New Objectivity • Neue Sachlichkeit

The art of New Objectivity aims to provide us with a direct transcription of reality, works that function as the mirror of society and show it in all its ugliness, i.e., hypocrisy, misery, and brutality of fact.

Georg Scholz, Industriebauern | Industrial Farmers, 1920
Oil and collage on wood
Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal

Scholz's collage painting is a grotesquely grim portrayal of a peasant family’s Sunday meal. The parody is dominated by a self-righteous patriarch whose despicable child blows menacingly on a frog through a straw. In the window, a preacher approaches, a roasted turkey in his rotund stomach. As an illustrator for activist periodicals, Scholz gained the skills and perhaps the prescience to convey the bigotry, barbarism, and avarice of an actual family he had encountered in the countryside, probably to "conquer the aesthetic huckster through a new objectivity," as he proclaimed through his colleagues in Der Gegner (The Adversary).

Pamela Kort considers early modern German culture from a new angle: the comic grotesque, suggesting that a penchant for distorted, if not invented, bodies and beings that merge satire, horror and beauty in varying ratios is an essential ingredient in German modernism, especially in the Neue Sachlichkeit, or the New Objectivity, which sprang up in the Weimar Republic in the 1920s (The Grotesque and Its Relatives).

Despite its immense diversity, German modernism in the Weimar Republic remains united by a relentless scrutiny of the world.

Online Resources
Roberta Smith, Those Witty, Mocking Germans, The New York Times, 22.10.2004
MoMA: Georg Scholz, includes the lithographs Profiteering Farmer's Family (Wucherbauernfamilie), 1920; Newspaper Carrier (Zeitungsträger), 1921; and The Lords of the World (Die Herren der Welt), 1922. On the Newspaper Carrier lithograph: "Scholz pilloried Germany’s industrialists and moneyed elites in mordant caricatures such as this, made in the immediate postwar years. Gaunt and dejected, a father and son barely subsist by peddling newspapers, while a self-satisfied fat cat leisurely smokes a cigar in the backseat of his gleaming new automobile."
Head Study


The Roaring Twenties

"Roaring Twenties" is a phrase used to describe a period of sustained economic prosperity in North America and Europe (principally Paris, London, and Berlin). The phrase refers to a period of social, cultural, and artistic dynamism. 'Normalcy' returned to politics in the wake of World War I, jazz music blossomed, the flapper redefined modern womanhood, Art Deco peaked, but the Wall Street Crash of 1929 punctuated the end of the era. As a period, the Roaring Twenties brought several inventions and discoveries of far-reaching importance, unprecedented industrial growth, accelerated consumer demand and aspirations, and significant changes in lifestyle and culture.

Dancing the Charleston
John Held, "Teaching old docs new tricks," Life Magazine, 1928

The Weimar Republic (1918-1933). Proclaimed on November 9, 1918, the Weimar Republic marked the first German experiment in democracy, producing a period of intense and uncensored intellectual and cultural productivity. Yet, filling the brief time slot between World War I and the rise of the Nazis, Weimar Germany was also characterized by social upheaval, crisis and hyperinflation (1919-1923), and general resentment for the losses of the war. The result was a short-lived era of extremes in which the rich lived in excess and the unemployed and poor increased daily.

Raoul Hausmann, ABCD (Self-Portrait), ink and collage, 1923-24
Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Retaining the emotional intensity of German Expressionism, while advocating a return to realism and direct social criticism, artists such as Otto Dix and George Grosz captured their time and society with blunt honesty and a cynical insight that was often rooted in horrific personal experiences.

Otto Dix, Cardplayers, drypoint, 1920

Dix persistently depicts Germans as crippled. Resulting from Dix's nihilist vision, the expressionist characters that populate his paintings and prints do not entirely reflect the condition of the German population in the 1920s.

The artists associated with the Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity are identified as "verists" (Hartlaub). They opposed political impotence but without exemplifying any "return to order." Their form of realism distorted appearances to emphasize the ugly. They wanted to expose what they considered the ugliness of reality, so their art was raw, provocative, and harshly satirical.

Dix, Newborn Baby on Hands (Portrait of Ursus Dix), 1927
Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart

Goldene Zwanziger (Golden Twenties), 1924-1929. Gustav Stresemann was Reichskanzler for 100 days in 1923, and served as foreign minister from 1923 to 1929, a period of relative stability for the Weimar Republic which is known in Germany as Goldene Zwanziger, "Golden Twenties". Prominent features of this period were a growing economy and a consequent decrease in civil unrest.
Once civil stability had been restored, Stresemann began stabilising the German currency, which promoted confidence in the German economy and helped the recovery that was so ardently needed for the German nation to keep up with their reparation repayments, while at the same time feeding and supplying the nation. Once the economic situation had stabilised, Stresemann could begin putting a permanent currency in place, called the Rentenmark (1924) which again contributed to the growing level of international confidence in the German economy.

