A Vision In Austria

September 22, 2012

- See all 763 of my articles

No Comments

This story originally ran on October 1, 2011.  It was an enjoyable story to write.  I hope you enjoy reading it. 


April 28, 1888. 1:30 AM.
Gretchen blew out the candle, slipped beneath the quilt, and tried to go to sleep. She was exhausted from the work of tending to the party guests, but sleep would not come.

Instead, the vision kept returning. An infant being born into this household. The infant growing into a boy, and then into a man. The man assuming great power and bringing death upon millions. Her vision was quite clear. The man was pure evil.

Below her small attic room was the master bedroom, where master Alois and mistress Klara were sleeping. The mistress was with child.

Gretchen slept fitfully, unable to accept the message within the vision. The vision would recur many times, leaving horrible nightmares in its wake. Gretchen often awoke drenched in sweat.

May 24, 1888
Gretchen carried the tea to her mistress, remarking that this was a new variety from the market. Klara replied that it was sweeter than the ordinary tea. Gretchen was deeply disturbed by her own actions. She did not want to poison her mistress, but the visions were becoming stronger, the nightmares were becoming worse, and the message was crystal clear – the baby within Klara’s womb was pure evil and must not be allowed to live. She was being asked to intercede.

July 13, 1888
The house was in mourning after the miscarriage. Alois and Klara grieved the loss of their unborn child. Many had attended the funeral at the church in Ranshofen. The relatives had stayed for several days before returning to their own homes, leaving Alois and Klara alone.

During this time, Gretchen was the steady presence that Alois and Klara needed. She cooked, cleaned, and went to the market just as she always had. But she also comforted Klara, slowly bringing her out of the period of darkness until the briefest glimpses of happiness began to appear on occasion once again.

Two days after the funeral, Gretchen announced that they were out of the new variety of tea, and that the shopkeeper had not been able to get any more in stock. That afternoon, she discreetly discarded the arsenic. No longer would she be forced to poison her mistress.

July 30, 1888
The mistress had left at dawn to visit relatives in the Gmunden distict. Gretchen was cleaning the master bedroom when he came to her.

“You have been a great friend to Klara during this dark time. I owe you a great debt, Fräulein Gretchen” he began. “and I am a man who repays his debts.”

Alois looked into her eyes, and Gretchen knew how the debt would be repaid. She was filled with nervous excitement as he moved toward her. This was the moment she had longed for so many times over the years.

Gretchen fell back onto the bed, filled with desire and welcoming the advance of her master. He pulled up the skirt of her dirndl and within a moment was inside her. Gretchen gasped with pleasure as Herr Hitler’s seed was planted inside her.

You Know You Love Us: Art as Propaganda

July 29, 2011

- See all 9 of my articles

1 Comment

In 2007, the German Historical Museum in Berlin opened an exhibit titled, “Art and Propaganda: The Clash of Nations 1930-1945” (curated by Dr. Hans-Jörg Czech and Dr. Nikola Doll). As you can no doubt tell from the time period under observation, the show displayed artwork from Italy’s Fascist regime, German National Socialism (Nazism), and Soviet Communism. There was also an extremely controversial fourth nation represented: the United States. American New Deal-era artworks were displayed alongside those glorifying Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler. Unsurprisingly, American viewers protested their inclusion alongside such unsavory company – virulently anti-Semitic posters showing Jewish people as bloated rats, Futuristic sculptures of Mussolini’s (il Duce’s) continuous profile, and ridiculously toady-ing portraits of an insanely idealized Joseph Stalin.

This intensely negative reaction is unsurprising, given the continuous American fascination with WWII, and our heroic place in it. Early twentieth-century Germany and Italy are colored black in our heads, although Russia was nominally on the Allied side, the degeneration into Cold War politics that followed the war knocks them into the same monstrous camp of forced deportations and genocide. To place American artworks – posters, paintings, sculptures, and other materials, alongside those of the three fiends of the twentieth century – the horror!

Generally speaking, the modern world takes a dim view of propaganda. Propaganda, to most of us, is the province of Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gadaffi (how have we as a people not decided how to spell this man’s name yet?), and the most James Bond villain-esque of contemporary dictators, Kim Jong Il. Propaganda is giant gold fists crushing Americans planes and having your face subtly displayed on two-story building-size posters. This view, however, is incorrect. Technically speaking, propaganda is the spread of ideas or information to further the cause of an institution or person. That ASPCA brochure you got in the mail this morning? Propaganda. The “Easy Ways to Redecorate Your Bathroom” article in the new Martha Stewart “Living”? Propaganda (but you knew that one). The integration of art and propaganda is not a new combination – Hitler and his ilk were drawing from thousands of years of using images to influence public opinion.

Although kings, queens, pharaohs, and emperors are some of the most obvious users (and abusers) of art as visual propaganda, I chose to dedicate much of my artistic education to considering the artistic propaganda of perhaps the largest and most powerful institution of the last two millennia of Western civilization: the Catholic Church. For Christianity’s first 1500 years or so, what became the “Catholic Church” was simply the Church, the only game in town.

Christianity began as a religion of the poor and dispossessed in backwater Roman provinces; they used artistic representation sparingly. Digging back to your Sunday School days (or, lacking those, “Intro to Religion” college courses), you might remember the Old Testament story (Exodus) in which Aaron created a statue of a golden calf to calm the Israelites while Moses was up on Mount Sinai. The calf was meant to be a stand-in for the Hebrew God, but greatly invoked the bull worship that was common in many cultures at the time. As if invoking paganism wasn’t bad enough, the creation and worship of such a statue was idolatry – the worship of an image – specifically forbidden by Jewish law. Of the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Christianity is the only one that dispensed pretty thoroughly with the anti-graven images rule. This is less of a commentary on specifically Christian theology and more a result of Christianity emerging at the height of the Roman Empire, a time when Roman art was at its classical zenith.

As Christianity evolved from being the religion of slaves and poor minorities to the official religion of the empire, its artistic tradition developed from its early austere, primitive style (a loaded term in the art world, but evocative) to the highly naturalistic, incredibly detailed style one associated both with the Roman classical world.

This inherited artistic tradition was perhaps Christianity’s greatest weapon in the pursuit of believers (actual weapons were sometimes involved, as well). In ages where the vast, VAST majority of Europe’s population was illiterate (Dark Ages even into the Renaissance and beyond), the Church’s use of images helped explain and spread their beliefs to millions of people who otherwise would never have understood. The official language of Christianity was Latin, a language the Church’s own priests often had scanty knowledge of, and certainly no common parishioner understood a single word said in Mass. What they could understand, however, were pictures – scenes of the Nativity, Raising of Lazarus, and the Last Judgment in stained glass, prayer books, and wall frescoes. These works of art explained Christianity better than any priest ever could, and as Christianity evolved and eventually split, what became the Catholic Church clung to images as a continued means of impressing and convincing their parishioners that their way was the correct way.

Some of the best-known artworks in the Western world are blatant Christian propaganda. The Sistine Chapel, Raphael’s frescoes in the Vatican Stanze, Michelangelo’s David – all out to convince their viewers that Catholicism is the way. The fact that these works are propaganda in no way decreases their value as art; in fact, it emphasizes the very power of images and establishes that art is an extremely powerful force that can be utilized for good and evil.

Therefore, America’s inclusion in the Berlin exhibit wasn’t an inherently negative comment on Rooseveltian politics – just a nod to our obvious knowledge of the propagandistic power of images.