The (Ir)rational: Post-WWI Art


People often fight wars over land, glory, power, and conflicts. World War I began for these reasons, but they do not justify the sacrificing the lives and wellbeing of the world. World War I not only caused at least ten million deaths, but it also opened up a crisis of meaning in the West. The differences and changes in the crisis of meaning proved to be costly as there were countless cultural and political effects that were caused by the questioning of previously held beliefs and the formation of new ones.

Remembering the War:

The ten million unjustified deaths from World War I took both a mental and physical toll on many people in the West, which resulted in new forms of expression. In order to mourn the dead and make sense of the war, the idea of collective remembrance, a way for groups to remember their past, emerged. Each nation grieved for its lost generation and struggled to find its identity. People grieved the lost generation and tried to prevent another war through the creation of war memorials, poems, diaries, and other narratives about loss.

Another way that people dealt with the crisis of meaning was through new art forms like dadaism, surrealism, and futurism.

Dadaism is art that purposely dehumanizes humans, and it represents irrationality because it shows that nothing has meaning. In the first painting, you can only see figures with masks. The art protests against the irrationality and barbarism of the war. Dadaism had only one rule, which was to not follow any rules. It was an anti-art and anti-war movement.

Surrealism uses everyday objects to create an irrational image and celebrate irrationality. The art has many elements that juxtapose each other and do not make sense; they seem to be from dreams or fantasies. The art provokes people to question what is going on in the paintings, and it also channels the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination.

Futurism is form of art that demonstrates how technology is becoming too advanced, and it also demonstrates that society is rapidly approaching an unknown and unpredictable future. The first painting shows a man riding on a bike, and not even the wheels are visible because he is quickly moving into a place of uncertainty.


Before the war, art was very realistic, peaceful, and orderly; however, new, post-war art forms were irrational and chaotic, which clearly showed how people’s views about technology and war shifted immensely. It is also evident that art and culture have a co-dependent relationship. Overall, World War I caused people to reshape their identities and grieve through creative outlets like art; their reliance on these narratives, art, and memories may have pushed people to lose faith in democracy and trust fascism, communism, and other forms of government.

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