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Artists John Heartfield
John Heartfield Photo

John Heartfield

German Graphic Designer and Photomonteur

Movement: Dada

Born: June 19, 1891 - Berlin, Germany

Died: April 26, 1968 - Berlin, former East Germany

John Heartfield Timeline

Quotes

"There are a lot of things that got me into working with photos. The main thing is that I saw both what was being said and not being said with photos in the newspapers... I found out how you can fool people with photos, really fool them... You can lie and tell the truth by putting the wrong title or wrong captions under them, and that's roughly what was being done..."
John Heartfield
More than films with hidden, political-propagandistic ideas, such as those that the English produce particularly well .. is the effect of a thoroughly objective film of quality. Quality can never be bypassed. Even though America is our enemy, we praise American films, their quality must be recognized. They accomplish a propagandistic effect. Those who hate Germany are not easily persuaded with political resourcefulness .. Quality [by contrast] will always conquer, convince, carry one along, provoke one to think, and persuade, and it is therefore the best propaganda.
John Heartfield

"The important man is not the artist, but the businessman who, in the marketplace and on the battlefield, holds the reins in his hands."

Synopsis

Only recently has John Heartfield's work been studied on its own terms, as progressive graphic design. Heartfield's formative training in advertising and experiences with Dada theatricality provided him with the visual tools to affect and persuade viewers to action and critical thinking. Heartfield's pro-communist, anti-capitalist photomontages emerge in a moment of war and revolution, and in dialogue with the late Weimar Republic's commodity culture. His provocative photomontages aroused both critical acclaim as well as controversy at the time - especially famous are his anti-fascist montages, for which he was persecuted by the Nazis and spied on by Gestapo agents. The capacity of Heartfield's photomontages to provide a technique through which to conceive alternative views of reality is his contribution to artistic practice across the media arts.

Key Ideas

Heartfield caused the times to speak for themselves through cut-out fragments from everyday materials, such as advertisements, newspapers, and illustrations. He provoked reality to snap its own picture through excerpts taken from popular mass media products, as a variation on a cameraless photographic process.
Heartfield's name is synonymous with his 1930s antifascist photomontages. He became known for his one-man battle against Hitler due to his concentrated critique of this dictator as a liar, backed by the big industrialists.
Montage, for Heartfield, was a vernacular art form, readily used for propaganda and commercial purposes. The Berlin Dadaists used photomontage to rupture the commercialized media's view of reality by dismantling it into fragmented parts. Cubism dismantled the mimetic representation in art. Similarly, Heartfield's violently cut and pasted fragments with their rough edges exposed the media's realistic description of the world as a mimetic illusion. To call the authenticity of reality into question was to show the masses how they had traded in their own perception of reality for the media's view. Regrettably, these Dadaists lacked a popular audience.
Heartfield's agitational method, equated with the worker photography movement's notion of "photo as weapon," aimed to visualize the realities that lay behind the agitation for war or whatever cause the government persuaded the citizens to back. Heartfield's seamlessly sutured photomontages show how the photographic medium was mere artifice. The montaged interplay of animal and human, animate and inanimate, technological and "natural" are revealed as the hidden structure in mechanical reproductions under industrial capitalism.

Biography

John Heartfield Photo

Childhood

John Heartfield was born Helmut Franz Josef Herzfeld in Berlin on June 19, 1891. His father Franz Herzfeld was a Jewish socialist writer, dramaturg, and poet; and his mother was a textile worker and political activist. Helmut may have grown up poor, because his father chose to become a radical, almost anarchist writer under the pen name Franz Held. Yet, his father came from an established middle-class family. His grandfather Jonas had a successful cotton textile business in Neuss bei Düsseldorf and his wealth was divided among four sons. How this inheritance benefitted Helmut's family is uncertain. Grandfather and grandson Herzfeld shared similar leftist political views. Karl Marx was a frequent guest at grandfather Jonas' house.

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John Heartfield Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
John Heartfield
Interactive chart with John Heartfield's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Ernst Neumann
Franz Pfemfert
Honoré DaumierHonoré Daumier

Personal Contacts

George GroszGeorge Grosz
Franz Jung
Bertolt BrechtBertolt Brecht

Movements

ExpressionismExpressionism
PhotojournalismPhotojournalism
Modern PhotographyModern Photography

Influences on Artist
John Heartfield
John Heartfield
Years Worked: 1910s - 1968
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Alexander LibermanAlexander Liberman
Marianus
Josep Renau
Klaus Staeck
László Lakner

Personal Contacts

Aleksandr Zhitomirsky
Gustav Klucis
Sergei Trejakov

Movements

DadaDada
PhotojournalismPhotojournalism

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Content compiled and written by Cristina Cuevas-Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Cristina Cuevas-Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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