Art conversations resume at Mulvane

Leia Karimul Bashar

The prints hanging in the Mulvane Art Museum, rendered in stark contrasts of dark and light, depict everything from the horrors of war to the humanity of Jesus Christ.

“‘Out of the Depths…’: Works by French Expressionist Georges Rouault” sparked a lively discussion among art enthusiasts Tuesday night about the meaning of Rouault’s prints during “Conversations: Connecting Art to Our Lives.”

Edward Navone, professor emeritus in the art department, said Rouault was one of the preeminent religious artists of the 20th century. He said Rouault, a Catholic who lived through the Franco-Prussian War and both World Wars, identified with people who were downtrodden and marginalized.

“Rouault felt the modern world had gone crazy,” said Navone. “He thought that progress had only led to more marginalization of people. He felt a sense of arrogance on the part of modern society.”

Navone pointed to Rouault’s prints of prostitutes as an example.

“He didn’t depict prostitutes the way many artists would have,” said Navone. “Instead, he portrayed them as victims of cruelty and a lack of love. Rouault took a really Christian point of view.”

Alan Bearman, interim dean of libraries, agreed with Navone that war and faith had strongly affected Rouault’s work.

“There is an intensity in this artist,” said Navone. “Part of it is reflected by all the war he experienced.”

Bearman, who is also a history professor at Washburn, said Christ was a submissive figure in Rouault’s prints. Although many people depict Christ as a kind of modern-day superhero in artwork, Bearman said Christ was often shown as suffering or even dying in Rouault’s work. To illustrate his point, Bearman described the art in a church he once visited.

“I saw their mass-produced pictures of Jesus hanging on the walls,” said Bearman. “People were shocked when I suggested that Jesus was not clean-shaven, blue-eyed and blond. … Needless to say, I wasn’t invited back to the church.”

Out of about 15 guests who attended Tuesday night, there were no Washburn students or young children at the event.”Conversations” facilitator Reinhild Janzen blamed the absence of younger people on a lack of early art education and on parents who will not take their children to art exhibits. She said her own father taught her to appreciate art during her early years.

“He would have us gather around a painting and ask us what the image meant to us,” said Janzen.

Kandis Barker, associate education coordinator, took a more lenient stance, saying parents don’t always know children are welcome at museums.

“Most people don’t know museums aren’t elitist the way they used to be,” said Barker.

Barker wanted to remind parents about the touchable art gallery available for children downstairs at the Mulvane called the Art Lab. Its activities coordinate with the theme of the upstairs exhibits. Children can make chalk drawings on fake cave walls or use markers to draw on windows. Kids also learn about shadows, lighting and texture, and books about art are available for check-out. The Art Lab is open for children whenever the Mulvane is open.

The next meeting for “Conversations” will take place 5 p.m. March 4 in the Mulvane Art Museum. Guests will discuss artwork in the exhibit titled “Visual Encounters with Paraguay: Celebrating 40 Years of Kansas-Paraguay Partnership.” It is open to the public and free of charge. Janzen encourages all students interested in art to attend.