Egon Schiele; Artist Analysis

Egon Schiele, Self Portrait Photograph, 1910

Egon Schiele is an artist that I was first introduced to during a module I took in second year on ’Fin-de-Siècle Vienna’. I was instantly fascinated by his work and chose to use him as my focus for my final essay for that module, much of which I will be using for January’s Artist Analysis. Further study of his life and his influence only developed my intrigue, this is why I have chosen him as one of my artists of study for the Hope and Despair project.

Schiele’s work tackles subjects such as masculinity and sexual tensions of the time. He produced often controversial images some of which could still be considered today as problematic, promiscuous subject matter. Through this, he broke down stereotypes of turn of the century gender divides, which was something that was starting to be debated at this time. Fin-de-siècle Vienna was ‘the time and place that witnessed the birth of psychoanalysis [and] exploration into self’[1] as described by Knafo, and even though Schiele was not aware of Freud, ideas of these kinds were circulating among his sphere of influence.

Traditionally (as usually portrayed in the Academy) the masculine portrait would show a man as powerful and dominant – often have him seated surrounded by symbols of intellect or collections demonstrating his ownership. This was not only how men were represented traditionally in paintings but also the way in which they were perceived within society. This is what Schiele’s work tried to subvert. Izenberg comments that Schiele felt ‘effeminate in a culture that valued the manly virtues of the warrior’[2]. He creates an effeminate body type by putting emphasis on the nipples in paintings. The nipples are painted in red and contrast against the skin tones to highlight their significance and the naked body. This is something he does for both his male and female portraits indiscriminately. This combined with his androgynous images of the self imply his ‘sexual Angst[3] and ‘ambiguity’[4] over his own sexual intent. The way in which the hand covers the genitals as if hiding his sex is also evocative of the female lack, harking back to Freud’s theories of the mental state, Oedipus Complex and unconscious fear of male castration (ideas which were circulating at the time). Schiele ‘castrates himself… to take a feminine identity’[5]. By covering up his own sexual organs and making himself androgynous, or even attempting to appear feminine, one can infer that Schiele was taking question with and having concerns over his own sexuality and therefore masculinity.

Otto Weininger in his book ‘Sex and Character’[6] discusses his theory that people are neither completely male nor female and that they are just ideals.[7] Weininger suggest that the possibility that a ‘men may contain an excess of femaleness’[8] and vice versa is the reason for their homosexuality or bisexuality.[9] He implies that both men and women ‘oscillate between the masculine and the feminine’[10]. From this it can be seen in Schiele’s work that he too was starting to consider these ideas in an attempt to break gender norms.

Another theme that Schiele’s work explores is that of female hysteria. Werkner suggests that Schiele was interested in the ‘body language of the mentally ill’ and it is known that he took preparatory sketches of women in hospitals diagnosed with such illnesses. Woman (and more increasingly men too) were being diagnosed with Hysteria, an umbrella term used before the understanding of what was happening was became more nuanced.

The ‘disease’ had symptoms such as tensed or nervous hands and schizophrenia, all which can be seen in within his work through the portrayal of hands. ‘Multiplicity of identity is ultimately organized for Schiele under a fundamental dualism of the self’[11]. This quote suggests that the dichotomy of the double self-portrait represents the conflicting parts of one’s own identity, linking back to the ideas of sexual confusion and illness.

My final theme to draw out of Schiele’s work is that of having a lack of location, context or background. During a turbulent time of high immigration into the city of Vienna, combined with industrialisation and the increase in railway networks Vienna was developing into a city of work and speed. Multiple languages and religions were all merging into the same area and cohabitation was something that was having to be considered by those of the time. Schiele represents this through a lack of background, which although may sound contradictory, the lack of portrayal of scene or location connotes the abyss and disillusionment with the city. No longer was Vienna considered the home of Schiele but an unknown, rapidly expanding and changing city.

Attempting to resist stereotypes and engage with the self, breaking away from traditional representations and developing psychoanalytical theories of the time are features that make Egon Schiele’s paintings so fascinating. It is these ideas of self-reflection and understanding the implications of societal pressures and traditions that need to be broken that I want to take further into my own work.

[1] Knafo, ‘Egon Schiele and Frida Kahlo: The Self-Portrait as Mirror’, American Academy of Psychoanalysis, (USA, 1991; 19; 4) 631-2

[2] Gerald Izenberg, Egon Schiele: Expressionist Art and Masculine Crisis, Psychoanalytic Inquiry, (USA,  2016, 26:3) 462

[3] Simon Wilson, Egon Schiele, (London, 1980) 22

[4] Simon Wilson, Egon Schiele, (London, 1980) 30

[5] Knafo, ‘Egon Schiele and Frida Kahlo: The Self-Portrait as Mirror’, American Academy of Psychoanalysis, (USA, 1991; 19; 4) 640

[6] Otto Weininger, ‘Homosexuality and Pederasty’, Sex and Character, (USA, 2009, 6)

[7] Ibid 47

[8] Ibid 47

[9] Ibid 47 – 48

[10] Judy Greenway, It’s What You Do With It That Counts: Interpretations of Otto Weininger, (2005) 4

[11] Izenberg, op. cit. 469

New Year; New Project

It is January 1st, 2017. Which means there will be the inevitable, nostalgic look back at the highs and lows of the previous year and then a look into the void of potential that is the coming twelve months. Followed, very shortly, by the inescapable thought process of ‘Another year has gone by! Time is moving so rapidly.’ 

I guess some may call this a quarter life crisis, common among those of my age who are reaching the end of their studies and looking at the terrifying prospect of entering the ‘Real World’ where one has to become a functioning adult who has to repay what was once a security blanket: University Student Loans.

Now each year, like most, I make a half-hearted attempt at a New Years Resolution to do something or other. And, like most, have alas forgotten it by the proceeding week.

However! This year shall be different. With the slight pressure of giving myself a deadline… combined with the knowledge it shall be published here, this year shall be different.

Resolution proposal: Produce a whole new art project by December 31st, 2017. 

No longer studying Fine Art, I claim that it is something I do in my spare time. In truth, this is not something I achieve very often. Once in a blue moon I may fill my room with the aroma of white spirit and make my hand into a paint palette, but I am finding more frequently that without a project or a deadline I have very little cause to set it all up. Inevitably, there is something else that needs doing, always another priority. This is why I have decided to create this year long project. This is my 2017 New Year’s Resolution.

Plan of action:

January: Artist study 1 – artist copies of works by Egon Schiele

February: Artist study 2 – artist copies of works by collaborative artists Cara Thayer and Louie van Patten

March: Artist Study 3 – artist copies of works by Willi Kissmer

April: Developmental ideas 1 - produce works inspired by artist studies

May: Developmental ideas 2 - produce works inspired by artist studies

June: Observational Studies – work on small details that need practice

July: Experimentation 1  - trial different media, materials and composition ideas

August: Experimentation 2 - trial different media, materials and composition ideas

September: Experimentation 3 – trial different media, materials and composition ideas

October: Final piece concept designs – bring all ideas together into several different final piece designs.

November: Final Piece

December: Final Piece

To backtrack a little to where this post began, the new year is to bring with it some uncertainty. Although we may be despairing at this tumultuous, albeit important, part of life, the New Year also holds hope and potential for great things. It is, for this reason, the theme of my project shall be Hope and Despair. A convenient juxtaposition, one which will be the running theme throughout this project.

So here ‘s to a New Year and a New Project!