The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, MARCH 26, 1939
Here's a Laugh:
Der Fuehrer Calls Himself Art Critic
--By W. J. Cash
Site ed. note: For another Cash look at Hitler's views on "common sense" volks art, read "Housepainter Looks at Art" - July 25, 1937.
In "Mein Kampf," Lord Hitler holds forth on a theme on which he has often held forth since--the theme which has it (1) that Nordic (sic)-German art is the only true art on earth and that all others including the Greek and Italian Renaissance, are true only as they approach that ideal--so far, that is, as the artitists shared the superior German blood; and (2) that modern impressionistic art in the various forms it has taken since Monet and Cezanne--cubism, futurism, dada-ism and vorticism--are systems of decay, and that they form an outward image of the inner chaos of modernity due to the "mongrelism" of racial blood streams, and the cunningly imposed "corruption" of the Jews.
Hitler's opinions on art are worth nobody's serious consideration of course. They are plainly tied up with and proceed from his own inordinate egotism. He makes no bones about the fact that he considers himself a great artistic genius, who would certainly have rocked the world in that regard if only (ah, fortunate accident!) his eyes hadn't been burned by gas in 1918. But in his youth the Academie at Vienna turned him down; and according to Hitler, the examiner kindly advised him that his paintings showed an architectural feeling, and that he ought to betake himself to that art. Consequently, today, still insisting that the world must be made in his image, he demands that art must be--a sort of architectural elevation!
But let us imagine that the fellow's opinions were worth considering. At least, let us examine his arguments as though that were the case. And where are we?
Well, in the first place, his assertions in regard to German art are silly as his general claim that the Germans are the great culture-creating people. By the record, they are obviously no such thing. They were greasy barbarians when Caesar found them, and they stayed greasy barbarians for nine centuries afterward. So far as they were civilized at all they were civilized by contact with the Roman, Romano-Gallic, and Romano-Iberian civilization of the "inferior" people they overran with the ruthless barbarian sword. Their contribution to civilization in Europe was to throw it into the Dark Ages--to turn back the clock for sixteen centuries. Until the Nineteenth century they remained the most backward people in Europe--were still in many respects less than civilized.
What is more, the civilization they finally succeeded in creating in the Nineteenth century was purely derivative in its fundamentals--stemmed from the great tradition of Western man, which itself stemmed from Greek, Roman, Jewish, Egyptian, and other sources going back all the way to the ancient Sumerians. Not one single basically original element has the German people ever anywhere contributed to civilization. And perhaps the dim realization of that is the explanation of Hitler's hatred of the very word.
And as for the country's art. It has one great glory: it has carried music to the highest level of any people on earth. But as for the graphic arts, it is the poorest country in Europe. Say Holbein, Cranach, Durer, and you have named all its first-rate artists.
So much for that. And now as to his arguments concerning modern art. What he objects to, he says, is the distortion. But that is by no means an invention of modernity. The whole of Egyptian art was distorted by our standards. So was the the Babylonian art and the Assyrian. So was the Cretan. Nay, the very art of the mainland of Greece itself was highly distorted--and plainly of set purpose--at the earliest times, as anyone may see for himself by looking at the designs that came out of the tombs of Argos and Tiryns, or the figurines from the age of Homer. And one of the most distorted arts the world has ever seen was that of the Byzantine Christians who served as the teachers of the Western primitives of Italy and Northern Europe, including Germany so far as it had any art in those days. Furthermore, it is worth observing that the lack of perspective which distinguishes this art probably proceeded, not from the fact that it had never known anything about the loss of perspective but from the fact that it had deliberately chosen to cast that knowledge aside and ignore it!
Supposing, however, that we grant Mr. Hitler his "degeneracy" diagnosis. Then it seems to me that we come to this: that the thing in the world which most perfectly answers to the modern art to which he objects is precisely the Nazi society which he himself has set up! Contrary to popular belief, impressionistic art is not a chaotic daubing of canvas at random. In some of its forms at least, it is the most rigidly organized art on earth--a thing of fixed forms and perfect order. What is unintelligible about it to the average person is that the organization is purely subjective. That is, its forms are arranged, not to boldly forth an objective experience common to all men but a vision, mystical in some sense, private to the artist's own mind.
There you have it. The Nazi society is a society of rigid order and form. But that order and form is not intelligible on the suppositions of modern civilization. It is intelligible on no objective hypothesis whatever, but only on the basis of a mystical private vision which resides in Hitler's mind, and which, he says, resides also in the minds of all Germans, whether they know it or not. His racial theories were exploded 50 years ago. There is nowhere on earth a proper anthropologist who does not snort at them. And as for his Jew theories--they are simply gaudy idiocy. Nor does Hitler himself often bother to try to argue that they are backed by objective evidence. Simply he announces that they are the truth, and rests his argument on the mystic force of inner experience in himself and all his dear Pan-Germans.
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