-I- Degenerate Art This is a photograph taken at 1937. It pictures Adolf Hitler’s visit to the “Entartete Kunst”, meaning “Degenerate Art” exhibition. Adolf Ziegler, favoured painter of Hitler is also present. On the wall, there writes “Dada”, the modernist, avant-gardist anti-art movement started at 1916 in Zurich. The name of the painter George Grosz, one of the members of Dada movement, can clearly be seen on the wall. The names of the painters whose works were exhibited as “degenerate art” included Paul Klee (a favourite of Benjamin, also worked at Bauhaus for some time before it was shut down by the Nazis), Max Ernst known for his Dada and Surrealist paintings, Marc Chagall, a Russian Jew who was an expressionist, Wassily Kandinsky, an abstract artist and an expressionist who worked together with Klee at Bauhaus and other notable figures in the history of art such as Emil Nolde, Max Beckmann and Piet Mondrian. A person who takes a brief look at this photo without knowing the story behind it would probably be surprised to see Hitler visiting an avant-gardist exhibition with his officials and specifically with his official painter, Ziegler who was in no way interested in avant-gardist and modernist art movements of the century. Then, was Hitler a modernist in terms of art, championing the avant-gardists of the era? Why was he present there?
            Beginning with 1935, hundreds of works of the avant-garde art was held captive by the Nazis so that they could be exhibited in the “degenerate art” exhibition, in order to show how art was really degenerate at the hands of those avant-gardists and modernists. The tension between the surrealists, Dadaists, abstract artists, expressionists and Adolf Hitler has already arisen when Hitler called those artists of modernist movement as “fools, liars, or criminals who belong in insane asylums or prisons.” Just right after Hitler ordered his officials to prepare an exhibition in Munich which would present the works of “true German art”.[1] A 1937 painting by Adolf Ziegler might give us a hint on what “true German art” is.[2]
            It is clear that true German art represents the “Aryan beauty”. No doubt it bears Ancient Greek connotations extensively: it has partial sense of perspective, and it seems as if the figures were painted from the models of ancient statutes. Though mimetic in a technical sense, it doesn’t need a perspective; its aim is only to underscore the very physicality of “Aryan beauty” and its bodily perfection. The space is not an important agent in this painting. It is the same for time. Why would Ziegler make this kind of a painting as an official painter of the Nazis at 1937? As an educated painter he certainly knows what Ancient Greek art was. Does “true German art” correspond to an imitation of Ancient Greek art? One last illustration to explain this explicit link between Greek art and “true German art” could be useful. This is a sculpture made by the official Nazi sculptor, Arno Breker.[3]
            Another heroic Aryan figure similar to those of Greek sculptures is what Breker produces in 1938 at the height of Nazi art. These examples well illustrate the reasons why modernist art movements were called by Hitler as “degenerate” and its practitioners as “fools” and “liars”. Then what was Hitler thinking in propagating “true German art”? What is its relation to “myth”? And how can one interpret this relation by referring to the article of “The Nazi Myth” by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy?
            -II- Living Myth Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy propose that since the collapse of Christianity in Europe, a specter appeared, that is, “the specter of imitation”. They suggest that whole culture and art was dominated by this specter since the newly founded nation states were in need of a “subject of identification”. What Germany was missing was an identity by means of which the national whole would involve in a process of identification. Hence they explain the emergence of German nationalism as “the appropriation of the means of identification” on the basis of Greek antiquity, which was the sole model for the Nazis.[4] Eventually this brings about what Benjamin points out as the “will to art” that is, the endeavour to create a subject by which art would be practiced and consequently the politics will be harmonized by aesthetics in course of constituting a “totality” within the national whole. Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy argue that this process altogether results in the establishment of the Nazi myth which is a “living myth”.[5]
            What’s more, Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy underscore the “double bind” that Nazis has found themselves trapped. The double bind of Nazis consists of the following: On the one hand they have no option other than imitating the Greeks since there is no other model. On the other hand, they cannot imitate them since the Greek model were already used and appropriated by others and they needed the urge to be distinct and original as the Germans. What was embodied at the end of this process of double binding was a Nazi myth, that is, National Socialism itself as a myth, and a living one indeed. Interestingly, the Nazi myth corresponded to what German romantic Schelling call for as the “new mythology” in the end of 18th century.[6]
            -III- Volk One might conclude, in the light of the art of Ziegler and Breker that the Nazi myth was unsuccessful in finding out a new way other than the Greek model within the endeavour of “will to art”. Yet one should better have a look at what Hitler proposes as the German art, and interpret it in the light of what Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy suggested. In his speech on “degenerate art” exhibition, Hitler complains: “Art, on the one hand, was defined as nothing but an international communal experience, thus killing altogether any understanding of its integral relationship with an ethnic group.”[7] In relation to what Hitler suggests in terms of the perceived universality of art, Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy state that for Nazis, “the power of myth must be reawakened, in opposition to the inconsistency of the abstract universals…”[8] Hitler further argues that every year, the modernist art proposes something new; and on the contrary he suggests that art should in some way stabilized on the basis of “volk”.[9] The possible way in which it needs to be stabilized is again pointed out by Hitler himself, quoted by Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy: “Nazism is above all “construction and conformation of its vision of the world.”[10]
