German Artists who Resisted Adolf Hitler

The discussion points are based on my page on German Artists who Resisted Adolf Hitler:

I would like you to consider the following issues. I have pointed out the relevant notes in the text and the numbers of the primary sources that deal with the subject.

(1) John Heartfield

Notes in the text (1-42) Images (1-12)

Helmut Herzfeld (changed his name to John Heartfield in 1916 in "protest against German nationalism" During the First World War he developed a new art form that became known as photomontage. His work in rarely found in art galleries and originals are not sold for high prices. You can see all his art on his grandson's website here:

The art critic Louis Aragon has pointed out the invention of photography posed a threat to the world of painting and Heartfield responded by using photographs for his own "poetic purpose."

Do you like Heartfield's work? What is it saying? Is art effective as political propaganda?

George Orwell once said: "All art is propaganda; on the other hand, not all propaganda is art." Is Heartfield's work "art"?

(2) George Grosz

Notes in the text (45-104) Images (13-23)

George Grosz became an artist while serving in the German Army during the First World War. What are his drawings and paintings saying about the nature of war? Do you like his art? Are his anti-fascist art works effective? In 1933 Grosz fled to the United States and became one of over 2,500 artists and writers to leave Nazi Germany. Just before Grosz died, he said: "My American dream turned out to be a soap bubble". Why was he not successful as an artist in the United States?

(3) Otto Dix

Notes in the text (105-141) Images (24-33)

Otto Dix, like John Heartfield and George Grosz, became an artist in response to his experiences in the First World War. Whereas Heartfield and Grosz joined the German Communist Party (KPD) after the war, Dix had no interest in politics. When a friend asked him to join the KPD he replied: "I don't want to hear about your stupid politics - I'd rather spend the 5 marks' membership fee on a whore."

Dix justified his non-political stance by the words: "Artists shouldn't try to improve and convert they're far too insignificant for that. They must only bear witness." However, Hitler hated Dix's paintings and as soon as he gained power he was sacked as professor at the Dresden School of Arts and Crafts and around 260 of his paintings were confiscated. Why did Hitler think Dix's paintings were dangerous?

(4) Käthe Kollwitz

Notes in the text (142-247) Images (34-45)

Some critics believe that Käthe Kollwitz is the most important woman artist of the 20th century. Her parents were both active members of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and it was important to them that they grew up with a sympathy for the plight of the working-class. Her parents believed in equality between the sexes and as a teenager was given a copy of August Bebel book, Woman and Socialism (1879). She was told by her father, the goal is not happiness but to do your duty to your class and gender.

Käthe Kollwitz, older than Heartfield, Grosz and Dix, became an artist before the outbreak of the First World War. The wife of a socialist doctor who took a job in a working-class area of Berlin, from 1891 she recorded the life of the poor. During the war she used her art to illustrate the impact on women. Kollwitz continued this approach in the 1920s and 1930s and took commissions from the SDP, trade unions and peace groups.

In July, 1936, she was arrested by the Gestapo. They wanted to know the names of other German artists who shared her anti-Nazi beliefs. They warned her that if she did not co-operate she would be sent to a concentration camp. She remained silent and because of her age, she was released but her art works were confiscated. She died just before the end of the Second World War.

Kollwitz was told by her father, that the goal is not personal happiness but to do your duty to your class and gender. Is that reflected in her work?

In a letter to a friend in 1923 she wrote: "I have received a commission from the International Trade Union Congress to make a poster against war. That is a task that makes me happy. Some may say a thousand times, that this is not pure art, which has a purpose. But as long as I can work, I want to be effective with my art." Is there a difference between "pure art" and "political art"?

What do you think of Kollwitz's art? Do you agree that she is the most important woman artist of the 20 th century? Why is she not better known?