Respectful Insolence

“Degenerate” art?

As the resident World War II maven on ScienceBlogs, I noted with interested PZ’s mention of a story from Germany about a German Cardinal’s jaw-droppingly bad choice of words:

A German cardinal has triggered a storm of criticism in Germany by describing atheist art as “degenerate” — a term usually avoided in public discourse because of its association with the Nazis.

Cardinal Joachim Meisner was speaking at the blessing of his archdiocese’s new art museum, the Kolumba, in the heart of Cologne, on Friday.

“Wherever culture is separated from the worship of God, the cult atrophies in ritualism and culture becomes degenerate,” he said.

The word “degenerate” is hardly ever used in Germany today because of its known association with the Third Reich.

The National Socialists’ aggressive persecution of artists whose works did not conform to their ideology culminated in 1937 with the infamous Munich-exhibition called “Degenerate Art” in which a collection of modernist artworks was displayed, accompanied by texts deriding the works.

Clearly, Cardinal Meisner has a tin ear for terminology. For one thing, to the Nazi, “degenerate art” or culture was virtually synonymous with “Jewish art” or culture.

If you really want to get an idea of how the Nazis classified art into “Aryan” art versus “degenerate art,” you might want to take a gander at this post by an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, entitled Jewish vs. Aryan Art and Another Example of Jewish Art vs. Aryan Art. (These two posts are safe for work, but the rest of the blog should be viewed with care, as it contains, not unexpectedly, some seriously racist and anti-Semitic material in its other posts, far worse than the comments about how “Jews do not produce art” found in the two posts that I linked to above.) In essence, to the Nazi way of thinking, “Jewish” or “degenerate” art was anything that was adventurous and not “realistic.” In contrast, Nazis preferred so-called “Aryan art,” which was generally photo-realistic and often portrayed heroism and war or glorified the peasant life of the Volk.

Obviously, the word “degenerate,” although insulting elsewhere, doesn’t have quite the same nasty connotation outside of Germany as it does in Germany. One would think that Cardinal Joachim Meisner, being German, would have known the connotation of the word when used to describe culture or art. Indeed, I’m guessing that he knew the connotation quite well. In essence, as PZ pointed out and I’ll take one step further, Meisner described atheists and agnostics using exactly the same terms that the Nazis used to refer to Jews (i.e., unable to produce any art or music of beauty or value) and thought nothing of it. Indeed, he seemed rather taken aback that anyone would be offended.

Comments

  1. #1 Zombie
    September 18, 2007

    I was rather surprised when I heard this; one of the few non-math/science classes I took in college was about the German Expressionist movement in the arts between the wars, so I had a bit more of an appreciation than usual of the term “degenerate” in German… most of the artists I know anything about were considered “degenerate” by the Nazis…

  2. #2 J-Dog
    September 18, 2007

    Jesus Christ what a dickhead! And I mean that. Literally.
    At least us atheists/ members of the Darwinist cabal don’t wear the representation of a penis on our heads! (That’s known as a “mitre” for those of you non-Catholics.)

  3. #3 DCP
    September 18, 2007

    In German there are actually two words for “degenerate”. One is “entartet”, the other one is “degeneriert”. The word “entartet” is the one which carries the Nazi connotations and “degeneriert” is mostly free of that stigma. Most Germans I know aren’t even aware about the fact that both words may be used interchangable. “Degeneriert” is mostly used as medical or biological term (or as insult), while “entartet” is only used in historical discussions (or in cases like this one: when people want to make huge assholes out of themselves.).

  4. #4 Chris
    September 18, 2007

    I’ve got more degrees than a rectal thermometer, yet I still can’t see how that crap listed as “Jewish art” on that blog qualifies as art. I guess I’ll just never attain the level of education necessary to see it any other way

  5. #5 Eike
    September 18, 2007

    According to the “Hamburger Abendblatt” Meisner defended his choice of words by saying that he wanted to turn the phrase “degenerate art” against its originators (‘[Er habe] den Begriff “Entartung” gegen sie [sc. die Nazis] gerichtet’). I think this kind of “defense” is actually much worse that the original offense.

