Excerpt from Metamaus, Art Spiegelman’s book of conversations with Hillary Chute about the making of his Maus books
Drawing the Holocaust
When did you first come across drawings by survivors—or drawings by people who didn’t survive—and how did you find them?
Before embarking on Maus I consciously set about looking for material that could help me visualize what I needed to draw. The few collections of survivors’ drawings and reproductions of surviving art that I could get my hands on were essential for me. Those drawings were a return to drawing not for its possibilities of imposing the self, of finding a new role for art and drawing after the invention of the camera, but rather a return to the earlier function that drawing served before the camera—a kind of commemorating, witnessing, and recording of information-what Goya referred to when he says, “This I saw.” The artists, like the memoirists and diarists of the time, are giving urgent information in the pictures, information that could be transmitted no other way, and often at great risk to their lives.
At one point in the book [my father] says they didn’t have watches at Auschwitz. They didn’t have cameras either, for the most part, in Auschwitz. There were some contemporary photographs to look at, but most of what happened was not photographed. There aren’t really a lot of photographs of inmates in Auschwitz being beaten. But there are drawings by people who were beaten of what was happening to them. And those drawings range in levels of craft and skill from rather primitive—people who had virtually no graphic art training—to people who were incredibly skilled artists who even had access to art supplies in Auschwitz.
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Image: From The Book of Alfred Kantor