            -IV- Eternalization of Art For Hitler, “art is not founded on time, but only on peoples.”[11] This explains well why Ziegler and Breker depict Ancient Greek figures as the perfection of German race in their separate works. By dismissing the element of “time” and merely relying on the “volk”, Nazism intends to find a way out of the “double bind” in which they are trapped. Besides, it legitimizes its imitation of Ancient Greek art by projecting their ambitions on a timeless sphere. By removing “time” from its agenda, Nazism refuses to historicize art in terms of past, present and future; as Hitler remarks: “National-Socialist Germany, however, wants again a ‘German Art’, and this art shall and will be of eternal value, as are all truly creative values of people… … Art as an expression of the essence of this being, is an eternal monument.”[12] Eternalization of art was already present in Ancient Greeks, since as Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy explain the Nazi interpretation of Ancient Greek art: “The great Aryans of antiquity are the Greeks, that is to say the people who produced myth as art.” And this constitutes another legitimate ground for the imitation of Ancient Greeks by the Nazi artists. On the road to creation of myth as art, the artist gains a Romantic emphasis, when Hitler suggests: “For the artist does not create for the artist, but just like everyone else he creates for the people.”[13] The artist, for Hitler, marks the harbinger of an upcoming art which is concurrently mythical, and which derives among the people who are subjected by means of that myth and also who are expected to identify themselves with it. This aspect on the other hand brings Hitler and Vico together, since Vico suggests, mentioning Homer that his stories were made of “collective images of reality” rather than being the artistic creations which derive out of the artist’s own imagination.[14]  For Vico, Homer represents people, whose representations have been models for the future, similar to what Hitler desires his artists to actualize.
            -V- Totality While on the one hand rejecting the “universal”, how does Hitler aim to constitute a “totality” nationwide? Since, one should bear in mind what Bataille suggests: “A myth thus cannot be assimilated to the scattered fragments of a dissociated group. It is in solidarity with total existence, of which it is the tangible expression.”[15] As mentioned above, this question of totality is very much related to the “appropriation of the means of identification” which eventually brings about the need to create a subject as Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy explained. Only then a feeling of totality would be gained among the nation. For me, one needs to reconcile Nietzschean opposition of Apollonian and Dionysian in the course of achieving that totality. And this was the conflict not only of Nazism but also fascism in general. For example, although Hitler surprisingly condemns them, Italian futurists have a solution for achieving totality in art. In his technical manifesto, Boccioni insists that “to paint a human figure your must not paint it, you must render the whole of its surrounding atmosphere.” In an environment where “all things move, all things run, all things are rapidly changing” (which introduces a Dionysian connotation), one should capture the whole of the movements of daily life and represent it in the painting (which eventually ends up with an Apollonian, -stable and beautiful- situation).[16] Further, according to Boccioni, “in order to conceive and understand the novel beauties of a Futurist picture, the soul must be purified; the eye must be freed from its veil of atavism and culture, so that it may at last look upon Nature and not upon museum as the one and only standart.”[17] Unlike most of the futurists, Boccioni was not a fascist activist (died in 1918); yet his terminology pertains to that of Nazis in terms of propagating a goal of “purification”. His art too tends to be mythical although he never mentions it; for the reasons which regard his emphasis of nature rather than culture, his refusal of institutions and his will to “re-enter into life”[18]  by means of that very purification. Here is a painting of Boccioni, with all its collectivism, totality of experience and destructive emphasis.[19]     
            Boccioni stressed the “death of space” whereas Italian poet Marinetti, a lifelong fascist influenced by Mussolini, was the first one to declare the two deaths of what Nazis and Boccioni suggested afterwards, that is the death of time and space concurrently.[20] For him, “art can be nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice.” Marinetti calls for a total destruction when he declares: “Come on! Set fire to the library shelves! Turn aside the canals to flood the museums!” Marinetti thinks that there is no beauty except in struggle. He is a total enemy of what is at past. In his manifesto of futurism, cruelty, violence, death and destruction are imminent to daily life; futurism gains a ritualistic status. It only looks to the future with the rejection of the past as it takes the Romantic’s wish to create “a myth of the future” to the extreme. Again, he doesn’t refer to the word “myth” itself, nevertheless, in his description of the future, every single individual is an artist who only destruct as people altogether experience the sense of totality by means of which myth can be realized accordingly for Bataille (who was experimenting something like Marinetti’s in the “Headless”).
