Creepy Art

No, not “Night on Bald Mountain” from Fantasia, although more and more things appear every time I watch it. No, I was thinking about, oh, this.

The Karlskirche in Vienna.

Or perhaps:

A castle near Vienna, in the Wienerwald. This one really was a serious defensive fortress.

Because every German doing art for sale to foreigners is going to do this one.

These are not too bad watercolors. They’re not spectacular, but if you don’t know anything about the artist, you probably wouldn’t mind having a poster of one of them, or buying a postcard with the image. You could probably find similar in local art and history museums, sort of the “Local Minor Masters” type of exhibit.

Except these were painted by Adolf Hitler, when he was still the young starving artist and not HITLER!!!!! I show paintings like these to my students. It bothers them. That individual is a monster, is supposed to be everything evil and scary, probably smelled like brimstone and had hooves inside those brown boots. He can’t be an artist.

But he was, a rather decent one. It doesn’t fit the popular image of the head of the NSDAP, the guy with the little mustache. Which is why I show the paintings, and talk about his life before he became HITLER!!!!

To make Hitler human shakes out a lot of lazy, or just automated, thinking. This guy goes from being the stereotype of everything people don’t like, into a real person with real skills and talents and hopes. It bothers the students, changes how they see things a little bit. How many disappointed artists never became monsters, but instead took other jobs and painted as a hobby, or designed store displays and sales materials? Millions at least.

It is easy to hate monsters. Who hasn’t seen the pastiches from Downfall by now? Adolf Hitler is in danger of becoming a lazy shorthand for evil, or just for someone we disagree with. No one calls someone else a Stalin, or a Pol Pot, or Tamerlane, even though all three of those inflicted amazing levels of misery and destruction on their fellow man. Statistically, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge killed a greater percentage of the population of Cambodia than Stalin and Hitler managed of their respective countries. But who marches around comparing [politician or pundit] to Pol Pot?

In the seventy-two years since my great-uncle helped liberate one of the death camps, Nazi and Hitler have gone from having real meaning to being symbols, at least in popular culture and popular history. They have lost their historical weight for far too many people, people who minimize what the NSDAP did by comparing politicians they disagree with to Hitler. I’m not a fan of Angela Merkel, but when the Greeks drew her as Hitler, I felt the urge to defend her. I think her policies are lousy to put it mildly, but she is not responsible for death camps, concentration camps, or a lot of other things.

Re-humanizing the leaders of the NSDAP leads to uncomfortable thoughts. What turned a modestly talented painter into a monster? How can an ideology so grip a woman that she kills her children rather than see them live in a different world (although, given what the Soviets were doing, that choice seems almost reasonable.)? How can so many “ordinary, decent” people commit hideous acts of cruelty and sadism, day after day after day? Who else might become a monster? Those are uncomfortable questions. It is easier to show Hitler, Stalin, and so on as one-offs, caricatures, not-human monsters.

Creepy paintings indeed.


9 thoughts on “Creepy Art

  1. Decent art, but indeed, once you know who the artist was it becomes very creepy.

    As to the not calling people a Stalin point, I was referring to Bernie Sanders as Bernie Stalin, at least until he referred to himself as a nationalist socialist. [shakes head]

  2. Thank you for showing these. I had on occasion wondered what his paintings looked like, but obviously not enough to go looking. When I first saw the first one my reaction was, “What’s creepy about that?” and it wasn’t until after I read your text that I noticed the signature. It is jarring to see these as they are “decent” and makes it a more interesting issue of what might have happened had he been accepted into art school.

  3. Actually a pretty good job on Neuschwanstein. And there ‘is’ a human side. It does make one wonder how he went from decent artist to what he became.

  4. Pingback: Creepy Art | Cat Rotator’s Quarterly | Head Noises

  5. Even knowing who the artist was, I just can’t get any sense of bad out of it– you know how you sometimes can get an idea of the artist from the art, right? Like you look at Bush’s portraits of military, and you get the idea the artist LIKES and respects the subject. (I got that before I knew who painted it, ‘s why it came to mind.)

    These are all clean, and a sort of classic “there should be people here, so there they are” setup, and a lot of “WOOOF that is an impressive castle!” for the last one.

    A very good cure for the dehumanization.

    • I think that’s what bothers the students. They like the pictures, but they can’t like the artist. And trying to imagine how someone they know is evil could make something, if not beautiful, still very attractive…

      If I could find a way, I’d be tempted to get a reproduction of one of these to have around as a reminder that people are complicated, especially people like Hitler.

  6. “And trying to imagine how someone they know is evil could make something, if not beautiful, still very attractive…”

    At least they try. That’s more than some people if the sf/f field are willing to do where writers they disagree with/don’t like are concerned.

  7. The Gainesville rapist/serial killer left a tape with his songs on it. Pretty decent songs, good guitar. They played an excerpt from it on one of those true crime shows.

    I did not like that at all.

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