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Artistic Expressions and the Great War, A Hundred Years On


Edited By Sally Debra Charnow

The Great War set in motion all of the subsequent violence of the twentieth century. The war took millions of lives, led to the fall of four empires, established new nations, and negatively affected others. During and after the war, individuals and communities struggled to find expression for their wartime encounters and communal as well as individual mourning. Throughout this time of enormous upheaval, many artists redefined their role in society, among them writers, performers, painters, and composers. Some sought to renew or re-establish their place in the postwar climate, while others longed for an irretrievable past, and still others tried to break with the past entirely.

This volume offers a significant interdisciplinary contribution to the study of modern war, exploring the ways that artists contributed to wartime culture – both representing and shaping it – as well as the ways in which wartime culture influenced artistic expressions. Artists’ places within and against reconstruction efforts illuminate the struggles of the day. The essays included represent a transnational perspective and seek to examine how artists dealt with the experience of conflict and mourning and their role in (re-)establishing creative practices in the changing climate of the interwar years.

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Part IV Postwar: Memory, Memorializing, and Commemoration


PART IVPostwar: Memory, Memorializing, and Commemoration

The concluding part focuses on postwar sites of memory and commemoration. All of the chapters included testify to the catastrophic character of the Great War and the multifaceted efforts of survivors and of following generations to reckon with its memory. In its wake, the war revealed uncomfortable social truths about European society that were taken up and exposed by artists in their work. Postwar trauma was shared between civilian and combatant; mourning and commemoration offered both healing from war dislocation and disfigurement while simultaneously unmasking deeply ingrained social inequalities and failed state policies.

Although not created as a war memorial, Otto Dix’s painting Metropolis engaged with practices of war memorialization in German visual culture in 1928, the tenth anniversary of the armistice. In Between Art and History: Reconfiguring the Memory of World War I in Otto Dix’s Metropolis, Ann Murray considers the immediate cultural environment of Dresden, where Otto Dix was based and Metropolis first exhibited. In the spirit of German academic battlefield painting of the previous century, overtly heroic, sanitized imagery of the German soldier prevailed in popular publications after the war. Traditionalists rejected the dystopian image of war in modernist art and depicted the German army as unbreakable, eschewing direct references to the destructive force of war machinery on the body. Murray shows how Dix’s Metropolis, interrogated the exceptional tolerance for militarism and prevalence of reactionary imagery that played down the devastating consequences of the war. Stylistically, Metropolis...

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