The uses of Art, theories & the societal implications
by Thomas Moulson
Politics is the set of activities that are associated with the governance of a country, state or area. It involves making decisions that apply to groups of members and achieving and exercising positions of governance—organized control over a human community. The academic study of politics is referred to as political science. Politics is a multifaceted word. It has a set of fairly specific meanings that are descriptive and nonjudgmental (such as “the art or science of government” and “political principles”), but does often colloquially carry a negative connotation. The word has been used negatively for many years: the British national anthem as published in 1745 calls on God to “Confound their politics”, and the phrase “play politics”, for example, has been in use since at least 1853, when abolitionist Wendell Phillips declared: “We do not play politics; anti-slavery is no half-jest with us.”Prologue
Degenerate art (German: Entartete Kunst) was a term adopted in the 1920s by the Nazi Party in Germany to describe modern art. During the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler, German modernist art, including many works of internationally renowned artists, was removed from state-owned museums and banned in Nazi Germany on the grounds that such art was an “insult to German feeling”, un-German, Jewish, or Communist in nature. Those identified as degenerate artists were subjected to sanctions that included being dismissed from teaching positions, being forbidden to exhibit or to sell their art, and in some cases being forbidden to produce art.
Degenerate Art also was the title of an exhibition, held by the Nazis in Munich in 1937, consisting of 650 modernist artworks chaotically hung and accompanied by text labels deriding the art. Designed to inflame public opinion against modernism, the exhibition subsequently traveled to several other cities in Germany and Austria.
While modern styles of art were prohibited, the Nazis promoted paintings and sculptures that were traditional in manner and that exalted the “blood and soil” values of racial purity, militarism, and obedience. Similar restrictions were placed upon music, which was expected to be tonal and free of any jazz influences; disapproved music was termed degenerate music. Films and plays were also censored.
Under the Weimar government of the 1920s, Germany emerged as a leading center of the avant-garde. It was the birthplace of Expressionism in painting and sculpture, of the atonal musical compositions of Arnold Schoenberg, and the jazz-influenced work of Paul Hindemith and Kurt Weill. Films such as Robert Wiene‘s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and F. W. Murnau‘s Nosferatu (1922) brought Expressionism to cinema.
The Nazis viewed the culture of the Weimar period with disgust. Their response stemmed partly from a conservative aesthetic taste and partly from their determination to use culture as a propaganda tool.
On both counts, a painting such as Otto Dix‘s War Cripples (1920) was anathema to them. It unsparingly depicts four badly disfigured veterans of the First World War, then a familiar sight on Berlin‘s streets, rendered in
caricatured style. (In 1937, it would be displayed in the Degenerate Art exhibition next to a label accusing Dix—himself a volunteer in World War I—of “an insult to the German heroes of the Great War”.)
After the war, Dix returned to Dresden and resumed his art practice. Taking inspiration from his wartime activities, he created a print series called “Der Krieg” (“The War”) (1924). The disturbing black-and-white imagery includes such grotesqueries as a skeleton soldier reclining against a cliff with a long rifle aimed at his face; a man with a bloodied brain, eye, and hand, whose tongue lolls out of his mouth; and stormtroopers with eerie masks reminiscent of horror-film villains. Starkness, despair, and inhumanity radiate from the series, which was consciously modeled on Francisco de Goya’s “The Disasters of War” prints (1810–20), which satirize a 19th-century Spanish conflict.
Roth was an atheist who once said, “When the whole world doesn’t believe in God, it’ll be a great place.” He also said during an interview with The Guardian: “I’m exactly the opposite of religious, I’m anti-religious. I find religious people hideous. I hate the religious lies. It’s all a big lie,” and “It’s not a neurotic thing, but the miserable record of religion—I don’t even want to talk about it. It’s not interesting to talk about the sheep referred to as believers. When I write, I’m alone. It’s filled with fear and loneliness and anxiety—and I never needed religion to save me.”
About the Author
Society in Nazi Germany
The Nazis believed in war as the primary engine of human progress, and argued that the purpose of a country’s economy should be to enable that country to fight and win wars of expansion. During the 1930s, Nazi Germany increased its military spending faster than any other state in peacetime.
This was funded mainly through deficit financing before the war, and the Nazis expected to cover their debt by plundering the wealth of conquered nations during and after the war. Such plunder did occur, but its results fell far short of Nazi expectations. The Nazi government developed a partnership with leading German business interests, who supported the goals of the regime and its war effort in exchange for advantageous contracts, subsidies, and the suppression of the trade union movement. Cartels and monopolies were encouraged at the expense of small businesses, even though the Nazis had received considerable electoral support from small business owners. Nazi Germany maintained a supply of slave labor, composed of prisoners and concentration camp inmates, which was greatly expanded after the beginning of World War II. In Poland alone, some 5 million citizens were used as slave labor throughout the war. Among the slave laborers in the occupied territories, hundreds of thousands were used by leading German corporations including Thyssen, Krupp, IG Farben, Bosch, Blaupunkt, Daimler-Benz, Demag, Henschel, Junkers, Messerschmitt, Siemens, and Volkswagen, as well as Dutch corporation Philips. By 1944, slave labor made up one quarter of Germany’s entire work force, and the majority of German factories had a contingent of prisoners.