A Commentary (Oct 1937)
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562 ] A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 17 (Oct 1937) 81-86 I have lately been considering a manifesto which reached me some time ago, but to which at the time I did not give sufficient attention. It is the prefatory statement to a catalogue of the 1937 Exhibition of the “Unity of Artists for Peace, Democracy and Cultural Development.”1 For Peace, for Democracy, for Cultural Progress.2 “To many people,” the preface explains, “that banner will seem irrelevant or unnecessary. All sane people, they may say, are for peace; all liberal-minded men are in favour of democracy; and certainly everyone who takes an interest in the Arts must wish to encourage cultural progress. Why, then, an Association to uphold these principles? And, furthermore, why an international association of artists at all? Surely Art is everywhere recognised as international. . . .” What gives these sentences their clinical interest for a commentary is what also renders them difficult to comment upon: the accumulation of assumptions , so that it is not easy to determine what proposition depends upon which. We note first that the author feels it necessary to excuse himself only to those to whom the “banner” of “Peace, Democracy, and Cultural Progress” seems “irrelevant or unnecessary.” He does not think it necessary to explain himself to those to whom this “banner” seems either meaningless or suspect. Such people, perhaps, are not “people” at all – they can only be the enemy. Even those of us who are not addressed, can agree that all “sane” people are for peace – except when there is a conflict between peace andsomehighervalue–orexceptwhenthereisaconflictbetweenpeaceand some more immediate interest. And we might allow that all liberal-minded men are in favour of democracy. But we need not agree that (as seems to be assumed) all good (or as the author might say “sane”) men are liberalminded ; and if there are good men who are not liberal-minded, then the fact that all liberal-minded men are in favour of democracy is not enough to prove that democracy is an absolute good. There is further the assumption that artists are liberal-minded (if they are not liberal-minded they are probably bad artists). For artists, if they have the wit to see what is totheir interest, must be in favour of democracy. Artists require, the writer thinks, “a state of society which acknowledges the right of men and women to pursue [ 563 A Commentary (oct) their individual tasks in peace: a state of society compatible only with what we call democracy.” I am not sure what the author has in mind; for, assuming that everybody has an individual task and knows what it is, I should suppose that the right to pursue it should not be limited to artists, but should be extended to everyone. It is as disagreeable for the ordinary stockbroker or workman to be conscripted into waging war as it is for the artist. What democracy frequently does, is to allow the artist, or self-supposed artist, to pursue his self-imposed task in peace, at the price of starving. What the artist really requires is a state of society that demands what he has to give, and will give him sufficient recompense to enable him to carry on his work.3 And I doubt whether “democracy,” or any other abstract form of government, will ensure this livelihood. And what is cultural progress? Is it the development of a society in which the “artist” will be in greater and greater demand? Is it a development of society such that every exhibit in the exhibition of the Unity of Artists for Peace, Democracy and Cultural Development will be sold at a good price? or in which every poet will make enough money to buy a small car and a wireless set? I cannot object to “cultural progress,” because I do not know what it means. I can, however, object to one sentence: “Surely Art is everywhere recognised as international.” Perhaps modern art is international , and if so, that may help to account for its weakness. I cannot think of art as either national or international – these, after all, are modern terms – but as racial and local; and an art which is not representative of a particular people, but “international,” or an art which does not represent a particular civilization, but only an abstract civilization-in-general, may lose its sources of vitality. I have not the right to speak for anything but the art of literature...


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