Artists for the Reich: Culture and Race from Weimar to Nazi Germany

Artists for the Reich: Culture and Race from Weimar to Nazi Germany

Artists for the Reich: Culture and Race from Weimar to Nazi Germany

Artists for the Reich: Culture and Race from Weimar to Nazi Germany

Synopsis

While we often think about talented artists fleeing the clutches of the Nazi regime--forced out or sickened by the strictures placed upon them--we rarely consider those artists who willingly stayed behind. This is the first comprehensive treatment of the German Art Society, a group of artists, authors and right-wing activists who actively embraced Nazism. Theses artists have typically been dismissed as a lunatic fringe, but the author argues that they were in fact instrumental in battling modernist art in defense of what they regarded as the German cultural tradition. Drawing on previously neglected archival material, Clinefelter reveals cultural continuities that extend from the Wilhelmine Empire through the Weimar Republic into the Third Reich and elucidates how theses artists promoted Nazi culture "from below."

Excerpt

This work focuses on the German Art Society, a völkisch artists' interest group established in 1920 that combated cultural modernism and promoted its vision of a racially pure German art. While it may seem reductionist to concentrate on just one Organization, the Society offers the opportunity to analyze the connections between culture, race and art from the Weimar Republic through the end of the Third Reich. The German Art Society also demonstrates that the Right's attacks against the avant-garde associated with the republic were not only against aesthetic modernism. The virulent anti-Semitism and anti-democratic values that fueled the assault against Weimar's cultural pluralism were just one side of the culture wars. Right-wing, völkisch groups such as the Society also promoted a racialist interpretation of art and culture. The artists associated with the German Art Society termed this the 'German style of art'. They emphasized the artists' supposed racial purity to legitimate paintings and sculpture that rejected modernist styles in favor of adherence to traditional themes and modes of representation. The artists, art professors, teachers and critics who belonged to the Society were committed to promoting representational art that imitated nature and was tied to the styles associated with nineteenth-century salon painting. By infusing such 'old-style' art with racial meaning, Society members sought to legitimate traditional art on a biological basis.

The German Art Society has long been a shadowy presence on Germany's cultural Right and its cultural mission has been briefly described before. However, all previous works have analyzed the Society primarily as a precursor to Nazi culture. The intense anti-modernism and anti-Semitism of the Society's program serve in these works as examples of the cultural currents that the Nazis tapped into during the Weimar Republic and then transformed into official policy after 1933. Hildegard Brenner's analysis of the Society remains the best treatment of the Organization. Brenner's study of art's social function in the Third Reich and the cultural apparatus the Nazis constructed to regulate the arts gave rise to a rieh and varied literature. Berthold Hinz's exploration of the aesthetics of art in the Third Reich has shaped the common understanding of 'Nazi art' and remains a classic treatment. Most recently, Alan E. Steinweis has explored the Combat League for German Culture (Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur) and its role as a mediator between cultural anti-modernists and the Nazi Party. Steinweis's work . . .

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