Otto Dix, The Skat Players,1920.

This investigation began with a painting; Otto Dix’s  disturbing  The Skat Players.

Students have selected paintings of the doomed Weimar Republic to ‘read’ and have been asked to annotate these in much the same way as we have been annotating written text, making connections to events that they know occurred in this period. One aspect of this annotation included summing up their painting/image in a word, then justifying this choice by analyzing the elements of the word, identifying the roots and present day denotation to explore how this word applies to the painting. Sarah had selected the painting The Skat Players by Otto Dix and in as much that a single word can encapsulate a painting, she felt the word ‘exclusion’ could apply. Sarah and Valentina share their thinking below. Again this takes place at the end of lunch just before going off to PE hence my ‘rushing them’ through their analysis. I have had to  divide their recording into two (YouTube only allows for an import of 15 mins)  so apologies for an abrupt end to Part 1 and Part’ 2’s immediate  beginning!

It’s interesting for me to note that now..none of the students expect an instant answer. At most they seek guidance and want me to listen to their ‘ talking through’ their findings. They don’t want to be told the answer.. they want time to process and search.

I’m fascinated by how Sarah and Valentina talk to think, how they move between past knowledge, in Sarah’s case some half remembered mnemonics and earlier mis-learnings, how they ‘etymologize’  to create a plausible link to another word- they know that meaning is to be found in a word’s roots, but hypothesize first to justify an analysis before investigation. This is a series of small steps from suppositions and speculations, to research, to refining ideas, to further speculation and so on through a cycle of proposition and testing and refining until they are satisfied with their morphological analysis, partial discovery of synchronic relatives and identification of the root. They discovered not only does this root have a twin but also a related base in the ‘word ‘close’.

Sarah discussed how Otto Dix’s The Skat Players, and indeed Dix himself are altered by war and as such excluded from society. Horribly mutilated, barely recognized as human, these vetrans are excluded from society, shut away to a corner of a cafe where they play cards.  They are excluded from all useful occupations; they are so disfigured mentally and physically from the war that they are metaphorically shut out from the world. Dix stated:“I depicted primarily the horrible consequences of war,” Dix later stated. “I believe no one else has seen the reality of that war as I have: the privations, the wounds, the suffering. I chose a truthful reportage of war; I wanted to show the destroyed land, the corpses, the wounds.” (Reinhold Heller)

To find out more about Dix and his art:

Watch and listen to  artist Philip Hartigan’s 200-word meditation on Dix’s painting:

To read more about Dix :go here Oxford University  Press blog


For more about Dada go  here to MOMA audio link