Artistic Biography of Otto Dix Essay

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Otto Dix: A Portrait of an Artist Whom Depicted Reality in the Face of Possible Persecution and Despite the Horror of the Reality Within

At first glance, it would be relatively easy to want to turn away when shown some of Otto Dix's etchings and paintings. Indeed, Otto Dix was not an artist whom held anything back. His art appears to be a combination of an innate talent and love for art as well as his own experiences and, in particular, his experience as a soldier on the German Front in World War I. When Dix's work is examined with an understanding of the social, historical, political, and biographical background which provide the impetus for his art, then his art becomes more than just what some might term "horrific" or "dark." Conceding that his work does show the horrific nature of war and the dark side of human nature and politics, his work is masterful in the sense of the reality that he was able to capture sometimes with nothing more than a piece of paper and a pencil. Consequently, this paper reveals that Otto Dix is more than just a person who created horrific and dark images. Otto Dix was a brave artist whom was not afraid to depict reality in his work despite the possibility of persecution and despite the fact that reality at that time was not a "pretty picture," rather it could be quite horrific.

Early Life

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Otto Dix was born in 1891, in Untermhaus, Germany, now a part of the city of Gera. His parents were Franz and Louise Dix. His father was an ironworker and his mother was a seamstress who had written poetry in her youth. Indeed, since he was very young, he was exposed to art of some kind through his mother's love of the arts as well as another family member's passion. In fact, his cousin, Fritz Amman, was also a painter and young Otto greatly cherished the time he spent with his cousin in the art studio. Additionally, he received encouragement from a grade school teacher who recognized Otto's budding talent (Karcher, 20-25).

Essay on Artistic Biography of Otto Dix Assignment

From 1905 to 1909, Dix was an apprentice in a design shop ("Otto Dix - Biography and Offers"). Thereafter, in 1909, he headed for more formal training at the Dresden School for Arts and Crafts and studied there until 1914 ("Dix, Otto: 1891 -- 1969). While an apprentice, Dix was influenced by two exhibitions in particular: (1) Van Gogh's exhibition in Dresden of 1912, and (2) the Futurists exhibition of 1913 ("Dix, Otto - Biography from The Grove Dictionary of Art").

From 1912 to 1913, Dix produced seven self-portraits as well as several portraits of other people. In his self-portraits, he began to use some of the techniques of the old masters through setting one layer of color upon another (Loffler 292-293). With regard to portraits of others, Dix firmly believed that it was better for the artist to remain objective as he reflects upon the artistic process:

"You know, if one paints someone's portrait, one should not know him if possible. No knowledge! I do not want to know him at all, I only want to see what is there, on the outside. The inner follows by itself. It is mirrored in the visible" (Dix Quotations).

Perhaps, the most interesting mirror is the one that Dix shows us of himself and the disparity between his own self-portraits of 1914 and 1915. His self-portraits from 1914 and 1915, reflect the change in thought that he underwent as a soldier. In 1914, his Self-portrait as a Soldier demonstrated his enthusiasm for the war in the early months while a year later, his Self-portrait as Shooting Target shows an entirely different man ("Expressions of Horror"). Indeed, World War I would have an intense impact on Dix as a man as well as an artist.

World War I Years

In 1914, at the age of twenty-three, he felt compelled to volunteer for the German army. Consequently, he left art school to begin military training. In reflecting upon the time in his life when he was a soldier, he mentions the profound effect on the war experience and its effect on his psyche as well as his artwork:

"As a young man you don't notice at all that you were, after all, badly affected. For years afterwards, at least ten years, I kept getting these dreams, in which I had to crawl through ruined houses, along passages I could hardly get through."("Otto Dix Quotes -").

When one examines his work after his experience in the military it is clear that the Great War had a profound impact on his overall outlook and perspective of the world and of humanity. Indeed, Dix witnessed perhaps some of the more horrific parts of World War I as he was a machine gun artilleryman on the eastern and western front. Moreover, he was injured several times with the worst injury occurring when shrapnel hit him in the neck almost killing him (McGreevy, 1). Even serving in the Great War did not deter Dix's passion for art. While a soldier, he created several etchings depicting the reality of the carnage of this tragic war. In 1916, he even had his first exhibition of his famous war drawings in which the style that emerged demonstrated a unique realism and social critique that would later prove to be very reflective in both style and content of his later work ("Otto Dix -- Encyclopedia Britannica").

Post WWI Years

After World War I, Dix returned to Dresden and began working at the Dresden Academy from 1919 to 1922. While the war was over, Dix's memories of the carnage remained and these poignant memories emerged in his art. For example, there were many disabled veterans who put a face on the brutality of World War I. Dix, too, memorialized them in several of his works during this era including War Cripples, Prager Strasse, and The Skatplayers which all include disabled men with wooden limbs (McCreevy). Some believe that these pieces may have been Dix's attempt to "banish the past," as he commented on the purpose and derivation of art itself:

"All art is exorcism. I paint dreams and visions too; the dreams and visions of my time..Painting is the effort to produce order; order in yourself. There is much chaos in me, much chaos in our time" (Id).

Some believe that Dix's images of the "chaos" of his time are a reflection of anti-war or pacifist sentiment; however, Dix's Comments regarding his work reveal that his art derived more from an expression of his reality as he, and hundreds of thousands of others, saw and experienced it as well as a sense of morbid curiosity regarding the war experience in and of itself:

"I…had to see how someone next to me suddenly fell and was gone, the bullet hitting him right in the middle. I had to experience that all very precisely. I wanted to. In other words, I'm not a pacifist at all. Or maybe I was a curious person. I had to see it all for myself" (Id.).

As a result of seeing it all for himself, Dix joined the avant-garde of the time or, in other words, the group of artists whom broke from the Romanticism of the 19th century and depicted the reality of life and, in this case, of death ("Expressions of Horror").

During this post-war time, Dix worked at the Dresden Acadamy and became "loosely associated" with the Berlin Dadaists who exhibited his work at the International Dada Fair in 1920. Simultaneously, he was also a member of a more politically oriented group called Novermbergruppe. In 1922, Dix began working at the Dusseldorf Academby; and, during this time, he published Der Krieg. Der Krieg translated to English means "the war." These etchings consisted of fifty different images that expressed the life, the humanity, and the brutality that existed on the front, in the trenches, and behind enemy lines. This work exemplified a veristic style in which a sense of photographic realism combines with a hallucinatory or ironic image. Indeed, this style had been evident in much of his work since his experience in the Great War. With Der Krieg, there was no denying the verism within ("Otto Dix." Britannica Concise). In fact, to produce more realistic images, Dix not only relied upon the horrific images imbedded in his own memory, but he consulted photographs such as Ernst Friedrich's photographic collection called War Against War to infuse a documentary element into his etchings (McCreevy).

It is important to note the historical and social context in which Dix was creating his art. After World War I, Weimar Germany sought to rebuild Germanic pride after the devastation in the war through promoting nationalistic and patriotic endeavors. As such, Ernst Friedrich was actually imprisoned for his photographs with simple descriptive sentences that the Weimar Court held constituted high treason for anti-militaristic tracts to be distributed to police and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Artistic Biography of Otto Dix.  (2010, April 20).  Retrieved March 4, 2021, from

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"Artistic Biography of Otto Dix."  April 20, 2010.  Accessed March 4, 2021.