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Friday, May 18, 2012

National Socialist Art - 4

National Socialist Art - 4

The Art Of National Propaganda

 

The deeply convinced National Socialist artist must logically lift his work -- be it a simple flower picture or The Last Judgment -- from the sticky miasma of an aesthetic baseness into the pure and cool air of devoted service for his Folk. In this way, with each of his works, he becomes -- quite unwittingly -- the proclaimer of that philosophy. In his work the philosophy will appear purer than in the hard battlefield of daily politics ..... we must go forward. If we don't have a National Socialist art, National Socialism will be deprived of its strongest and most effective armour. -- Professor Max Kutschmann, 1933



                The National Socialists often proclaimed that the art of the Third Reich was the result of a 
Weltanschauung -- world view. Any evaluation of their art must therefore begin by looking at the radical social and cultural changes that they put into motion. According to the ideology of the National Socialists, art and life were constantly brought together. Art grew directly out of the life of the German Folk, and was judged by its social values and implications. The Youth Movement, the homage to the family, the return to Nature, the mass meetings, the glorification of the healthy body, the education for heroism, and the cult of heroic death all found their expression in the visual arts. Similarly, in the reverse sense, the pageantry, the mass marches, the sports arenas, the new homes and factories, the motorways, the public buildings all had their cultural significance, which was continually stressed.

                Having gotten rid of the enemy, the National Socialists launched the art of propaganda. They correctly presented themselves as cultured people, in the fullest sense of the word. Art was to be brought to the Folk. 
Art belongs to the whole complex of the racial values and gifts of the Folk, Hitler had said in 1935. Orchestras played in factories, with the work of Beethoven, Brahms, and Bruckner featured heavily on the program. The music of Jewish composers like Mendelssohn was banned. Writers spoke in schools, and libraries delivered books to the tiniest villages. Small towns that never had a theatre suddenly saw actors putting up stages in the local squares. Theatre was no longer for an intellectual elite, it was for everybody. No one should opt out. The new ideology had to reach everybody. Taking art to the Folk and away from the elite did succeed. Cultural outings and events brought people together, people who never thought that art could be for them.

The Whole Of Germany Listens To The Leader On The Folk Wireless, 1936. Poster

                A highly organised cultural machine was put to work. The 
Deutsche Arbeitsfront -- DAF -- German Labour Front was given a special section -- Kraft durch Freude -- KdF -- Strength Through Joy -- to spread art and culture on a massive scale. It was the Party's way of organising people's spare time.

Paul Matthias Padua: The Leader Speaks -- Great German Art Exhibition, 1940

                Alfred Rosenberg and Robert Ley took over responsibility for organising and coordinating the cultural will of the German Folk. Workers travelled for a fraction of normal fares and stayed at reduced rates in special hotels. Tourism, formerly the preserve of the rich, was now for all. Party sponsored mass tourism, with visits to theatres and concerts, was accompanied by the indoctrination of the travellers with racial knowledge and political ideas -- it was all part of the package tour. Hitler, by all of these marvellous initiatives, provided a new optimism, fun, and a sense of belonging.

                
The great statesman of the Germans is a kind of poet and thinker, declared Hermann Burte. A new man has emerged from the depth of the Folk. He has forged new theses ..... and he has created a new Folk, and raised it up from the same depth out of which the great poems rise -- from the mothers, from blood and soil .....

                Hitler's highly civilised taste in culture appealed to popular taste and prejudice, and could therefore count on rock solid support. Here suddenly was a man who actually had the answer to everybody's problems! Everything was going to be different in this brave new world. Life seemed to be a mass of festivities, events, and folklore, and was certainly much better than before.

          
      
Strength Through Joy was also in charge of fostering art education, to reinstate the organic link between Folk and artist in a systematic education. In 1934 a special Visual Arts Section was founded. Its aim too was to build abridge between artist and worker.

Advertisement for the Leica camera

               
 
Workers of the fist and workers of the head shall join forces, Goebbels asserted. In the first year the Visual Arts Section organised no less than 120 art exhibitions in factories. In 1937 there were 743 Work Exhibitions. The emphasis in these factory shows was very much on education. Demonstrations of the making of a print or a woodcut, or the construction of a building from its first concept to the final model were as much a part of these as the examples of official art. Prices were kept low to enable workers to buy the art. Workers were encouraged to write their impressions, and prizes in the form of art were given for the best essay.

