Nazi Power and Culture Control

Previous to becoming a politician, Adolf Hitlers dream was to be an artist. After being refused twice from art school for being too architectural in style, he turned to politics and when the Nazi party came into power after the first world war, no one could have expected what was to follow. The controlling nature of Hitler and his party seeped its way into culture and the arts as they tried to brainwash the public into appreciating only traditional and romantic art styles and disregarding all other new and modern art which they named ‘Degenerate’. In order to try to influence the publics opinion of these modern and abstract works, Hitler arranged for two exhibitions of artwork, one of what he perceived as ‘good’ art and one of ‘degenerate’ art. He was very disrespectful to the artists and work of the modern movements as he wanted to portray them as unprofessional. He did so by ordering them to be arranged badly on the wall and be accompanied by handwritten information signs. A room that consisted of only abstract art was named  “The Insanity Room”, amongst other suggestions of biased views. The summer before the exhibition, Hitler Stated “Works of art which cannot be understood in themselves but need some pretentious instruction book to justify their existence will never again find their way to the German people”.
The artworks that Hitler approved of were predominantly paintings that were seen as more traditional in subject and style. These were hung on the gallery walls professionally and neatly, to show that they should be respected and appreciated. This intention to culturally control the public backfired significantly when the ‘Degenerate’ art exhibition was far more popular than the one of classical art.

Queues that filled the streets for the 'Degenerate' art exhibition in 1937

Queues that filled the streets for the ‘Degenerate’ art exhibition in 1937

Throughout the years of 1937 and 1938, Hitlers attempts to culturally cleanse Germany continued when over 16,000 artworks of ‘Degenerate Art’ were removed from German Museums. Artworks were burned, sold for very little or kept to simply ridicule and ‘educate’ Germany as to what was commendable art and what wasn’t. Throughout years since then, many pieces that were seized or sold have been uncovered, the most recent, in Munich which were being hidden in the flat of Cornelius Gurlitt. Gurlitts father was an art collector for Hitler and had collected over 1,500 works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Paul Klee. Cornelius Gurlitt, now an 80-year-old man, had kept this stash a secret for many years, and when he needed money, would sell some of the lesser known paintings in order to avoid publicity. Discoveries like this prove invaluable to current artists, art critics and art enthusiasts to further their understandings of some of the greatest works of the modernist movement. It is hopeful that more discoveries like this will occur in future years but it is unlikely that we will ever know if all paintings will be recovered.

picaassos Guernica

Replica of Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ found in Munich Stash


Lectures by Donna Leishman


Pushing the Boundaries – Avant-Garde

In a world that is constantly moving forward, it is inevitable that the art of the world will do so also. One of the key turning points in art history was around the 1870’s when ‘Avant-garde’ art was established. This was a controversial movement at the time as it tried to contradict traditional artworks in a facetious manner. The urge to produce pieces that would shock its audience was a main aim in this era for some artists. Some works were so controversial that the Salon de Paris refused to show them. One example of this is Edouard Manet’s ‘Le Dejeuner Sur L’herbe’.

Edouard Manet "Le Dejeuner Sur L'herbe"

Edouard Manet “Le Dejeuner Sur L’herbe”

If we were to view this piece for the first time now, we would have a completely different view than what was of the past. Art critics of the Salon found it far to controversial, the barrier between ‘nude’ and ‘naked’ had been broken. The woman in this piece is not posed in the glorified position of a Goddess but instead looks directly at the audience, making it clear that she is aware that she is being looked at and is not perturbed by that fact. The objects surrounding her are not staged, but instead are strewn around, accompanied by fruit falling out of the picnic basket and a blanket coiled  around her ankle. Although this was a controversial piece of the late 1800’s and some art critics of the time very much disapproved of it, we must appreciate the fact that without pieces like this, art would not be the same as it is today. This act of breaking societal norms within the era have inspired so many artists since. The boundaries of art are constantly being pushed further and further to provoke thought and reaction. So when we hear of a man publicly nailing his scrotum to a cobbled street in Moscow as ‘a metaphor for the apathy in Russia’, some may  be shocked and appalled now, but who knows, future generations of artists may relish in the effects of such a piece.


Lectures by Donna Leishman

Fairytale Origins- Little Red Riding Hood

We all know the story of  Little Red Riding Hood, usually Charles Perrault’s version, as little girl who ventures to visit her grandmother who lives in the woods, but is tricked and eaten by a wolf. The moral of the story being, don’t talk to strangers. However, some of the original versions are far darker, and not quite as suitable for younger audiences. Here is  a link to one of the earlier version of this tale:

There are many ways of analysing this story and breaking down its symbolism, however, after looking at the story myself, I found  that it could be taken as a metaphor for the process of coping with death. A young girl experiencing death of a loved one for the first time and how she deals with it.
She arrives at her grandmothers house to find her dead, obviously a frightening experience for anyone, let alone a young child, so death is portrayed as a wolf which has always been a symbol for something frightening. The eating of her grandmothers flesh and blood symbolises her taking in the fact that her grandmother is dead, processing what has happened. When the wolf tells her to get into the bed and take off her clothes, it could be seen as a metaphor for death taking control of the girl, as it takes control of many people when they experience a loved one dying.  She questions the wolf, the eyes, the ears etc, a symbol for her taking some control, questioning what death really is and realising that it does not have control over her. In the end, she manages to escape from the wolf and therefore, for this symbolic interpretation, she manages to escape the grasps that grief can hold. The moral of the story – Don’t let grief take over or control your life.

