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History Notes > Further Subject: Comparative History of WWI (1914-19) Notes

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--------------------------------------------------------------------------------Art Past Questions 2013 - Was visual propaganda more significant than written propaganda?
2012 - What were the limitations on representing the war visually?
2011 - To what extent could the war be represented visually?
2010 - What were the problems for the visual representation of the war?
2009 - Was traditional art more effective than modem art at communicating ideas about the war?
2008 - Did the war encourage artistic experimentation? You may, if you wish, answer with particular reference to EITHER poetry OR painting. 2007 - Does over-emphasis on written sources impoverish our understanding of the war?
2006 - What do we learn about the war from visual sources that we might not learn from written ones?
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------What should we think about?Artists immersed themselves in the experience of war. Gosse wrote of Henry James that he 'ate and drank, he talked and walked and thought, he slept and waked and lived and breathed only the War.' Offered a rich culture, if a morbid one: of extremes of emotions and effort, new sounds and images that bore no relation to what came before.Initially, propaganda was more verbal than visual. But this soon changed - newspapers in every nation moralised the conflict through visual representations of national stereotypes: the fat, grasping British capitalist, the barbaric Hun.War as art, a superior representation of life - a transcendence of sterile social norms . Can overcome horror and sadness and imbue it with meaning. 'As evocation, as an instrument of change, the war had a positive purpose - that was the judgement of many artists, at least early on.' (Cork) Destruction is dynamic - what will rise from the ashes?As Marwick notes, the Great War beget a thousand legacies. A new genre of war novels, as most prominently represented by Barbusse and Madox Ford; a new genre of war poetry, see Owen and Sassoon; and an enormous bequest of paintings. A Bitter Truth, by Times art critic Richard Cork, contains several hundred reproductions.

o oThere is no problem with source material, the only difficulty is in finding obvious trends amongst the quantity. Some, such as Cork himself, argue that the war forced avantgarde artists to return to traditional modes.

'Banalisation of the war' - Kitchener beer mugs, Foch ashtrays trivialisation of the struggle in a manner consistent with its unending continuation. This was an imaginary war, indeed a commercial war, far from the mud and blood of the front. o Wartime patriotism sold, especially in a sanitised form. Conformity and acceptance of war, because it was ultimately just and required an absolute victory, was not a top-down initiative imposed without consent. Governments may censor, but a 'much more powerful agent of conformity was the cluster of images spread throughout wartime societies in a host of visual forms, refined and vulgar alike.' (Winter) o Irrespective, all need to come to terms with how to depict the war.

New sections:
- Discord and experimentation
- Official representations and a return to tradition
- Propaganda
- LimitationsDefinitions o Cubism: an early 20th-century style and movement in art, especially painting, in which perspective with a single viewpoint was abandoned and use was made of simple geometric shapes, interlocking planes, and, later, collage. o Dadism: nihilistic art movement (especially in painting) that flourished in Europe early in the 20th century; based on irrationality and negation of the accepted laws of beauty. Itself a nonsense term. Coined so as to be anti-art. o Expressionism: a style of painting, music, or drama in which the artist or writer seeks to express the inner world of emotion rather than external reality. o Vorticism: Centred on aggression and abstraction, dynamism. Ultimately, it was their witnessing of unfolding human disaster in World War I that "drained these artists of their Vorticist zeal" o Futurism: Embraced the new in all its forms. War could be seen 'not only as the most grandiose manifestation of the modern age but also as a philosophical necessity (war being necessary for the realisation of the idea of humanity).


Discord and experimentationMax Ernst - 'A terrible and stupid war thwarted our existence for five years. We did our bit in this general collapse through ridiculing and shaming everything we had deemed just and beautiful and true. My work in this period was not aimed at seducing but at howling.'

Surrealism & DadaismViolence jostled uneasily with fear, horror with despair, during the experiences of the War, something that translated well into artwork. For Andre Masson, violence 'was a part of existence, and one must express it.' Bresson himself did not perceive the war as a continuous series of torturous engagement, but instead found and sought out beauty - 'The rockets, the smell of the battlefield which was intoxicating.' The need to see and experience all aspects of life, even those that were inextricably linked with death, meant that the War could provide the ideal creative platform for the Surrealist art movement. To move between fear and elation, joy and depression, to encounter death at such close quarters truly must have been nothing short of a surreal experience. o Neither bloodthirsty nor pacifistic. As Paul Eluard put it in 1916, they were there 'to do their duty.' o Destructiveness needed to be embraced.'The only truly novel artistic movement to be born during the war was dada.' Manifesto: Life appears as a simultaneous tangle of noises, colours, and spiritual rhythms...the sensationalist cries and fevers of the audacious everyday psyche, in its entire brutal reality.' Not opponents of the war in itself: 'We were against the pacifists, because the war actually made it possible for us to exist in all our glory...We were the war, and today dadism is still for the war. Things have to collide: there's still not nearly enough cruelty.' (Huelsenbeck) Collapsing of high art and mass culture crop up throughout twentieth century: variants of 'postmodernism.' Film develops rapidly in the wake of the ban on imports, continued until 1924, no desire to import films into a nation with a valueless currency.Becker - 'If the Great War was not the creator of the surrealist movement, it was certainly its catalyst.' (1) o Familiarity with the slaughterhouses of the Great War, and the literal and metaphorical detachment and dismemberment of troops can certainly be said to have had a profound effect on the artists that served in the conflict. o International in outlook. o Andre Breton, speaking of the two World Wars in the 1940s, commented that 'Surrealism in effect was the only intellectual movement which succeeded in covering the distance separating

them...surrealism cannot be understood historically without reference to war.Links to the Second World War - the despair here summarised by Ernst, the chaos and anarchy of the Surrealist and Dadist movements, were shunned by the Nazis. For them, they epitomised the weaknesses and frailty that the German martial spirit must strive to destroy. 'Judaic aesthetic gangrene' of the 1920s. The images of the disabled produced by Dix were tantamount to treason and military sabotage.

DadismDadists - 'inventors of the metaphor of madness as a form of war resistance.' Jean Arp faked madness to discharge himself from military duty, but raised the important question: when did faking madness start, and simulating it become the appropriate means to defy the principles for which the war was fought? 'We were looking for an elementary art which would be capable of saving humanity from the furious insanity of the times.'First Dadist Exhibition takes place in 1920. Otto Dix exhibits his 'War Cripples. o The war was seen by the Dadists as a destructive agent - and only mad individualism and defiance could turn this same destructiveness against itself.For the disillusioned artists of the Dada movement, the war merely confirmed the degradation of social structures that led to such violence: corrupt and nationalist politics, repressive social values, and unquestioning conformity of culture and thought. From 1916 until the mid-1920s, artists in Zurich, New York, Cologne, Hanover, and Paris declared an all-out assault against not only on conventional definitions of art, but on rational thought itself. "The beginnings of Dada," poet Tristan Tzara recalled, "were not the beginnings of art, but of disgust.What was the difference from the true and false war? Was there a healthy creativity in madness? Julien Gracq has pointed out of the Dadaists - 'The madman, in his exemplary isolation, finds in his universe sufficient charm in order to accept that which is only valid for him.'

Otto Dix, War Cripples (1920)Cork - 'Dix felt repelled by the sight of ex-soldiers exposing their deformations in the street. They became, for him, a symbol of the disillusionment engendered by the war, which he had initially greeted with such bull-necked aggression.' o Irony - Iron Cross recipient.

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