The Germans and Their Art: A Troublesome Relationship
This fascinating book investigates what is specifically German about German art, focusing on the attitudes Germans have had toward their art from the Romantic period to the present and discussing the ways they have tried to find their identity as a nation through this art. Hans Belting proposes that the history of German art criticism has been colored by division -- a split caused both by opposing ideologies and by the contradiction between what the Germans have wanted their art -- and their nation -- to be and the reality of what they were.
Belting shows that German art has always been informed by the fear of being taken over by art from abroad and by the Germans' inherent self doubt, based on the outside world's view of them over the centuries as art barbarians. He discusses why the Germans appropriated the Gothic style during the Romantic period and again after World War I; how the division between German art and international modern art symbolized for many Germans the opposition between tradition and materialism; why German Expressionism (the one truly indigenous modern German style) was deemed degenerate by the Nazis, was rehabilitated after World War II, and has been ignored in recent German art history; how the vastly different art created in the two Germanies invalidates any discussion of the nature of German art; and how reunification has created new conflicts and has emphasized the unique nature of the Germans' double burden of inheritance.