Anna Zemánková Johnson 1
Anna Zemánková Essay
Jill A. Johnson
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jill Johnson
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It is disturbing for me as a beginning art therapist to have noticed that the majority of cases in the care of psychologists are victims of societal masochism that to this day remains fully intact. I suggest masochism is an illness sorely needing treatment. The general consensus of a patriarchal society can be very disruptive and counterproductive toward the growth of individuals, Anna was not the only woman “disrupted”. I disagree with the label of depression she was given and strive to lend credence to a more appropriate explanation of Anna’s behavior at menopause…it was time for her to begin to find balance and growth with a natural form of expression all humans are endowed with, through art.
As an art educator, I have found that in the creative expression called art, there is growth of potential, art is a vehicle which acts as a coping mechanism to alleviate the milieu of psychological disorders present in humans; and the vehicle needs to be practiced and driven in order to navigate the pothole-ridden, narrow and linear roads of life so to find freedom and enjoyment along the way, as did Anna Zemánková.
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Moravian (Czech Republic)
Pastel on paper
Moravian (Czech Republic)
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Anna Vesela was born near Olomouc in Moravia into a family of tradesmen. She had an interest in art and learned extensive needlework techniques, historic costume, music and dance, as well as a rigorous academic program. For monetary reasons, she became a dental technician and worked until she got married. In 1948 Communists took control of the country. The newly married Anna Zemánková moved to Prague and had several children. Anna dedicated her time to family life and care of the children during the first half of her life.
She took proper care of her family, and in her spare time loved to read and listen to classical music. “As she approached menopause, there was clearly a change in her attitude. She became depressed and temperamental”. The original source of this article according to Annie Carlano, Curator of European and North American Collections of the Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe. Ms. Carlano gave a lecture about Anna Zemánková and her work on February 22, 2003 at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outside Art in Chicago, Illinois, cites this depression as perhaps a result of hormonal changes.(2) I argue that the writer had scarce proof to support this claim which I believe is likely false. As someone going through those very same changes though,
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I believe her depression was due to a likely dissatisfaction with having to conform to a strict and oppressive life. I don’t think I am the first woman in the world who decided to get my Master’s degree at menopause, and I too have been subject to reactions such as “that’s crazy, you should get an office job.” I personally find it depressing that some people cannot conceptualize change themselves and so will insist others continual conformity that suits their own purposes. This citation got me so fired up that I wanted to burn my bra in public. Had I not burnt them long ago, we might have had a public display of women’s suffrage movement in 2014 in the small town of Rice today.
I have come to know menopause as an open doorway though, a time in my life I can and will experience life in a new way if I so choose. While it is true that hormones affect people, I think it is outdated impolite, boorish, hypocritical, sexist, and uneducated to cite hormonal changes as a automatic precursor to depression or other so-called ailments of menopause. I believe most women could find menopause a thoroughly enjoyable time of life if societal “norms” would not continue to insist on a lifetime of subservient behavior. Menopause is time to explore all the possibilities of on’es own potential now that the children are usually on their own and the herculean task of child rearing is complete. Menopause is celebration time for me just as men have what is called a “mid-life-crises” at about the same time. It is a human element to desire freedom.
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Those who blame victims deserve closer scrutinization as the tendencies to blame victims fall categorically under the disorder called masochism. As an art educator, I have found that in the creative expression called art, there is growth of potential, art is a vehicle to alleviate depression, and the vehicle needs to be driven. It is disturbing for me as a beginning art therapist to have noticed that the majority of cases in the care of psychologists are victims of a masochism that to this day remains fully intact.
I suggest masochism is an illness sorely needing treatment. I also suggest women and artists do not have to agree to be martyrs or victims. The general consensus of a patriarchal society can be very disruptive and counterproductive toward the growth of individuals, Anna was not the only woman “disrupted”. I disagree with the label of depression she was given. Ellen Desnanayees theory of ceremonial natural groups functions support my theory that this patriarchal view of power serves no useful purpose in groups.