Model living room, First International Crafts Exhibition, Berlin, 1938

                The artistic indoctrination of the factory floor was often strengthened by visits and talks by the artists themselves. Sometimes during lunch hour an artist could be seen painting or sculpting under the eyes of the work force. In the same way as 
Strength Through Joy chose pictures and sculptures to be exhibited, it also had total control over the artist. The selection of the artist for such a mission depended less on his artistic standing than on his membership in the Reich Culture Chamber, his political reliability, and his ability to deal with workers. Strength Through Joy also purchased artworks for canteen and community rooms. In meetings with the work force the choice of a particular work was often discussed. Travelling exhibitions visited villages and small towns, again in the presence of some artists. All these efforts were aimed at synchronising good taste.

Your 
KdF Automobile -- Advertisement for the convertible model of the Strength Through Joy automobile

                The Government formed another special department of the German Labour Front in 1934 under the direction of Albert Speer: 
Schönheit der Arbeit -- SdA -- Beauty Of Work. Its task was to embellish the workplace, especially in small factories. It pleaded for green spaces in factories, and fostered such uplifting campaigns as Better Light, Better Work and Clean People In Clean Factories. There were competitions for the most beautiful factory, and the campaignWarm Meals At Work led to the introduction of canteens into the factories.
Functional And Simple -- Advertisement for the Württemberg Metalworks

                The Organisation demonstrated that Hitler cared for the well being of the individual. It propagated the right furniture, the right cutlery, and the right spirit. The modern canteens came complete with the bust of The Leader and some new German art. Every improvement was celebrated in documentary films like 
Beauty Of Work. Propaganda films showed the poor conditions of the past and the beautiful ones already at hand and to come. They skilfully used simple, emotional images. The new worker was healthy and useful. The building of sports and washing facilities stood high on the agenda. Through cultural changes Hitler wanted to create the New Man. The German Folk with its newly awakened affirmation of life is seized with admiration for strength and beauty, and therefore for that which is healthy and vigorous. Strength and Beauty, these are the fanfares sounded by this age; clarity and logic dominate its effort.
Work, Freedom, Bread -- Magazine cover

                In carrying out social improvements, the Government set about directing people's tastes and attitudes to a degree. Everywhere the same requests: simplicity, traditional values -- a Folkish design. The Ministry Of Housing designed not only houses but also furniture, porcelain, and lamps. Here, too, the National Socialists borrowed from the past. The designs of the Bauhaus with their simple lines suited the Folkish message and the shortage of materials, and found their way into the new production.

                Communal work and harvesting were also encouraged. Paintings, films, and photographs constantly showed young people working on the land. It was one way to solve the problem of unemployment, but it also took on deeper meanings: it was used to create a feeling of self confidence, and to transform manual labour into a kind of religious experience. The reclamation of land and swamps became the symbol of conquest and of belief in the future. The work was done with military precision. These were no longer simple workers. They had become the soldiers of the soil. 
We conquer land, what gets in our way we kill went a famous song. Hitler himself took part in numberless inauguration ceremonies, digging, hammering, and trowelling. He opened trade fairs and motor shows, and posters and propaganda films stressed the superiority of German technology.

Young volunteers in the Reich Labour Service -- Magazine cover

                New national feast days were inaugurated with predetermined rituals, imitating the christian calendar (which in its turn over hundreds of years had absolutely deceitfully superimposed its ridiculous Middle Eastern witchdoctor rituals upon the prior healthy Germanic folklore):
  1. The Day Of The Accession To Power - 30. January
  2. Harvest Day
  3. The Leader Adolf Hitler's Birthday - 20. April
  4. Labour Day - 1. May
  5. Mothers' Day - The second Sunday of May
  6. Memorial Day -  9 November
                They consolidated an almost mythical Party history, with the inspiring and awesome figure of The Leader at its core. Hitler's assembly halls were to have bells, in order to become the churches of the future. In his speeches he borrowed freely from church liturgy in order to lend sacred overtones to his own services. His sense of theatre was combined with Nordic religiousness that involved frequent mention of God, Providence, and his divine mission. There were, of course, special days devoted to German art, culminating in the large processions of the Day Of German Art in München to coincide with the opening of the inaugural Great German Art Exhibition, 1937.
Youth Serves The Leader -- All Ten Year Olds Into The Hitler Youth, 1936. Poster

                There were a number of other rituals and public activities with quasireligious overtones established with Party support. These had one purpose in common, to enfold Party members and, by extension, all Germans in a seamless web of propaganda. In due course a special Office was founded to stage and coordinate these meetings, and to fix a calendar of public celebrations.

