Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Beard, Dorathea K.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

School of Art


Beckmann; Max; 1884-1950. Departure; Painting; Modern--20th century--Germany


This thesis is an attempt at an applied hermeneutics which focuses primary attention on Max Beckmann's first triptych of 1932-33, Departure. In the interpretive efforts unfolded in this thesis, there is a general hermeneutics that is applied to a unique work of art more than a prolonged exploration of any individual philosophical figure. Although I largely agree with Hans-Georg Gadamer's approach which focuses on the meaning which is grasped from the subject matter of the artwork, I also feel that Wilhelm Dilthey's autobiographical and historical focus opens up much possibility for the construction of a rich contextual understanding. Hermeneutics is basically a "method" of interpretation in which one attempts to achieve an understanding by way of explicating implicit meanings. Hermeneutics, as a practical philosophy, arose largely due to the fact that texts outlive their creators and the historical life-worlds out of which they are born. Hermeneutics focuses on the unsaid dimension of any expression and goes back to its motivation or its originating question. Words, forms, symbols, gestures provide us with only a partial story: there is always something more going on which cries out for understanding and which can only be alluded to by the words or traces that are left behind, whether it be scribbles on a piece of paper, words babbled over the phone, or paint dripped on a canvas. Hermeneutics endeavors to understand (and interpret) a given expression. A given expression is always there for us, as our experience of it and our attempts to understand it, and in this way, we too become an essential element in the meaning of the expression. This is precisely what Heidegger means when he claims that every understanding is simultaneously a self-understanding. To understand the meaning or sense of the other is to also understand ourselves since we are a very part of that ABSTRACT meaning through our experience with the other. I have explored hermeneutics mainly through the figures of Wilhelm Dilthey, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and especially Hans-Georg Gadamer. Departure, like all expressions rooted in life, is overflowing with meaning. It is the task of this thesis to explicate all that is implicit in the artwork's rich forms, symbolism, and content. Beckmann spoke the truth when he said that Departure belonged equally to all times. Surely, the work must have revealed truths no less profound in his time than in our time. Beckmann recognized the value—in contrast to most transcendentalists and materialists—in both the historical and the transcendental and their intimate involvement with one another. It is the dialogue that the two cultivate that reveals the meaning of life, the world as it presented itself to Beckmann's understanding. Moreover, Beckmann recognized his inheritance from past histories and past art histories as he relied heavily on past traditions. Yet, he always surpassed the tradition in order to speak a language that re-interpreted or mediated the world in his own terms.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [77]-79)


79 pages




Northern Illinois University

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