In the study of art history the term grotesque is one that while frequently used, is not fully understood. The idea of something being grotesque is an easy enough to identify when found in a piece of art, however it is less easy define. Frances S. Connelly’s defines the roots of the grotesque and how it is manifested in modern art. In Otto Dix and Francisco Goya there are elements of the grotesque as defined by Connelly that create images that encapsulate the experience of war. Connelly traces the history of the grotesque and defines it’s expression as mannerist, carnivalesque, and emblematic. I was most interested in the carnivalesque grotesque and how it is related to Otto DIx’s Skat Players.
Carnivalesque grotesque arose in the medieval times from folk culture and was appropriated into a literary and fine arts tradition. The carnivalesque addressed all parts of the body involved in reacting to the world around us. Orifices and protuberances of the human body are showcased in the carnivalesque grotesque. This look at the human body is one that seeks to display the aspects of humanity and not abstract them in to something un-human.
Examples of this type of grotesque are found in Otto Dix’s war etchings. In these images the bodies of the soldiers display bullet holes from battle, and in Dix’s Skat Players the patched and repaired bodies of the soldiers capture the focus of the piece. Dix also comments on the absurdity of these broken bodies attempting to rejoin society. The players are using their teeth and feet to hold cards, because they no longer have hands to use. The combination of the carnivalesque grotesque bodies and the normal cafe creates an image of war that feels more real than a distant battlefield.