The impact of WWII echoed into the future and continues to impact us today. The domino effects that came from the war started to emerge from our minds into a tangible and physical form through the works of art that were produced post-1945.
A sudden shift in society came about as the world had been shaken, and awoke into the reality of an evil they had never realized before. This time period reminds me of the movie, “Pleasantville,” where the film is made in black and white, until a select few characters in the film start to break out of the norm and think for themselves. As those individuals start to break away, they begin to appear in color-thus giving a sense of being brought to life. However, in the real world of 1945, rather than being brought to life, our society found itself being brought to death, day after day.
As so many lives were lost either completely or partially (due to wounds), the effects of those losses continued to wretch the minds and thoughts of society to a point of a sadness that is rarely reached in life. Margaret Bourke’s famous images from concentration camps really became the connection between the discussion of the war and the ability to truly grasp the horror the war had created. The ability she gave the public to now see what had been talked about for so long is what started a reverberated conversation, leading to the artworks of this time period. A sense of Existentialism came forth as society started to turn into oneself as the utmost moral compass, rather than continuing to follow a leader, such as Hitler. Individual responsibility was emphasized, as one is a free and responsible agent whom determines his or her own development through acts of the will. Thus, a person was now personally responsible for their acts, feelings, and thoughts.
This resulted in several artists leaving “their mark” on their work. For instance, in Giacometti’s work starting in 1945, he left thumbprints and other marks on his work as a result of this new sense of a human body doing– a result or a trace of the artist’s action. In his piece, “City Square/Three Men Walking,” the figures never cross paths, an expression of individual fragility, being open, raw, exposed, and vulnerable; a sense of those who were coming back from the war. Another notable piece of Giacometti’s is, “The Chariot,” and how it is unharnessed, not in the hands of someone else, giving a sense of individuality and to take the reigns for yourself.
In relation to “The Chariot,” we have Francis Bacon’s, “Figure in a Landscape,” which gives a sense of entrapment, a black void. “The open mouth can possibly be discerned as speaking into a microphone, a detail that may have derived from photographs of Nazi leaders giving speeches. The pastoral setting is therefore contrasted with the intimations of organized political violence, making this an early example of Bacon’s combination of aggression and everyday mundane reality.” (Tate. July 2010. Figure in a Landscape. Retrieved from http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks) Another work of Francis Bacon is, “Painting,” and how it is a symbolic gesture of the horror of what had taken place behind closed doors. He used garland to take away from that horror, yet it still remains in the same way that the war ended but the horrors of the war have continued to echo throughout time. Lastly, in Bacon’s, “Figure with Meat,” we see the Pope as a symbol of religion, Catholicism specifically, whom is flanked by sides of beef. These haunting images were used to remind viewers that, as he explained, “we are potential carcasses.” There is also a notion from this work that nothing is respected anymore and the idea that this sort of institution led to the war.
In the works mentioned above, there is a definite influence of postwar Existentialist thought. When thinking of Existentialism, it’s not easy to leave out Jean-Paul Sartre’s Essays in Existentialism. His purpose was to understand human existence rather than the world as such and he concludes in these essays that “every event in the world can be revealed to me only as an opportunity, or better yet since everything which happens to us can be considered as a chance, and since others, as transcendences transcended, are themselves only opportunities and chances, the responsibility of the for-itself extends to the entire worlds as a peopled-world.” Therefore, as we are each responsible as individuals for our actions, we are also responsible as a human race as a whole.
This leads me to conclude with the mission and work of the group CoBrA. As their focus was to change art to reflect the positive and to have an uplifting purpose, they attached positive humanity back to society and created an environment of “the fantastic” again. The question for artists of this time was, “how do you write poetry, or create art about the positive and the beautiful when you know of such evil?” Their answer was to keep writing, and to keep painting; that one day the darkness and deep sadness would eventually lift, and from it, we would be brought back to life.