            Futurist painter Mario Sironi, who devoted himself to fascism after World War I, was among the artists who insistently turned to Ancient Roman motives in his paintings. He introduced the concept of “mural painting” which is according to Sironi, “a social painting par excellence.” He aims to achieve totality in mural painting. Sironi states that, “fascism is a style of life; it is life itself for Italians.” Consequently one is reminded of what Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy said in their article in describing myth as a “living” entity. Sironi, like Hitler, also underlines that “the individualist conception of ‘art for art’s sake’ is dead.” Besides, what is crucial in Sironi’s manifesto is that his understanding of art gains a religious value when he declares: “Thus art will once again become what it was in the greatest of times and at the heart of the greatest civilizations: a perfect instrument of spiritual direction.” Hence, Sironi insists that by means of mural painting, a “Fascist style” will arise “with which the new civilization will be able to identify.”[21] The endeavour to constitute a subject for identification as Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy suggested already exists in the champions of Italian fascist art. Yet, eventually what Sironi produces as “authentic fascist art” is an imitation of Romans; it manifests nothing but the desire to revive a Romanic myth and projecting it onto fascist Italy. Nonetheless Sironi is well aware of his imitation when he says, “the art of pagan and Christian Rome is closer to us than the Greek.”[22] Sironi’s emphasis remarks it is as if fascism was an eternal feeling, kind of an omnipresent entity which binds Romans to Mussolini’s fascist regime. Therefore, though he doesn’t explicitly claim to remove “time and space” from the painting like Marinetti, Boccioni and Hitler do, he comes to insist that fascist art is on the same plane with Roman art; and that the future of fascism lies in the living myth of Ancient Rome which has to depicted on the walls of every street in Italy, as seen in this work of Sironi below.[23]
            From Marinetti and onwards, to Boccioni, Sironi, Ziegler and Hitler, art has been the tool for revival of either Ancient Greek or Ancient Rome. Fascist intention in art was to produce a “living myth” by means of its constant projection onto and reproduction in the public sphere. Time and space are problematized and often dismissed in course of achieving the totality and eternalizing art for the sake of the fascist myth.
            -VI- Degenerate Art as the Camp Approximately 5000 works have been seized for the exhibition, including 1,052 by Nolde, 759 by Heckel, 639 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and 508 by Max Beckmann, as well as smaller numbers of works by such artists as Alexander Archipenko, Marc Chagall, James Ensor, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh.[24] In 1938 avant-garde artists were forbidden to paint. Some good works among the paintings were sold to German art dealers who then exported those works. A good deal of the paintings was destructed or went missing. Yet the exhibition travelled many German and Austrian cities throughout 1938. Most artists went exile either outside of or inside Germany. In 1939, 4000 of these works were burned.[25] It was definitely a catastrophic event. And it marked the catastrophe of art whose perpetrators were the Nazis. Degenerate art was the concentration camp of modernist art. Fascism left no space for avant-gardist and modernist individuality for the sake of constituting a myth by which they could maintain totality. And instead of burning the paintings as soon as they are seized, Nazis intended to transmit what they considered the problem of art as degenerate to the volk; prior to the destruction of art, in order to create a totality of will to art or, one might say, the will to destruction.  
            Works Cited
            Charles Harrison & Paul Wood eds. Art in Theory. 1900-2000. Blackwell Publishing: London, 2003
            Georges Bataille, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”
            Henry Grosshans (1983). Hitler and the Artists. New York: Holmes & Meyer Grosshans 1983
            Joseph Mali, “The Rehabilitation of Myth: Vico’s New Science”
            Peter Adam (1992). Art of the Third Reich. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc
            Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Nazi Myth”

[1] Adolf Hitler, “Speech Inaugurating the Great Exhibition of German Art”, in Art in Theory, p.439
[2] Adolf Ziegler (1892-1959). The Judgment of Paris, 1937
[3] Arno Breker (1900-91). Man with a Sword, 1938. Bronze, over lifesize
[4] Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Nazi Myth”. pp. 299-300
[5] Ibid., p.304
[6] Ibid., p.301
[7] Adolf Hitler, “Speech Inaugurating the Great Exhibition of German Art”, in Art in Theory, p.439
[8] Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Nazi Myth” p.307
[9] Adolf Hitler, “Speech Inaugurating the Great Exhibition of German Art”, in Art in Theory, p.439
[10] Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Nazi Myth”, p.311
[11] Adolf Hitler, “Speech Inaugurating the Great Exhibition of German Art”, in Art in Theory, p.440
[12] Ibid., p.440
[13] Ibid., p.441
[14] Joseph Mali, “The Rehabilitation of Myth: Vico’s New Science” p.198
[15] Georges Bataille, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, p.232
[16] Umberto Boccioni, “Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto” in Art in Theory, p.150
[17] Ibid., p.151
[18] Ibid., p.151
[19] Boccioni. The City Rises, 1910
[20] Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism”, in Art in Theory, p.148
[21] Mario Sironi, “Manifesto of Mural Painting”, in Art in Theory, p. 425
[22] Ibid., p.426
[23] Mario Sironi, Justice, Law and Truth, 1936-7
[24] Peter Adam (1992). Art of the Third Reich. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. pp. 121-122
[25] Henry Grosshans (1983). Hitler and the Artists. New York: Holmes & Meyer Grosshans 1983, p. 113