Ava Jarvis Art
Ink and Watercolor Artist

Tangled Gossamer: An Art Blog

My musings on art—my inspirations and how my pieces relate to the world. Every piece has its own story, and I want to share that story with you.

Blue Horses, German Expressionism, Nazis, and More

Trigger warning: discussions about white nationalism, white supremacy, Nazism, anti-Semitism. Preserve your mental health if need be. TLDR: I use a China-originating character painted in blue to symbolize a connection to the Blue Riders, a group of German Expressionists partly founded by Franz Marc, the artist behind the Blue Horse series of paintings.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm a proper artist. I've tried to fight it, but my art veers more and more towards Expressionism, with more than a little touch of Surrealism. I grew up admiring Escher (not that I thought I'd ever be an artist), and when I first learned more about art I became especially fond of Cézanne. 

Yesterday and today me and my art tutor read up more on Expressionism, and in particular I take after German Expressionism. And such artists were targeted by the Nazis as "degenerate artists"—for some, like Franz Marc, their art was removed by the Nazi Regime after their death. For others who were unfortunately alive at the time, many fled as the purges began. 

The Nazis in particular disliked art that didn't adhere to what they viewed as traditional Aryan standards, i.e., the styles steeped more towards realism and naturalism. Hitler seemed to hate modern art mostly because he believed that modern art was tied to the Jewish community and, whelp. More pragmatic people in the Nazi party wanted to use art to control propaganda—and one thing Expressionism is ill-suited for is propaganda. 

I thought a lot about this the past two days, because I've run into liberal white artists who repeat this sort of reasoning without thinking about the consequences—they substitute "meaningless commercialization" in for outright anti-Semitism, but that was what was in the minds of the Nazis, too. They just happened to think that corrupt business was committed by Jews.

Edited to add: I need to mention that German Expressionism and other Modern Art movements draw heavily on African art traditions, and there is a lot to unpack with regards to this. But I suspect if the Nazis and/or Hitler knew, that was another motivation for them to call modern art degenerate—and unfortunately I think anti-black bias in white and non-black non-white artists who despise modern art shows through here as well. 

Blue Horse I, by Franz Marc, 1911.

Blue Horse I, by Franz Marc, 1911.

The character in blue above means "horse" in the writing systems of Chinese characters, Japanese kanji, and the old Vietnam Chữ Nôm. I chose this symbol and color specifically to connect up my convergent heritage to German Expressionism. "The Blue Riders" was a group of artists focused on German Expressionism, founded partly by Franz Marc, who painted the rather famous series of Blue Horses.

Yet I feel, as a Vietnamese artist, that German Expressionism shares a lot in common with some genres of traditional Vietnamese art—in particular, Đông Hồ paintings. Perhaps others, but I'm still in the process of reconnecting with my cultural roots, which were cut off in childhood due to racism in schools. My parents didn't want to risk me talking about something non-white to my white teachers due to the particularly harsh punishment I got in Kindergarten for greeting my teacher in Vietnamese. I wasn't allowed to play with the white kids for that entire year, and was assigned to a classroom with no windows and only studied. 

As you can imagine, white supremacy, and in particular Nazism, is particularly on my mind these days. I know that making the kind of art I want to make while being who I am, despite being a U.S. citizen born in the Midwest, puts me at a higher risk for attracting unwanted attention. But then again, the Nazi Regime in the years before World War II was... more competent that what we have in the U.S. right now, shall we say. 

I am too old and too sick to care very much anymore though. I spent most of my life in unfortunately literal mortal danger. I had a decade of respite from that, and now I have to accept that life is simply no longer going to be safe, and that ten years of relative bliss will have to be enough for the foreseeable future.