    Oh, and the word “entartet” – degenerate – was never much used in German, even before the “Third Reich”. “Entartet” is not exactly a colloquialism, it’s a medical term to describe cancer cells and the like, which is why the Nazis choose it to describe what they considered to be a “cancer on the body of the german people”.

    — eike

  6. #6 Beth
    September 18, 2007

    A cardinal is unable to see the artistic merit of art made by atheists? Some how that doesn’t surprise me. I suspect that the cardinal has had very different experiences in life and art than the artists. Part of appreciating art is being able to connect to the piece on some level. I bet the cardinal didn’t even give the art a chance, but knew who made it and made his judgment based on that.

  7. #7 aracne
    September 18, 2007

    Where did you get that blog from? The stupid, it burns… It does not occur to them that maybe, just maybe, comparing any painting whose autor is somehow jewish with some selected paintings whose style they prefer is not a measure of anything?

    (I actually like the pink one, though. Call me tasteless.)

  8. #8 MartinC
    September 18, 2007

    It not an isolated incident. Unfortunately it is symptomatic of the anti-secular feeling within the catholic church in europe at the moment. The Jesuits in Ireland (supposedly the ‘intellectuals’ of the catholic church) recently published a series of articles dealing with science, secularism and the response of the church to these matters. The editorial was particularly shocking –

    “Strident secularism limits us. It is more totalitarian than any religious fundamentalism and ignores the fact that modern civilisation is founded upon religious beliefs.”

    Any religious fundamentalism?
    The idea that according to the Jesuits the Taliban is preferable to a secular state was not a thought that had occurred to me previously.
    Heres the full link if you are interested (its mostly just a collection of nasty remarks about Richard Dawkins – that big meanie)
    http://www.studiesirishreview.ie/j/page535

  9. #9 Tyler DiPietro
    September 18, 2007

    “I’ve got more degrees than a rectal thermometer, yet I still can’t see how that crap listed as “Jewish art” on that blog qualifies as art.”

    Maybe you just…don’t like it? What qualifies as “art” or “aesthetic” is by definition subjective (at least more so than what qualifies as “science”).

  10. #10 cuchulkhan
    September 18, 2007

    Wah wah wah, the big bad cardinal makes me cry. Most decent art ever created was religious in inspiration, the pinnacle coming from Catholicism as reformulated by Aquinas (the unity of Athens and Jerusalem, Christianity and Greece-Aristotle, exemplified in the greatest work of all – Michelangelo’s David). Atheist art tends to concern bullshit like gender, race and politics, repeating the same bland pieties (racism is baaaad) over and over in ever more indecipherable and decadent ways. Politics becomes the new religion when religion itself is removed from art. Most atheist art is leftist political propaganda created by talentless charlatans.

  11. #11 Sastra
    September 18, 2007

    I suppose I would make a distinction between “atheist art” and “art which happens to have been done by an atheist”; same for “religious art.” The distinction only seems useful if it refers to subject matter — and even there you’d see overlap and fuzzy areas (would a Renaissance painting of the Greek ‘gods’ be religious art or not?) Otherwise, “atheist art” sounds like “Jewish physics.” Art is art.

  12. #12 Rose Colored Glasses
    September 18, 2007

    “Wherever culture is separated from the worship of God, the cult atrophies in ritualism and culture becomes degenerate,” he said.

    Let’s test this shall we? We’ll examine, oh, the IEEE.

    Hmm, we see he is full of shit. Okay, we’re done.

    If you assume he’s simply lying, then maybe the truth he’s hiding would be revealed by changing the words “separated from” into “infested with”.

    (BTW, the assumption of lying is kinder than the assumption of stupidity.)

  13. #13 Melissa
    September 18, 2007

    “Jewish Physics?” Such a thing exists, it is the discipline used to convince us that Americans landed on the moon and to discredit anyone with enough sense to realize that this country could not possibly have landed on the moon in 1969.

  14. #14 Tyler DiPietro
    September 18, 2007

    cuchulkhan,

    I like porn, does that count?

