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The Cover
September 22/29, 1999

Die Operation (Prof. Dr. R. Andler, of Singen)

JAMA. 1999;282(12):1110. doi:10.1001/jama.282.12.1110

The line is distorted, the color harsh, the subject matter frequently macabre, the setting often bizarre: this is what critics and commentators have seen in the work of the German painter Otto Dix (1891-1969). It is what has sometimes, mistakenly, also cached his work in the category of German Expressionism. True, he did have a flirtation with the style in the early 1900s, after he had seen the work of van Gogh in a Dresden exhibit, but it was brief. World War I took care of that. From age 23 to age 27, he was head of a machine-gun unit in the German army. The images he took away became the prism through which he thenceforth saw life's colors. Profoundly disillusioned, he discovered that even the harshness of Expressionism was too fragile to carry the burden of his memories. His new style was called Neue Sachlichkeit (literally, New Objectivity). Sometimes also called Verism, it was a kind of extreme realism, present in both the art and the literature of the postwar period, in which details are rendered so objectively and so aggressively as to often repulse the viewer with their vulgarity and ugliness. Although it may look like caricature or sometimes satire, it is not. It is the artist's attempt to overcome his muteness and to tell the truth of the horror he has witnessed.