 
You, Too, Belong To The Leader, 1936. Poster
                Many events involved the young. Summer Solstice, 
The March To The Leader, and nightly meetings with inspirational talks and songs drew the young away from their homes into a marching and singing community. They happily borrowed the best ideas from the Youth Movements of the Weimar Republic, with their marches and their idealisation of an unspoiled countryside and the simple life. The Reich Youth Leader, Baldur von Schirach, led millions of young Germans to Hitler. The ecstatic lyricism of his songs resulted in a deeply satisfying feeling of purpose and self confidence of those who followed their flag. He urged youth to give up their individuality in order to enjoy a mystical union with the Folk Community and, if necessary, even to be ready to die. His most famous song pledges: We follow the flag; it means more than death.

                The cult of a heroic death became a major obsession in the arts. Painting, sculpture, film, and literature constantly glorified death and the deeper meaning of sacrifice. Ceremonies like the mass Oath Of Allegiance, the Blessing Of The Flags, the singing of hymns were meant to weld the Folk Community into one.

                In an eternal struggle for Germany the National Socialists adopted venerated monuments like the Teutoburg Monument (1875) in West Prussia, celebrating a German victory over the Romans, and the Tannenberg Monument in East Prussia, erected to commemorate a victory in the Great War.

Tannenberg Memorial near Hohenstein, East Prussia, during the state funeral for President Paul von Hindenburg

                The 
Walhalla, a hall of fame near Regensburg, built from 1830 to 1842, and the Befreiungshalle -- Liberation Hall, near Kelheim, built from 1842 to 1863 to mark the Napoleonic Wars, became important meeting places for the National Socialists. In this way, the dead of the past and those of the present became one.

Walhalla near Regensburg, 1830-1842. Architect: Leo von Klenze


Befreiungshalle near Kelheim, 1842-1863. Architect: Leo von Klenze. Hitler speaking here on October 22, 1933

                The National Socialists built many monuments of their own to the dead. Hitler not only wanted to honour those who had already fallen, but also wanted places of respectful meditation for those who were prepared to do so. The architect Wilhelm Kreis planned monuments, fortresses, and cult centres all over Germany. Kreis, who had made a name for himself with his fantastic buildings for museums and department stores, was soon working for the National Socialists. He became a specialist in the design of the necropolises which Hitler wanted to build here and there in the Reich, from the highest mountain to the loneliest stretch of coast. For Berlin, Kreis planned a giant 
Soldatenhalle --Soldiers' Hall. Taking people's minds off the horrors and sufferings of Churchill's war, this Hall was an invitation to consider dying for the Party and the State. In its crypt were to be housed the sarcophagi of the heroes. It would remind people that self sacrifice was the ultimate gesture.

The Bismarck Memorial on the Rhine River, 1902. Architect: Wilhelm Kreis


The Warsaw Memorial, 1941. Architect: Wilhelm Kreis

                Another quasireligious movement was the 
Thing MovementThing, literally assembly, referred to the old tribal council held around an oak tree. The Thing Movement was the reflection of a desire to return to a primitive earthbound religion, and to revive Teutonic fertility cults. Its use was now extended to mean national festivals, celebrated in Thing Theatres. A Thing Theatre was a ceremonial place with a chorus as well as audience participation, a combination of the open air theatre based on the Greek amphitheatre and the church. The theatres mounted mostly mythical plays with a kind of all embracing Folkish theme that was to foster a sense of national self awareness. The National Socialists had planned four hundred such theatres throughout Germany; about forty of them were built. One, in Berlin, the Dietrich Eckart Stage, was built by the Architect of the Olympic Stadium, Werner March.

Adolf Hitler walking up to the reviewing stand. Still from Leni Riefenstahl's film 
Triumph Of The Will, 1934

                Probably the most powerful weapon in the National Socialists' propaganda arsenal were the mass meetings. Many of the public and communal meetings were modelled on the theatre of the Weimar Republic. Collective dreams had been staged by Max Reinhardt in carefully rehearsed performances in which actors, lights, and public were all fused in a kind of total art, or
 Gesamtkunstwerk. These productions and the musicals, with their giant staircase for large casts, became the models for Hitler's mass marches, although the communists and social democrats also marched frequently and believed that the streets belonged to them. The massed ranks of Hitler's followers marched for the first time on a grand scale in 1929 at the big Party Rally in Nürnberg. Over 200,000 people arrived in special trains. The colourful and noisy display of their banners, uniforms, and marches would become a hallmark of future rallies. Wave after wave of people marched for five and a half hours in front of a Leader who was not yet even in absolute command. In these mass marches the enthusiasm for the regime was carefully orchestrated in the form of a complex visual arrangement of uniforms and group formations, choreographed like a ballet.