  15. #15 Kapitano
    September 18, 2007

    All the greatest artists were fat! But mediocre thin people hate their greatness!

    Thin art is weedy, impoverished, malnourished, pale and unhealthy. It hates life and cares nothing for feeding the soul. Fat art is bold and round and full of nourishment.

    * Don’t believe the thin science which faked the moon landings!
    * Don’t believe the thin lie of evolution which preaches the dinosaurs were “too fat” to live!
    * Don’t Thin-K Thin! Be Big!

    Fat is Forever!

  16. #16 MPW
    September 18, 2007

    Notice that cuchulkhan doesn’t address the central point of this post, the use by the cardinal of an extremely loaded term from the Nazi era. Maybe it doesn’t bother him.

    Can anyone identify the three “Jew artists” in question? I’m not up on my art history, I’m afraid, but the top two in particular I quite like.

  17. #17 bad Jim
    September 18, 2007

    The Nazis’ Entartete Kunst exhibit was the first blockbuster art show, so successful that it went on tour. Many of the artworks were either sold on the international market or kept by various Nazi bigwigs.

    The Tate Modern has a very nice collection.

  18. #18 DuWayne
    September 18, 2007

    cuchukan –

    What the hell are you talking about? There is a lot of really great art that has nothing to do with religion, most of it in fact. And very little of it has anything to do with politics or decadence.

    Although, a lot of “religious” art is replete with decadence. Naked people, booze – slap some wings and halos around and it’s suddenly holy. Don’t get me wrong, like Tyler, I like me some porn. But holy porn just seems rather odd.

  19. #19 bad Jim
    September 19, 2007

    Art museums, more often than not, are arranged in chronological sequence. I generally find the medieval works excruciating, not least because they tend to be relentlessly devotional. The Renaissance arrives as a breath of fresh air – at last, people who can actually draw! – and soon thereafter there appear paintings on mundane and classical themes.

    Given a choice between Aphrodite and Saint Stepen, I’ll take the goddess of love over the human pincushion any day.

    Among its treasures the Vatican has an exhibit of contemporary religious art. I toured it and highly recommend skipping it.

  20. #20 wolfwalker
    September 19, 2007

    I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to modern art other than photography, but for at least some of what I’ve seen, the English word “degenerate” would not be an inaccurate descriptive. Regardless of the religious views of the artist, which in most cases I don’t know anyway.

    That said, however, this bishop should crawl away into a hole for a while. Either his mouth outran his mind, which is always a bad thing in a public figure, or he really meant to use the word he used, complete with connotations — which is also a bad thing in a public figure.

    (Though I can’t help noticing that what this bishop said about atheists, nasty connotations and all, seems to me to be no more unpleasant than what a number of atheist-bloggers like PZ routinely say about religious folk.)

  21. #21 M. Gemmill
    September 19, 2007

    Hmmm…

    I wonder if the cardinal’s mind is taking this (perhaps unconscious) leap:

    Jews = Communists = atheists

    Not an uncommon line of thinking for the peculiar brand of European-right wing ideology that blends antisemitism with anti-communism. Though I thought that particular logical leap had pretty much died with the Soviet Union. But then again, maybe not…

  22. #22 Melissa G
    September 19, 2007

    I would just like to point out the Melissa who commented above is NOT ME!!! I’m going to start commenting with my URL to eliminate any potential confusion.

    FWIW, I am an atheist artist, but I’m not sure what is meant by the term “atheist art.”

  23. #23 bernarda
    September 21, 2007

    I don’t care if you decide to not have this or any of my posts appear, but I am giving this link for you who throws the epitaph “anti-semite” against anyone who disagrees with your rightwing zionism.

    http://www.alternet.org/story/62618/

    I was partially educated by reading some of these Jews mentioned who are called “anti-semite”.

    “In 1981, my father went, as a delegate of the B’nai B’rith Jewish service organization, to a meeting of the Cape Town chapter of the Jewish Board of Deputies, the governing body of South Africa’s Jewish communal institutions. The topic of the meeting was “Anti-Semitism on Campus.” My father was pretty shocked and deeply embarrassed when Exhibit A of this phenomenon turned out to be something I’d published in a student newspaper condemning an Israeli raid on Lebanon.”

