How to Transform the Human Soul into a Puppy

Max Beckmann, “Lowen”

To see this painting was unbearable for me from the first acquaintance with it. It was unambiguous and a very uncomfortable feeling. I asked myself why I feel this way. Step by step I understood that I identified with the lion, not with the lion tamer. Why? I myself had a dream about becoming a trainer of big animals. What happened to me that I became compassionate toward the trained animal instead of appreciating the mastery of the circus artist?

The reason I feel bad while looking at Beckmann’s “Lions” is, it seems, that the lion is not just trained to perform certain routines but he stops to be a lion – he is transformed into something else: into a pet-lion, a cat-lion, into a circus dog. He lost its lionness. He became identical with the “workplace”, with his “working function”. I see in the painting the transformation of a creature of the world into a slave of his drill master’s will and of public’s vain and sentimental curiosity – as if it is me who are in real danger of becoming the enslaved life. Looking at the trainer and the lion I cannot notice any collaboration between them – just a mechanical imposition of commands. Instead of seeing the art of animal training I feel only the violence.

After eight years of Bushmerican rule and during today’s incessant neo-conservative attacks on our right to become union members, to organize to protect our economic and political interests, and on freedom of critical speech, it is of no surprise that you start to identify yourself with a circus animal and feel his painful destiny to sell its freedom for cheap applauds and meat of survival.

In this painting Beckmann stresses the similarity between human and circus lion’s destinies) – by making the lion’s posture and features like human‘s (lion’s paws look like hands in a position of Indian reverential greeting – Buddhist salute, or Christian praying), and by making the background of the painting (and the foreground of the stage and the stool the lion is standing on) of the color of soil of nature (dark brown) in contrast to artificial light of the circus arena as a solemn image of human civilization. Lion’s expression belongs to frightened human conformists ready to do everything to please their socio-political masters. It is for this very obedient expression that humans and circus animals are paid with survival and applauds.

The traces of violent clashes between the trainer and the lion on their bodies don’t leave any doubt about the ferocious nature of lion-training which reminds us of the history of Eastern and Western wars, industrialization and revolutions, Western colonialism, and “globalization” of 21st century when “collaboration” is achieved by the violence of military invasions, torture and manipulation through corruption. As it is the case with humans, to be really effective the training of lion must start in his childhood and rely on abusively keeping the animal in stupidity (based on psychological trauma) of not knowing his real adult power, of keeping misjudging himself as still a cub/a puppy.

Look at the face of the lion-trainer where the machoistic triumph is combined with mental alertness of a hunter-sniper looking at the world through the optic device of his weapon. But look at the lioness on the ground – she is far from being subdued and with the expression of her face already promises a sudden “terrorist” resistance that will revenge for the humiliation of the “king of the animals”.

When nature is treated as Beckmann’s lion, the killer-tornadoes and wild fires attacks become like lions’ revenge for the arrogance of human disrespect for creation.