Art and the War 20th Century

The war had a major impact on society and on people’s beliefs and attitudes. It also changed the way society was organised. Artists responded to these changes, creating new art forms which flourished in Germany and America, where a lot of Jewish Germans fled to.

Hitler recognised the power of art and utilised it as a propaganda tool. He labelled all modern art forms degenerate and ordered for them to be destroyed. Therefore many cubist, expressionistic and surrealist works of art were lost during this period of upheaval.


Art before the War

The years leading up to the First World War saw an explosion of new creative thinking across Europe.

German Expressionism 1905-1930
Expressionism is a term used to describe art that uses line, shape, and colour to express emotions. German Expressionism was a movement that lasted from about 1905-30. The German Expressionists were anti-bourgeoisie. They chose to live a more bohemian or primitive lifestyle, often moving out to the countryside in order to experience nature. They experimented with a variety of different materials. It was the expression of ideas and emotions that counted, not artistic skill or aesthetic appearance. Their aim was to create a more honest art form.

Die Brücke (The Bridge)
An art group founded in Dresden in 1905 by a group of architectural students.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)
Erich Heckel (1883-1970)
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976)
Fritz Bleyl (1880-1966)
Joining members:
Emil Nolde (1867-1956)
Max Pechstein (1881-1955)
Cornelius Kees van Dongen (1877-1968)

Example: Kirchner, Naked Playing People, 1910

Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider)
The title of a book written by the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and the German artist Franz Marc (1880-1916). They believed that art should have no boundaries and that it should be used to express emotions and ideas from the mystical world.

Example: Marc, The Fate of the Animals, 1913

Italian Futurism
The Futurists followed a manifesto written by the poet Marinetti. They wanted to break from the past and all traditional art forms. They glorified the machine and the fast moving pace of the modern world.

The Artists:
Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916)
Carlo Carra (1881-1966)
Luigi Russolo (1885-1947)
Giacomo Balla (1871-1958)
Gino Severini (1883-1966)

Example: Balla, Swift Paths of Movement, 1913


Art during the War

Dada Art
The Dadaists were a group of artists working in Berlin in between the wars. Their work was politically engaged and satirical. They were anti-traditionalists and anti-bourgeoisie. They made use of collage and photomontage (the cutting and joining of two or more photographs to create a new image), juxtaposing images in order to create new meaning. Dada spread to New York with the outbreak of World War II.

George Grosz (1893-1959), Metropolis, 1916
Hannah Höch (1889-1978), Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Beer-Belly of the Weimar Republic, 1919


Art after the War

Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism was an American post World War II art movement, developed in New York in the 1940s. It glorified the spontaneous or gestural mark of the individual artists. The Abstract Expressionists used paint in order to express their inner emotions. They were more concerned with the art making process than with the final outcome.

Jackson Pollock (1912-56), Number 1 (Lavender Mist), 1950
Mark Rothko (1903-70), Orange, Red, Yellow, 1961
Willem de Kooning (1904-97), Woman II, 1952-3


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