Art As A Savior, Prophet, Teacher, Psychotherapist, Revolutionary and Revolt

How do I define a work of art? It is not an asset in the stock-exchange sense, but a man’s timid attempt to repeat the miracle that the simplest peasant girl is capable of at any time, that is magically producing life out of nothing.
Oskar Kokoschka

I consider myself responsible to the coming generations, which are left stranded in a blitzed world, unaware of the soul trembling in awe before the mystery of life.
Oskar Kokoschka

Kokoschka was trying to paint his thoughts.
Anthony McIntosh

Oskar Kokoschka, “Children Playing” (1909)
Oskar Kokoschka, “Children Playing” (1909)

The contrast between the boy’s intelligent, focused and, somehow, a sad gaze at the girl, and her gaze at… nothing, just that of her own being, shocks us. Hers is a gaze simultaneously too full and too empty, that of a mute appeal, but too passive and without making a point. The boy is interested in her attention, in her as a playmate, but he feels that something is wrong, that the girl is not responsive, that she is just like a doll, not a partner, that she is a “thing in itself”.

What is the matter with her? Can she be autistic, retarded, or is it something else? In the psychological contrast between Kokoschka’s boy and girl their psychological inequality is obvious – the girl, somehow, has not yet awakened to feel simultaneously her psychic separateness from others and yet emotional ability of feeling connected with them as separate personalities. Her gaze lies down on what she sees, like her body – on what beneath her, like her heaviness – on her elbow, like her legs – on a generalized something.

But where are these two children – one confronting the enigma of togetherness, and the other passively belonging/not belonging to it, under the sun or cloudy sky – on the grass, on the beach, somewhere in a hiding place, in the yard? No, they are located on… the paint. They are children of the paint (they are born of it) – from the mind and inspiration of the artist. Let’s look, for example, at the girl’s right leg or right arm or at the boy’s left hand – we see under these limbs thick streams of brushed paint, as if isolating the protagonists from the larger space and connecting them with it. The environment of the paint is the protagonists’ surrounding, it is, as if their clothes. Paint here is a magic substance creating human beings and enveloping/containing them with a womb-like generosity.

Can it be then that the point of the painting (the point of the paint) – is not only the assertion of life as the phantom of a creative person/the artist who is the subjective origin of the objectified world and of life of the art as the incarnation of subjective idea, but the correction of the objective reality, which is too imperfect and too complacent to be taken as the final criterion of its own value. In real life these two children will never or almost never be playing together, will perhaps never feel attraction to one another because of the difference in mental development, more exactly, because of the conventional opinion about what is normal and what is not. Life as it is can inspire work of art but it can never be a model for inspiration. It is artistic inspiration that can offer the direction to life, not another way around (as it takes place in the greasy kingdom of the conformists).

In “Children Playing” children who cannot find each other in life can come together, can spend a time in proximity to one another, can learn how to talk and to think through being inspired by one another. Here we can understand better the girl’s gaze into the real – crude and spoiled, deformed world. This gaze, is as if saying without any reproach – you see what you, the world did to me, but now I am free from you, I am free even from paying attention to you – I found a friend and the world, the kingdom of art, where god is an artist, he is kind and is loving, and where children love me and help me to be as they are.

In this painting Kokoschka shows us art as a teacher of alternative life. The boy and the girl found each other in Kokoschka’s painterly inspiration. The boy is trying to understand – what is the matter with his playmate. May be, with the painter’s encouragement, he will be able to grasp her inner world better and will find a way to help. May be, one day they even will be able to leave Kokoschka’s canvass and step into the real and frightening world, full of righteous animosity (step into the world and be invulnerable to its evilness).

The girl is safe in the painterly world, enveloped by its blanket of colors. The painter is god of this universe. The boy is the angel, the girl’s savior. The girl is protected here. The boy is her guide through art to life, like Kokoschka is ours, his art’s viewers.