Ernst Kirchner’s Streetwalkers: Art, Luxury, and Immorality in Berlin Response
Sherwin Simmons starts the article, Ernst Kirchner’s Streetwalkers: Art, Luxury, and Immorality in Berlin, by bringing to the reader’s attention the economic boom in Germany at the start of the 20th century. The middle class citizens of Germany along with intellectuals worried how the increase in art and luxury would affect the social and moral outlook of the German people. Therefore art, luxury, fashion, and sexuality lead to many new laws and regulations during this time. The goal was to protect the youth and control the spread of immorality. This new “love of luxury” was seen as being sexual and not appropriate for children and the average middle class citizen to view in a public space. On the other side, artists such as Ernst Kirchner did not see the harm in expressing their artistic opinion of the new culture, and felt threatened by the censorship that took place during this new era. The author gives many examples of Berlin as a cultural center. The lifestyle that was found in Berlin provided inspiration for artists, playwrights, and prostitutes.
The author argues that Ernst Kirchner’s street scenes contributed to the dialogue about luxury and immorality that was based on art, advertising, and fashion. Kirchner was a part of the artistic group Die Bruke, which consisted of four men who were all expressionists. When Kirchner left the group he went to Berlin and his friendships dissolved. He became lonely and therefore went out at night and started viewing prostitutes as models. To Kirchner they were more than prostitutes; he viewed them as the icon of the city and felt a strong connection with them. Simmons takes on this stance by going in to detail when discussing and describing each facet of the artwork being produced in this time period. Kirchner’s inspiration to produce the work, many critics viewed as racy, relates back to Georg Simmel’s interpretation of the urban experience, the myths about the increase in sinful behavior in Berlin, written efforts to define Berlin’s modern qualities, and finally the practice of prostitution on the streets of the city. The author continues to be fascinated by why these issues of luxury and immorality concern the avant-garde artist.
There seems to be a strong relationship and an obvious connection between Kirchner’s work and contemporary social and political issues. There is a contrast between the viewers opinion of Kirchner’s work and his own view of his art. Kirchner felt it was purely a personal and an optical response to the city of Berlin and the changes it was going through. He captured in a diary entry the way he felt about his art. Kirchner explained how it represented an “ecstasy of initial perception” and that his work was a quick glance and “swift and sudden” response to the nightlife of the city streets of Berlin. Kirchner’s pieces convey emotion due to the choice of color, brush stroke, composition. The artist’s goal was to capture the various forms and movement that was going on at night. The critics had a different opinion, for example Carl Einstein felt that Kirchner’s work was battling the concept of realism, and going against academic style of painting. Kirchner was a German expressionist whose paintings were full of emotion and feeling. The viewers were given a glance into the Berlin nightlife colored by his psychological thoughts.
Simmons continues on about her belief that Kirchner’s creative response to the creation of the luxury, fashion, and sexuality was a piece of the inspiration behind the earlier street series. I noticed the artist preserves the streetwalker as a very significant figure due to the composition. The perspectives in the painting always show the woman as a large portion of the piece. Perceptions and impressions were very important during this time period and more specifically important in reference to...
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