Wednesday, 14 March 2012

'The Art of Speigelman'

Notes on a TV programme called 'The Art of Speigelman'.
Art Speigelman created the comics Maus 1 and Maus 2.

Comic Strip making is like a therapy - being able to get your thoughts out, your experiences
  • Representative of what he wants it to be
  • Came from Sweden to USA 
  • MAD comic became his "parent"
  • "The Media is lying to you, The whole adult word is lying to you"
  • Aware of their difference to the Americans - his mother had a tattoo on her arm which his friends would ask her about. She would say it was a number she was trying to forget. It was in fact her prisoner number.
  • 1968, she killed herself and didn't leave a note
  • From this came "Prisoner of the Hell" comic strip - it was more about his anger at his mother then the sadness that he should have felt
  • MAUS (started 1977-78)
  • Introduced one chapter at a time in RAW.
  • It's about a story of a father and son trying to understand each other
  • He believes it is more about that then the Holocaust
  • "The horrors of the 20th Century became our sanctuary - were we could sit together peaceably". 
  • His father never wanted to talk about it and so Speigelman never really knew about it
  • He read a lot about the Holocaust - as a comic book writer, he felt he needed to know everything in order to be able to interpret and successfully depict it
  • 2nd Generation - he was a childhood survivor 
  • Speilberg  - The American Tale. 
  • One of his successes is not making Maus into a a movie and not passing judgement on other works that tackle the same subject and not making a MAUS 3.

I found this programme really interesting because it shows art based on the Holocaust but as a contemporary issue. Speigelman was 2nd Generation. He grew up with parents who had survived Auschwitz. So, through this comic book 'Maus', we are told the story from a different perspective. How it didn't just effect the people who were persecuted at the time, but how it effects the generations after.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Bibliography and Harvard Referencing

  1. Blatter, J. And Milton, S. (1981) Art of the Holocaust. The Routledge Press.
  2. Sujo, G., (2001) Legacies of Silence: The Visual Arts and Holocaust Memory. Philip Wilson Publishers.
  3. Spalding, J., (2010) The Best Art You've Never Seen: 101 Hidden Treasures from Around the World. London: Rough Guides Ltd. 
  4. Maher, 'The Ethics of Holocaust Art'. [online]. Available from: [Accessed on 8th March 2012]
  5. Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, (2000) 'The Last Expression' [online]. Illinois: Northwestern University. Available from: [Accessed on 8th March 2012]
  6. 'Felix Nussbaum Haus'. [online]. Osnabrück. Available from:
  7. The Art of Spiegelman. (2009) Wichita Films, ARTE France. Sky Arts HD [One of television programme].

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Sum up of Project

A Story of Art:
Looking at the element of Story Telling vs. Documentation in Holocaust Art.

I have found this project very thought provoking because of these points:
  • It's difficult to find Holocaust Art - there doesn't seem to be many books that cover the subject and the ones that do, are guides to Museum and Gallery exhibitions.
  • Although this project is only very brief and touches only lightly on some of the points that I have made, I feel that I have developed my ideas from the start of the project and through researching Holocaust Art, I have given myself a good platform on which to start talking critically about Art. 
  • I have learnt, also, that I am quite opinionated. This is something that I have tried to avoid as best I could because the subject of the Holocaust is very intense and sinister as well as complex. If I were to write all of the thoughts that I have, I doubt that this blog would ever end. 

Research and Analysis Task.

Felix Nussbaum
"Self-Portrait with Jewish Identity Card."
Oil on Canvas.

Felix Nussbaum has a museum dedicated to his work in Osnabrück, Germany. 
This particular work of Nussbaum's is quite famous and it also features on the front cover of The Art of the Holocaust. 
I came across this image in the book by Julian Spalding called 'The Best Art You've Never Seen: 101 Hidden Treasures from Around the World. 
Throughout the analysis, Spalding talks about the collection at the Felix Nussbaum Museum and how it starts with Nussbaum's earlier artworks, "His self-portrait beams out at you: a fresh-faced...young man, smiling". 
It turns out as you read on that this Self-Portrait with Jewish Identity Card, is in fact, Nussbaum's last self portrait. 
Knowing this, darkens the image for me and all hope I had that the artist survived dies with the "disc of Nussbaum's own eye, a faint grey reflection without a spark of hope."
After reading Julian Spalding's analysis of this work, I am aware that I have just put myself through the same experiment that I directed previously with the image of the 'Liquidation of Dr. Korczak's Orphanage'. 
Spalding goes on to describe Nussbaum's successful career as an artist before the Nazi regime took place allows you to imagine how the images in this gallery must change from smiling faces and summer days, to dark and threatening skies and sunken and worn out faces. In just the tone of these images, you are shown the story of this one man, who like millions others, fell victim of a decent, "a pitiless and unforgettable journey from normality down into hell." 

