Iconoclasm as Catharsis: Anselm Kiefer and the Seeds of Memory

By Meredith Massar Munson.

Published by The International Journal of Arts Theory and History

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Through an extended look at a single canvas of Kiefer's, Aschenblume, created over a span of years from 1983–1997, this article will explore Kiefer’s concept of art not only as a tool for the excavation of memory, but also as a means of confronting trauma in order to understand individual and national identity. Drawing upon a variety of spiritual, esoteric, and cultural traditions in his work, Kiefer creates a space for the viewer to explore the connections between memory and identity, and puts forth art's potential to work as a regenerative, creative, and transformative cultural agent. While rooting Kiefer's work in its cultural and temporal context is important (Not to do so would disallow imperative cognitive inroads to the works’ intent.), limiting it to simply a commentary on Germany does the paintings’ meaning a severe disservice. Through an exploration of Aschenblume, we may learn that the most critical question with which to approach Kiefer’s oeuvre is not, "How does Kiefer reconcile his German heritage with the atrocity of war?," but rather, "How can art confront with trauma, guilt, and atonement within memory as universal experiences that foster new creativity and growth?"

Keywords: Art, Trauma, Memory, Catharsis, Kiefer

The International Journal of Arts Theory and History, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp.27-39. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 800.154KB).

Meredith Massar Munson

Doctoral Student, Art & Religion, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA, USA

Meredith Massar is a Doctoral student at the Graduate Theological Union.