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Interpretation of War by Otto Dix

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Submitted By mbanks
Words 2153
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Dix, Otto. The War. 1929-1932. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemaldegalerie Neue Meiste,
Dresden.

A Graphic Narrative Interpreted
The piece the war by Otto Dix creates an ominous depiction of what a war may look like. Divided into four different pictures, the painting creates a narrative about war. Beginning with an image that displays soldiers going off to war, then the combat area, a mass coffin, and ending with a ghostly figure reaping the battle ground. From the images provided the viewer can interpret that war is very gruesome and negative. At a first glance the viewer is drawn to the center of the painting, as their eyes move around, they begin to decipher the painting and the heaviness of the painting is felt. The grim war zone overwhelms the viewer and displays an aftermath of evil. Otto Dix effects the reader with confusion through a variety of chaos inducing techniques, and ultimately shares his opinions on war.

The narrative begins with an image that displays pre-war activities. The battle has not begun yet and the soldiers do not know what to expect. The first panel displays what looks like a group of soldiers hiking off to war. In the left portion of the painting there are soldiers rising out of the fog, the viewer can only see every thing above the soldiers’ shoulders’. They sky is filled with various types of clouds, and red, almost orange tints. In the corner, there is a small piece of dark sky filled with stars. The soldiers are ready for battle with their backpacks and rifles strapped on. The ground is covering in a light fog that overpowers everything around it. The trail ahead is unclear, and it is unknown what is in the distance. In the bottom left corner there is a detached wheel to a wagon, which is nearly impossible to decipher due to the fog.
The narrative continues with the aftermath of war. The battle ground is full of death and displays the massacre of the war. The next box, which is located to the left of the first box, is full with a lot of content. The sky is filled with clouds vastly contrasted from light to dark. There is a figure hanging over the center of the frame that resembles a skeleton or dead figure. The arm of the object is pointing downward almost as if it is picking its next victim. The figure is covered with what seems to be a sheet and it is old and tattered. The cloth has pieces missing including some rips and jagged edges. In the background ruins of a building cover the ground leaving a trace of mass destruction. There are rods, poles and former framing rising from the ground. The location looks like it is in a desert due to the tan sand like terrain. Casting off the most light in the picture is a white barrier made of sandbags. Against the barrier is a hand reaching out of the debris. After concentration hard enough it become evident that the hand belongs to the dead man upside down. The man's legs are in the air and draw the view in. They are pale white and covered in holes due to bullets. Each hole is dark in color and seems to have a blood dripping out of each one. The man is covered with the remains of his clothing. His face is lifelessly grey, greatly different from his legs. Next to his head there is cloths and what seems to be the remains of another guy. The head of the other figure is covered up and his chest looks open displaying his inside intestines. Next to the deranged body is an object that looks like a torched piece of wood wrapped in barbed wire. The long is leaning against a black item that is a part of the left over ruins of the buildings. Creeping out from the pile of black remains is a person draped with a dark tan cloth wearing a gas mask and a combat helmet.
A simple picture at the bottom of the piece shares the result of the battle and continues the narrative. The image is about a third of the size. There are three visible men placed in a wooden box most likely used as a mass coffin. It is easy to determine the men as dead due to their dark grey lifeless color. It is difficult to see if there are more men in the coffin, or how much farther it extends. Some of the men seem to be missing limbs or there is a possibility that they are not visible.
Ending the narrative is the display of ghost like figures. The main character seems as though he is reaping the battle field. The next box is to the left of the center box and displays three men. The sky above them is very grim including many different colors. The red tones act as a backdrop to the ghostly white figure. The figure seems to be a man, and is carrying another person with him. It is almost as though he is dragging him away from something. The other person he is carrying has no face, only a black white hole. There looks to be another person sitting on the ground on in front of them. The person is earing a gas mask and is in a lifeless pose. Around the three figures there is white cobb-web like cloth and dark fog. Throughout the piece color functions differently in specific moments. In the first image of the sequence Dix uses a lot of white and light blues. The usage of these colors helps Dix get across the idea of pre-war. The connotations of these colors are more positive creating a path into the minds of the soldiers and how the situation is innocent in the way that they do not know what lies ahead. Another positive use of white occurs in the last piece of the narrative. The man is all white and carrying another man. Both men are presumably dead, but their ghostly presence is a resemblance of a guardian angel saving another man. Their all white bodies clue the viewer into the situation. The use of white occurs in other parts of the piece, but when paired with other darker colors the innocence of the color is taken away. In the center image there is a white barrier that draws in the viewer, but it does not create the same positivity as in the first image. Along with the large amounts of white used in the sky, the darkness of the rest of the image places a negative connotation on the white color. The use of black and other dark colors play an important role in the painting. Dix views the concept of war very negatively and the by using very dark colors he can portray his opinions. The dark parts of the sky in the main center picture and in the ending image display this technique. The dark sky provides a dark emotion to the overall piece.
