The Academy – a shaded grove near Athens, where Plato and his pupils met: decidedly not an educational institution, but a place of dialogue: a dialogue that does not discriminate between poetry and science. It is hardly surprising that in the Romance countries, which have preserved closer ties to ancient traditions, poets and artists are usually united in Academies of Science such as the Académie française. In Germany, where artistst of all disciplines have formed their own academies, this is the exception. In the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste in Munich (1948), in the Deutsche Akademie der Künste in East Berlin (1950), in the Akademie der Künste in West Berlin (1954) and the Freie Akademie der Künste in Hamburg, founded by Hans Henny Jahnn in 1948. The Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung in Darmstadt (1949) is exclusively concerned with language and poetry.
What they all have in common (including the academies of science) is that the number of members is limited, that new members are elected, and that being elected is a mark of distinction. An academy is the establishment of permanent communication, among the artists as well as with society. For art to be vital, to produce it is not enough, it needs to be comprehended: it needs reception and interpretation. Any form of reception of a work of art is an act of (re-)creation. What distinguishes an academy from other associations of artists is its interdisciplinary character: all the arts under one roof – the opportunity to cooperate, to discuss the limits of the individual arts and to transcend them. The academy can thus be stimulant and catalyst, provoke unusual combinations. An academy does not represent individual arts or artists – it represents the claims of art qua art vis-à-vis society and the state.
The academy provides the freedom the arts need in order to flourish. To continually renew this freedom – for freedom is not a static possession – is the noblest task of an academy. An academy is also essentially a place of reflexion, of artistic self-contemplation – a place where artists find a home for their works – which is the main thing – and for their ideas also. This embraces artists of all styles and political or other persuasions, and of all ages – irrespective of current fashions: neither traditionalism nor their no less horrid opposite, modernism. The academy is above all a place which is open to all currents, which admits arts and artists of all kinds, the only criterium being quality.
The academy sustains (or tries to sustain) what is in danger of being overlooked or suppressed in the art and media industry – which it may be because it does not bow to current fashion or because it is unattractive to political or economic interests; or indeed because it causes political unease and is locally suppressed.
In this sense, an academy also acts as a counterpoise to the commercial art scene, which is to a large extent determined by non-artistic interests.
Hans Henny Jahnn and his Academy
The Freie Akademie der Künste in Hamburg takes pride of place in the life of Hans Henny Jahnn, who was its co-founder and spiritus rector. The idea of an academy follows two lines of thought which were instilled in early life and which, refracted by the light of the experience of the First and the catastrophe of the Second World War, take a peculiar form.