Student Research Projects

The Complexity and Irony Behind the Nazis’ Degenerate Art

Student Kirsten Olson ‘14
Department Art History
Course Art History 232: Art History: Renaissance to 20th Century


This project researches the irony and complexity behind the Nazis confiscating and destroying modern art and persecuting the German expressionist artists during the reign of the National Socialist Party. The project explores how the Nazis defined "degenerate art" and their criteria for acceptable German art. The topic of whether art was related to biology or not, and how the Nazis used propaganda to show that biology was responsible for the "degenerate art" is discussed. This project then goes to demonstrate that biology does not contribute to an artist’s style by comparing the German Expressionists' artworks with German Medieval woodcuts. While the Nazis appreciated the works and styles of Classical Greek and Roman artists, they neglected to acknowledge the similarities in the modern expressionists' art with medieval German woodcuts, thus showing the irony in their own beliefs.