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Interpreting Art: Analysis 2

"Mass Deportation."
Hendrik Valk
Watercolour and China Ink

This image shows a mass of people that were deported during the Holocaust. This is a depiction of just one section of one deportation. Instantly the reality of the statistics - 6 million - hits home and becomes hard to take in. 

You can see the mechanical way in which these people are drawn - almost like lego. The structure of this particular story is clear, straight from the first glance.

I believe this image shows us how the millions of people who were persecuted during the Holocaust were treated in the same manner and were looked upon with the same prejudice. None of them were treated as individual human beings.

The very linear and structured composition that Valk uses also enhances and warns of the methodical torture and mass extermination that awaited these people when they were to arrive at there destination. 

This image, to me, conveys a certain irony about it all. How can an image of this theme be so structured and linear when the whole idea of the Holocaust was as immoral and illogical - as far from perfect as you can get? 

The SS Guard, larger than life, dominant and threatening - the "Master" holding a gun and what appears to be a knife of some kind. 
The Persecuted, innocent and weary, walking like beggars, crippled from the weight of their belongings.

I feel that I had to abandon this analysis after this last comment. This is because I think I am getting to carried away with my own opinion. However, I think it acts as a good piece of research because after looking up various critical texts that talk about Holocaust Art, I have found that it is almost impossible to find one that is neutral - in the sense that the authors opinion doesn't take over. Perhaps, I what I have learnt from this project the most, is that you can't be unbiased when talking about this theme? I feel that the whole subject matter infuses a great deal of anger and upset in the analyser. I have also found that you can get very lost in this kind of artwork. The Holocaust is such an intense subject and one that effects so many people, that it's hard to not go over board sometimes. 

Interpreting Art: Analysis 1

"In the Gas Chambers."
Wiktor Siminski
(Sachsenhausen, 1944)

When I first looked at this image, I was shocked and disgusted.
The subject of this pencil drawing by Siminski, which was created at Sachsenhausen Extermination Camp in 1944, documents mass extermination of female prisoners by the Nazi's, through the horrific method of gassing

 The subject matter is revolting and inhumane. I am left in despair at the helplessness depicted in these suffocating individuals but also by the fact that Siminski, like so many others, were subjected to this kind of visual torture every day in Camp life. 

I think that these feelings must come from the way in which Siminski has created this image. The construction of the artwork brings you inside the Gas Chamber. On the ceiling, you can see the old trick - shower hoses - used by the Nazi's to deceive and "reassure" the prisoners that they were going to come out alive. The viewer is alongside these women as they twist into helpless poses, almost reaching for any kind of help, for a breath of clean air, for hope that this torture will soon end as the gas is unleashed. 

The way in which Wiktor Siminski has drawn these women, to me, resembles the beautifully elegant, curvaceous Renaissance studies we see from the likes of Botticelli and Da Vinci. Perhaps this is why the female figures exude such innocence? I feel that despite the fact that the Nazi's aim was to dehumanise these people, this image shows the females as human beings and with feelings. And also, that haunting and questioning expression..."Why?".  

After analysing this pencil drawing some more, I spot the SS Guard leering in through the window. Watching, with a haunting smile as he carries out this atrocity. But then, I see that his face is actually a skull. Like Death watching over as he claims more victims. And also, like the skull that made up the SS Insignia. A true image of terror - an image that brings home the reality and the cruelty of the Holocaust and the Nazi Regime. 

I am reminded, as I look through this image, yet again, of Vladimir Propp's theory. Clearly, the Villain is shown and so are the Desperate in need of help. Unfortunately, the Hero is missing. 

Further thoughts.

After rereading the last post, a lot of different points have occurred to me. These are all things that I would like to cover all be it briefly, in this project. 
  1. How we interpret art.
  2. What stories do we see?
  3. Why do we see them that way?
  4. What is the difference between subtle and graphic art? - I.e, Do we need to be bombarded with graphic images to be able to understand what is happening? Does just a subtle suggestion that lingers on our mind for maybe weeks provoke just the same amount of feeling and thinking about an artwork as it does when we are shown an artwork which is graphic and self-explainatory?
  5. Does it make a difference knowing the history behind an image? I.e, does it effect our opinion of it? does is effect our experience of the image? 
After my tutorial.

