INTERESTED IN BRING
Art As Omen
A Pleasant Ridge resident considers art, ideology and power.
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early 80 years after the Al-
lies and Germans signed
the Versailles Treaty, his-
torians generally agree
that the pact sowed the seeds for
World War II. History always
reads as an inevitability.
But art historian Dora Apel be-
lieves in a more immediate
barometer of the direction of his-
Actually, her belief can be re-
duced to a monosyllabic word —
one which most politicians might
have trouble spelling: "art."
Not just any art. But art that
is representative of a society's po-
For those who believe art is ir-
relevant, or merely decorative,
Ms. Apel, of Pleasant Ridge, is
prepared to argue her point.
Her academic excursion into
the corridors of history is not a
mere intellectual exercise.
Rather, it's a sojourn. An attempt
to grasp the historical forces that
six decades ago swept across Eu-
rope. And swept away more than
100 of her relatives living in
Her parents barely escaped
the concentration camps in
time to migrate to America.
The memories linger. Her
mother was the only survivor
of her family in a town where
nearly 70 relatives had lived.
"I've always felt a compul-
sion to study that period in
a systematic way, to try to
understand the many per-
sonal histories involved," she
For Ms. Apel, what the
world initially failed to com-
prehend in the belligerent, in-
humane methods of the Nazis
was readily apparent in the
Nazis' treatment of art and
Art can serve as a omen.
"If one can sort out the rela-
tionship between art and ideolo-
gy; it can give a clue to the
thinking of those in power," she
Last April, Ms. Apel put the
finishing touches on her doctor-
al dissertation titled "Cultural
Battleground," an analysis of
German art between the wars.
She's now applying for a research
grant and hopes to transform her
dissertation into a book.
As an art historian, Ms. Apel
moves along the familiar acade-
mic territory with a multidisci-
plinary approach, examining the
many historical forces that dis-
tinguish works of art. At the end
of July, she completed a series of
lectures on 1920s and 1930s Ger-
man art for the Detroit Institute
of Arts public-education pro-
grams. Each year, the DIA offers
a series of three-four week cours-
es to go along with its full 33-
week art history course.
Ms. Apel's lectures were in-
tended to enhance the DIA's on-
going German Expressionism
exhibit, said Linda G. Margolin,
assistant curator in the muse-
um's department of edu-
"Dora made the class
very accessible to the
students," she said. "She
got beyond lecturing and
got people to interact."
The subject of Ger-
man art between the
wars is hardly irrelevant
ciety losing its compassion and
humanity. The works of German
Dadaists, satirists and such
artists as Otto Dix, George Grosz,
Ernst Barlach and Kathe Koll-
witz drew the wrath of the ruling
Nazis, who termed the work "de-
generate." Art between the world
wars in Germany, Ms. Apel said,
was distinguished by the visual
debate between the antiwar
Right: Otto Dix's self-
Below: Kathe Kollwitz:
Below Right: Otto Dix:
Drawing the Nazis' wrath.
to current American cul-
ture, Ms. Apel said. In-
deed, she contends that
the issues before the Weimar Re- '
public and then, the Nazis, are
the universal themes of the 20th
Responding to the
"It's all about alienation, psy-
chic fragmentation, and the im-
age that human beings can be
atomized — mechanized," she
In response, many German
Expressionist artists created
stark, revealing portraits of a so-
artists and those who created pa-
triotic imagery. It serves as an
example of the battle between art
and ideology or, in essence, free-
dom and control.
When the images of the Ger-
man soldier became "heroic" and
more accepted, the path to World
War II was being paved, she said.
"The debate over what consti-
tuted the 'public image of war'
was the first step of control of
German society," she said. "We've
witnessed where you can't sep-
arate cultural control from over-
all economic or political control."
Ms. Apel points to the current
debate over who should "control"
American culture. Within the
last several years, major nation-
al debates have centered on fund-
ing for the National Endowment