1930s >> 1930 >> no-305-january-1930
Socialism and Art
“The whole way along, Capitalism has stifled Art and tortured the artist. For Art there has been a cramped and narrowed existence; for the artist starvation during his best years, and fame when he was too old to enjoy it. There never was a system which was so noxious to Art as this of Capitalism. All the accusations that it hurls at Socialism will rebound with redoubled vigour against its own lying head. The most inconceivably unrefined Socialistic state could not do worse than degrade Art and starve the artist. What will the ordinary Socialist State of our dreams do?
“Firstly, with regard to your genuises. Well, the bureau idea is a rotten one. We have the rudiments of it now in the various scholarships to Schools of Painting and Schools of Music, although they have not tried it yet in respect to Literature. You may discover and encourage technical talent like this—but the “chances are that genius will go unnoticed, if nothing more. In such schemes you are bound to have examiners and selectors of a sort, and anything novel (as all works of genius are bound to appear until you get used to them) may give them the impression that it is only bad or eccentric. Genius takes some little time to be appreciated, and then a whole people, is always a safer judge than an individual who is asked to give an immediate opinion. But. frankly, is there any reason why you should thus keep the artists as a breed apart, a sort of Levites? A poet eats, sleeps, and drinks, and (if he is a sensible man) plays billiards. There seems to me to be no valid reason why he should not spend three or four hours a day in some socially necessary labour, mental or physical— always giving him a choice of occupation, of course. Our error at present is not in forcing artists to take up other work in order to earn their living, but in giving them so much of this other work, or such distasteful work, that their energies are sapped and their thought deadened.”
“And as for the community at large, it seems as clear as daylight to me that better material conditions and a freer life will bring out again all those instincts which in many men are suppressed under Capitalism. Art will give pleasure to work and beauty to the world. And beauty breeds like every other living thing—except the upper classes. The more beautiful the world becomes, the more men’s efforts will be centred on making it beautiful. On what lines these efforts will run it were a little rash to attempt to forecast. Men will attempt to abolish ugliness wherever possible; ugliness in social conditions of all sorts, in their dwellings, in their clothes, in their habits, in every single article they use. One can scarcely agree with Ruskin that the destruction of all machinery is desirable. But still, it is highly probable that in a Communist society, men, as regards certain articles of everyday use, would rather go without machinery, and do a little more work, in order to get the beauty that only handicraft can give. Many ugly things, too, that we see around us to-day. would disappear of their own accord, because they are only in existence to satisfy an artificial need created by the Capitalists in order to find an investment for a portion of their surplus capital. . . . Every man who is working for human happiness is, whether he knows it or not, following in the footsteps of the great artists of the past and clearing the road for the great artists of the future.” J. C. Squire
The above is taken from a pamphlet published by the Social Democratic Federation in 1907. It is interesting as an artist’s viewpoint, for Squire was a very fine poet, as most modern anthologies bear witness. It is also interesting from another point of view. Squire became a leading writer for one of the most influential Capitalist papers, the Sunday Times, and eventually stood as Liberal candidate for a London division. As he points out, the artist, like every other human being, must eat and drink in order to live—and the hand of Capital is heavy!