[Marxism] Art is...the Permanent Revolution
bookfind at mymts.net
Fri Mar 2 14:01:18 MST 2012
> For those familiar with Leon Trotsky's political career, you will of
> course recognize that this was a question that preoccupied him as well.
> One of the major obstacles to my getting involved with a revolutionary
> organization was what can only be described as a prejudice against what I
> viewed as "propagandistic" art.
Upton Sinclair, in his introduction to what I consider one of his most
important books, weighs in on this question in "Mammonart" (1925), Pp7-9.
The full text is available online here:
"Throughout this book the word artist is used, not in the narrow sense
popular in America, as a man who paints pictures and illustrates magazines;
but in its broad sense, as one who represents life imaginatively by any
device, whether picture or statue or poem or song or symphony or opera or
drama or novel. It is my intention to study these artists from a point of
view so far as I know entirely new; to ask how they get their living, and
what they do for it; to turn their pockets inside out, and see what is in
them and where it came from; to put to them the question already put to
priests and preachers, editors and journalists, college presidents and
professors, school superintendents and teachers: WHO OWNS YOU, AND WHY?
The book will present an interpretation of the arts from the point of
view of the class struggle. It will study art works as instruments of
propaganda and repression, employed by the ruling classes of the community;
or as weapons of attack, employed by new classes rising into power. It will
study the artists who are recognized and honored by critical authority, and
ask to what extent they have been servants of ruling class prestige and
instruments of ruling class safety. It will consider also the rebel
artists, who have failed to serve their masters, and ask what penalties they
have paid for their rebellion.
The book purposes to investigate the whole process of art creation, and
to place the art function in relation to the sanity, health and progress of
mankind. It will attempt to set up new canons in the arts, overturning many
of the standards now accepted. A large part of the world's art treasures
will be taken out to the scrap-heap, and a still larger part transferred
from the literature shelves to the history shelves of the world's library.
Since childhood the writer has lived most of his life in the world's
art. For thirty years he has been studying it consciously, and for
twenty-five years he has been shaping in his mind the opinions here
recorded; testing and revising them by the art-works which he has produced,
and by the stream of other men's work which has flowed through his mind.
His decisions are those of a working artist, one who has been willing to
experiment and blunder for himself, but who has also made it his business to
know and judge the world's best achievements.
The conclusion to which he has come is that mankind is today under the
spell of utterly false conceptions of what art is and should be; of utterly
vicious and perverted standards of beauty and dignity. We list six great
art lies now prevailing in the world, which this book will discuss:
Lie Number One: The Art for Art's Sake lie; the notion that the end of
art is in the art work, and that the artist's sole task is the perfection of
form. It will be demonstrated that this lie is a defensive mechanism of
artists run to seed, and that its prevalence means degeneracy, not merely in
art, but in the society where such art appears.
Lie Number Two: the lie of Art Snobbery; the notion that art is
something esoteric, for the few, outside the grasp of the masses. It will
be demonstrated that with few exceptions of a special nature, great art has
always been popular art, and great artists have swayed the people.
Lie Number Three: the lie of Art Tradition; the notion that new artists
must follow old models, and learn from the classics how to work. It will be
demonstrated that vital artists make their own technique; and that
present-day technique is far away superior to the technique of any art
Lie Number Four: the lie of Art Dilettantism; the notion that the
purpose of art is entertainment and diversion, an escape from reality. It
will be demonstrated that this lie is a product of mental inferiority, and
that the true purpose of art is to alter reality.
Lie Number Five: the lie of the Art Pervert; the notion that art has
nothing to do with moral questions. It will be demonstrated that all art
deals with moral questions; since there are no other questions.
Lie Number Six: the lie of Vested Interest; the notion that art
excludes propaganda and has nothing to do with freedom and justice. Meeting
that issue without equivocation, we assert:
All art is propaganda. It is universally and inescapably propaganda;
sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda.
As commentary on the above, we add, that when artists or art critics
make the assertion that art excludes propaganda, what they are saying is
that their kind of propaganda is art, and other kinds of propaganda are not
art. Orthodoxy is my doxy, and heterodoxy is the other fellow's doxy."
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