Bad art

The Nazis were not the first to describe certain types of art as degenerate, though they were probably the first to go to the trouble of cataloguing that art and codifying the elements that make something decadent or not. The non-decadent, officially-approved art consisted mainly of neo-classical, heroic-realist or futurist works (of a propagandist or programmatic nature) that barely even stood the test of the time in which they were created, let alone posterity. For even when the Nazis ran two exhibitions almost side by side, people didn’t exactly flock to see the Great German Art on display in the government-sanctioned show, preferring, at a rate of nearly four to one, to spend their money on the decadent artists that Reichskulturminister Goebbels had placed on display, ostensibly for them to deride and mock, although he was himself a secret collector *(see infra: 2nd category in “German joke”).

Relative attributes

Quite what the good burghers of Berlin got from the Entartete Kunst exhibition it is hard to imagine today. Some will have seen whatever they were told to see. They will have paid their Drei Groschen to visit like “good” Germans, passing from room to room in a permanent sense of suspended horror and disgust, before hurrying home to purge themselves with sauerkraut. Others will have not seen what all the fuss was about, but neither will they have particularly valued either the art or its motivation. But a third type of viewer was doubtless visited by a strange spirit of rebellion and gripped by the urge to shout JAWOHL! at the top of their lungs as they stood before one of Chagall’s strange nocturnal villages in mythical crisis or Otto Dix and Max Beckmann’s brutal satires of the military-industrial establishment. Because this “degenerate” art cried out to be understood, engaged the imagination, quizzed the very eye that regarded it. One did not have to look far to find the reasons for which it had fallen into disgrace.

“We Germans”, ran a subversive joke of the time, “have three key attributes: we are intelligent, honest and Nazi. The problem is that each individual German can never incorporate more than two of these attributes. Those of us who are honest and Nazi are clearly not very bright. Those of us who are Nazi and intelligent are manifestly dishonest* … while those of us who are intelligent and honest cannot possibly be Nazis!” The degenerate artists, German or otherwise, obviously fell into the latter category. Their “decadent” vision, thanks in part to Hitler’s own vision not quite going according to plan, has proven surprisingly tenacious, and continues to teach generations of art students how to see. The pilloried artists, who also included Nolde, Klee, Dali, Ernst, Matisse, Kokoschka, Marc, Picasso, Ensor, Miro and Van Gogh now command the highest of prices and cause long queues at galleries across the world. Meanwhile Hitler’s own favourite, Sepp Hilz, though certainly a highly-skilled painter, is hardly known today.

Absolute results

Which brings me to my point: while on the subject of wild-eyed megalomaniacs and their poor art choices … where is Muammar Gaddafi? I certainly don’t have him here. I’m sure because I’ve looked, just in case Harker were hiding him in one of the linen cupboards. She’s got a soft spot for Berlusconi and other misunderstood macho men, so the Libyan is definitely her type. But no, whoever is hiding Gaddafi must share his execrable taste in art, for no one else could stomach the man or his opinions for very long. And I don’t think even Harker (though she does run to fluffy kittens and dogs with sad eyes and droopy ears) would care for most of the Lion of Tripoli’s T.O.T.T. collection. The golden sofas, the giant fist crushing an F111, the glib but vast glosses of fruit and roses and racehorses, the hundreds of images of Muammar himself: sculpted, sandblasted, cast, painted in oils, acrylic, executed as mosaic, or bas relief, or fresco … it’s all so numbingly and uniformly awful, pompous, kitschy, tactless and excessive. Adolf would have loved it, so would Benito, Josef, Idi and Saddam, although they would all have doubtless preferred another likeness.

So since these other despots have long ago gone on to fill the dark barge of history, I can only conclude that Gaddafi – not that nice Mr Kaddafi or Qaddafi who built a thousand schools and provided abundant fresh water for his people, but the nasty man who hangs his opponents in front of their families, harangues his long-suffering staff for hours on end, fires on his own citizens and flies into a rage if you contradict him – is in fact hiding out all alone with himself, like Saddam-in-a-hole, somewhere in the barren Atlas mountains, listening to the distracted ravings of his fast degenerating mind. Because bad art corrupts, you see. And absolutely bad art corrupts … well, absolutely!

Edwin Drood

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared.Required fields are marked *