More Beautiful Than Necessary

In: Vulcan
David RitchiePacific Northwest College of Art, 511 NWBroadway, Portland, OR97209. USA,

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What was it about the First World War that brought on Modernism? Like the simplified poppy form and the sword-within-a-cross which both came to memorialize the First World War in British culture, materiel from that era—shells, rifle stocks, helmets, bullets, bunkers— have a thoroughly modern, almost Bauhaus aesthetic. This was not entirely new in the history of weapons; the common soldier had often fought with unadorned weapons. In this war, however, there was nothing else to see; soldiers could safely regard only the sky, their comrades, their weapons and—viewed through a periscope’s framing—a landscape stripped of nature’s adornments. The inference is that this limited vision and consequent focus on unadorned form were key to the modern aesthetic taking hold.

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