The instincts of German art connoisseurs

Jan Fleischhauer

I’ve always wondered why Caspar David Friedrich’s landscapes are shown without any warnings. The longer I look at his paintings, the more I feel the desire to get Silesia back.

Let us take the simplest and most common example. Imagine the inartistic and weakly artistic natures hardened and armed by the monumental history of artists: against whom will they now turn their weapons? Against their hereditary enemies, the strong artistic spirits, i.e. against those who alone can truly learn from that history, i.e. for life, and implement what they have learned in a more practical way.

Their path is obstructed; their air is darkened when they dance around a half-comprehended monument of some great past in an idolatrous manner and with the right diligence, as if to say: “Look, this is the true and real art: what is it to you who are becoming and wanting!” Apparently, this dancing swarm even possesses the privilege of “good taste”: for the creator has always been at a disadvantage against the one who only watched and did not lend a hand himself; just as at all times the political can-doer was wiser, fairer and more thoughtful than the ruling statesman.

But if one wants to transfer the use of popular votes and numerical majorities to the field of art and force the artist to defend himself, as it were, before the forum of aesthetic naysayers, one can take an oath in advance that he will be condemned: not in spite of, but precisely because his judges have solemnly proclaimed the canon of monumental art (that is, according to the explanation given, the art that has “made effect at all times”): while for all art that is not yet monumental, because contemporary, they lack, first, the need, second, the pure inclination, third, that very auctoriality of history.

On the other hand, their instinct tells them that art can be killed by art: the monumental should by no means arise again, and precisely that which once had the authority of the monumental from the past is useful for this. Art connoisseurs are like this because they want to eliminate art altogether; this is how they behave as doctors, while they are basically intent on poisoning; this is how they train their tongue and their taste in order to explain from their fastidiousness why they so persistently reject everything that is offered to them as nourishing art food.

For they do not want the great to arise: their means is to say, “Look, the great is already here!” In truth, this greatness that is already there concerns them as little as that which arises: their lives bear witness to this. Monumental history is the disguise in which their hatred of the mighty and great of their time masquerades as satiated admiration of the mighty and great of times past, in which they invert the actual meaning of that historical mode of observation into the opposite one; whether they know it clearly or not, they act in any case as if their motto were: “Let the dead bury the living.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Translated with (free version)