Dix is an Expressionist Rembrandt. ;)Human condition and all that.
HIs works are starkly horrifying. And they give you a window into the world that created the lost generation, nihilism and excess. Extreme realism.Interestingly the the Archibald Knox Society posted a "remembrance book" that Knox lettered in his typical celtic revival beautiful style for the men who had fought in WWI. Looking at it, it really felt like a death shroud not only for the men, also to the culture and world that knox's art was born in and inhabited, since WWI basically killed them completely. When you see Dix's work, you understand why.
It's difficult to overstate the effect ww1 had on the world, on culture, on the people who lived through it and the generations that followed.
And yes, realism has suffered a sea change in meaning over the years. Dix's work is extremely realistic. Look, too, at Goya's images of the Napoleonic invasion of Spain (which influenced Dix, I believe). Again, an unsparing look at human nature.
I find WWI one of the most fascinating events in history, and the most tragic. Like you I don't think we can begin to imagine how much it changed the world, though I do think Dix provides some context. There are none of the justifications that exist for WWII, only entire nations posturing like children to the destruction of everything around them. And it truly makes nihilism make sense, while giving a grisly boot to postmillennialism. When you see the beauty that is the A&C and know WWI killed it, it makes you sad even as you know such idealism has to die in a world where men are so depraved. At the same time, many historians argue my country was "born" at Vimy Ridge.
As to the "realism" thing, I find there are a lot of people who would call pictures of fuzzy kittens "realism" just because they are representational. But you know as well as I do that realism was the foil to idealism long before it was ever one to abstraction. Yay art discussions! Why don't you live here :(
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