Hardly anyone will deny that in the 1960s, 70s and 80s German artists were disproportionately present on top of the worldwide ranking of contemporary influential artists. To the point that one may ask: who is to blame?
Without wanting to be provocative Rudolf Augstein, editor of Der Spiegel asked himself: "What would the Germans be without their sense of guilt?". This question was his attempt to explain the evident distance between the German artistic world and the Western artist performers. In the meanwhile Augstein has passed away, however, this issue will be discussed thoroughly hereinafter. In fact, without a German guilt, all kind of German artists would have become at best entertainment experts and high finance beggars. After the German reunification, in 1990, and the "End of History" through the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1992, people in Western Germany were no longer victims of fate. All kind of artists became just as harmless as their colleagues from the blessed winner countries USA, England, France, Benelux, Italy. After Switzerland decided to become the bank vault of Capitalism, intended as a natural form of religion, there was no reason in that country to suffer from historical expectations whatsoever and thus no more occasions for making art. Design would just be enough, like everywhere else. Even the Islamic world, China and Russia couldn't hope to be needed in making art , for they had been subjected to the art market, with the only task to determine the show-off ranking list.
Admittedly, in terms of entertainment value, the German arts production of the last twenty years would not be able to compete even against an artistic performance of some Chinese dragon dancers. The most ambitious ones, those whom Augstein refers to, had to develop a bright stand-up mind and get trained in wit, irony and satire. That's how Polke beat Gerhard Richter, Wolfgang Neuß overcame Habermas, Alexander Kluge inherited some TV thriller series through which the mass audiences could once again enjoy the beautiful unity of the murderer and the inspector as a sort of double sovereignty, like the terrifying unity of the perpetrator and the victim during the Third Reich.
This was the situation between 1990 and 2010. Thank God, one would say, for such innocuous artworks undoubtedly brought about less damage than Riefenstahl's monumentalism or Feuchtwanger's Jud Süß (1) aesthetics. For a long time it was believed that the combination "harmless, albeit expensive" was enough to justify the work of artists in all democracies. With the rise of the Taliban and ISIS fundamentalists and the capital-driven attempts to re-establish the world order's harmlessness of the 1990s through "stroll wars", also German artists would finally be able to commit to the deadly seriousness of the conflicts between the global power exercised by Goldman Sachs and that of other theocratic states. However, unfortunately they just seem to bypass this commitment by taking part at frivolous oops-a-daisy-events and making some goodwill gestures, of course as long as it's for free.
Sanctimoniously, German artists and artists in Germany take advantage on this new situation. This is all the more true in that they can actually dip into genuine German former experiences. Unlike any other country, starting from the contradiction between the concepts of nationality and internationality, people and mankind, own and foreign, Germany has build up its own program called "Learn from History". But, how can we possibly learn anything from History, the same we don't even want to know, when nowadays we deliberately tend to ignore the history of all world conflicts? Is it enough to just fantasize about the goodwill of people to live in peace and freedom and prosperity, as if historical conflicts were a question of loving our next neighbour?
Learning this version of History would just mean learn nothing at all. And here comes a perfect German example for it: if we consider the Holocaust as a unique event in world history, there is actually no need to deal with present, industrially organized mass killings (like those perpetuated among the Tutsi and the Hutus), because due to its uniqueness, the Holocaust cannot happen again. On the other hand, should we explicitly ask society and politics to commit so that events like the Holocaust never happen again, we would clearly risk to deny its uniqueness. Aroused from the desire to please everybody, this contradiction offered to those whom Augstein referred to a way to feel deeply satisfied: being in the position of pleading guilty in any case would preserve the importance of the nation and ensure Germany worldwide attention. Likewise, nowadays Boko Haram and ISIS try to catch the world's attention following the same pattern.
To escape the trap of self-exculpation through self-imputation, after WWII, in Berlin, Gottfried Benn proposed the distinction once and for all between arts bearers and culture bearers. Culture bearers could perpetuate their self-appraisal through cultural-religious admissions of guilt, whereas artists had to speak for themselves and were asked to renounce to embellish their works with cultural or religious references. Kiefer and Baselitz, Penck and lmmendorff, Beuys and Heiner Müller, Grass and Boll, Staeck and Deschner, Fassbinder and Reitz made a career as representatives of German culture, certainly not as artists. This was pretty clear to 1990s artists: the renouncement to any sort of religious or cultural faith made their works lose considerable depth. They became nothing but lightweights of the entertainment sector, just as the other artists already were and accepted to be in the rest of the world.
As far as average talented graduate students in arts academies are concerned, the terroristic menaces after 9/11 and the rise of the Islamic caliphate has been more than welcomed by them, so that relying on religious or cultural beliefs they could counterbalance the lack of their artistic abilities. There is no gallery opening, no curators' conference, no investors' assembly where people are not asking whether artists embrace multiculturalism and whether they consider it obvious for Europe to receive all the 56 million refugees who are presently wandering around the world, providing them with decent jobs, housing and social integration. Hence, whoever dares to oppose those phrasemonger's promises by criticizing them with the argument that, after all, the Europeans were not even able to bring the youth unemployment rate back to acceptable levels in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy, will no longer be considered as an artist, an intellectual, a thinker or a scientist. That is how matters stand.
Now I realize why I never received any funding whatsoever in my life as an artist and as a thinker: I just couldn't let myself recognize that being German was a synonym for hiding behind the chimeric innocence of political correctness.
So it is: Deutschland, my love for you is not requited.
(1) Nazi Propaganda film of 1940 directed by Veit Harlan