Democratic Humanism in German Painting, 1945-1949: Cultural Division and Public Reception

Francis Graham-Dixon

Abstract


This article addresses the immediate post-war debates surrounding artistic production and more specifically the plural and often contradictory critical responses to visual artists who, also for quite contrasting reasons, saw the possibility of re-engaging with a humanist tradition as a way for art to rediscover its meaning and future purpose in a post-fascist world. Art became a metaphor for a country still in shock about its past and uncertain about its future as tensions emerged between those in the west hoping to rebuild continuities with the legacy of German visual cultural heritage, and those in the east who saw 1945 as the chance to construct new cultural foundations within in the context of the new Cold War social order.

The analysis focuses on how these hotly-contested debates were constructed in Germany’s two most significant early post-war art periodicals, Bildende Kunst and Das Kunstwerk. By examining the critical responses to major exhibitions in both eastern and western occupation zones with a discussion of some of the key debates, editorial features and most-debated artists, it offers a new interpretation of how diversely painters, critics, cultural commentators and the art-going public interpreted and appropriated the humanist rubric to suit their own agendas. Despite this, humanism successfully managed to bridge the growing divisions between proponents of the restoration of art’s liberal principles and those who seeking to politicise its function to socialist ends.


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New Readings — ISSN: 13597485

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Published by: Cardiff School of Modern Languages