HAVC 135B : German Art 1905-1945

How did major political events manifest themselves both formally and thematically in Expressionist and post-Expressionist artworks?

The major political events that marked the early years of 1900 through the mid thirties gave form to German artistic movements. During that time Germany employed artists to voyage to their colonies in Africa and Indonesia, to create images. While Emil Nolde was part of one of these expeditions, his paintings were influenced by the "primitive" people and their culture. He sought a simpler, purer art, out of which developed a palette of bright colors, influencing the developing Expressionists and a search for what is original.
This was developed further by the the groups, Die Brucke and Blaue Reiter, a search for freer, more vital forms of expression, ultimately developing into an art that expressed through heightened color, distorted perspectives (ie Kirschner's Street Berlin), and painterly brush strokes. A rejection of strict traditional artistic standards for more individual expression aligned them with the modern society's rapid urban and industrial development, bringing about a working class who were demanding their rights from an oppressive dominating elite. The artists related to the workers movement out of which developed the idea that art could create social change, search for common and inspiring values that linked all men, especially developing was the value of individuality and spiritual essence of being, as seen in the abstract works of Kandinsky and in Franz Marc's powerfully rendered horses with his bright primary colors symbolizing a range of emotional responses.
When WW1 took place, the idealism of the early Expressionists deflated. After the war, with the down turn in the economy, artists sought out new materials to make art. Disappointed now with the decorative qualities of Expressionists paintings and the ideals espoused by the Novembergruppe and the Bauhaus with their imposed rules that took to an extreme the artists role in recreating a new society, a new kind of art was needed. Dadaism developed, taking up the use of found materials and using the mass produced images in common print. They created the photomontage to shock and wake people from their conformity to the developing capitolism . These photomontages commented on modern life; woman's rights, sexuality, political commentary, the disparity between worker, the elite military and bourgeois through uniquely placed collage compositions. The Dadaists took a radical stand against establishment and through their new art, including assemblage, poked fun at German modern society.
The effects of WW1 on the artists were apparent through the powerful drawings and etching of Otto Dix and Kath Kollowitz, the former rendering the effects of the war in his War series and the later works reflected her concern with the oppression of various peoples and communist groups. Their drawings were dark narratives of this intense and chaotic time.
And finally the development of Neue Sachlichkeit, Return to Object, developed as the mid twenties increased in economic stability. Their art turned to the object, flat greyer colors, urbanscapes and portraits, showing an apathy, a disconnectedness with what was taking place, a new attitude about public life, superficial, consumer driven, a cold reality. The paintings observed as if from a neutral place, as seen by darker neutral colors, flatness of people, or some part of the figure distorted, something odd yet in normal settings. In response to rise of National Socialism with its seeking of the pure German, nationalistic fervor, its exclusion of radicals, Jews, and people who were different, its reaction to social commentary, and return to more traditional artistic forms, the art of the Neue Sachlichkeit become a more contemplative art, less penetrative of inner meaning, with more obscured symbolism yet powerful in its figurative drama.
- Summer 2016

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