The Charlotte News

SUNDAY, JULY 25, 1937


Hitler's Paint Purge:

Housepainter Looks At Art

-- A Note On Pictures, By W. J. Cash

Site ed.note: Has our post-modern, soon to be post-millenium, society done to art in all its forms precisely that which Cash predicted, before the advent of television and the final demise of the classical form in nearly everything, would fail?--that which Hitler prescribed for German art in the Thirties and for his "thousand-year" reich? Well, perhaps not yet; but are we not trying as hard as we can to accomplish that end? Red and black stripes on yellowed canvas, anyone?

Ah, but have you ever seen the blue and silver trees where Cash lived?--maybe not too far from Monet.

For more analysis of Hitler's view of art, see "Der Fuehrer Calls Himself Art Critic" - March 26, 1939.


Adolf Hitler's attempt to get set up what is called common sense as the standard by which art will be judged in Germany, will fail. Either art will vanish altogether from Germany, or the dictum that every picture must be immediately comprehensible to the average German will have to be put aside. For what Adolf is trying to do here is to set up old Matthew Arnold's Philistine as the arbiter, and of the Philistine, of course, it is axiomatic that he knows nothing whatever about art and that his judgment in such matters is almost invariably wrong.

I have no intention of indulging in any snootiness. It seems to me that art, whether in painting or writing or what have you, must mean something for our daily living, must be more than a plaything for people with too much money and too many words--or cease to exist. I think, more than that, that every good picture will be of a sort which is ultimately comprehensible to any man of reasonable intelligence and unperverted instincts. But, to be sure, Arnold's Philistine will not come under the last heading. It is characteristic of that Philistine precisely that his instincts have been horribly perverted.


But even with good intelligence and sound instincts, the average man cannot be trusted to recognize the good when it departs from the pattern of goodness as he has always known it. And it is exactly the mark of the really great artist, of course, that his works invariably do depart from the pattern that has been accepted before his appearance. Every first-rate artist is an innovator. He looks at the world with eyes that see what no man has ever really seen before--and if he is truly great, he ends by making us see it, too

I am entering no defense for the various curious forms of painting which have had their vogue during the last 40 years. Impressionism plainly long ago passed into being exhibitionism, and I haven't much time for the cubists or the vorticists. Nevertheless, it is possible that I am wrong, that everybody who laughs at those things now is wrong, and that presently we shall be confessing that these ways of seeing the world have their justification. It was only the other day that people were laughing loudly at Manet and Monet and the Renoir and Cezanne--all of whom have now reached the fateful dignity of being classics. And the man who called them queer now would probably be told to go get his head examined.


It is common to say that the average man sees the world in very simple and unambiguous terms--that is what Adolf seems to imagine when he says that with the average man judging, German art will be kept close to reality. In truth, however, the average man harldy sees the world at all. Or rather he sees it blindly, through the medium of certain conventions. A tree, he knows, is green: and so he demands that the trees in his picture all be green--or brown in the winter. Yet, in outdoor nature, a tree is almost never green. It is gray or silver or black or even blue--try looking about you some time, if you doubt me. John Ruskin long ago pointed out essentially the same thing with reference to the Italian sky. Every idiot who went to Italy in those days, and almost everyone who goes down this last hour, was and is in the habit of raving about the bright blue sky of the land. But in fact, said Ruskin, the Italian sky is far less blue than the Skies of England and France; there is nearly always a thin white film over it. The real wonder of the Italian sky is its great blaze of light and its magnificent repost.

These are the simplest of simple things. And if the average man can't see them for himself, what chance has he for recognizing the truth of the vision of an authentic genius when he appears? By the record, every such genius had to struggle against the derision and scorn of average men--from Giotto to Turner and Whistler.

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