After my tutorial, it became clear that I need to start looking at the language of the art that I have chosen to research. I need to start analysing the images and look at how they relate to the points above. I am still really interested in the way that people document and tell stories through their art, but as this research project has developed, I have become more aware of the different aspects that are involved in making an artwork tell a story.

The Experiment.

Also, after the question of whether knowing the story behind an image effects the way in which we interpret it that came up in my last post, I decided to experiment and ask someone to look at it who did not know the story and had never seen the image of "The Liquidation of Dr. Korczak's Orphanage" by Halina Olomucki before.

I hid all of the writing surrounding the image and the title of the piece from the person. I then asked them to tell me what they thought of the image. They said that it looked very chaotic, a group of people lining up and walking. Then I told them what the story was behind the image and it completely changed their outlook on the whole image. They used words such as, 'horrible', 'horrific', 'sad', 'heroic' and 'thought-provoking'.

Interesting Fact.

After some more online research, I actually found this website:

which I briefly looked through. I found that the art created by the prisoners in the ghettos and Concentration and Extermination Camps was actually used in the Nuremberg Trials as evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity. They were used to prove the existence of the gas chambers, crematoria and the way the Nazi and SS Guards treated the prisoners.
So basically, this sums up my question that I started with. These images were not only tell the stories of the lives of the people who were persecuted during the Holocaust, but they actually were also used a documentation and evidence to help bring the persecutors to justice.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012



I was walking through college about a week before Holocaust Memorial Day, which is on the 27th January every year (it marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp), and I spotted some images of the Holocaust. As I walked through the corridor and looked in the display cases which were filled with photocopying's of newspaper cuttings about the Holocaust and various survivors, photocopies of perpetrators and also images of the victims inside the concentration camps. This book, 

Art of the Holocaust
by Janet Blatter and Sybil Milton

was in one of the cabinets. After asking to borrow it for this project a few weeks later, I looked through and it's basically the most extensive collection of sketches by Survivors, POW's, various Camp inmates, people who were in hiding etc. that I have seen while I have been researching this project. I took some photocopies of many of the images in this book because they really had an effect on me. 

Each individual picture is different yet they all seem to be telling the same story, the same suffering, the same hunger and sadness and the same desperation to be freed from the Nazi grip. 

While I was looking through the book, I came across this image:

"The Liquidation of Dr. Korczak's Orphanage."
Halina Olomuck.
Pencil on yellowed paper
(Warsaw, 1941 - 43.)

This image, tells the true story of Dr. Janusz Korczak, a Polish Jew, who ran the orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto. When the ghetto was liquidated, he was given the option to stay behind and work in the hospitals but he refused and followed his orphans into the Gas Chambers at Treblinka Death Camp.

So, here is where the answer to my argument really begins. This image is telling the story of these orphans who were sent to their death. But it is also documenting the heroic act of Dr... who refused to let the children die alone. 

However, I was already aware of this story. After my visit to Auschwitz in 2010, I got involved in the preparations for Plymouth's Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27th 2011. During this time, I met a man who works with the Plymouth Muti-Faith and Cultural Diversity Centre who told me the story of this Dr...

So this leads to another question...Does knowing the story behind an images like this one, make the experience of it any stronger? 
Does the fact that this document (the image of this event) is explained more clearly and therefore we can understand it more?

My point is that the story was very moving when I first heard it, maybe it was reinforced by my visit and own experience of Auschwitz during which I stood in the place where this man and the said children were murdered. But would someone who didn't know this story before hand react differently to the image once they were told?

Maybe this is something that I need to experiment? 



After my tutorial, I got to thinking about the difference between documentation and story telling. Is there a difference? 

Documentation, to me, is the recording of events, of facts, of things that have really happened.

Story telling, on the other hand, can be lies. The bending of the truth. A fiction - a novel etc. 

However, when I look at the artwork of the Holocaust and put it up against the stories told by survivors and the facts and statistics that have been gathered over the years since the atrocities committed under the Nazi regime, the sketches and watercolours and inks etc are basically documenting what they saw, what they heard and what they thought and what they knew. But, they are also telling their own true stories. 

Does knowing a survivor's story effect the way that we look at an artwork by them?

Thoughts towards the aim of this project.


I want to look at how different artists portrayed their experiences of the Holocaust and the time that they spent in the camps. Then I want to talk about what we, as the viewer, understand from them. 


