III. The Artist and the Political Climate of the Times
Students will learn about ways in which politics and censorship shaped the life and work of Hans Hofmann.
Students will be able to understand the effect of World War I and World War II politics on the lives of Hans Hofmann and his contemporaries, as well as understand the role that censorship can play in the arts.
2 50-minute class sessions
View the PBS Special Hans Hofmann: Artist/Teacher; Teacher/Artist, noting references to the effect of the political climate upon the artists in Europe during World Wars I and II.
Make copies of the following quotes:
“The First World War took me out of my dreams as a painter and ended for me a happy time in Paris…I was a painter and never it came to my mind to teach, but I had to teach.” - a quotation by Hans Hofmann taken from Hans Hofmann: Artist/Teacher, Teacher/Artist
“If I had never been rescued by America, I would have lost my chance as a painter.” - Hans Hofmann as quoted by Lucinda Barnes, Senior Curator for Collections, University of California, Berkeley Art Museum
“Anybody who paints and sees a sky green and pastures blue ought to be sterilized.”
- Adolf Hitler
- Students read these quotations within the context of the timeline and biography on the PBS website:
- In small groups students discuss the meaning of these two quotations and how they illustrate the ways in which artists such as Hans Hofmann were affected by the politics of both World War I and World War II. (The Nazi labeling of “Degenerate Art” may come up in these discussions. It will be addressed in the next activity.)
- As a class, view selected segments of the video relating to this issue. Follow with a class discussion.
- It should be made clear that Hofmann was affected by World War I and II: In 1914, as a German national, he had to leave Paris where he was studying art and mingling with artists such as Matisse and Picasso. As the quotation indicates, in addition to being a painter, Hofmann became an art teacher. Hofmann came to the United States to teach in 1930 and 1931 and decided not to return to Germany knowing that modern artists were under increasing attack by the Nazi regime.
Visit website http://fcit.coedu.usf.edu/holocaust/arts/artdegen.htm for information of the 1937 Nazi exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art). View the Gallery of Selected Works on this PBS site at www.pbs.org/hanshofmann/selected_works_001.html. From local library obtain a list of censored books of the 20th century.
Share list of censored books with class. Discuss rationale for censorship of certain books.
Describe a recent censorship of the arts:
Early in 2003, the tapestry version of Picasso’s Guernica at the United Nations was draped with a cloth, covering up its anti-war sentiment. This was done just before Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the General Assembly asking them for support of an Iraqi war.
Discussion of censorship should focus on who does the censoring and why. Is there ever an acceptable reason to censor the arts, entertainment?
(Think “V Chip” : http://www.fcc.gov/vchip)
- Explain that the 1937 Nazi display Entartete Kunst was a form of censorship. Give students a list of the artists whom the Nazis deemed “degenerate”. Direct students working in small groups, to find works by these artists: Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc.
- Students may look in general art history texts and visit an art image website such as www.artcyclopedia.com . There is a comprehensive selection of artwork found on http://fcit.coedu.usf.edu/holocaust/arts/artdegen.htm. Each group discusses why the work of these artists was labeled degenerate.
- Students visit the Gallery of Selected Works in the Hofmann PBS website: www.pbs.org/hanshofmann/selected_works_001.html, and consider why Hofmann’s work would have fallen into the same category of the above artists.
- As a culmination, class gathers together to share information. Afterwards, ask students to consider the relationship between these two facts: In the 1930’s these artists were all labeled degenerate by the Nazis. Today, their work is easily accessible in major art museums and on websites.
Students write on the ways in which censorship affected Hofmann. They may chose to do this in an essay, in the form of an interview, or as an editorial.
Direct students to learn about other controversies involving the visual arts:
A discussion of the Sensation show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art may be found at:
For information on the controversy surrounding Diego Rivera’s Rockefeller Center mural in ‘30’s visit http://fsweb.wm.edu/amst370/2001/sp4/rockefellerandhistory.html. Plan a visit to an art museum near your school to view the work of modern artists whose work was seen in Activity Two.
Commission the students in your class to plan and execute a design for a specific site in the school. All plans and research should be kept in the art journals.