Hitler the Artist and the Fatal Attraction of the Nazis

watercolour by Adolf Hitler

watercolour painted by Adolf Hitler

Fanaticism is, in part, a condition of being overpowered aesthetically.

George Kateb, Patriotism and other mistakes, 2006

Often the postwar transformation of memory took on strange forms, as in the appropriation by Mexicans of the Volkswagen Beetle, originally the Nazi “Strength Through Joy” car, as a national icon in the late 20th century; painted yellow, the vochito, as it is known, is still widely used as a taxi. The Beetle is also a German national icon, the symbol of the 50s economic miracle, with the company manufacturing a “New Beetle”: an example of postmodern retro-chic. Owners of the original cars hold conventions on the old grounds of the Nuremberg rallies, seemingly oblivious of, or indifferent to, the car’s Nazi origins.

Why are we obsessed with the Nazis? Guardian, 6 February 2015

Adolf HitlerLike it or not, how can we fail to recognize in this phenomenon a sign of artistry?

Thomas Mann, Brother Hitler, 1938

Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars… think about it… I think he was quite as good as Jagger. It’s astounding. And, boy, when he hit that stage, he worked an audience. Good God! He was no politician. He was a media artist himself. He used politics and theatrics and created this thing that governed and controlled the show for those 12 years.

David Bowie, as quoted in the excellent Taking it all the right way: was David Bowie a Fascist?, by Arad Alper, 2007

watercolour by Adolf Hitler

watercolour by Adolf Hitler

He envisaged the construction of stupendous public edifices, opera houses, theaters, and museums. He gave lavish financial support to artists and artistic institutions, commissioned works of music, painting, sculpture, and architecture. . . . The entire Reich was to be given a new cultural shape. Even small towns were to have at least one art gallery and those without a concert hall or opera house were to have visits from traveling orchestras and opera companies.

Frederic Spotts, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, Overlook Press, 2003

Welthauptstadt Germania by Albert Speer and Adolf Hitler

Welthauptstadt Germania by Albert Speer and Adolf Hitler

In the opening moments of “Triumph of the Will,” Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi-commissioned film of the 1934 Nuremberg rallies, we find an object lesson in what we might call the Nazis’ “aesthetics of redemption.” A plane is carrying the Führer and his entourage over a picturesque landscape of hills, valleys and churches on its way to Nuremberg. A strident voiceover narrative introduces the scene: “Twenty years after the World War [I], 16 years after the crucifixion of Germany, 19 months after the beginning of Germany’s Renaissance, Hitler flew to Nuremberg to greet his columns of followers.” The plane suddenly appears from the clouds and glides over the countryside, its shadow in the form of a cross. As if in a Second Coming, a Führer has arisen who will save and redeem Germany, and Riefenstahl frames his arrival in the explicit iconography of Christian redemption and messianic deliverance.

James Young, The Terrible Beauty of Nazi Aesthetics, Forward, 25 April 2003

Cathedral of Light at a Nuremberg Rally

Cathedral of Light at a Nuremberg Rally

The anti-Semite has chosen to live on the plane of passion. It is not unusual for people to elect to live a life of passion rather than one of reason. But ordinarily they love the objects of passion: women, glory, power, money. Since the anti-Semite has chosen hate, we are forced to conclude that it is the state of passion that he loves…there are some people who are attracted to the durability of a stone. They wish to be massive and impenetrable; they wish not to change. Where, indeed, would change take them? We have here a basic fear of oneself and of truth…The anti-Semite has chosen hate because hate is a faith; at the outset he has chosen to devaluate words and reasons. How entirely at ease he feels as a result…Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play.

Jean Paul-Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew

armani66Although we insist on the racial diversity of fashion’s current standards of beauty, the fascists’ body ideal has persisted and expanded far beyond Europe. The hallmarks of the Nazi aesthetic — blue eyes, blond hair, athletic fitness and sharp-angled features — are the very elements that define what we call the all-American look, still visible in the mythic advertising landscapes of designers like (the decidedly non-Aryan) Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.

Rhonda Garelick, High Fascism, New York Times, 6 March 2011

prince-harry-631499580Prince Harry has apologised for any offence or embarrassment he has caused. He realises it was a poor choice of costume.

Harry says sorry for Nazi costume, BBC, 13 January 2005

My God, the Nazis knew how to put themselves in the limelight and present themselves. I’m talking about Leni Riefenstahl’s movies and Albert Speer’s buildings and the mass parades and the flags – just amazing. Really beautiful.

Bryan Ferry, ex Roxy Music front man and model for Marks & Spencer, Ferry says sorry for lauding Nazi iconography, Guardian, 17 April 2007

exp.pkg.dior.racial.rant.cnn.640x360Dirty Jewish face, you should be dead. Fucking Asian bastard, I will kill you. I love Hitler and people like you would be dead today. Your mothers, your forefathers, would all be fucking gassed and fucking dead.

‘I love Hitler’: new scandal hits John Galliano, Independent, 1 March 2011

Yes, the Nazis certainly cut on the beat. They didn’t pussyfoot around. I’ve always had a weakness for the Nazi aesthetic. A Stuka will outlive a British Spitfire in our consciousness by millennia. That’s my point of view. While a Spitfire has all those rounded forms and was a very beautiful airplane, the Stuka was a revelation. A lot of Nazi design was amazing. They had such big thoughts. The Stuka was a dive-bomber that swooped down and dropped its bombs with great precision. A special feature about the Stuka was that its bombs were equipped with a little whistle, which is staggeringly cynical but also a sign of artistic surplus

Lars von Trier, The Only Redeeming Factor is the World Ending, Danish Film Institute, 4 May 2011

Picture-52I have no feelings against Chanel. You can’t put someone like Klaus Barbie and Chanel in the same category: she didn’t kill anybody; she didn’t torture anybody.

Hal Vaughan, The Exchange: Coco Chanel and the Nazi Party, New Yorker, 1 September 2011

Let’s raise a toast to Tom for organising the stag do, and if we’re perfectly honest, to the ideology and thought process of the Third Reich.

Tory MP regrets stag party’s Nazi toasts, SS costumes and waiter taunts, 11 December 2011

mallwholeThis place would make Albert Speer seem delicate. Utter simplicity of meaning. No ambiguity…The similarity between the corporate and the bureaucratic states of mind. Anyone of those buildings there you could imagine with an eagle on top, or a swastika, or a hammer and sickle. It makes very little difference to the building. If you forget about the projects and the manifestoes and think about what it actually built, there is no doubt that our culture has its language of political power. It is not linked to any particular ideology, it’s value free, it can mean anything. In the area of public buildings, our century has not yet managed to come up with an architecture of free will.

Robert Hughes on The Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza (from “The Shock of the New”)


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