German Art and Degenerate “Art”: Work of Art and Caricature as Mirror of the Worldview


Translated from the Third Reich original Deutsche Kunst und entartete “Kunst”: Kunstwerk und Zerrbild als Spiegel der Weltanschauung, which was published by Dr. Adolf Dresler in Munich in 1938.

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Softcover, 77pp

The first part, roughly 27 pages of text, consists largely of Adolf Hitler’s speech at the opening of the House of German Art, and includes his fascinating analysis of “modern art”. The second part, roughly 46 pages, juxtaposes “degenerate art” juxtaposes “degenerate art” and “German art” with the same subject but totally different perspectives. Perhaps one picture does indeed speak a thousand words. But here, two pictures speak far more than just two thousand. The degenerate art may seem pretty tame by today’s standards, sometimes even amusing. (Ironically, the eagle on page 32 looks quite similar to the one on a pre-Euro West German coin. The “chicken” in the old Bundestag also comes to mind.) The reader may chalk that up to either “progress” or “degeneracy”.

In comparison, more successful and, above all, more enduring was the confusion, achieved by slogans and phrases, of the views about the essence of culture in general and of German cultural life and cultural decline in particular.

At first, there is:

first, the circle of those who consciously concern themselves with cultural matters, is naturally not nearly as large as the number of those who must occupy themselves with economic tasks;

second, the Jews had in this area more than in any other taken over the means and institutions that shaped public opinion and in the final analysis ruled them. Jewry understood, especially through utilization of its position in the press and, with the help of so-called art critique, to not only gradually confuse the general views about the essence and tasks of art as well as its purpose, rather to destroy general healthy feeling in this area.

In place of normal human reason and instinct stepped certain slogans, which thanks to their repetition slowly either made the great portion of people occupied with art matters or art tasks unsure or at least intimidated them so that they no longer dared to seriously or openly combat the ongoing river of phrases. Starting with the claims of common nature such as, for example, that art is international, to the analyzing of art creation with certain basically meaning expressions, the ongoing attempt to confuse healthy human reason and instinct took its course. While on the one hand one simply presented art as an international community experience and thereby killed any understanding for its bond to the folk, one tied it all the more to the time, that means: There was no longer any art of folks or, better, of races, rather only an art of the times. According to this theory, the Greeks also did not shape Greek art, rather a certain time let it emerge as its expression. The same thing is naturally true for Roman art, which only by coincidence came at the same time as the rise of the Roman World Empire. The later cultural eras of mankind as well were not created by Arabs, Germans, Italians, Frenchmen etc., but were only manifestations determined by the time. Therefore, today as well there is no German, no French, no Japanese or Chinese art, rather there is simply a “modern” art. Accordingly, art as such is not only totally separated from folkish events, rather the expression of a certain generation, which is today given the designation “modern”, and it will tomorrow naturally be unmodern, because out of date.

Through such a theory, however, art and art activity are finally put on the same level with the handiwork of our modern tailor shops and fashion studios. And indeed according to the principle: Each year something different. One time impressionism, then futurism, cubism, but perhaps dadaism as well etc.. It is then clear that one will find a thousand expressions for even the most crazy miscarriages – and has also found them, after all. If it were not on the one hand so sad, it could almost be amusing to one day ascertain have many slogans and phrases the so-called “art experts” have used in the last years to describe and interpret their pitiful products.

But it would be sad to experience not only how, through such slogans and nonsense, a feeling of general uncertainty gradually arose in the evaluation of artistic achievements or efforts, rather how this helped to breed that cowardice and fear that hindered even otherwise knowledgeable people from taking a position against this cultural Bolshevism and to resist the vile propagandists of this culture-lacking foolishness. I have already mentioned that the press put itself in the service of this poisoning of healthy feeling for art and culture. But that it also managed to gradually so spoil the insight of its readers that they, in part due to uncertainty, but in part also simply out of cowardice, simply no longer dared to oppose this kind of culture spoilers, was the decisive thing. For only then could business capable Jewish art dealers manage to suddenly offer the worst blotched works as the creations of a new and hence modern art, and, above all, to charge, while on the other hand one summarily dismissed highly valuable works and simply eliminated their masters as unmodern. For in this word “modern” naturally lies based the annihilation of all those who do not want to go along with this nonsense. And so, just as one today unfortunately does not judge clothes according to their beauty, rather only according to their modernity and hence not according to their actual beauty, so are the old masters as well simply set aside, because it is no longer modern to wear them, or to buy from them.

Naturally, the really great artists will reject such a view. But how many genuine and great artists have existed in the world at the same time in any era? The truly great geniuses who have been passed down to us from the past, were in their time just individual chosen ones among countless called upon. But these few would have always protested out of the feeling of their own worth – just as they do today – against the concepts “modern” or “not modern”.

For genuine art is and remains in its achievements an eternal one, that means it is not subject to the law of the salon judgment of the accomplishments for a tailor shop. It earns its appreciation as an immortal revelation stemming from the deepest essence of a folk.