ART AND POLITICS IN THE WEIMAR PERIOD: The New Sobriety, 1917-1933 by John Willett


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John Willett, author of Expressionism (among other works) and an editor of The Collected Plays of Bertolt Brecht, has successfully gathered within the richly illustrated pages of a single volume all those artistic currents and movements of the 1920s which he feels were part of that ""amazingly advanced civilization"" of Weimar, a culture clearly symbolized by the ""international style"" in architecture. Willett contends, however, that the architectural styles of Gropius, Mart Stam, and others were but one aspect of a new broad movement reflected, for example, in the music of Kurt Weill, the art of George Grosz, or the theater of Bertolt Brecht, a civilization of modernity often called the ""New Objectivity"" but which Willett more aptly terms the ""New Sobriety."" In contrast to Expressionism this new sensibility chose ""objectivity in place of the previous intense subjectivity, self-discipline in lieu of passion, scepticism and dry humor instead of solemnity and faith."" Among its basic attitudes was ""a reluctance to work only for a social-cultural elite"" rooted in the revolutionary ideals of 1918-1920 and encouraged by the brilliant artistic advances made in Russia under Bolshevik rule. Above all, this art was ""cool""--an attempt to make a dispassionate assessment of modern reality. Willett argues, in fact, that the New Sobriety's existence in Weimar was bound up with the very conditions that led to Fascism and, thus, to its own downfall; and this is the sense in which his book is a study of the relation between art and politics. Unfortunately, so much is packed into Willett's work that it is often extremely hard to follow, and his book practically opens with two charts of ""Art Streams of the 20's"" which in design and clarity closely resemble a New York City subway map. This is an important work nonetheless, a far-ranging study of one of the most creative epochs in our century.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1978
Publisher: Pantheon