Weimar Culture - The Arts

The Arts

The fourteen years of the Weimar era were also marked by explosive intellectual productivity. German artists made significant cultural contributions in the fields of literature, art, architecture, music, dance, drama, and the new medium of the motion picture. Political theorist Ernst Bloch described Weimar culture as a Periclean Age.

German visual art, music, and literature were all strongly influenced by German Expressionism at the start of the Weimar Republic. By 1920, a sharp turn was taken towards the Neue Sachlichkeit New Objectivity outlook. New Objectivity was not a strict movement in the sense of having a clear manifesto or set of rules. Artists gravitating towards this aesthetic defined themselves by rejecting the themes of expressionism—romanticism, fantasy, subjectivity, raw emotion and impulse—and focused instead on precision, deliberateness, and depicting the factual and the real.

Kirkus Reviews remarked upon how much Weimar art was political:

fiercely experimental, iconoclastic and left-leaning, spiritually hostile to big business and bourgeois society and at daggers drawn with Prussian militarism and authoritarianism. Not surprisingly, the old autocratic German establishment saw it as 'decadent art', a view shared by Adolf Hitler who became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. The public burning of 'unGerman books' by Nazi students on Unter den Linden on 10th May 1933 was but a symbolic confirmation of the catastrophe which befell not only Weimar art under Hitler but the whole tradition of enlightenment liberalism in Germany, a tradition whose origins went back to the 18th century city of Weimar, home to both Goethe and Schiller.

One of the first major events in the arts during the Weimar Republic was the founding of an organization, the Novembergruppe (November Group) on December 3, 1918. This group was established in the aftermath of the November beginning of the German Revolution of 1918–1919, when Communists, anarchists and pro-republic supporters had fought in the streets for control of the government. In 1919, the Weimar Republic was established. Around 100 artists of many genres who identified themselves as avant-garde joined the November Group. They held 19 exhibitions in Berlin until the group was banned by the Nazi regime in 1933. The group also had chapters throughout Germany during its existence, and brought the German avant-garde art scene to world attention by holding exhibits in Rome, Moscow and Japan. Its members also belonged to other art movements and groups during the Weimar Republic era, such as architect Walter Gropius (founder of Bauhaus), and Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht (agitprop theatre). The artists of the November Group kept the spirit of radicalism alive in German art and culture during the Weimar Republic. Many of the painters, sculptors, music composers, architects, playwrights, and filmmakers who belonged to it, and still others associated with its members, were the same ones whose art would later be denounced as "degenerate art" by Adolf Hitler.

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