The positioning of characters also plays a major role in Dix successfully sharing his view on war. Most evidently in the he main center image is where the viewer experiences this technique. The author’s choice to have each object or character of the piece be positioned differently adds to the confusion of the scene. In the left portion of the image there are a pair of upside down legs. As a main focal point of this piece, the position clues the viewer in ha the man is no longer living. A body can be just left to decay right there, an everlasting piece from the evil war. The fact that his positioning is very abrupt displays Dix’s view that war is negative or brutal. The next figure in the painting that shares this technique is the skeleton hanging at the top of the center image. The once alive being carries death, and is hanging over the destroyed battle field. This figure hanging over the other aspects of the image resembles the grim reaper. Its’ boney finger pointing downward makes it seem as though he is picking his next victim to take from the massacre. The extreme pose of that skeleton creates a scary emotion and adds an ominous feel to the piece. The image underneath the one in the center, at first glance looks to be of some men sleeping. Once the viewer remembers the content of the other images it is easy to assume that they are dead. The positioning of the men in this portion of the piece ties into the theme of death, and adds to the negative connotation of ear. In the ending piece, the way one man is positioned, carrying another man, provides a positive emotion to the piece. Following the narrative of the painting, the man looks like a guardian angel cleaning up the aftermath of the war. By his positioning the viewer is lead to the implication that he is saving the men from evil.
The sequence of the photos also plays a role in the concept of this piece. By displaying the images in this way it tells a story of war. Beginning with the concept of pre-war activities Dix sets up the journey of war at this point in the painting. Next in the sequence is the main center image full of many gruesome aspects. This part of the sequence shares a little piece of combat. It displays the war zone and how chaotic it can be. The next image in the sequence is below the one in the center. The location of this image simulates a burial method. When multiple deaths occur, mass graves are created to store the bodies. The choice to add this scene in the four-image piece aids the author in making the work come to life. With this addition Dix continues the narrative. The end of the sequence is an image of a couple of men. The main point of this image is the center man who is carrying another man. This picture relates to the end of war, with the idea of the center man as a guardian angel. The man taking all of the lifeless bodies out of the battle field. The arrangement of the images covers all aspects of the war through a narrative.
Otto Dix’s choice to use very vulgar and realistic objects shares his negative opinions of war. The figure hanging over the other aspects of the image that resembles the grim reaper. Its’ boney finger pointing downward makes it seem as though he is picking his next victim to take from the massacre. The dirty white cloth covers him like a blanket. The cloth has been through so much and is also a victim of the war. Simple choices like these bring an ironic liveliness to the piece. The legs sprouting from the ground are white and seem to be decaying. They contain holes that can resemble bullet holes or those from maggots. The decomposition look to the legs add to the grim feeling of the center image. The legs represent what is left from the battle and how unkind the dying situations can be. This part of the image display strong negativity. In the corner you can see a person wrapped in white cloth, displaying a mummy like figure. He is covered in blood and it seems as though his insides have been ripped out of him. The demented image of the person ties the action of war to brutality. The artist uses the gory figure to his advantage by making the viewer feel uncomfortable. The viewer can infer that war presents high mortality rates and mass destruction. This painting is interesting to look at during this day and age because war is not seen this way. The concept of war is vulgar and dangerous, but not massacre like or left as devastating as displayed in the image. Today the remains of war’s combat would leave deaths but they would be more conservative. Omission of the display of guts and hanging bodies, mass coffins and mangled bodies make war in this modern age seem less harsh. Technology is developed to make clean kills, sparing the exaggerated gory view on war. With knowledge of how things work today it adds intensity to this painting. Overall Otto Dix attempts to share his negative views towards war, and successfully effects the viewer through ominous techniques. The concept of war is negative in the eyes of Dix, and he portrays this through the figures in his painting and the colors used in the images. The realism Dix brings into the piece and share a frightening story with the viewer. In general the painting gives of a heavy feeling since there is no omission of negative concepts.…...

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