Martin Wagner, Planned remodelling of Potsdamer and Leipziger Platz, Berlin, 1929

In order to help Germany meet her reparation obligations, the Dawes Plan was created in 1924. This was an agreement between American banks and the German government in which the American banks lent money to German banks with German assets as collateral to help it pay reparations. The German railways, the National Bank and many industries were therefore mortgaged as securities for the stable currency and the loans. Shortly after, the French and Germans agreed that the borders between their countries would not be changed by force, which meant that the Treaty of Versailles was being diluted by the signing countries. Other foreign achievements were the evacuation of the Ruhr in 1925 and the 1925 Treaty of Berlin, which reinforced the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922 and improved relations between the Soviet Union and Germany. In 1926, Germany was admitted to the League of Nations as a permanent member, improving her international standing and giving her the ability to veto League of Nations legislation. However, this progress was funded by overseas loans, increasing the nation's debts, while overall trade increased and unemployment fell. Stresemann's reforms did not relieve the underlying weaknesses of Weimar but contributed to a stable democracy. The major weakness in constitutional terms was the inherent instability of the coalitions. The growing dependence on American finance was to prove dangerous and Germany was one of the worst hit nations in the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

Dancing and Jazz, Esplanade Hotel, Berlin 1926
Deutsches Bundesarchiv Bild 183-K0623-0502-001

There was an extraordinary cultural renaissance in Germany in the 1920s. During the worst phase of hyperinflation in 1923, clubs and bars were full of speculators spending their profits daily. The response of the intellectuals in Berlin was to condemn the excesses of capitalism and demand revolutionary changes on the cultural scenery. Influenced by the brief cultural explosion in the Soviet Union, German literature, music, theatre and cinema entered a phase of remarkable creativity. Innovative street theatre brought plays to the public, the cabaret scene and jazz bands became very popular. Modern young women were Americanised, wearing makeup, short hair, smoking and breaking with traditional mores. Euphoria surrounded the figure of Josephine Baker in Berlin, where she was considered an "erotic goddess" and in many ways admired and respected for providing the German public with "ultramodern sensations." New Objectivity found expression in the visual arts. The Bauhaus school new industrial prototypes, which led to functional design and modern architecture.

Walter Gropius, Bauhaus, Dessau, 1925

Weimar Culture. It was the flourishing of the arts and sciences that happened during the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, and this period is frequently cited as one of those with the highest level of intellectual production in human history. Germany was the country with the most advanced science, technology, literature, philosophy and art.
"Remarkable for the way it emerged from a catastrophe, more remarkable for the way it vanished into a still greater catastrophe, the world of Weimar represents modernism in its most vivid manifestation" (Marcus Bullock).

Gestalt and Theory of Perceptual Organization

Notable cultural figures in the Weimar Republic
Science. Albert Einstein, Max Born, Werner Heisenberg
Philosophy and Theory. Martin Heidegger, Martin Buber, Max Weber, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno
Gestalt Psychology. Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, Kurt Koffka
Literature. Bertolt Brecht, Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann
Theater and Film. Max Reinhardt, Marlene Dietrich, Fritz Lang, Robert Wiene
Visual Arts. Otto Dix, George Gross, Max Beckmann, August Sander, John Heartfield, Paul Klee, Kurt Schwitters, Max Ernst
Architecture. Erich Mendelsohn, Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe

Online resources
Roaring Twenties
Art Deco
Weimar Republic
New Objectivity
Machine Aesthetic
Additional resources


Jean Piaget

(1896–1980), Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher known for his epistemological studies with children.

"The principal goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done—men who are creative, inventive, and discoverers. The second goal of education is to form minds which can be critical, can verify, and not accept everything they are offered."

Illustrating Piaget's Ideas

Intelligence is what you use when you don't know what to do.

Play is the answer to how anything new comes about.

What we see changes what we know. What we know changes what we see.

To understand is to invent.

Related post

The Gestalt Program


The Gestalt and Its Researchers

Gestalt Psychology: Central Premises
1. Holistic thinking. Übersummativität, i.e., "the whole is more than the sum of its parts" and transposability
2. The primacy of unitary analysis of phenomena, rather than analysis of stimuli
3. Experimental methodology, which had to be congruent with the type of event under investigation
4. Psychophysical isomorphism or psychological processes are clearly assigned to physical processes

Max Wertheimer (1880–1943), Kurt Koffka (1886-1941), and Wolfgang Köhler (1887–1967) contributed to the creation of Gestalt psychology.