Hitler Youth with Standards, Party Rally, Nürnberg, 1938

              
  People are no longer a mass of individuals, a formless, artless mass. Now they form a body in unison, moved by a will and a communal feeling. They learn again to move in formations or to stand still, as if moulded by an invisible hand. A new corporate feeling is born, beginning simply in the feature of lifting the arm for the greeting and culminating in the mass march ..... The notion of a communal body is becoming a reality. Noble passion is stirred up, changing what is ephemeral into something lasting. (Werner Hager, Bauwerke im Dritten Reich).

A Brigade of the Reich Labour Service bearing spades in review before Hitler, Party Rally, Nürnberg, 1937

                Here too elements taken from the liturgy completed the ritual. Hitler said that 
the concluding meeting in Nürnberg must be exactly as solemnly and ceremonially performed as a service of the Catholic Church.

Gymnasts of the Young Maidens with hoops

                The Party Rallies in Nürnberg became for all National Socialists a Wagnerian 
Gesamtkunstwerk. The Rallies expressed power, order, solemnity. The architecture, too, had its part to play, and the people became the attribute and ornament of the buildings. They gathered in and around their architecture, in orderly columns like those on their buildings. They became architecture themselves, answering Hitler's call for a formgiving will. Flesh and stone became one, as stone and word had become one in Das Wort aus Stein -- the word in stone, as he called architecture. It was the expression of a political idea. In these rallies, Hitler -- assisted by the mass orator Joseph Goebbels and the Architect Albert Speer, who built the settings for these spectacles -- created the ultimate stage productions. Every occasion became an awe inspiring event, a fascinating geometry, marvelled at by the world. The mass became part of the set in a gigantic happening, a communal celebration.

                All had the appearance of grand opera. Songs and the chanting of 
Heil! prepared for The Leader's arrival, with the chants finally erupting in a wave almost of ecstatic hysteria. Then Hitler would go through the long channel cut through the crowd, a VIA TRIVMPHALIS as Goebbels described it, to take up his high, solitary position, singled out like a God, standing aloof above the sea of flags.

                In 1934, the Heidelberg art critic Hubert Schrade wrote:

              
  We believe that the time has come for art to represent the deeper meaning of our life ..... There are moments when this meaning becomes visible in a mysterious way. We have lived such a moment in the morning hour of last year's Party Rally, when we honoured the dead. The culmination came with The Leader, after a slow march along the central road, pausing at the giant wreath in meditation. His thoughts became audible to all ..... The orchestra played I Had A Comrade. This ceremony was the ultimate lifegiving form. It was achieved through greatness and mass. The Luitpold Stadium covered by the brown of the uniforms was overshadowed by the red sea of the flags, like a field of tulips, as a painter remarked. But it is not for its pictorial splendor that we recall this hour, although photographs and films have captured the unforgettable beauty for us. It was an hour of our time, an hour during which life became form. It brought together power and architecture; that is what gave it its shape and made it special.

                The timing of pauses and the stage management of climaxes were as important as the music and the banners. Expectation was heightened by long pauses before Hitler spoke his famous opening: 
Countrymen and countrywomen.Then he paused again, to let the thunderous applause subside. The tension reached almost unbearable levels. His ending was no less calculated. It usually came with a call for Germans to unite. Few politicians have produced such adoration as Hitler. He carefully studied his style and the effects he wanted to achieve. He moved vast crowds of different kinds of people. He was a man with an iron will, driven by a single minded vision that enabled him to mobilise forces in an unprecedented way. There was no casual spectator; everyone played a part. Discipline, obedience, self sacrifice, loyalty, duty -- these were the highest virtues. The individual had to enter the mass.

In photographer Heinrich Hoffmann's München studio Adolf Hitler practises expressions and poses before the camera, 1926

                Many of Hitler's speeches dealt with culture. Even his most political speeches contained some references to the arts. Hitler was a man who could deal in simple images. His success was built on oratory that fired the masses. The platitudes were uttered with a rare energy and charisma. It was not only highly intelligent reasoning but also heartfelt passion that made him so convincing. He appealed to the Germans' loss of pride and confidence, stirring up the most basic feelings. He played on what they wanted: stability, order, tradition in art. The contents of his speeches hardly varied. He sensed the mistrust of the masses toward liberal middle class values and brought this slumbering resentment into the open.

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