artists in exile


The inability of so many talented émigrés to feel “at home anywhere” is not hard to understand. Virtually every artist who arrived in America with a substantial reputation found himself cut off from the sources of his self-esteem. The most advanced European techniques, in stage design or film editing or music composition, were usually too advanced for American audiences, who in the 1940s were still not completely free from their old inferiority complex about the Old World. What America offered instead was a great reservoir of democratic energy and commercial opportunity, which the Europeans’ snobbery and ingrained elitism made it impossible for them to access.

Which is not to say that none of them tried. Of all the varieties of frustration documented in “Artists in Exile,” the worst might be the frustration of those émigrés who tried earnestly to fit in, only to find that compromise meant losing the qualities that had made them great artists in the first place. Indeed, if Mr. Horowitz often sounds disgusted with the Americans of the period, who couldn’t appreciate the treasures they were given, he is equally condescending toward a figure like Kurt Weill, who remade his acrid Berlin style in the image of “American informality, egalitarianism, and eclecticism.”

more from the NY Sun here.