All Quiet on the Western Front & Gallery Manifestos


This coming week (for some of us this Saturday) we are visiting the Art Gallery of NSW to explore early 20th Century Modernist art and Art Manifestos. There is an amazing exhibition on at the gallery which is a video installation entitled Manifesto. It was conceived by German artist Julian Rosenfeldt and is enacted by Australia’s Cate Blanchett for a global audience. The significance of this for us is twofold. Firstly each of the 13 videos in this collection dramatizes an aspect of the Modernist movement: Surrealism, Vorticism, Pop Art, Dada…. etc…. so this gives a powerful insight into all the forces that were moving artists in new directions at the start of the 20th Century. Most important is the idea that underpins all the Manifestos in this collection and that is:





Or that the artist can remain remote from the historic conflicts in which 

All Men Must Take Sides

This idea that art can (and must) exist for its own sake, was an idea that was promulgated in the late 19th and early 20th Century and there was now (in the early 20th Century) a strong sense that art needed to be more proactive in its challenge to the destructive influences of the world.

The strong significance of this for our work this week is that Erich Maria Remarque, in his novel All Quiet on the Western Front is precisely challenging a view that art exists for its own sake. Remarque’s novel hits us very hard in showing us with graphic immediacy the horror of what human beings can be capable of, while at the same time showing us how the horrors of war, when experienced, can change a persons’s whole sense of what really matters in life. Paul Baumer is such a person. He has an enlarged perception of what is important in life and he has little time for all the sham and pretence that he sees around him when he gets back into the civilian world, as he does for a short period.

They just talk too much. They have problems, goals, desires that I can’t see in the same way as they do. Sometimes I sit with one of them in the little garden of the pub and try to get the point across that this is everything – just sitting in the quiet. Of course they understand, they agree, they think the same way, but it’s only talk, only talk, that’s the point- they do feel it, but always only with half of their being, a part of them is always thinking of something else. They are so fragmented, no one feels it with his whole life; anyway, it is impossible for me to put what I mean into proper words. (p117, Chapter 7, Vintage Books, translated by Brian Murdoch)

Blog Topics for this week

1/ Have a conversation with Paul Baumer. Respond to the italicised words printed above. Can you agree with him? Or do you think he is cynical and hypercritical.

2/ Write a letter to our (or any) government telling them what you think about war. Watch these videos before you write your letter:

3/ Do you have your own special event (like Kat and Paul’s Goose roasting) that sings in your mind as one of the most memorable experiences in your life? Tell us about it.

4/ With reference to the way Paul tries to comfort young 19 year old Kemmerich on his deathbed, describe how you might respond to a close friend who is going through the same experience.

5/ Construct a topic of your own (in poetry, prose) that reflects on war in our times.

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