From the Depths: The Discovery of Poverty in the United States

By Robert H. Bremner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
Art for Life's Sake

A concern with the abstract beauty of forms, the objective quality of lines, planes, and colors is not sufficient to create art. The artist must have an interest in life, curiosity and penetrating inquiry into the livingness of things. I don't believe in art for art's sake.

JOHN SLOAN, Gist of Art.

What we need is more sense of the wonder of life and less of this business of making a picture.

ROBERT HENRI, The Art Spirit.

I N the periodic controversies that have shaken the American art world the advantage has usually lain with the defenders of art for art's sake and against the advocates of art for life's sake. This has remained true despite repeated pronouncements by critics and others in favor of an "American" or a "democratic" art. The principal reason seems to be that in this country, contrary to common belief, we hold art in very high esteem. We think of it as something apart from and superior to the concerns of everyday life, and we are affronted when those concerns intrude into art and thereby degrade it to the level of the commonplace. For most of us art is so serious a matter that we approach it with deference and are quite willing to believe that its mysteries can be appreciated only by the knowing and discerning few. Realism, in the sense of truthful rendering of the facts and issues of actual life, has no place in this toplofty conception of art. Its language is too coarse for the sensitive and refined; it speaks too plainly to suit the sophisticated. Only when we forget about art and concentrate our thoughts and energies on the problem of living does art for life's sake flourish.

-185-

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