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Alfred Kurella on "The Influence of Decadence" (July 1957)

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Elfin Dance . . .

For at the same time another process is taking place: thanks to the workers’ movement, thanks to the emergence of Socialist existential relationships in those countries in which Socialism has been victorious politically, new, enormous masses of the working people are being brought into contact with culture, are developing cultural needs, and are being given the material possibilities for satisfying them. For generations, the life of the old ruling class was for them the embodiment of an unattainable happiness, a kind of model. Their ideas about what is beautiful, noble, and pleasant for now still carry the imprint of their previous way of life. Now they have the means and the desire for once to live a “cultivated” life, as well, to hang a nice painting on the wall, to listen to a lovely tune, to read a moving or thrilling book. But what, then, should they do with the works of art that were created under the banner of decadence, in a sphere of life alien to them, a sphere of morbid impulses and sickly needs? And so they end up with Courths-Mahler, with the “Elfin Dance,” with “Weißes Rößl” and “Rastelbinder” or their surrogates, which enterprising “art” producers today furnish them with.

In the studios and rooms of an entire army of young artists – where people often shrug at someone who paints a picture that really shows something – the painted pieces of canvas that nobody is interested in are now accumulating. Sometimes they are even talented pieces, but nearly always fragments, suggestions, somehow non-committal. You cannot fault anyone if he does not decide to buy something like that to hang in his living room for ten or fifteen years. But there are now many people who are making higher cultural demands and who have the money, too, to buy something. What do they do? They purchase one of the countless “Matterhorns” or go to auctions, where they are offered an original copy of “Elfin Dance.”

. . . or Kokoschka

Let us recall a minor scandal that took place back at the five-year anniversary of the Herbert Roth ensemble. There was a student demonstration against the “Rennsteig Song,” a counterdemonstration by workers, and suddenly it seemed like there was only one choice: either Nolde and Kokoschka or Elfin Dance, either Stravinsky or the Rennsteig Song. And that choice occurs every day. Why? Because a large part of our older (but also younger) artists have retained ideas about the arts that block their path to a solution to the real artistic problems of our times. In the different variations of decadent art they see almost necessary phases of a “modern” development, whereby “modern” is an abstract, purely chronological term. They imagine the artistic process as an uninterrupted flow, where whatever is the latest is also truly the “newest,” the progressive to be affirmed.

Our theorists have not been able to reveal the decaying nature of modern bourgeois art, and to make clear that certain forms of modern art arise as the expressive means of very specific, decaying ideas of man and his future, and cannot be used randomly, disconnected from these ideas, for other feelings, ideas, and thoughts. It is difficult to swim against the “modern” stream in the arts today and to recover the great tradition. It is especially difficult in Germany, in the greater part of which a political restoration is accompanied by an imitative renaissance of earlier phases of decadent art.

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