Intellectual and artistic poverty—Only decadent art is harmful—Teutonic nostalgia—The need of open spaces.
The industrialisation of a country invariably provokes an opposite reaction and gives rise to a recrudescence of a certain measure of romanticism, which not infrequently finds expression in a mania for the collection of bibelots and somewhat trashy objets d’art. It is a phenomenon which recurs with each fresh migration from the land to the town. It is not the museums and the picture-galleries which attract these newcomers, but the vaults which foster the liking for the mysterious, like the blue grotto of the nymphs. The process of readjustment takes fifty or a hundred years.
Unfortunately, the period of economic and industrial progress in Germany coincided with a period of artistic hesitancy and poverty. One cannot, in justice, blame the masses, when one remembers the artistic junk with which the big industrialists filled their houses. But the latter were people of intelligence, and them I blame greatly.
The masses are still attracted by somewhat trashy art, but that has nothing in common with artistic degeneracy. If I am asked whether I am prepared to condone this, my reply is that I will condone anything which does not lead to artistic depravity.
The admiration for what we sometimes call chocolate-box beauty is not of itself vicious; it gives evidence, at least, of artistic feeling, which may well become later the basis for real taste. Permanent injury is done only by real depravity in art. It is perfectly true that we are a people of romantics, quite different from the Americans, for example, who see nothing beyond their sky-scrapers. Our romanticism has its origins in the intense appreciation of nature that is inherent in us Germans.
Properly to appreciate such artists as Weber, Ludwig Richter and the other romanticists, one must know Franconian mountains, for that is the background which gives birth to romanticism in both music and painting; and, of course, the stories and legends of our folklore also make a potent contribution.
The only romance which stirs the heart of the North American is that of the Redskin; but it is curious to note that the writer who has produced the most vivid Redskin romances is a German.
One thing the Americans have, and which we lack, is the sense of the vast open spaces. Hence the particular characteristics of our own form of nostalgia. There comes a time when this desire for expansion can no longer be contained and must burst into action.
It is an irrefutable fact that the Dutch, for example, who occupied the most densely populated portions of the German lands, were driven, centuries ago, by this irresistible desire for expansion to seek ever wider conquest abroad.
What, I wonder, would happen to us, if we had not at least the illusion of vast spaces at our disposal? For me, one of the charms of the Spessart is that one can drive there for hours on end, and never meet a soul. Our autobahns give me the same feeling; even in the more thickly populated areas they reproduce the atmosphere of the open spaces.
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