By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
The program at LMU is heavy on the scholarship, with a course load full of family-systems theory, developmental psychology, psychopathology, research methodology and professional ethics, and a master's thesis based on original research. In spite of the rigor, art therapists still seem to emerge with one foot in the paint bucket. "My sense is that art therapists — because of the power of art as sustenance and revitalization — have less of the experience of burnout," says Linesch. "There's something happening in their interactions with clients that is creative and productive and life-enhancing. Even when the material is about depression and anger, and has a lot of negative language that you might apply to it, there's something in the process that is humanizing and vital. And many of our graduates are involved in their own art-making endeavors, which is a sustenance or self-nourishment that supports the clinical work."
Hoping to compile a body of tangible evidence demonstrating this continued engagement with art practice, LMU graduate Marcy Stafsky sent out a call for submissions to more than 100 alumni. With the help of freelance writer Shirle Gottlieb as juror, and the cooperation of LMU's Laband Gallery, Stafsky culled the exhibition "Art Therapists as Artists," now on view through April 12.
The work is varied and colorful, and tends toward traditional media. Many of the best works in the exhibit are collages — Robin Bush-Vance's spooky but unclichéd dreamscapes; Roberta Lengua's roughly torn color grids; Christa Occhiogrosso's limpidly stacked chains made up of excised bulbs of abstract brushwork — but strong work ranges from Sharon D. Ross' cool, painterly abstraction to Joyce Wexler-Ballard's Laundry on the Lawn, an uncomfortably intimate shaggy-dog conceptualist piece that obliges the viewer to crouch and root through a pile of laundry to piece together a quizzical domestic narrative.
This isn't an exhibit to convince anyone from The Art World of the legitimacy of the therapeutic model, and, indeed, the work on display may seem unsophisticated to those who have fully absorbed TAW lessons that craftsmanship and subjective emotional experiences are irrelevant to contemporary art history. But after contemplating these works for a short time, one begins to discern the contours of a parallel art world, whose goals and criteria are entirely foreign to the cyclical fashion mongering of the marketplace. Perhaps the final frontier for the insinuation of the therapeutic model of art making is the cloistered world of high art.
One step in this direction may be taking place over the next few months at the Museum of Tolerance, where Debra Linesch has proposed a series of weekend and summer-camp workshops employing art-therapy strategies to expand viewers' experiences of a remarkable historical exhibit that has finally opened here. "Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin: An Exhibition of Art and Hope" has already been on view in Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, Vienna, Atlanta and seven venues in Japan. But in spite of its being co-curated by Regina Seidman Miller of the Museum of Tolerance, it was only a last-minute infusion of funds from Westfield Shoppingtown that assured its appearance here.
It is a remarkable exhibit, in some ways a dark twin to the Norton Simon's "Galka Scheyer and the Blue Four" exhibit, employing many of the same cast of characters to tell a story that is the flip side to Scheyer's comfortable expat life in the Hollywood Hills. Friedl Dicker was a star pupil at the Bauhaus, following refugee Swiss artist Johannes Itten from her native Vienna to the teeming modernist melting pot in Weimar. Paul Klee became a mentor, and Friedl tried her hand at a wide range of media and became the first student chosen to teach beginning students. As the utopianism of the Bauhaus began to wear thin, Friedl and her architect lover Franz Singer moved on, setting up shop in Berlin and Vienna, designing sets for Bertolt Brecht, anti-capitalist photo-collage posters, a wealth of applied-arts projects from wooden toys to bookbindings to entire apartments, and a model Montessori kindergarten for the social experiment known as Red Vienna. Friedl began exploring early childhood education, teaching a course in Bauhaus concepts to kindergarten teachers in 1931. When the tide turned to the extreme right in 1934, Friedl was arrested for her political work and imprisoned for several months. On her release, she moved to Prague, where she married her cousin Pavel Brandeis, continued her exploration of teaching and expanded her own art practice, inspired by a newfound fascination with figurative representation.
The show offers ample evidence lending support to Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius' assertion that, had she lived, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis would have been the most important female artist of the 20th century. Her early ink and charcoal sketches show a tremendous facility and economy of line; her posters and typographical experiments stand up to the highest Bauhaus standards; her furniture, weavings, lamps and costume designs are consistently innovative and accomplished; and her paintings are progressively more idiosyncratic and self-assured. But Friedl's claim to fame wasn't to come from her accomplishments in the conventional art world.
After the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1938, Friedl and Pavel managed to remain at large for four years. But late in 1942 they were transported to the strange showcase camp of Terezin, a way station to Auschwitz made to appear like a new model community for deported Jews. Though more than 30,000 prisoners succumbed to starvation and disease there — and almost 90,000 died in various camps — Nazi propaganda described Terezin as "a pleasant Jewish settlement" and "a gift from the Führer to the Jews." To support this picture, the camp's inmates were allowed — obliged — to carry on cultural activities. On her arrival, Friedl immediately began offering art lessons to the camp children, applying a series of techniques she had developed over previous years involving rhythmic freehand drawing, improvisational composition, yogic breathing and positive emotional visualization. On September 28, 1944, Pavel was relocated to Auschwitz. Friedl insisted on following on the next transport. But instead of being reunited with their men, the trainful of more than 1,500 women and children proceeded to Birkenau. Friedl was killed there on October 9.
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