Exhibitions of German art are rarities outside of Germany, and German art with the exception of Sixteenth Century graphic art and the paintings of Holbein has not been represented with the same degree of authority in American museums and private collections as has been the case with the art of other European countries. This situation is due primarily to the fact that an interest in and appreciation of German art has only recently commenced manifesting itself. Curiously enough, Germany herself is partly responsible for this situation. It was not until the last decades of the Nineteenth Century that an adequate history of German art was written and not until the beginning of the Twentieth Century that an effort was made to understand the special problems of German form. The breakdown of any absolute standard of esthetics, as exemplified in the Roman Academy, the French formulas of the Eighteenth Century, and Lessing's teachings, at the hands of the revolutionaries--Daumier, Courbet and Manet--and the growing force of Expressionism, contributed to bring about a point of view that could accept a double standard of esthetics. The acceptance of such a standard is essential if German art is to be understood and appreciated.
German art is almost never "art for art's sake," but rather, art for the sake of a philosophy of life: an attitude which the Latin concept of art rejects. German artists are romantic, mystical, irrational. They are concerned with emotional, philosophical or scientific problems. An Albrecht Altdorfer expresses the German's mystic union with nature in his landscapes of the German forest; Albrecht Dürer was interested in the world of science and metaphysics; and Caspar David Friedrich, in his "beseelte Landschaften" was an exponent of transcendental idealism.
"For the great ones art was always a means of discovering God, for the revealing of ultimate meanings and eternal truths," which is only another way of saying that German art is Gothic as opposed to the classic tradition of the Latins. According to Dr. Karl Scheffler, all creative expression can be divided into these two trends, which he defines as follows: "The Gothic spirit creates forms of unrest and suffering, the Greek spirit creates forms of serenity and happiness."
Germany is the only country in which the Gothic tradition remained pure after the Gothic style of the Middle Ages gave way to the Renaissance. When Germany recovered from the disasters of the Thirty Years' War, the Gothic spirit reasserted itself in the Baroque and Rococo and gave a quality which differentiates them from the same styles as . . .