"I stand at the window and see a house, trees, sky. Theoretically I might say there were 327 brightnesses and nuances of colour. Do I have 327? No. I have sky, house, and trees." Max Wertheimer

Paul Klee. "Creative Credo," 1920, VII. Art is a simile of the Creation. Each work of art is an example, just as the terrestrial is an example of the cosmic.
The release of elements, their grouping into complex subdivisions, the dismemberment of the object and its reconstruction into a whole, the pictorial polyphony, the achievement of stability through an equilibrium of movement, all these are difficult questions of form, crucial for formal wisdom, but not yet art in the highest circle. In the highest circle an ultimate mystery lurks behind the mystery, and the wretched light of the intellect is of no avail. One may still speak reasonably of the salutary effects of art. We may say that fantasy, inspired by instinctual stimuli, creates illusory states which somehow encourage or stimulate us more than the familiar natural known supernatural states, that its symbols bring comfort to the mind, by making it realize that it is not confined to earthly potentialities, however great they may become in the future; that ethical gravity holds sway side by side with impish laughter at doctors and parsons.
But, in the long run, even enhanced reality proves inadequate.
Art plays an unknowing game with ultimate things, and yet achieves them!
Cheer up! Value such country outings, which let you have a new point of view for once as well as a change of air, and transport you to a world which, by diverting you, strengthens you for the inevitable returns to the greyness of the working day. More than that, they help you to slough off your earthly skin, to fancy for a moment thta you are God; to look forward to new holidays, when the soul goes to a banquet in order to nourish its starved nerves, and to fill its languishing blood vessels with new sap.
Let yourself be carried on the invigorating sea, on a broad river or an enchanting brook, such as that of the richly diversified, aphoristic graphic art.

Rudolf Arnheim (1904-2007) was a path-breaking psychologist of visual experience in the arts. He conducted some of the earliest experiments in the application of Gestalt theory in the perception of a work of art. Arnheim was born in an age when many remembered life without telephones and during his long and prodigiously productive scholarly life, he would witness the emergence of cinema, radio, and television. Arnheim was among the first theorists to write in significant ways about these new media of the twentieth century. A towering figure in the field of visual studies, he was a pioneer in the psychology of art and wrote seminal books on visual perception and artistic creativity. Arnheim has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture and film.

"All perceiving is also thinking" (Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception, 1954). For thirty-five years his book Visual Thinking (1969) has been the standard for art educators and psychologists alike. In this groundbreaking work, Arnheim asserts that all thinking (not just thinking related to art) is basically perceptual in nature—and that the ancient dichotomy between seeing and thinking, between perceiving and reasoning, is false and misleading. Far from being a "lower" function, our perceptual response to the world is the basic means by which we structure events, and from which we derive ideas and therefore language. Although intended for the general reader, Visual Thinking is of immediate interest to the educator because of its practical consequences for the function of art in education and more broadly, in all fields of learning.

"Order is a necessary condition for anything the human mind is to understand. Arrangements such as the layout of a city or building, a set of tools, a display of merchandise, the verbal exposition of facts or ideas, or a painting or piece of music are called orderly when an observer or listener can grasp their overall structure and the ramification of the structure in some detail. Order makes it possible to focus on what is alike and what is different, what belongs together and what is segregated. When nothing superfluous is included and nothing indispensable left out, one can understand the interrelation of the whole and its parts, as well as the hierarchic scale of importance and power by which some structural features are dominant, other subordinate" (Arnheim, Entropy and Art: An Essay on Disorder and Order, 1971).


Einstein on Crisis and Change

Let's not pretend that things will change if we keep on doing the same things. A crisis can be a real blessing to any person, and to any nation.

For all crises bring progress. Creativity is born from anguish, just like day is born form night. It's in crisis that invention is born, as well as discoveries, and strategies. Whoever overcomes a crisis, overcomes himself, without being overcome. Whoever blames his failure on a crisis neglects his own talent, and is more respectful to problems than to solutions.

Incompetence is the true crisis. The greatest problem with people and nations is the laziness with which they attempt to find the solutions to their problems.

There is no challenge without a crisis. Without challenges, life becomes a routine, a slow agony. There is no merit without a crisis. It is in the crisis where we can show the very best in us. To speak about a crisis may promote it. Not to speak about it perpetuates conformism. Let us work hard instead.

Albert Einstein