Saturday 16 January 2021

Initial Research: Expressionism & War

 Following the last post let's look more closely at Otto Dix who I discussed briefly in a previous post but who will be an important influence in my project work. I will look at the biography here of Dix as this is integral to his work and his experiences in the War. 

Otto Dix

Otto Dix was born in 1891, Dix always showed an interest in Art and studies at Saxon School of Arts and Crafts. Here he was influenced by many other artists however he stated that his greatest influences were Goethe, Nietzsche and The Bible.  Dix signed up for war after Arch Duke Ferdinand was assassinated and in 1915 he was assigned to a machine-gun unit on the front line.  He was wounded several times throughout the war. In August 1918, he served in Flanders where he took a nearly fatal wound to the neck.  During the war, Dix kept a diary and a sketchbook and this became the basis for 50 prints that he created just called - The War.  (Dix 2009).

Later in life Dix was married and became a professor at the Kunstakademie in Dresden.  he stayed here until the Nazi rise to power in 1933.  Dix was stripped of his professorship and his work was displayed at the Degenerate Art Museum in Munich. They were later destroyed. Dix went to live quietly just painting landscapes and refused to leave Germany, he was conscripted to war again in the latter half of WWII but was captured and spent most of this in a French Prisoner of War camp.  He died in 1969 and continued to make art until his death. (Dix 2009).

This is one of the prints created from his sketchbook from World War I.  Here you can see the horror and pain almost screaming from the man's face.  Terrible wounds look as if the man's stomach is just a black hole, his arm askew at an unnatural angle. Dix stated: 'For years, [I] constantly had these dreams in which I was forced to crawl through destroyed buildings, through corridors through which I couldn’t pass. The rubble was always there in my dreams.' (Tate 2021) Dix created these pieces using the corrosive processes of etching and aquatint mediums in which acid etches a metal printing plate—to heighten the sense of decay.

Why look at these images in relation to my project?  The World Wars at the beginning of the 20th Century we're in a time of crisis, uncertainty and destruction and horror.  The after-effects of both wars are what we are living today.  These wars determined our future.  This time that we are in now will determine another future.  It seemed to me before the Covid 19 crisis that technology was making people more isolated and lonely with less real social contact and now we all are avoiding social contact and working remotely.  This will have a profound effect on the future - I don't believe everything will just 'go back to normal' there will be a new normal.

George Grosz

George Grosz also enlisted in the military in World War I (as did Adolf Hitler) as he thought it would be good for his artwork.  He did not foresee with the latest in military technology the utter horror he would face - these experiences haunted him for the rest of his life.  While Hitler was rising to power Grosz use his art to create satirical images of the radical right-wing and to show the public what they were capable of.  When Hitler came into power Grosz and his wife and children had to flee to New York to escape death threats from the Nazis.  He left just in time a few days later the Nazis raided his home and studio. Gros believed that the most important thing an artist could contribute to the world was social criticism

This image features high standing people in society who supported Fascism including; politicians, clergy, businessmen and in the background the military generals.  The figures are ugly, self-satisfied and arrogant as they take over society and watch others suffer who oppose them. 

The above image Grosz created after he had gone to visit his home country, Germany in 1936.  This self portrait expresses his anxiety horrified by what he saw and could see that Germany was heading for another war; Grosz stated; 'I could not explain exactly what was really troubling me. But after I had returned to the States, my paintings became prophetic. I was compelled by an inner warning to paint destruction and ruins; some of my paintings I called ‘Apocalyptic Landscapes,’ though that was quite some time before the real thing took place.” (MIA 2021)

Grosz used oil painting, sketching, and mixed media in his work and he continued to paint throughout his lifetime, although he never regained his prewar renown. Grosz died in 1959, he had returned to Germany after the war but struggled with drinking which led to his death. 

Considering Grosz and his work, it reminds me very much of John Heartfield who also raged against the right-wing and Hitler before he came to power and who also fled to the USA.  These artists should make us consider what our role in society is and should we involve ourselves in social criticism? Is it our duty as visual artists to reflect the world back at itself?

I have looked at these two artists in relation to concept and to some extent technique however, I think I need to look more at technique and how I will really learn the technique.  As seen from my previous posts I was looking at Kirchner, I enjoy Kirchner as I think it looks simple, and yet I do not think that it really is.  The painting looks naive and childlike at times but there is a depth to the images - as shown below.  The artist uses rapid brush strokes and bold colours. 'He sought to distil his subject matter into what he termed ‘primordial’ signs; the bold, pared-down vocabulary of line and form evident in such works as Self-Portrait with Model (1910; Hamburg, Kunsthalle).'(Elan Vital n.d) I liked this idea of simplicity, boldness, and the line as I think that I might be able to achieve something like this in my own work.  The next steps I will take will be to start practicing the technique. 


Otto Dix (2009) The Online Otto Dix Project [Online] Available from: (Accessed 16/01/21) 

Tate (2021) Five Things to Know About Otto Dix [Online] Available from: (Accessed 16/01/21) 

MOMA (2021) Otto Dix: Der Krieg [Online] Available from: (Accessed 16/01/21) 

Lane M.M (February 2020) The Artist who dared to take on the Nazis from their earliest days [Online] Available from: (Accessed 16/01/21) 

Jonathan 5485 (22/01/2011) My Daily Art Display: The Pillars of Society by George Grosz [Online] Available from: 16/01/21) 

Lackman J. (01/07/2010) Art News: His Own Best Critic [Online] Available from: (Accessed 16/01/21) 

Elan Vital (n.d.) Elan Vital [Online] Available from: (Accessed 16/01/21) 

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