Art Lessons in Zurich, Switzerland


Location: Kunst Haus Museum, Zurich
“The music of expressionism and contemporary art exhibit”

Going with Hedi Ernst ( turned a typical touristy museum day into an in depth art lesson on German and French expressionism. Hedi explained how expressionism took flight in Europe and how to see the art in a way I hadn’t before. She encouraged me to avoid thinking about what the artist intended and focus instead on what it brings up personally. That’s the point, she argued. A good work of art has different meanings. It’s personal to everyone. I always enjoyed fauvism and Impressionism in painting, but Hedi made me think of it in entirely different way. As she showed me the progression of style, I saw the leaps each artist made and could appreciate the risks. They allowed themselves to do things differently: they used different brush strokes and colors that don’t exist in reality to create an emotion that does exist in the mind. It reminded me of Luis Borges, the first author to write magical realism. In both cases, the artist gives himself the right to bring something from their imagination (third eye, whatever) into the material world. It gives it this universal meaning because everyone’s connected on that invisible level.


I’ve heard tons of people joke about how they could be a modern artist. “It’s just a line on a white board,” or “okay I can throw paint and squiggle some layers and call it a masterpiece too.” “This is true,” Hedi said when I expressed this frustration. “But they don’t.” She looked at a particular simple piece of work. It was a large canvas with two blocks of color. “When you look at this, you think this is two colors and it’s very simple but it’s not. These colors are not opposite or the same. They are completely balanced. And when you look closer, you see there is not just two colors but many colors with different parts. The longer you look the more it changes.” She was right and it blew my mind. It wasn’t black; it was actually really dark blue, and the longer I looked I saw different colors separating the two colors. I saw how those small imperfections were intentional so that your eye could shift the right way.

“Anyone can be an artist,” she continued, “that doesn’t lessen the achievement. It gives it more power. These people have allowed themselves to make something and then had the courage to share it. I dated a man who had a grand piano in his basement. He could play the most amazing things. When he played, everything else was quiet. He was a lawyer, but he had to retire early. It was his heart that forced him to stop.”

“Yeah being a lawyer is stressful huh,” I replied.

“Maybe,” she said, “but that isn’t why. It was his soul that went first. He wanted to be a composer. That was what his soul yearned for. He was dying in his office every day. He didn’t have an outlet. He couldn’t escape from himself.”

I didn’t know what to say, so she continued, “Your body and soul are connected. When one suffers, so does the other. A broken heart is just as serious as a sick one, and eventually they become the same.”

We continued around the exhibit and I noticed how she’d sometimes just laugh at a piece like a private joke while with others she’d spend some time letting her eyes dance around the canvas. After a while we left and headed back to Wadenswil. She was talkative about the art but I was exhausted. I felt like my mind had been through some sort of emotional roller coaster, and I wondered how this insomniac always had so much energy.

I wondered what inspired her art. I can’t help it. Being a writer I can’t shake the idea that the author or painter’s intention is important to the work. When I got back from Luzern a few days later, I found out.

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