July 18, 1937
In the collapse of Germany after the war the economic decline had been generally felt, the political decline had been denied by many, the cultural decline had not even been observed by the majority of the people. It was an age of phrases and catchwords: in the economic sphere the hard facts of misery and unemployment deprived these phrases of their force: in the political sphere such phrases as ‘international solidarity’ had more success and veiled from the German people the extent of the political collapse. But in the long run the failure of the parliamentary democratic form of government, copied from the west – a west which, regardless of this democratic form, still continued to extort from Germany whatever there remained to extort – defeated the phrase-mongers. Far more lasting was the effect of these phrases in the cultural field where they resulted in a complete confusion concerning the essential character of culture. Here the influence of the Jews was paramount and through their control of the press they were able to intimidate those who wanted to champion ‘the normal sound intelligence and instinct of men’. Art was said to be ‘an international experience’ and thus all comprehension of its intimate association with a people was stifled: it was said that there was no such thing as the art of a people or, better, of a race: there was only the art of a certain period. Thus it was not Greeks who created the art of Greece, Romans the art of Rome, etc. – in each art a particular period had found its expression. Art is a ‘time-conditioned phenomenon’. So today there is not a German or a French art, but a ‘modern art’. This is to reduce art to the level of fashions in dress, with the motto ‘Every year something fresh’ – Impressionism, Futurism, Cubism, perhaps also Dadaism. These newly created art phrases would be comic if they were not tragic.
The result was uncertainty in the judgements passed on art and the silencing of those who might otherwise have protested against this cultural Bolshevism [Kulturbolschewismus], while the press continued to poison our sound appreciation of art. And, just as in fashions one must wear ‘modern’ clothes whether they are beautiful or not, so the great masters of the past were decried. But true art is, and remains, eternal: it does not follow the law of the season’s fashions; its effect is that of a revelation arising from the depths of the essential character of a people which successive generations may inherit. But those who do not create for eternity do not readily talk of eternities: they seek to dim the radiance of these giants who reach out of the past into the future in order that contemporaries may discover their own tiny flames. These facile daubers in art are but the products of a day: yesterday – non-existent; today – modern; tomorrow – out-of-date. The Jewish discovery that art was just a matter of period was for them a godsend: theirs could be the art of the present time. Theirs was a small art – small in form and substance – and at the same time intolerant of the masters of the past and the rivals of the present. There was a conspiracy of incapacity and mediocrity against better work from any age. The nouveaux riches, having no judgements of their own in artistic matters, accepted these artists at their own valuation. It was an added attraction that these works of art were difficult to understand and on that account very costly: no one wished to admit lack of comprehension or inadequate resources! But, if one does not oneself understand, probably one’s neighbour will not either, and he will admire one’s comprehension of obscurity.
For this ‘modern art’ National Socialism desires to substitute a ‘German’ art and an eternal art. This House of German Art is designed for the art of the German people, not for an international art. The people in the flux of phenomena are the one constant point. It is that which is abiding and permanent and therefore art as the expression of the essential character of the abiding people must be an eternal monument, itself abiding and permanent; there can therefore be no standard of yesterday and today, of modern or un-modern; there can be only the standard of ‘valueless’ or ‘valuable’, of ‘eternal’ or ‘transitory’. Therefore, in speaking of ‘German art’, I shall see the standard for that art in the German people, in its character and life, in its feeling, its emotions and its development.
From the history of the development of our people we know that it is composed of a number of more or less distinct races, which in the course of millennia through the formative influence of a certain outstanding racial kernel produced that mixture that we see before us in our people today. This force – which formed the people in time past and which still today continues that formative activity – lies in the same Aryan branch of mankind that we recognise not only as the support of our own civilisation but of the earlier civilisations of the ancient world.
The way in which our people was composed has produced the variety in our own cultural development but, as we look upon the final result of this process, we cannot but wish for an art that may correspond to the increasing homogeneity of our racial composition, and thus present in itself the characteristics of unity and homogeneity. Many attempts have been made through the centuries to define what ‘to be German’ really means. I would not seek to give an explanation in the first instance. I would rather state a law – a law previously expressed by a great German: ‘To be German is to be clear’, and that means that to be German is to be logical and true. It is this spirit that has always lived in our people, which has inspired painters, sculptors, architects, thinkers, poets, and above all our musicians. When on 6 June 1931 the Crystal Palace [Glaspalast] was burned down, there perished with it an immortal treasure of German art. The artists were called Romantics and yet they were but the finest representatives of that German search for the real and true character of our people, for an honest and decent expression of this law of life divined by our people. For it was not only their choice of subject that was decisive but the clear and simple mode of rendering these sentiments. Many of their original works are lost, we possess only copies or reproductions, but the works of these masters are removed by a great gulf from the pitiable products of our modern so-called ‘creative artists’. These masters felt themselves to be Germans, and consequently they created works that should be valued as long as there should be a German people to appreciate them. But these modern works we should also preserve as documents illustrating the depths of that decline into which the people had fallen. The Exhibition of ‘Degenerate Art’ [Entartete Kunst] is intended as a useful lesson.
During the long years in which I planned the formation of a new Reich I gave much thought to the tasks which would await us in the cultural cleansing of the people’s life: there was to be a cultural renaissance as well as a political and economic reform. I was convinced that peoples who have been trodden underfoot by the whole world of their day have all the greater duty consciously to assert their own value before their oppressors, and there is no prouder proof of the highest rights of a people to its own life than immortal cultural achievements. I was therefore always determined that, if fate should one day give us power, I should discuss these matters with no-one else but would come to my own decisions, for it is not given to all to have an understanding for tasks as great as these. Amongst the plans which floated before my mind both during the war and after the collapse was the idea of building a great new exhibition palace in Munich; and many years ago I thought of the place where the building now stands. In 1931 I feared that I should be anticipated and that the ‘men of November’ would erect an exhibition building. Plans were indeed produced for an edifice that might well have served for a railway station or a swimming bath. But, when we came to power in 1933, the plan had not been executed: the erection of the building was left to the Third Reich. And the building is so unique, so individual that it cannot be compared with anything else: it is a true monument for this city and more than that – for German art… It represents a turning point, the first of the new buildings that will take their place amongst the immortal achievements of German artistic life.
But the House is not enough: it must house an exhibition and, if now I venture to speak of art, I can claim a title to do so from the contribution that I myself have made to the restoration of German art. For our modern German state, which I with my associates have created, has alone brought into existence the conditions for a new and vigorous flowering of art. It is not Bolshevik art collectors or their henchmen who have laid the foundations, for we have provided vast sums for the encouragement of art and have set before art itself great, new tasks. In politics, as in German artistic life, we are determined to make a clean sweep of empty phrases. Ability is the necessary qualification if an artist wishes his work to be exhibited here. People have attempted to recommend modern art by saying that it is the expression of a new age but art does not create a new age, it is the general life of peoples that fashions itself anew and often looks for a new expression… A new epoch is not created by littérateurs but by warriors, those who really fashion and lead the peoples and thus make history… It is either impudent effrontery or an almost inconceivable stupidity to exhibit to people today works that might have been made by a man of the Stone Age perhaps ten or twenty thousand years ago. They talk of primitive art but they forget that it is not the function of art to retreat backwards from the development of a people: its sole function must be to symbolise that living development.
The new age of today is at work on a new human type. Men and women are to be healthier and stronger. There is a new feeling of life, a new joy in life. Never was humanity in its external appearance and in its frame of mind nearer to the ancient world than it is today… This, my good prehistoric art stutterers, is the type of the new age, but what do you manufacture? Malformed cripples and cretins, women who inspire only disgust, men who are more like wild beasts, children who, were they alive, would have to be seen as cursed by God.
And let no one tell me that this is how these artists see things. From the pictures sent in for exhibition it is clear that the eye of some men portrays things otherwise than as they are, that there really are men who on principle feel meadows to be blue, the heavens green, clouds sulphur-yellow, or, as perhaps they prefer to say, ‘experience’ them thus. I need not ask whether they really do see or feel things in this way, but in the name of the German people I have only to prevent these miserable unfortunates, who clearly suffer from defects of vision, from attempting violently to persuade contemporaries by their chatter that these faults of observation are indeed realities or from presenting them as ‘art’. There are only two possibilities here. Either these ‘artists’ really do see things in this way and believe in what they represent. Then one has only to ask how the defect in vision arose, and if it is hereditary the Minister for the Interior will have to see to it that so ghastly a defect of vision shall not be allowed to perpetuate itself. Or if they do not believe in the reality of such impressions but seek on other grounds to burden the nation with this humbug, then it is a matter for a criminal court. There is no place for such works in this building. The industry of architects and workmen has not been employed to house canvases daubed over in five hours, the painters being assured that the boldness of the pricing could not fail to produce its effect, that the canvas would be hailed as the most brilliant lightning creation of a genius. No, they can be left to cackle over each other’s eggs!
The artist does not create for the artist. He creates for the people, and we shall see to it that the people in future will be called on to judge his art. No one must say that the people have no understanding for a really valuable enrichment of its cultural life. Before the critics did justice to the genius of a Richard Wagner, he had the people on his side, whereas the people have had nothing to do with so-called ‘modern art’. The people have regarded this art as the outcome of an impudent and shameless arrogance or of a simply deplorable lack of skill. It has felt that this art stammer, these achievements, which might have been produced by untalented children of eight to ten years old, could never be considered an expression of our own times or of the German future. When we know today that the development of millions of years, compressed into a few decades, repeats itself in every individual, then this art, we realise, is not ‘modern’. It is on the contrary extremely ‘archaic’, far older probably than the Stone Age. The people in passing through these galleries will recognise in me its own spokesman and counsellor. It will draw a sigh of relief and gladly express its agreement with this purification of art. And that is decisive: an art that cannot count on the readiest and most intimate agreement of the great mass of the people, an art which must rely upon the support of small cliques, is intolerable. Such an art only tries to confuse, instead of gladly reinforcing, the sure and healthy instinct of a people. The artist cannot stand aloof from his people. This exhibition is only a beginning, but the end of Germany’s artistic stultification has begun. Now is the opportunity for youth to start its industrious apprenticeship, and when a sacred conscientiousness has at last come into its own, then I have no doubt that the Almighty from the mass of these decent creators of art will once more raise up individuals to the eternal starry Heaven of the imperishable God-favoured artists of the great periods. We believe that especially today, when in so many spheres the highest individual achievements are being manifested, in art also the highest value of personality will once again assert itself.
July 19, 1937
Thus at this time I would like to make the following observation: Before National Socialism acceded to power, there was a so-called “modern” art in Germany, i.e., just as the word itself indicates, a new art every year. National Socialist Germany, in contrast, wishes to re-establish a “German art,” and this art shall and will be eternal, just as is every other creative merit of a people. If it lacks such eternal merit for our Volk, then it is today without significant merit as well.
When the cornerstone was laid for this building, it marked the beginning of construction of a temple not for a so-called modern, but for a genuine and eternal German art-or better: a building for the art of the German Volk and not for some international art of 1937, ’40, ’50, or ’60. For art is not established in terms of a time, but only in terms of peoples. Thus the artist does not so much erect a memorial to a time, but rather to his people. For time is something changeable: the years come and go. Whatever would exist only within a certain time would have to be as transient as time itself. And not only what was accomplished before our time would fall prey to this transience; it would also encompass what is being accomplished today or will be shaped at some future time.
We National Socialists acknowledge only one type of transience, and that is the transience of the Volk itself. We know the reasons. As long as a Volk prevails, it constitutes the calming influence in the world of fleeting phenomena. It is that which is abiding and permanent! And hence art, too, as the characteristic feature of this abiding, constitutes an immortal monument, itself abiding and permanent, and thus there is no such criterion as yesterday and today, or modern and out of date; instead, there is but the single criterion of “worthless” or “valuable,” and hence “immortal” or “transient.” And this immortality lies anchored in the life of the peoples as long as these themselves are immortal, i.e. prevail. [-] The question has often been asked what it really means “to be German.” Among all the definitions which have been put forth by so many men throughout the centuries, there is one I find most fitting; one which makes no attempt whatsoever to provide any basic explanation, but instead simply states a law. The most marvelous law I can imagine as the lifelong task for my Volk in this world is one a great German once expressed as: “To be German means to be clear!” Yet that would signify that to be German means to be logical and above all to be true.
A splendid law-yet also one that puts every individual under an obligation to subordinate himself to it and thus abide by it. Taking this law as a startingpoint, we will arrive at a universally applicable criterion for the correct character of our art, because it will correspond to the life-governing law of our Volk.
A deep-felt, inner yearning for such a true German art bearing the marks of this law of clarity has always been alive in our Volk. It inspired our great painters, our sculptors, those who have designed our architecture, our thinkers and poets, and perhaps above all our musicians. On that fateful sixth of June, 1931, when the old Glass Palace went up in flames, an immortal treasure of truly German art perished with it in the fire. They were called “Romantics” and yet were the most splendid representatives of that German search for the real and true character of our Volk and for a sincere and decent expression of this inwardly-sensed law of life.
What was decisive in characterizing the German being was not only the choice of subject matter they portrayed, but also their clear and simple way of rendering these sentiments.
And thus it is no coincidence that these masters were closest to the most German-and hence most natural-part of our Volk. These masters were and remain immortal, even today when many of their works no longer exist in the original but have been preserved only as copies or reproductions. Yet how far removed were the deeds and works of these men from that pitiful marketing of so many of our so-called modern “creative artists,” from their unnatural smearing and dabbling which could only be cultivated, sponsored and approved of by the doings of characterless and unscrupulous men of letters and which were always completely alien-and in fact detestable-to the German Volk with its sound instincts? Our German Romantics of yore had not the slightest intention of being or wanting to be ancient or even modern. Feeling and sensing as Germans, they naturally assumed their works would correspondingly be valued permanently- corresponding to the lifetime of the German Volk.
In 1931, the National Socialist takeover was still so far off in the distant future that there was scarcely a chance to provide for the construction of a new exhibition palace for the Third Reich.
In fact, for a while it did seem as though the “men of November” would provide an edifice for the exhibition of art in Munich which would have had as little to do with German art as it, conversely, reflected the Bolshevist affairs and circumstances of their time. Many of you perhaps still recall the plans for that building which was intended for the old Botanical Garden which has now been given such a beautiful design. A building quite difficult to define. An edifice which could just as easily have been a Saxon thread factory as the market hall of a mid-sized city-or perhaps a train station, or then again even an indoor swimming pool. I need not press upon you how I suffered at the thought back then that the first misfortune would be followed by yet another. And that therefore, in this case in particular, I was truly glad, really happy about the fainthearted lack of determination on the part of my political opponents at the time. In it lay perhaps the only chance of maybe ultimately saving the erection of a palace for art exhibitions in Munich to become the first great undertaking of the Third Reich.
Now, you will all understand that I am presently filled with truly painful concern that Providence has not allowed us to witness this day with that man who, as one of the greatest German architects, drew up the plans for this work immediately after the takeover.
When I approached Professor Ludwig Troost, who was already working on the Party buildings at that time, with the request to erect an edifice for exhibiting art on this square, that exceptional man had already produced a number of grandly-conceived sketches for such an edific-ecorresponding to the specifications given at the time-on the site of the old Botanical Garden. And these plans, too, revealed his masterful skill! He nonetheless did not even send these plans to the jury as part of the competition-for the sole reason, as he bitterly confessed to me, that he was convinced it would have been a completely futile endeavor to submit such work to a forum which regarded all sublime and decent art as detestable, and whose sole aim and ultimate purpose was the Bolshevization-in other words, the chaotic infiltration-of our entire German and hence cultural life. Thus the public never became aware of these plans at all. Later it did come to know the new draft which now stands consummated before you.
And this new concept of building-you will all have to concede this today- is a truly great and artistic success. This edifice is so unique and so original that it cannot be compared to anything else.
There is no such thing as a building of which one could say that it is the original, and this here is the copy. As all truly great creative works of architecture, this building is unique and memorable; not only will it remain, in its originality, in everyone’s memory-moreover, it is in itself a symbol, yes, I might even say it is a true monument to this city and above and beyond that to German art.
At the same time, this masterpiece is great in beauty and practical in its design and features, without allowing any utilitarian technical requirements to dominate the work as a whole. It is a temple of art, not a factory, not a district heating plant, not a train station, and not an electric reversing plant! This great and unique artistic structure matches the specifications and the site itself; moreover, the precious materials used and the painstakingly exact execution do so as well. I am talking about the careful execution which is part of the great school of that departed master who wanted this building not to be a market place for artistic goods but rather a temple of art. And it has been in accordance with his wishes that his successor, Professor Gall, has loyally adhered to this legacy and brilliantly continued construction, advised and accompanied by a woman who has a proud right not only to bear the name but also the title of her husband.156 Master builder Heiger later became the third to join the group. Its plans have now been carried out and completed by the industriousness and artistry of German workers and craftsmen.
Hence an edifice has been built which is worthy of providing the highest accomplishments of art the opportunity to show themselves to the German Volk. And therefore the construction of this building shall also mark a turning point, putting an end to the chaotic architectural bungling of the past. This is one of the first new buildings to take its fitting place among the immortal achievements in the history of German art-life.
You will, however, understand that it cannot suffice to donate this building to the German fine arts, this building that is so decent, clear-cut and genuine that we can rightly call it a Haus der Deutschen Kunst; the exhibition itself must now work toward bringing about a change from the deterioration we have witnessed in art, sculpture and painting.
When I presume at this time to pass judgment, to voice my views and to take action corresponding to these insights, I am claiming the right to do so not only because of my attitude toward German art as such, but above all because of the contribution I myself have made to the restoration of German art. For it was this modern state-which I won over and organized with my fellow fighters in a long and difficult struggle against a world of adversaries- that has provided the great basis upon which German art can blossom new and strong.
It has not been Bolshevist art collectors and their literary henchmen who have laid the foundations for the establishment of a new art or even ensured that art can survive in Germany; we have been the ones, we who breathed life into this state and have been allocating immense sums to German art ever since, funds it needs to ensure its survival and its work, and above all: we are the ones because we ourselves have assigned to art new and great tasks.
Had I accomplished nothing else in my life but this one structure here, I would already have done more for German art than all the ludicrous scribblers in our former Jewish newspapers or the petty art-dabblers (Kunstkleckser) who, anticipating their own transience, have nothing to recommend themselves but their own praise of the modernity of their creations.
Yet I know that, quite independent of this new work, the new German Reich will bring about a tremendous blossoming in German art, for never before has it been assigned more gigantic tasks than is the case in this Reich today and will be the case in the future. And never before have the funds thus required been appropriated more generously than in National Socialist Germany.
Yet when I speak before you here today, I am also speaking as the representative of this Reich, and just as I believe in the eternity of this Reich- which is to be nothing other than the living organism comprised of our Volk – I am likewise capable only of believing in and hence working on and for an eternal German art.
The art of this new Reich therefore cannot be gauged by the standards of ancient or modern; rather, as German art, it will have to secure its immortality in our history.
The fact is, art is not a fashion. Just as the essence and blood of our Volk does not change, so must art, too, dispose of its transient character in order to embody instead in its constantly improving creations a graphic and worthy expression of our Volk’s course of life. Cubism, Dadaism, Futurism, Impressionism, etc. have nothing to do with our German Volk. For all these terms are neither ancient nor are they modern: they are merely the affected stuttering of people from whom God has withheld the grace of a truly artistic talent and instead whom He endowed with an ability to talk rubbish and to deceive.
Therefore I wish to pledge a vow in this hour that it is my inalterable decision to now purge-just as I have the field of political confusion-the life of German art of phraseology. “Works of art” which cannot be understood in and of themselves but require, as justification for their existence, a bombastic set of instructions as to how to finally discover that shy creature who would patiently accept such stupid or insulting nonsense will from now on no longer find their way to the German Volk! All these catchwords such as, “inner experience,” “strong cast of mind,” “powerful intention,” “promising sensation,” “heroic attitude,” “sympathetic significance,” “time experienced as order,” “primal crudeness,” etc.-all these stupid, false excuses, phrases and prattles will no longer be able to absolve or even recommend themselves for products that show no talent and are hence merely worthless.
If a person has a powerful intention or an inner experience, let him prove it in his work and not in driveling phrases.
Basically, we are all much less interested in so-called intention than in ability. Hence an artist who anticipates exhibiting his work in this building or playing any public role whatsoever in tomorrow’s Germany must have ability.
The intention goes without saying from the very onset! It would be absolutely unthinkable for a person to pester his fellow citizens with works with which he ultimately pursues no aim at all. When these drivelers attempt to make their works attractive by presenting them as the expression of a new age, they must be told that it is not art which creates new times; rather the peoples’ life in general takes on a new shape and therefore frequently attempts to find a new form of expression. Yet those who have been talking about a new art in Germany in the past decades have not understood the new German age. For a new epoch is not shaped by litterateurs but by the fighters, i.e. by those contemporaries who truly shape and lead peoples and hence make history.
These pitiful, muddled artists and scribblers can hardly be deemed as belonging to this group. Furthermore, it is either an insolent affront or a nearly inconceivable stupidity to present works, above all in an age such as ours, which could have been done ten or twenty thousand years ago by a Stone-Age man.
They talk about the primitive nature of art-and completely ignore the fact that it is not the task of art to detach itself backwards from the evolution of a Volk; instead, its task can only be to symbolize the living evolution.
The opening of this exhibition marks the beginning of the end of German infatuation with art (Kunstvernarrung) and with it the destruction of our Volk’s culture. From now on we will wage a ruthless war to eradicate the last few elements that are subverting our culture.
And when one day in this field as well, sacred conscientiousness has been restored to its rightful position, I have no doubt that the Almighty will once more choose those few from among the masses of decent artists and elevate them to the heights of the eternal starry skies where the immortal, divinely-gifted artists of great ages dwell.
For we do not believe that, with the great men of past centuries, the age of the creative power of gifted individuals has ended and will, in the future, be replaced by a respective power of the collective masses! No, we believe that today above all, at a time when superlative individual achievements are being accomplished in so many areas, the most highly-valued power of the individual will once more become triumphantly manifest in the field of art. Therefore, the sole desire I wish to express at this moment is that this new building may be fortunate enough to be able to house within its walls many more works of great artists in coming centuries and to show them to the German Volk, thereby making a contribution not only to the fame of this truly artistic city, but also to the honor and standing of the entire German nation.
With that I hereby declare the 1937 Great German Art Exhibition in Munich open to the public!