Art After War: the Road to Modernism

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George Bunkall
Art after War: The Road to Modernism
An idea, regardless of the intention, is the most powerful weapon we humans have at our disposal. It is not the guns, medicine or manpower that conquers a nation or settles social turmoil, but the influence of the ideas behind them and in some cases the propaganda. An idea can become a movement for social change or it could turn a whole nation against itself. Whether it’s the justification of slavery or the global expansion of Catholicism, propaganda has always been used and will continue to be used by those in power seeking roles to influence a population for their benefit. Propaganda is not always an inherently corrupt tool –it, to some extent, allowed for US involvement in both World Wars– but it can certainly be used as such. Many ideas, movements and even lifestyles, such as fascism, surfaced in the early days of the twentieth century. They were new and radically different, but their origins were rooted deep in Europe’s history. Each movement was linked to one another, connecting in different places and different times, woven like a web. They overlapped each other, oftentimes addressing the same questions, and could often be traced back to earlier movements. One such example is Surrealism and it’s origin in Dadaism. While Dadaism was an initial negative reaction to World War I and fascism, it lacked structure or purpose and in turn lost relevance; Surrealism, on the other hand, took ideas of Dadaism and created new ideology with a purpose in telling subjective truth. These truths were often believed to be revealed through dreams and would usually criticize violence or fascism. Contrary to popular belief, Dadaism and Surrealism are not restricted to visual art, but also literature, music, dance and even fashion. However, it should be noted that one couldn’t truly understand the relationship of Dadaism and Surrealism without examining the social and political context of Europe at that time. That is, the rise of nationalism, fascism and Nazism.

Most notable to publically emerge in the early 20th century was the concept of nationalism. Arriving at a time when it was needed most, it transformed Europe from a city-state feudal system, where the lower class was dominated by nobility, to a collection of independent countries, each with their own unique culture and racial identities. While thoughts similar to nationalism first appeared with the Renaissance, and perhaps even earlier, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that it became an actual intensified movement. Nationalism stands for ideas where a nation or country is comprised of a populace who shares the same ethnic, racial or religious identity and oftentimes shares the same language. Generally, nationalism in one region would gain momentum after an attack on that region. It creates a unified, nationalistic response against the attacker, necessary during times of war. After reading the definition, one might wonder how a movement like this could be harmful, especially if it creates unification. The problem lies in the difference between patriotism and nationalism. While patriotism is simply love and support for one’s country, nationalism leaves little or no room for diversity and is usually associated with thoughts of racial superiority, similar to Social Darwinism. What nationalism does is it “otherizes” anyone who is not like you, forcing an “us and them” or even “us versus them” view of the world. This mindset, without doubt, increases the potential for war. Interestingly, nationalism has been used to both oppress and relieve oppression. In the oppressor’s hands, it promotes colonial expansion and domination and in a way allowed for both World Wars, but in the hands of the oppressed, it creates the possibility of freedom, independence and sovereignty. For example, most Germans during World War II had a nationalistic sense, given to them through Hitler’s propaganda. They felt they had the right to...
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