New book “Blood, Soil, Paint” published today

At the end of last year I published two articles on Substack entitled “Blood, Soil, Paint”, which examined the links between nationalism, Romanticism (as an artistic movement) and art. It covered German, Russian and Norwegian Romantic art. Although I was pleased with the articles, as soon as they appeared, I realised how they linked up to a number of ideas and historical strands I had had on my mind, namely: parallels between Edvard Munch’s painting and Knut Hamsun’s writing, Martin Heidegger’s thoughts on art, Anselm Kiefer’s delving into German nationalism and foundational myths. There were many overlaps – and I found more while conducting research – so it seemed that the subjects wove themselves into something more surprising and complicated than was initially presented in my articles.

I included Zionist art of the Jewish diaspora in Germany 1900-1920, which offered a template of a nationalist art movement with a nation but one without land. If you want to create a state, you need a unifying set of symbols and aspirational role models (heroes, warriors, poets, thinkers) which must be concretized and transmitted in visual art. How would the dispersed, multi-tradition Jewish people do it? Not least, how could a people whose religion forbad the worship of graven images, forge a fine art? In many ways, this was the ultimate case study because it could be seen as a distillation of the urge to form a nation through art, without all the complications of existing traditions, loyalties and regional ties that exist in every other case.

In a section on Norwegian nationalism, I examined the work of anthropologists 1900-1940 who sought to define the Nordic type. This work was taken up by the Nazis and the complicated (sometimes conflicting) work by Norwegian and German race scientists produced mixed results. Munch and Hamsun offered alternative responses to German occupation, one resisting, one supporting. This has impacted the reception of their work ever since.

Imperium Press were very supportive of my idea of publishing a full extended essay in book form, including illustrations. It was very satisfying to work on the book and tie together strands of thought and research, dig out detailed data and compile an index. Available now are copies in paperback and Kindle, with a hardback edition coming within a week or so.

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