Following World War I, the world saw a number of drastic changes that had long lasting influences for years to come. Many monumental events occurred, such as the “Great Migration,” and women finally earning the right to vote. While certainly a time of great growth throughout the 1920s, undoubtedly, the world had changed in the aftermath, as many still had to face the negative ramifications of the war, such as loss and the destruction it brought upon cultures. People around the world reacted differently and responded with various forms of art, including works such as poetry, art, literature, and sculptures. In a more literal sense, the poetry represents the heavy impacts of war on the individual, namely the soldier. Themes of youth lost, suffering, death, and dying are all common in these works. Also prominent throughout this poetry is the loss of innocence and happier times. For example, in the poem “In Flanders Field” by Lt. Col. John McCrea, a lieutenant in the Canadian Army, he writes “Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie, in Flanders fields.” This short excerpt alludes to a different time and place, and also provides the landscape of the fields with a new meaning, as it was once an innocent place with poppies, but is now a graveyard. This poem describes to the reader, and the world for that matter, just how quickly things changed with the war. Lives were snuffed out like the blowing out of a candle, and fields that were once empty, became littered with the dead.
However, other art points to new beginnings following the aftermath of war. In Nash’s “We Are Making a New World” (1918), trees that have been cut down, their bare stumps with no branches anymore, are depicted amongst a green Earth floor. The sun is rising, casting just a little bit of light into the picture, and thus providing a beacon of hope and change. The green growth on the Earth floor appears to be sprawling out, as if covering up the horrors that once occurred on it. The sentiment of inevitable change is illustrated in this work, thus reminding the viewer how nothing stays the same, even after war.
In Brussels, there is the Anglo-Belgium War Memorial, which depicts two oversized soldiers, or perhaps officers, looming over the viewer, their arms folded with passive expressions on their faces (Anglo-Belgium War Memorial). This brings a life-size feeling to the viewer, as they appear to be passing judgment on the viewer, or as if they are surveying a damaged land in a war that has damaged nearly everything. This monument seems to evoke a feeling of powerlessness in the viewer, as many soldiers must have felt when at the mercy of their captors, or simply at the mercy of the war. Perhaps this is a reminder to the larger world that war does not discriminate against anyone, and that everyone will be affected in some way.
In summary, many of the works of art that came about following the Great War represent the reactions of those who had been affected by World War I, hence representing to the future its weighty impacts on both society and its individuals. The Great War can be summed up in one word: transformation. The great changes and evolution that this war brought affected everyone at the time, bringing a number of changes that would also affect future generations.
This sentiment was also featured in works of art following World War I. Works of art portrayed, in a more visual sense than poetry, how soldiers may have seen the world they fought in, thus allowing future generations to try and understand even a semblance of what the war was like. For example, Paul Nash’s art, “Stormtroopers Advancing Under Gas” of 1924, dark figures are portrayed as advancing towards the viewer, looking more like aliens rather than humans. They are seen brandishing weapons, and the image appears as a nightmare. For the viewer, as well as future generations, this offers a glimpse into what war was like, especially when it involved such tactics as gas. War transformed even the most humane and kindest man into monsters, as shown through this art.