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Adaptation and resistance: the impact of German unification on the living and working conditions of visual artists in Saxony and their response to transformation

By Simone Wesner


This thesis analyses the changes in visual artists' living and working conditions and the ways in which visual artists reacted to these changes after German unification. It has sought to explore aspects of the interface between the state, the individual visual artists and the visual artists' community in a society of transformation and comments on the impact of change on the existence of such a relationship. The aims are twofold. First, to contribute to an understanding of visual artists' reactions to the dynamics of change created by changes of their working and living conditions after German unification. A second aim was to analyse the causes of the behaviour of the group of older visual artists.\ud This study of change employed an interdisciplinary approach and combined sociology, psychology, history and cultural policy studies in order to analyse visual artists' responses to the challenge of German unification. Exploration of these themes has been informed by a qualitative empirical study of how visual artists respond to change in the East German region of Saxony. A theoretical framework was developed using grounded theory, which was used to code the following datasets: interviews with 30 visual artists, 10 administrators and 3 group discussions. The theoretical perspective adopted drew on organisational change theory, on sociology of culture and on socialisation theory. In this way it contributes to the relocation of visual artists as key actors in cultural policy research. \ud The results of the research revealed that initial expectations of the swift adaptation of visual artists' to the new living and working conditions were not fulfilled and that visual artists moved between adaptation and resistance. Although the administrative transformation of the state was completed by 1998, the process of change is ongoing for the visual artists. Unification left the visual artists in a state of shock, a state they have been recovering from since 1990.\ud The findings lead to development of the Visual Artists Adaptation Model, which as a unique approach combines the collective cultural shock model and human change role model with the responses of visual artists to German unification. It analyses the process of change experienced by visual artists in five stages (1. euphoria, 2. shock and disconfirmation, 3 adaptation, 4. stabilisation, 5. normalisation). In an ideal case scenario, the result of adaptation should be a career re-start, which can be achieved once visual artists manage to overcome cultural shock. I argue that adaptation is delayed when learning anxiety conflicts with survival anxiety and when a psychologically safe situation fails to be provided. This proved to be the case for the group of older visual artists.\ud It is concluded that values, developed as part of a socialist socialisation, acted as key obstacles to adaptation to the capitalist system. These values and norms evolved in different ways over years due to successful indoctrination with Marxist-Leninist ideology

Topics: N1, DD
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