Nazi Aesthetics

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Introduction         The German Nazis of the 1930’s and 1940’s had an explicitly approved form of art. Unlike the other totalitarian regimes of the era, the approved forms of art were firmly integrated into their iconography and ideology, and excluded any other art movement, including those that were popular at the time. These approved forms of art held a limited number of themes which were repeated as often as necessary, in order to portray the values the Nazis deemed relevant to their cause. These values were, of course, fundamentally nationalistic, and those themes approved by the government were meant to glorify not only the Aryan race, but specifically the German nation.

The Harvest         The painting Out To Harvest, by Oskar Martin-Amorbach, is a typical, governmentally approved, work of Nazi art. It depicts a family of farmers going out to harvest on what seems to be a summer day in a typical German countryside.

It shows three generations of that family, a young boy at about 4-5 years of age, his mother, and what appear to be his father, grandfather, and a young woman who might be his older sister or aunt. As it’s title implies they are going out to harvest, for they are carrying scythes and rakes for harvesting and a small handheld basket, presumably holding their lunch for the day. In the background is portrayed a typical German landscape, rolling hills as far as they eye could see, symbolising the Nazis’ slogan of Blood and Soil.

Farm Life         What makes this painting a typical work of Nazi art is it’s glorification of peasantry. Not only is it mere peasantry it glorifies, but German peasantry. Now, while on the surface it may not sound a very Nazi-esque topic to the layman, it embodies many of the ideals that the Nazis stood for, one of them being the aforementioned Blood and Soil, another being the portrayal of peasantry as a source of strength and purity. The reason peasantry was held in such high regard by the Nazis, was that the peasant family was seen as a self-reliant, interdependent whole based on unity, that was portrayed as a symbol of strength and comradeship. Farmers were meant to be seen as a modest but proud people, being a fundamental part of the German population, or, to quote the German minister of works at the time, Richard-Walther Darré, “the raw material, and the foundation of the German race”.

What all this is meant to symbolise is, of course, the Nazi idea of racial superiority, which has long since become synonymous with the movement, and also the superiority of all that is German, including it’s people and landscape, even reaching as far as the German vegetation, which was also portrayed by the Nazis to be superior to that of the neighbouring countries. The Nazi message always was that if a thing is German, it is superior to the equivalent non-German thing. The idea was that a German tree was supposed to be viewed as being superior to other trees, and German landscape was supposed to be more beautiful than the landscape of other countries, regardless of their actual qualities. All this was part of the Nazi propaganda, promoting the idea that all that is German is better than anything else.

The Family         This painting is not only a glorification of the German landscape, but also a glorification of the German family. This comes as no surprise, as a large family was praised in much the same way as farmers were, by the Nazis. A large family with many healthy children was seen as a good thing, and a patriotic one at that, in Nazi Germany. Married women were encouraged to bear as many children as possible by the government, and families were not portrayed as parents and children, but as united wholes. In the same way as the peasant family, the regular family was to be seen as a “united front” so to speak, and in fact the ideal German family was a farmer’s family.

The Freudian Possibility Wer Wissenschaft und Kunst besitzt, hat auch Religion; Wer jene beide nicht besitzt, der habe Religion! J. W. Goethe According to recently released files, on the Nazis agenda was the abolition of religion. Hitler has been quoted as saying that the christian values upheld among the Nazis, were only there to keep the people calm and complacent, while otherwise not being necessary to Nazi rule. Although only officially released recently, it has been somewhat common knowledge for many years that the Nazis, and specifically Hitler, despised the Church.

        Sigmund Freud used to say that religion was only a painkiller for unhappiness, and a form of escapism from the pain of our daily lives. In his writings he says, much in the vein of Schopenhauer, that art could be used to substitute God, and that facing the pain, instead of avoiding it, was the better way of dealing with it. Schopenhauer even said that while enjoying true art, the soul was freed of it’s pain, and the id lost consciousness, or rather self awareness. As has been pointed out, the Nazis used art to convey their ideology, and perhaps it is not too far fetched to assume that the art of the Third Reich was also intended to relieve it’s citizens of their daily agonies, while bringing them closer to to one another, at the same time.

The Purpose Of It All         An important part of understanding the aesthetics of Nazi paintings is the part that refers to the reality of these paintings. Nazi paintings were never meant to “mirror” reality as such, but to portray role-models for the German citizen. The German citizen was meant to look at these paintings and think: “This is how I want to be”. Although they were not meant to look at the paintings and want to be farmers, for their paintings were more varied than that, the propaganda within these paintings was meant to affect their souls and self-esteem, so to speak. The message within was to have the German citizen longing to be proud and strong, a hard worker who comes home, tired after a long day at the factory, feeling proud and satisfied knowing that he had done his part for his country for the day. The message never was that it were the farmers that made the German race superior, the people of Germany were equal in that sense, but the reason farmers were held in such high regard was partially due to the fact that they were simple people. And simple people means simple pleasures, resulting in a somewhat Schopenhauerean/ Freudian kind of happiness for them, if they were to accept those simple pleasures as good life.

        The main purpose was of course to affect the citizens of the Third Reich on a psychological level. While the paintings were aimed at people in the form of propaganda, the message was somewhat subliminal. People were never specifically told that this was the way the Führer wanted them to be, but they were instead supposed to be influenced by it on an unconscious level, much in the same way anti-semitic propaganda movies were meant to affect them. These paintings were never used to tell people how they should be and how they should think, but the people were supposed to “read between the lines”, so to speak, and figure it out by themselves. While the people probably sensed that conformity was the way to go, the purpose of paintings, such as Out To Harvest, wasn’t to tell them how the government wanted them to be, but to influence them into wanting to be this way on their own accord, and therefore be the strong proud citizens that the Reich wanted them to be.