Upon her release into menopause, Zemánková began creating very focused artwork, large floral abstractions not unlike those of her contemporary, Georgia O’Keefe. Subsequent paintings expanded into three-dimensional works that included embroidery, paper punching and crimping, and applique. The flowers took on a new life in collage techniques. She also created quite a few
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items for the home, just as many a practical woman might advise, and made hats, purses, pillows, lampshades and a masterpiece room divider.
Support of artistic endeavors was not a priority of her family or country, but Anna’s son, Bohumil was sensitive to Anna’s desire to practice art. Bohumil, a sculptor, gave his mother
some art materials and encouraged her to pursue creative work as an outlet to allay her so-called “depression”. He made her a drawing table that she would work at during the hours she could get away from the family. A family friend recounts that Anna spent all day caring and doing’ on their behalf of the children; during her art time she could concentrate and ‘be at peace’. (3)
Between 1979 until her death in 1986, Zemánková was very ill with diabetes. Even through this, she continued to generate art, making black drawings instead of her colorful images. These later works were destroyed by her children.(5) As a result of diabetes, she developed paralysis and underwent amputation of her legs in the early 1980s.
Zemánková did receive some recognition during her lifetime. The first person she sold to was the President of the Czech Republic.(6) Other early patrons included visiting Viennese and Austrian collectors, and through her son’s efforts, her work was included by Jean Dubuffet in the Collection de l’Art Brut.
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Zemánková continues to be likened to visionary artists because of the trance-like state curators claim she worked in. Art was a continuum and she would occasionally go back to finished pieces and add or enhance her drawings. Working in the pre-dawn hours between four and seven o’clock, Anna Zemánková found solace in art, creating floral and botanical drawings
that served as a brief rest from the duties of her regular life. It was during these hours of solitude she created, and as she said, “I am growing flowers that are not grown anywhere else.”(1)
Zemánková felt that her gifts were reflective of a divine source. According to curator Annie Carlano, it seems likely she was channeling some sort of spirit or energy in her work, and the Moravian culture Zemánková is from is steeped in folklore and traditional beliefs which focus on spirits and otherworldly beings which can be conducive to this particular mindset. During the time she was active with her drawing, there were spiritualist enclave areas around Prague, but it does not seem that Zemánková was aware of them. And I doubt Anna was a voodoo priestess too.
While the spiritualistic environment may not have influenced her work, elements of traditional Czech culture can be compared to her motifs and techniques. Many traditional painted decorations have some|possess some affinity to her drawings and patterning, and cubist elements seen in modern Czech architecture are mirrored in some of her works, particularly her series of
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drawings that incorporate towering structures with these elements. In contrast to these modern impulses, the styling of the Baroque architecture reflects the spiral and curvilinear forms often seen in her botanical shapes. She was interested in textiles, and crocheted items. Her hometown was particularly known for textiles.
Today we can find an interesting use of her concept of collage being used as a tool for spiritually manifesting through visualizing, in the book “The Vision Board” by Joyce Schwarz. “Everything that’s coming into your life you are attracting into your life. And it;s attracted by virtue of the images you are holding in your mind….Your vision board (collage) reinforces your positive images and enables you to attract the best possible in life. The images you plant in your mind instantly set up an attractive force, which governs the rest of your life. Vision is the key connector between one’s daily goals and one’s lifetime purpose….Most people are extras in their own movie” (Bob Proctor).
If her art was of the imagination, she was blooming along with her flowers a wish fulfillment (according to theories of symbolism by Freud and Jung). Anna was able to fulfill her wish to grow through art. She was practicing a form of meditation not unlike seasoned monks and seers., perhaps without knowing how important this universal connection with nature was. In any case, according to Jung’s theory of symbolism and simultaneous interpretation of dreams by
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Sigmund Freud, as I understand it, she was connecting to a universal consciousness and dealing with her subconscious dreams, which enabled her to find peace so she could more fully “grow” her inner life. I take a quote from five-year-old Nathan who expressed his gratitude to his Mother for showing him the inner workings of a toilet after he had nightmares about it running over and flooding their home, “I feel better in my mind now that I know how it works”.
