becoming a self in history, becoming a self in my street

David Bomberg

David Bomberg was a working class Jewish boy who made it to art school and believed in the ideals of modernism. He was deeply influenced by the dream of a future in which machines would free us from having to work. Called up to fight in the trenches of the First World War, he witnessed unbearable carnage and got himself discharged by shooting himself in the foot. In doing this he risked being shot for cowardice. After his experiences in the trenches he suffered a severe depression. His whole view of life, his standpoint, had been called into question by the reality of war. He felt a deep need not to be abstract, but to find what one lived for out of real experience, not theories. He then rejected all the ideas of modernism, feeling that he had seen the consequences of modern technology untamed by human values, first hand. He said:

‘We have no need to dwell on the material significance of man’s achievements…but with the approach of scientific mechanization and the submerging of individuals we have urgent need of the affirmation of his spiritual significance and his individuality.’

By speaking as he did and painting in a new way, he lost credibility in the fashionable art world and lived in great poverty. Despite treading this lonely path he never compromised, as he believed that art without integrity was nothing. Towards the end of his life, he taught in the Borough Polytechnic in London and became known as the greatest teacher of the age by his students. He only received real recognition after his death.