Monday, November 5, 2007

In Honor of Artists

Stanislaw Wyspianski's stained glass window in St. Francis' Basilica: "God the Father in the Act of Creation"

I was wondering why it seemed like such a large proportion of the statues and other memorials in Poland were of artists of one sort or another: the huge statue in the main square here in Krakow is of a poet I'd never heard of (Adam Mickiewicz); the gorgeous statue in the middle of Warsaw's major park is of Chopin (OK, so I'd heard of him); the crypt, below, of a major church in Krakow is filled with tombs of artists, not church bigwigs, kings, politicians or generals.

Crypt of the Pauline Church on the Rock

Then we visited the Wyspianski Museum yesterday (I'd never heard of him before I came to Poland either, though I'd taken notice of his stained glass windows in some of the churches we'd visited). This was a truly remarkable guy: painter, stained glass artist, playwright (The Wedding), costume and set designer, typographer/graphic designer, interior designer, furniture designer, architect....he did it all. He was part of a group of writers, painters and graphic artists labeled "Mloda Polska" who were crucial in defining Polish national identity. And this is at least one of the reasons why Poland holds their artists in such high esteem: In the 1800's, the Mloda Polska school developed when Polish culture had been struggling to survive. This was the period when the three countries of Russia, Germany (Prussia) and Austria had sliced up Poland among them; they tried to eliminate the Polish language and suppressed the teaching of Polish history and literature. In this climate, the work of writers, painters and artists became the only way of defining Polish national identity. The artists of Mloda Polska made a point of celebrating Polish folk traditions, and would prove to be essential for creating a national Polish consciousness that eventually led to independence in 1918 (at least for a while).
Chopin Statue in Warsaw

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