Once the Second World War had come to an end, the people who had lived through the war were left to process what had happened. Coined the “people’s war”, WWII truly called upon all who could further the war effort and demanded that personal sacrifices would be made. Artists were among those who needed to come to terms with the horrors that they had seen and had lived through during this period of war. Something that was crucial to further creativity would be to define how these people, who had been told to change their lives for the war effort, could return to a creative state post WWII. After individually defining what journey each artist had gone on, they began creating again. The result of this new movement of art was a cathartic and sinister collection of works.
I experienced a small sampling of this phenomenon while walking through the Tate Modern in London. After casually walking from exhibit to exhibit, I came across a large room that had walls lined with almost uniform art pieces. There was not one painting or sculpture in the room that wasn’t covered mostly with black or dark colors. Depicted in these art pieces was everything from the defilement of a soldier, bodies strewn across a road, and more abstract works that were angular and evil. From Jackson Pollock to Matisse, these artists had obviously experienced a shared trauma. I finally came across the description of the curated exhibit and it was art works from 1945-1955. This exhibit is designed to show artists having to redefine art and how they began to create again. Though not the most affected people (in terms of fighting), artists had the task of showing what happened to the people in the “people’s war”.
What struck me the most was the fact that these artists didn’t gather and discuss a large collaboration of similar works for an exhibit, they were creating their own stories. Every experience with war is different yet all of the pieces seemed to make a large cohesive story of pain and loss. Nothing is more organic than paint on a canvas, showing the horrors of the “people’s war”. We may have photographs, journal entries, first hand accounts, and documents that paint the picture of war but I felt the pure essence in that room of people who were frightened. I felt the inner turmoil of trying to show the trauma to be able to move on with creativity.