Pastel on paper
Moravian (Czech Republic)
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The Czech Lands have been historically known as a center of “occult” beliefs and practices. It may be in actuality more accurate to to say that maintained and adapted their spiritual belief that had carried on throughout the millenia, just as many other nature based beliefs throughout the Eastern world have. The Czech Lands have borders of culturally diverse belief systems such as Hinduism, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish, to name a few. Under the
circumstances, the Czechs would have crossed paths with Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and those who held a more naturalist form of belief. It would be likely they all influenced each other. We should remember that it is common for one religion or belief system to call another religious system names, such as occultists, for purposes of power.
We can also consider that although Anna was from this country and used the many stylistic techniques she saw here, the spiritual belief she held was deeply personal. It is otherwise difficult to understand how a person drenched in “the occult” would say her images come from “God”. We cannot rely on hearsay that claims she was depressed without a doctor’s note. We do not have proof she adhered to any particular religion or that she actually went into trances when she worked. Art is ripe with assumptions and labels that are put onto it and the artist. These are all questions only the artist might be able to answer. Many of the labels we artist must endure are negative and useless in describing a reason art is made.
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I have my doubts that Mrs. Zemánková would have appreciated being referred to as a “depressed occultist who was in a trance” as so many gallery curators (a person who makes at least 50% on the sale of paintings, a person who has a vested interest in making an outrageous claim because it could make the appeal of the painting seem greater) have surmised.
In my estimation, the driving force behind the art of Anna Zemánková consisted of an underlying impulse was as she stated “I am growing flowers that are not grown anywhere else.”(1) in an environment impacted by war and not likely supportive of personal expressions.
Through art she was able to transcend what I would label “disruptions” to her personal growth to find inner peace and balance.
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Dissanayake, Ellen. In The Beginning: Pleistocene And Infant Aesthetics And Twenty-First Century Education In The Arts International Handbook of Research in Arts Education, ed. Liora Bressler, Chapter 53, Vol. 2 (2007), 783-798.
Freud, Sigmund. http://.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Interpretation_of_Dreams (2014)
Freud, Sigmund The Interpretation of Dreams the Illustrated Edition, Sterling Press, 2010, pages 9-68
Geary, D. C. (2005). Folk knowledge and academic learning. In B. J. Ellis & D. F. Bjorklund (Eds.), Origins of the social mind: evolutionary psychology and child development (pp. 493-519). New York: Guilford.
Jung, C.G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (London 1996) p. 43
Jung, C.G. Man and his Symbols (London 1978) p. 57
Kalshed, D., Jones, A., C.J. Jung Foundation For Analytical Psychology, Inc. The Evolution of Consciousness.
Petullo, A. Collection of SELF-TAUGHT AND OUTSIDER ART. 2014
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Proctor, Bob http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Secret_%282006_film%29
Sapolsky, R. (1992). Neuroendocrinology of the stress response. In J. R. Becker, S. M. Breedlove, & D. Crews (Eds.), Behavioral Endocrinology (pp. 287-324). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
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1) Hernandez, pg. 44
2) According to Annie Carlano, Curator of European and North American Collections of the Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe. Ms. Carlano gave a lecture about Anna Zemánková and her work on February 22, 2003 at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outside Art in Chicago, Illinois.
3) As quoted by Pavel Opocensky to Jo Farb Hernandez in the article “The Dawn Drawings of Anna Zemánková” which appeared in the Spring, 1996 issue of Raw Vision, #14.
4) Information given during Ms. Carlano’s lecture, February 22, 2003 (see 2 above)
6) ibid. Current president of Czech Republic is Vaclav Havel.
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Carlano, Annie. Lecture on Anna Zemánková at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago, Illinois on February 22, 2003.
Hernandez, Jo Farb. “The Dawn Drawings of Anna Zemánková” in Raw Vision, No. 14, Spring 1996. 40-45.