Thursday, May 03, 2007

Nazi Aesthetics

Bryan "the Brownshirt" Ferry.

I'm in Texas right now, having spent the last ten days in the canyons and deserts of northern Mexico. It's a hard life. One day soon I shall post on my experiences, until then here's a piece ,that was commissioned by news website thefirspost. The article was pegged to popstar Bryan Ferry's recent remarks in Germany, when he controversially said "some Nazi Art was good".

As it happens thefirstpost never ran the piece - because they thought it trivialised the issue, by mentioning uniforms and stuff. See what you think. They paid me anyway.

Totalitarian Art

Can Nazi art ever be any good? Anyone who's seen the steroidal nudes of Arno Breker (Hitler's favourite sculptor) or the bombastic designs for Hitler's "New Berlin" (thankfully never built) would probably say no. And this is the easy answer, too - because it chimes with out revulsion for Nazism.

But this reaction is wrong. The truth, whether we like it or not, is that totalitarian cultures, even ones as vile as the Nazis, can produce great art.

Leni Riefenstahl's films are a classic example. Triumph of the Will, her 1930s movie of the Nuremburg Rallies, is a kinetic and mesmerising sequence of images, full of lissom athletes, singing soldiers, waving swastikas, and wildly applauding Bavarians. The whole movie approaches the status of the ideal art work - a marriage of picture, sound and word - which Wagner called Gesamstkunstwerk. Maybe its no coincidence that Wagner himself has been accused of fascist aesthetics.

It is also seems pointless to deny that the Nazis had a flair for design - in things like flags, parades, banners, and uniforms. Compared to the dowdy khakis of the Allies, the average SS officer's death-black uniform, with its double slashed lightning insignia, was a masterpiece of macho couture. The rumour is that the uniforms were designed by Hugo Boss.

True or not, such things have an effect. The diarist Taki saw the Germans swagger into his conquered Greek hometown, when he was a young boy. He has written since about his juvenile admiration for the glamorous, leathercoated Wehrmacht.

And this, in the end, is the point. If we don't admit that the Nazis had a certain glamour, even brilliance, we can never understand why their repulsive politics was equally seductive, to the foolish, the unlucky and the confused. And if we try to bury the truth about extremist art, we might, in time, in become vulnerable to its attraction ourselves.


Stonch said...

Why do you always feel the need to stick up for the far-right, or those who express sympathy with the far-right, and now those who express admiration for the art of the far-right? It always seems to be the far-right!

I am not suggesting you yourself are of that persuasion, but you certainly seem to have an unhealthy interest...

Anonymous said...

Stonch, old chap, this is the umpteenth time you have trotted out this "theory". Suggests to me you are the one with the unhealthy interest - in my political beliefs. I think underneath you would just LOVE to discover i'm a Nazi.

Go on, you would, wouldn't you? It would make you feel all melty and hot. Oooohhh....

I suggest you return to more wholesome thoughts.


Anonymous said...

Why is an interest in nazi art 'unhealthy'? A knee-jerk reaction if ever there was one.

I can see the attraction of Nazi art and architecture, and i'm pretty muchas liberal as they come...

Nazi architecture in particular evokes a fleeting moment of an era that has (thankfully) been lost forever and almost every trace of which has been covered over and deleted. That's part of its fascination.

But when you look at the Olympic stadium in Berlin, for example, among the mediocrity of what passes for contemporary architecture, you have to hand it to the Nazis: they had vision. And a vision is the basis of all art...