    Here is another extract,

    “Jimmy Carter — who was called a “Holocaust denier” (yes, a Holocaust denier!) for using the apartheid analogy in his book on Israel — and Mearsheimer and Walt might have reason for skepticism as well. But I’d argue that the renewed ferocity of recent attacks on those who have strayed from the nationalist straight and narrow has been a product of panic in the Jewish establishment — a panic born of the fact that its losing its grip. As in the former Soviet Union with the actual glasnost moment, this is a process, once started, that’s only likely to be accelerated by such witch-hunting.”

    I don’t say anything very different that what many Jews cited in this article say. You rather remind me of the Masada 2000 org mentioned and the zionist establishment,

    “Clearly, much has changed, and the ability of the Zionist establishment — the America Israel Political Action Committee, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and others — to impose nationalist boundaries on Jewish identity is being eroded. It’s worth remembering in this context that anti-Zionism was originally a Jewish movement — the majority of European Jews before World War II rejected the Zionist movement and its calls for a mass migration from Europe to build a Jewish nation-state in Palestine.”

  24. #24 Orac
    September 21, 2007

    The article you cite is off-topic. It has nothing to do with the subject of this post. Remember, the posts to which I linked were indeed seriously anti-Semitic. Indeed, the second post linked to in the post states:

    Jews cannot create art anymore than they can create anything – Jews are parasites and destroyers and that is simply all they are.

    That’s about as anti-Semitic as it gets. By comparing apples and oranges, you make yourself look foolish by trying to excuse real anti-Semitism by pointing out criticisms of Israel.

  25. #25 bernarda
    September 22, 2007

    As I said orac, I only posted for you, for your education. You should just delete my post.

    You regularly make yourself look foolish.

  26. #26 Scott
    September 23, 2007

    Hi Orac,
    This doesn’t really apply to this post but to your Holocaust denialism theme.
    I was just curious if you could figure out what Scott Adams is trying to say in this post about Ahmadinejad? My comedy skills are pretty low but I read it as either the Iranian president doesn’t deny the Holocaust or denying the Holocaust isn’t wrong because Isrealis do bad things. Maybe I’m missing the point but it looks like Adams is extending his ‘critical thinking’ from evolution to the Holocaust. Anyway thought it might provide good blog fodder.

  27. #27 Curt Maynard
    October 10, 2007

    It’s obvious that most of you are fools and require a little education about Jews and their ugly history. If you find anything within my essay factually incorrect, let me know, I’ll change it and give you honorable mention:

    It’s the Jews Stupid by Curt Maynard

    Google it, I’m famous

  28. #28 Steve_HT
    October 10, 2007

    Curt Maynard wrote:

    > Google it, I’m famous

    Hi Curt. Never heard of you. I’m going to skip on Googling you so that next time someone asks if I know you, I can honestly say “who?”

  29. #29 Orac
    October 10, 2007

    Ah, Curt. You white racists aren’t too bright, are you?

    Yes, I’ve seen your silly little essay. It boils down to nothing more than the standard anti-Semitic tropes that the “Jews” control the media and the world. Really, you don’t think it’s original or intelligent, do you? It’s the same stuff idiots like you have been spewing for decades, if not centuries. It’s no less odious now than it was then. You’re even stupid enough to spout 9/11 “Truth” conspiracy theories.

    To show how benevolent I am, however, I’ll include a link to your essay. Maybe I’ll have some fun deconstructing it sometime in the next week or two.

  30. #30 curt maynard
    October 10, 2007

    Orac, you’re a typical kike, I give you the opportunity to critique my work, and to do so on a public forum, and all you can come back with is the same old Jewish bullshit.

  31. #31 Curt Maynard
    October 11, 2007

    Orac, that link leads to a corrupt version of my essay, no doubt intentional on your part. Here’s a link to a much better version.

    http://pcapostate.blogspot.com/2006/06/its-jews-stupid.html

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