Last week Donald Trump introduced a 2017 budget that de-funded the National Endowment for the Arts which assists individual artist but also grants monies to non-profits, arts training programs, public arts projects. He isn’t the first president to try and write the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities out of existence—that title would go to Ronald Reagan. I love how funding art becomes a political football, something to be booted back and forth.
Of course Hitler loved art. In fact he fancied himself a painter. During his chancellorship he actively collected art, as did many in the Reich, much of it confiscated.
The period before Hitler came to power in 1933 was known as Weimar. Weimar Germany was famous for an explosion in Modernistic expression—expressionism, Dada, cubism and impressionism. Artists such as Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Otto Dix, and Max Ernst contributed to the avant-garde movement.
Hitler had stated clearly in ‘Mein Kampf’ where his thoughts lay with regards to modern art: “This art is the sick production of crazy people.” He could have added, SAD.
By 1937 the Nazis had banned what they considered “degenerate” art and instead promoted art which contained racial purity, militarism, and expressed German nationalism. Aryan art. For example jazz was forbidden. A member of a hand-selected panel to determine who was degenerate and who wasn’t, said this: “The most perfect shape…is the steel helmet.” A very literal interpretation.
Of course many of the degenerate artists all happened to be Jewish. In March, 1939, the Berlin Fire Brigade burned about 4000 paintings, drawings and prints which had apparently little value on the international market. Hermann Göring appropriated fourteen of the pieces. A large amount of "degenerate art" by Picasso, Dalí, Ernst, Klee, Léger and Miró was destroyed in a bonfire on the night of July 27, 1942, in the gardens of the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris. What wasn’t burned was auctioned off in Switzerland.
What became of these deemed degenerates? Some went into exile. Klee left for Switzerland, Kandinsky went to Paris, Kokoschka left for England while Grosz emigrated to the United States of America. Some decided to paint unpeople landscapes, some committed suicide. Those who remained in Germany were forbidden to work at universities and were subject to surprise raids by the Gestapo in order to ensure that they were not violating the ban on producing artwork; Nolde secretly carried on painting, but using only watercolors (so as not to be betrayed by the telltale odor of oil paint).
I take solace in this one thought as Trump seeks to destroy America’s artists and artistic expression: I’d rather be unfunded than funded by someone who values reality TV and alt-facts over truth and beauty and diversity in expression. Trump would not recognize art if it exploded in his face.
|Cover of the exhibition program: Degenerate music exhibition, Düsseldorf, 1938|
|Cover of the exhibition program: Degenerate Art exhibition, 1937. The word "Kunst", meaning art, is in scare quotes|
|1912 woodcut by Emil Nolde The Prophet|
1,052 of Nolde's paintings were removed from German museums, more than any other artist.