele was exactly that – a raging baby, a polymorphously perverse libido with a pencil in its hand. Yet for all his sense of his own youthfulness in his extraordinary self-portraits, from one done at the age of 16 or so in which he gives himself the romantic features of Beethoven to the late tragic studies in which he crouches naked and looks at us defiantly, or embraces his young wife Edith in a desperate assertion of togetherness – Schiele was in some ways an old-fashioned artist.

Schiele’s drawings engage us today because they seem to belong to a category of modern art that flirts with being something other than value-free fine art, that wants to do something to the spectator – like pornography. Pornography is functional. Art is supposed to be non-functional, and it would be easy – imagining ourselves as defending counsels back in the provincial Austrian courthouse – to make a defence based on the civilised values of his art; to point to the delicacy, the supreme talent with which he reveals the texture of a stocking, the dense roundness of a nipple being touched by a woman who looks back at the artist, the Turneresque washes that give acute presence to the chest and hips and thighs of his Black-Haired Nude Girl Standing (1910).

schiele4No, the brilliance of Schiele is precisely to collide traditional aesthetics, a central interest in the beauty and horror of the human body, with the crass functional intentions of the pornographer. And it is in this collision that he is a radical modernist. He seriously suggests that art can become part of real life – if we put it into the gutter, or at least the bedroom.

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