Nazi Germany As An Aesthetic Experiment

From its very beginning, the Nazi regime sought to engender a sense of purity and beauty, wrapped around and embodied within a race of people: the German people. Through the manifestation of this aesthetic through the German folk, the Nazis were able to completely dominate all definitions and concepts of beauty within German society. That which appeased the Nazi sensibility of beauty, aiding it in its objective of societal domination, would be appropriated as pure art or pure beauty (as was in their obsession with classical Greek or Roman art). And in a move of complete and total control, that which fell outside the pale of consideration was labeled base and deviant. Through examining the ways in which the Nazis appropriated art to further their cause we can learn more about the role that art plays in war and tyranny.

In many ways, one can simplify the approach that the Nazis took, in relation to the co-opting of art for their purposes, as a two-pronged approach. One involved the designation and appropriation of Greek, Roman and Nordic art forms. The Nazis had a fascination with antiquity and the ancient that would border on fanatic. But their association with these historical art histories went further than misplaced admiration. They saw themselves as the inheritors and benefactors of these great art and civilizational traditions. The second concerned banishing certain forms of art as deviant and abnormal. The Nazis even went so far as to suggest the modern maladies that society faced were in direct correlation to deviant art. Abstract paintings that might show a disjointed face was in fact a catalyst for mental health instability. This strain of thought permeated to all forms of human disfiguration. By having an iron grip on the possibility of aesthetics, the Nazis held total sway over the public discussion and consumption of art in German society.

The above statements illustrate the methods of how the Nazi regime held sway of the German conscience of art but the totality of how the Nazis saw themselves as a living aesthetic goes even further. With their chief ideology, Adolph Hitler, heavily influenced by other anti-Semitic artists such as Richard Wagner, Hitler borrowed many of the themes from Wagner’s operas, such as Twilight of the Gods, an opera that saw the death of its hero as an act of aestheticism. This would prove to be a haunting foreshadowing of how, in the final days of the Nazi regime, the Nazis would fall and more importantly how they would see their own demise as a list will and testament to beauty. There was a great deal of fetishism over the beauty of death in Nazism. From the above mentioned view on their own demise as a sort of Götterdämmerung, the Nazis took it a step further to incorporate this into their works of architecture. Many of the designs of buildings and structures were provisioned with age and decay, a longing for the Nazis and the German people to fade into antiquity much like the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Death was not the only sentiment the Nazis sought to evoke in their use of art. Another equally important notion was that of struggle and resistance. Despite their admiration of ancient Greek art traditions, such as statues, the Nazis saw themselves embroiled in conflict against the rest of the world and that manifested in their art. Unlike the Greek busts, Nazi statues were often portrayed with a sense of pain and anguish on their faces. Male bodies were overtly muscular. With these contorted faces and straining bodies, this art conveys a sense of intense agony and grimace. That, in an almost Calvinist work ethic, this anguish takes a pseudo work ethic.