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

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Art and Race

It is a matter of daily observation that works of art are subject to judgments differing from one another to such an extent, indeed contradicting each other so thoroughly, that one would scarcely believe such an emotional divergence possible. The customary explanation, that tastes simply do not agree, is hardly satisfying. For the emotional orientation from which the artistic judgment derives cannot be purely accidental, falling now this way, now that, but must have as its basis a regularity that can be exposed and recognized, at least in broad terms. Should it be possible to prove that every artistic judgment is at least in part bound to race, then we will have made a good start on overcoming the torment of apparently unfounded and therefore incomprehensible contradictions.

To this end, it will be initially demonstrated how the relation between the physicality of the artist and his work is one of inextricable dependence, and how impossible it is for him to surpass the conditions of his own corporeality. A recognition, however, of this close relation simultaneously establishes the contrary procedure, which allows us to draw inferences from the artwork (or the judgment of such) to the artist (or the one making the judgment). Thus is it possible to gain information about the racial basis of the population not only from works of the past; rather in regard to the present, too, it is possible to arrive at interpretations of artistic products which explain certain things that would otherwise remain enigmatic.

My own observations of this sort have their beginnings nearly thirty years ago. By changing my place of residence and settling in the countryside, I became subject to a series of perceptions explainable by noting that a certain type of behavior, certain judgments and capacities, must somehow be tied to the specific population groupings. The groups were clearly distinct from one another in physical appearance, though they occupied more or less the same geographical location. Little of ethnology was known at that time so I could be guided only by that which clearly and unmistakably appeared to my own eyes: that there were two different kinds of people living there, which I identified according to the historical origins of the locality as the Sorbs (Wends) and the Franks. The former were the original inhabitants of the area and were subordinated by the Franks, who pressed in upon them from the south and the west. This process of colonization was well established everywhere. I was only a little astonished that the physical and mental characteristics of these two populations, despite a thousand years of living together, had been maintained to such an extent that they continue to this day to be clearly distinct. Having found my investigation of the particularities of each of these two groups to be extraordinarily instructive, I turned my attention to ethnology, the development of which was being powerfully stimulated at the time by modern biology.

My fascination with ethnological studies has stayed with me. It became truly fruitful, however, only as I supplemented it with the doctrine of heredity, without which these observations would lack a proper context. From a phenomenon so clearly observed and understood in context, there then developed the designation of the homo alpinus and the homo nordicus, the representatives of which confronted me as Wends and Franks. Numerous measurements demonstrated to my satisfaction that, at least in regard to predominant type, it remains possible today to distinguish those with rounded from those with elongated heads, even if considerable intermixing has substantially effaced the distinction. (As, in general, the length-versus-breadth index cannot legitimately claim the importance still commonly attributed to it. It is certainly one of the many indications of race, but not the indication.) It is of course not without aesthetic significance that the narrow face of the northern type corresponds to the elongated skull, as likewise the alpine habitat harmonizes with the broad skull.

Racial interpretations became so familiar to me over time that I could not avoid relating them to my work as a specialist. The original plan, however, of devoting a chapter of a new edition of my Cultural Investigations (1922) to these racial observations had to be abandoned, since the topic had come to exceed by far the range of a single chapter. A separate volume would not have fit into the structure of that work, which was complete in itself, and thus I was happy to accept the proposal of the Lehmanns Verlag and have it appear independently as a book.

For it to be useful by itself, it was necessary to supply it with a rather short introduction to the central problems of ethnology and the law of heredity, as well as the basic features of racial hygiene. Perhaps those already familiar with these doctrines will nevertheless be interested in the treatment of the relevant questions from the point of view of art, while taking into account that one cannot assume even in educated circles a knowledge of the basic doctrines.

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