Degenerate art is the English translation of the German entartete Kunst, a term adopted by the Nazi regime in Germany to describe virtually all modern art. Such art was banned on the grounds that it was un-German or Jewish Bolshevist in nature, and those identified as degenerate artists were subjected to sanctions. These included being dismissed from teaching positions, being forbidden to exhibit or to sell their art, and in some cases being forbidden to produce art entirely.
Degenerate Art was also the title of an exhibition, mounted by the Nazis in Munich in 1937, consisting of modernist artworks chaotically hung and accompanied by text labels deriding the art. Designed to inflame public opinion against modernism, the exhibition subsequently traveled to several other cities in Germany and Austria.
While modern styles of art were prohibited, the Nazis promoted paintings and sculptures that were traditional in manner and that exalted the "blood and soil" values of racial purity, militarism, and obedience. Similarly, music was expected to be tonal and free of any jazz influences; films and plays were censored.Reaction against modernism
A still from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
The early twentieth century was a period of wrenching changes in the arts. In the visual arts, such innovations as cubism, Dada and surrealism—following hot on the heels of symbolism, post-Impressionism and Fauvism—were not universally appreciated. The majority of people in Germany, as elsewhere, did not care for the new art which many resented as elitist, morally suspect, and too often incomprehensible.
Under the Weimar government of the 1920s, Germany emerged as a leading center of the avant-garde—the birthplace of Expressionism in painting and sculpture, of the atonal musical compositions of Arnold Schoenberg, and the jazz-influenced work of Paul Hindemith and Kurt Weill. Films such as Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and F.W. Murnau's...
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