Many people would disagree on the points that I have made above. However, a story is only as understood as it is perceived and different people perceive things in different ways. This therefore further explains one reason why storytelling has changed so much over the years, it doesn’t just matter how it is told, the way in which it is heard is just as, if not even more important.

Little Red Riding Hood Illustration By Daniel Egneus

Little Red Riding Hood Illustration By Daniel Egneus

(Ideas adapted from lectures by Donna Leishman)

Fairytale Origins

From the beginning of our existence we, as humans, have been storytellers. From images on cave walls, to oral tales, literature, and now in the form of photography  and film. Humans are social animals and we express ourselves through these mediums in order to further our sociability. Just like the form of storytelling has changed over the years, the details of stories have also changed. If you imagine it like a game of Chinese whispers: stories that have been told by word of mouth and are changed slightly from person to person and can end up being a completely abstracted or elaborated version of previous ones.

“There is never a single orthodox version of a myth. As our circumstances change, we need to tell our stories differently in order to bring out their timeless truth.” – Karen Armstrong

The extent to which stories are adapted is incredible look at. For example, you may be surprised to hear some far more gruesome versions of what we know from our childhoods of beloved fairy tales or Disney adaptations. A Little Red Riding Hood who ate her Grandmother and was called a slut by a cat, two horrible step sisters who cut off parts of their feet to fit into a glass slipper and have their eyes pecked our by pigeons, and  a Rumpelstiltskin who decided to rip himself in two after being shown up as a fool!  Whether it be adapted by the famous Charles Perrault or the Grimm Brothers, those individual seeds that were planted as the initial ideas to  demonstrate morals and values have branched out into different directions significantly over time.

Visual Narrative 6


Lectures by Donna Leishman

Karen Armstrong (2004). A short history of myth. London: Canongate. Introductory pages

Typeface History at a Glance

Typography : The art or procedure of arranging type or processing data and printing from it. – Oxford Dictionary.

The first modern-day form of typography came to the public by German blacksmith Johannes Gutenberg in the Mid 1400’s with the invention of the first movable type printing press. As this wonderful invention became available within other areas of Europe and further afield, typeface styles began to evolve more than ever. Over the past few centuries, the typographic limelight has hopped from country to country. The majority of important typefaces originated in European Countries with help from America now and again, mainly for use in journalism, education and advertising. Luckily for us, Gutenberg’s invention encouraged a snowball effect in typeface design to allow for a plethora of fonts that are still in use today. Thanks to Max Miedinger of Switzerland, in 1957 we were granted the use of Helvetica, the default font for computers. Stanley Morison of London gifted us with Times Roman in 1932, the first type used in newspapers and Eric Gill, with Gill Sans, originally Commissioned for London Railway in 1928.


These typographic designs that are easily readable and far less time-consuming to produce than original handwritten scripts have  allowed for a great development in communication, be it in literature, education or journalism. Some may see this development as pointless, and that one clear typeface would do, rather than the 90,000+ typefaces that are in use today. However, without the choice of these, the portrayal and expression of ideas would be nowhere near as impactful and of course, nowhere near as exciting.

For a more detailed explanation of the origins of typography, take a look as this. Graphic designer Ben Barrett-Forrest turns the history of type into an enthralling stop motion animation.


Lectures by Donna Leishman 

The Cognitive Mind

The word cognition is used to describe subjects referring to thinking. Reasoning, awareness, memory, problem solving, learning and language all come under this heading. As humans, we are unique to other animals as we have developed the ability to recognise and link imagery and language together to gain an understanding of a situation. For example, the word ‘pareidolia’ relates to the idea that humans are able, or even hardwired from birth, to see significant imagery within a random stimulus, such as clouds or stone, without the stimulus deliberately being manipulated in this way.

Examples of Pareidolia

Examples of Pareidolia

For more information on Pareidolia visit:

Semiotics is the study of symbols, index’s and icons. It explores the way the human brain has developed over generations to be able to create an abstracted language, which allows us to recognise communication through imagery. Humans use semiotics as a visual language which communicates a shorthand interpretation of ideas through these images. There is a subtle yet significant difference between each of these words when describing them in this context. An Icon is an image that represents the significant by resemblance, the image portrays a great likeness to the subject that it is trying to communicate, for example a portrait of a person. An Index however, is not needed to resemble the significant but instead is directly linked to it and therefore more of an association than a direct portrayal, for example a handprint or a signature of a person. A symbol is unique in its own right as it doesn’t necessarily have to resemble the significant but instead can be  created by society, and over time have been developed into a culture as a representation of the significant. The most common symbols in society could be letters that are used to form words — a completely man made visual language. 


Portrait of Mona Lisa – Icon

Signature of Elvis Presley - Index

Signature of Elvis Presley – Index

English Alphabet - Symbols

English Alphabet – Symbols

The development of this visual language has been vital in illustrative design in order to communicate ideas where words alone are unable to do so.

(Ideas adapted from lectures by Donna Leishman)