Thursday, April 30, 2009

Childhood, Art, & Healing

"If we want to look at children's drawing with pleasure and profit, we must first silence our wishes and requirements about form and content and gratefully take what they have to offer... The arm is the maximum freedom of the child, their free choice of expression according to their mood.... Everything must be left to the child. At most, they should be given a subject, an impulse." -Friedl Dicker Brandeis

Today, I was browsing in a book store and came across Art, Music, and Education as Strategies for Survival: Thereseinstadt 1941-1945.
This volume collects six new essays spanning a variety of disciplines, as well as memoirs and related source materials, on the history and the arts of the Theresienstadt ghetto from 1941 to 1945. The book was assembled with the cooperation of the Jewish Museum in Prague, the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., the Leo Baeck Institute in New York, and others.

Featured throughout the book is the work of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, a multitalented Bauhaus artist, who produced work in theater, architecture, textiles, graphic design, drawing, painting, and sculpture. In 1934, Dicker-Brandeis was arrested by the Gestapo for anti-Fascist activities and fled to Prague, where she taught art classes for Jewish refugees. In 1942 she was sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto. While there, she secretly taught art to the children, gifting them with the tools for the expression of their fears of hunger, disease, and death within their midst. Dicker-Brandeis and thirty of her students perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz in 1944. Before she was shipped out, however, she hid thousands of works of child art within the walls of Theresienstadt, preserving for posterity a powerful and enduring indictment of the horrors of genocide.
The story of Dicker-Brandeis and her work gives me chills. Her insight on childhood & art is eloquent and rich:
“Why do adults want to make children be like themselves as quickly as possible?… Childhood is not a preliminary, immature stage on the way to adulthood. By prescribing the path to children, we are leading them away from their own creative abilities and we lead ourselves away from understanding the nature of these abilities.”