When the National Socialists received the power in 1933 they were inclined to change all the aspects of the social, political, and cultural life in Germany according to the Nazi specific ideals. These changes were rather painful for the society. They were also associated with those attacks which were directed against the examples of different kinds of modern art.
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The notion of ‘degenerate art’ became typical for determining those art pieces which were too modern and unique to be accepted by the Nazis. However, what art can be considered as degenerate? To understand the differences between the pieces of the classical and degenerate art, it is necessary to compare two artworks with paying much attention to their peculiarities.
The notion of ‘degenerate art’ became familiar to the public in 1937 when the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition was opened in Munich. 650 art pieces including paintings, sculptures, and books were exhibited there in order to show those works which reject the idea of the perfect German art associated with the Nazi ideology (Barron).
The main feature which combined all these pieces was their development as the examples of the modern art which did not follow the principles of the Nazi ideology and, thus, such art was considered as inappropriate or ‘un-German’.
It is significant that the whole art movements such as Cubism, Expressionism, Dada, and Surrealism became forbidden because they did not reflect the reality of the Nazi regime. Moreover, not only modern art was rejected but also the Bolshevist and Jew art (Petropoulos). Thus, what peculiarities of the modern art which were not accepted by the Nazis are important to focus on?
The Nazis’ main task was to make all the aspects of people’s everyday life advantageous for providing the necessary propaganda. German culture was a significant element of forming the consciousness of real German people. That is why it was important to concentrate on such art pieces which could not provoke the person’s thinking, but only help to provide the control under his consciousness.
The strict rules according to which the German people’s life is organized should be everywhere including the sphere of art. That is why the conceptual works of modern art which evoke people’s emotions and make them think originally are considered as dangerous, as a result of people’s mental illnesses (Barron).
The German society should be healthy, and the German art should be understandable. Thus, the classical perfect forms are required for providing the real art because their common features can organize the minds of the crowd. The statement about Hitler’s abilities can also be relevant for description the necessary art, “he could convert crowds, and he could convert individuals”, and these conversions should be thoroughly controlled by the authority (Spotts 44). Uniqueness is a quality which was strictly despised by the Nazis (Barron).
To focus on the peculiar features of the degenerate art, it is useful to compare it with the example of the traditional artwork. If we concentrate on paintings “A” and “B”, it is possible to say that these paintings represent two opposite styles one of which can be referred to the degenerate art and the other one to the classical tradition in painting. The painting “A” can be discussed as the symbolic representation either of war or any actions which involve using the arms.
It is rather difficult to give the detailed description of the objects presented in the picture because of their symbolic character. It is possible to identify five figures of men with guns who are hidden in the futuristic refuge with the cannon above them. The figures are depicted in dark blue colors, and green trees around the refuge are also presented symbolically. The actions are depicted with the help of visualizing shots in light colors.
It is possible to consider that Aphrodite and five angels are depicted in the paintings “B”. The figure of Aphrodite is portrayed rather naturalistically with following the classical traditions of depicting women in paintings. All the details of the paintings are understandable for the audience.
The composition is organized according to the central figure of Aphrodite who is lying on the waves, and five angels are flying above her. The colors of the paintings are true to life, and in spite of the mythic theme, the painting is perceived as realistic because of many details.
After examining both paintings, it is possible to say that the painting “A” should be discussed as the example of the degenerate art when the painting “B” is developed according to the classical tradition of realistic portraying. The painting “A” is based on the symbolic meanings of the depicted objects which help the audience guess the theme of the picture, but it is not clearly understandable.
The painting “A” is worked out with using the geometrical forms which reflect the principles of Cubism and Abstract art considered as modern art and forbidden by the Nazis. This painting provokes the audience’s thinking about its message because it reveals mainly the idea, but not the theme as the painting “B” does. The complex of these aspects allows discussing this painting as the piece of degenerate art which rejects the ordinary forms and realistic depictions typical for other art styles and movements.
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Barron, Stephanie. “1937: Modern Art and Politics in Prewar Germany”. Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany. Ed. Stephanie Barron and Peter W. Guenther. New York, NY: Harry Abrams, 1991, 9-23. Print.
Petropoulos, Jonathan. The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany. USA: Oxford University Press, 2000. Print.
Spotts, Frederick. “The Artist as Politician”. Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics. Ed. Frederick Spotts. New York, NY: The Overlook Press, 2003, 43-72. Print.