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Paul Schultze-Naumburg, "Art and Race" (1928)

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This lack of knowledge is most clearly evidenced by the fact that many people tend to fly into a passion even at the mere mention of the racial idea. And the less knowledge they have, the more bitterly they quarrel and fight. There is, however, no better means of subduing and reconciling the conflict than an honest attempt to become acquainted with the problem as a whole. The result is that a question previously answered on the basis of belief and opinion becomes subject to natural scientific examination, thus allowing at least those who make an honest attempt to find a common ground for discussion.

[ . . . ]

Art, however, offers us instruction not only concerning the races that make up a people and, through a process of internal variation, more or less change its essential type; it also yields information concerning higher or lower instances within races or racial mixtures. The attempt will be made in the next chapter to depict how and under what circumstances changes in the body of the nation have appeared over the last hundred years and how they may be recognized in art. Let us take as a given the presupposition that this downward selection has taken place to a considerable degree—here on the basis of the otherwise unerring testimony of art. The question remains as to the reasons a people could, over a relatively short period of time, cease to venerate a highly evolved and noble human type to which an earlier time had willingly subjected itself, even if not all of the individuals composing the people were able to emulate the somewhat alien type in their own lives.

It is very instructive to wander through the art of the present with this idea in mind. For this purpose the form of customary art criticism, which is usually concerned with examining and determining the intensity and clarity of expression, is inappropriate. The extent to which contemporary artistic activity can be considered a genuine cross-section of our entire culture and the population underlying it will be left undecided for the moment. But if we assume that art is in fact to be regarded as a summarizing expression of our time, it is difficult to overlook the extraordinarily significant conclusions it suggests.

The most important problem is always the human type: how it confronts us in the paintings and sculptures not only as predominant but as dominant. As the central characteristic it is evident that the representation of the Nordic type in German art today can be found only as a very rare exception, and then as a rule only in lower instances. In matters of human representation, exotic foreign characteristics prevail. Within the latter type, however, it is noteworthy that there is a strong inclination not to represent the nobler instances of the type, but unmistakably those that approximate primitive humans, extending all the way to the grinning mugs of animal-like cave-dwellers. Moreover, we see a preference for and an emphasis on the symptoms of degeneration, as they are known to us from the multitude of the downfallen, the sick, and the physically deformed.

The activities chosen for representation in contemporary art, and which in every art are extremely characteristic of an era, refer more or less to a physical and moral nadir as well. Were one to name the symbols that find expression in the majority of the paintings and sculptures of our period, they would be the idiot, the prostitute, and the sagging breast. One has to call things by their right name. Spreading out here before us is a genuine hell of inferior human beings, and one sighs in relief upon leaving this atmosphere for the pure air of other cultures—in particular that of antiquity and the early Renaissance in which a noble race struggled to express its own longings in art. It is necessary to assume that the reader is acquainted with the representations filling today’s art exhibits and the horror chambers of museums, those works about which the master advertisers are always crying “unheard of, unheard of.” This book can do no more than refresh the memory with a few small illustrations and evoke an idea of the world into which the creators of these pictures are attempting to lead us.

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