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Paul Schultze-Naumburg and the Domestic Appreciation of Art (1900)

The improvement of everyday life was a prominent concern among educators in Wilhelmine Germany. In 1900, Paul Schultze-Naumburg (1869-1949), a teacher, architect, graphic artist, and critic, led the charge to improve German society, according to his own views, through good painting and interior design in his book Häusliche Kunstpflege [Domestic Appreciation of Art].

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We are confronted with a seemingly remarkable phenomenon. After years of struggle, the art of painting has entered into a calm period; attractive, modern paintings are being created in large numbers; these works have attracted the interest and emotional responsiveness of many people; yes, there are, relatively speaking, many buyers – and yet, one cannot really speak of a general participation in artistic matters by the common man. One constantly hears only complaints from painters about the general situation of the arts; the status of their art becomes more precarious every day, and it seems as though an invisible stone were lying in the path of progress and preventing a healthy further development of the art of painting.

Invisible? No, whoever has eyes can see it.

The development of painting as an art has been so rapid and accelerated that, as a result, it has left all the related arts behind, in a state of atrophy, upon which it depends and in relation to which its own development is actually measured. Now at the height of its development, painting has lost its balance. It is as though a single tree branch had grown by itself to a commanding height and is now exposed and shaken back and forth by the storm. If all the branches grow to the same height, then they will hold their own against the strongest storm.

Today we have modern painting, but, from an aesthetic viewpoint, we lack a cultured, modern house. Where should these countless works of art produced by the paintbrush find a resting place? In the galleries? That is not the purpose of their creation; instead, they demand as a harmonizing framework a home that can be experienced as something just as artistic as the artwork itself. Such a house, however, does not yet exist.

The stylistic turmoil of the ancient Germans, of the Renaissance, of the Rococo did not produce this house. By the same token, just as the spirit of the Middle Ages is hardly alive in us today, we can hardly expect to fit into the space that this spirit created for itself. In all of this, there was no real concern for the development of realistic ideals, about which the words of Otto Ludwig are as appropriate today as they were forty years ago: what counts is the production of realistic ideals, and that means the ideals of our time. It is completely off-target to imitate the ideals of a past era that found their most beautiful possible realization in the creations of the poets and painters of that very era. The task is rather to give to the ideals that are still without form – trembling as mere longing in the hearts and minds of those striving anew towards the present – a genuine form, in which every contemporary person immediately recognizes that which he or she was nourishing, too, but could not configure or visualize.

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