Friday, March 27, 2009

Both Ends of the Candle

I was in Brussels this week and came back by train to the Hauptbahnhof which is just across the street from the Hamburger Bahnhof (confusing, I know, but the latter is a museum and not a train station). It was during Berlin State Museum free hours (the final four hours every Thursday), so I popped over to see what was happening. They always seem to have more or less Beuys, but this time I paid more attention since I'd seen an exhibit on Beuys there earlier this year with the Lively German, who is a fan. Beuys as an artist became convinced of the pivotal role of creativity in life, and in education as well. This is a theme close to my heart, as I think much education is at best drudgery and at worst soul-killing. He became an important figure in green/socialist politics and advocated a radically open approach to education that led to his dismissal as a professor. But he was also a Nazi, having volunteered in his late teens for the Luftwaffe. I always say people become more of what they really are with age. So for me there's something very attractive about people who become leftists as they get older. Am I able to think this way about a Nazi? I'm not sure am I, but it's something to consider.

This visit I came away with a killer quote, really right on the mark for me:
Jeder Mensch muß sich verschleißen. Das wäre ja schrecklich wenn er nicht verschlissen wäre und dann schon sterben würde -- wäre ja schrecklich. [...] Das heist, man muß sich vollkommen bis zur Asche verbrennen, sonst hat es gar keinen Zweck. Wenn man am Ende noch zu gut in Schuß ist... ///
Every human being should use him/herself up. It would be really horrible if s/he were not worn out and then just died -- it would be really horrible. That means, one must completely burn oneself to ashes, there is no other goal. If one is still in good shape at the end...

--Joseph Beuys in conversation with Knut Fischer and Walter Smerling, 1985 [Note: he died in January 1986]

Oh yes indeed. My ex and I always agreed, there will be plenty of time to sleep when we're dead. And never mind that I hardly slept a wink during this trip; the sun is shining here in Berlin and there's probably some adventure out there waiting for me. In the meantime, here's a magnificent Rubens from Brussels' Musée d'Art ancien. Cherubs and virgins are not really my thing but who can ignore how after all so many centuries this piece still glows? And when's the last time you saw art mounted on a red museum wall?? Simply a fabulous choice, I have to say.

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