I've always been interested in the way people interpret works differently as in what stories we get out of them and what memories and experiences they may remind us of. I like that sometimes, they stay with us forever. 
Also, I want to understand the link between out right link between art and story telling and also the boundary between story telling and fact. 

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Story Telling...through Art.

After talking to one of my classmates about my project she told me about Vladimir Propp and his ideas about stories and how we subconsciously turn them into fairytale scenarios.
So I decided to do a little bit of research into Propp in the library and I found a book called:

'Critical and Cultural Theory' by Dani Cavallaro
Published 2001 by The Athlone Press [p.19-20]

In this book, I found a piece of text on Vladimir Propp's 'Morphology of the Folk Tale' (1928). 
Here is the text:

"Propp maintains that the traditional tale, as a prototype of all narrative forms, is based on a fixed number of components. There are 7 spheres of action, associated with the characters and roles of the 'Villain', the 'Donor', the 'Helper', the 'Princess and her Father', the 'Dispatcher', the 'Hero', and the 'False Hero', and thirty-one functions, associated with key moments in the action e.g, 'Preparation', 'Complication', 'Struggle', 'Return and Recognition'. No tale contains all 31 functions. However, the ones it does contain occur in the same order in all tales. What is most intriguing about the folk tale is its duplicity: its basic form is repetitive, yet it is capable of producing a limitless number of the imaginative and colourful variations. For Propp, what makes a tale ultimately appealing is not its unchanging skeleton but the changing features of its characters and settings."

My thoughts on this piece of text:

I think that this theory is relevant to my research for this project. I hadn't thought about our life scenarios in this way before but in every circumstance we relay to others, there seems to be a fairy tale like theme to them. The characters and the themes are always there. Not always at the same time and not all of them in the same situation like Propp says. But when I relate back to the Holocaust and all the different people who were involved and the millions of different stories that came out of it...well, surely all 31 of those actions and all of those different people e.g the Hero, the Villain, the Donor etc were all involved and therefore can be found?
It's hard for me to look at the Holocaust as a story because it was REAL. It happened and therefore it is FACT. And a horrific one at that. So to apply Propp's theory to this huge historical event and to find that it makes sense, to me it shows, that sometimes we can subconsciously apply a story like quality to certain situations in order to protect ourselves and somehow make hearing about it more bareable. 

So by seeing the photo's and the sketches of the prisoners - does that make it easier to take on board what happened because we are somehow separated and therefore sheltered from the true reality?

Mapping out ideas.

Here is just a mini mind map of the themes I want to cover throughout my project.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Reasoning.

On April 28th 2010, I visited Auschwitz - Birkenau. It is the largest of the Concentration Camps built under Hitler's Nazi regime and was responsible for the death of over 1 million people:

'At least 960,000 Jews were killed in Auschwitz. Other victims included approximately 74,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma (Gypsies), and 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war; and 10,000-15,000 members of other nationalities (Soviet civilians, Czechs, Yugoslavs, French, Germans, and Austrians).' 


During my visit to Auschwitz 1, which is the first of the three complexes at Auschwitz, I was taken on a tour around the barracks in which some of the prisoners where kept and where all of them worked. I was also taken into a Gas Chamber and also shown the courtyard where many prisoners were tortured and/or killed. 

Although the images of these places still linger in my mind, the one thing that has really stayed with me over the past two years, and will for many more, is the sight of one room in particular. It was not a room in which I stayed for very long but the images, even if viewed for mere seconds, are strong enough to stay with you for a lifetime. 

The room is empty, apart from the walls which from the entrance door until the exit door take you on a journey through a "typical" day at Auschwitz. These images are all sketches from Camp prisoners - many are the drawings of Mieczysław Kościelniak who was a Polish artist arrested by the Gestapo and taken to Auschwitz after he had created an artwork which depicted Germans being shot by the Poles. 

These are just two of the approximately 300 artworks created by Kościelniak during his imprisonment at Auschwitz:


Friday, 27 January 2012

The Idea.

So, we've just received a new brief - it's very vague and so pin pointing one idea I found, at the beginning, very hard.

However, after our lecture on 'Writing Strategies' in which we discussed writing, research and referencing methods I came to the conclusion that I would really like to create a project on the stories told through Art and in particular focus on the artwork from victims and possibly the survivors of The Holocaust. 

This theme runs along side my Studio work as well because I have decided to focus on The Holocaust and the theme of 'Bystanders' for my latest project. 

Here is a screen shot of my Tutorial notes from Sally Hall, my Contextual studies lecturer:

Here is an image of the mind map that we created together during my tutorial which is a very brief overview of the project that I have chosen to complete: