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Stefan Heymann, "Cosmopolitanism and Formalism" (December 1, 1949)

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Formalism – Realism

It is regrettable that the discussion about formalism in the visual arts in Germany begun by Alexander Dymschitz was not carried through to the end, or that it ended with nothing to show. But without a complete clarification of these issues one cannot speak of a new development of art in Germany. In my view, the main reason for the basic lack of outcome of the discussion of a year ago is the fact that this discussion was conducted in far too isolated a fashion. The discussion was limited entirely to the formalism-realism problem, without touching on the other questions I have mentioned above.

It is therefore essential for this discussion to be continued and brought to a conclusion by progressive artists. Above all, the point is to show the close connection between a progressive development and realistic art – a connection that Goethe had already discovered.

Our great national struggle for the unity of Germany and peace is linked inseparably not only to the constant strengthening of our Democratic Republic and to the fulfillment and over-fulfillment of the economic plans, but also to the development of a new realistic art. Through their works, German artists can make a substantial and lovely contribution to this battle for our nation’s existence. They can do this not only by being active on behalf of these national goals of our people, as many today already are, but also by creating works that strengthen and elevate the moral and cultural consciousness of our people. This requires above all the complete liquidation of cosmopolitanism in the visual arts.

What emerges from everything that has been said is that the problem of the visual arts is not a question of formal language, but exclusively a matter of ideological clarification. Not uniformity or leveling, but diversity in the means of artistic expression is necessary to reach the goal we have set. Artist and work intimately bound to the people – that is the path to the renewal of the German visual arts.

Source: Stefan Heymann, “Kosmopolitismus und Formalismus” [“Cosmopolitanism and Formalism”], Neues Deutschland, December 1, 1949; reprinted in E. Schubbe, ed., Dokumente zur Kunst-, Literatur- und Kulturpolitik der SED [Documents on the Artistic, Literary, and Cultural Politics of the SED]. Stuttgart: Seewald Verlag, 1972, pp. 127-30.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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