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Last updated:06 May 2015

Crane's foreword to Socialism and Art by Jack C. Squire

Published by the Social-Democratic Federation in 1907.
 

Social-Democratic federation card : designed by Walter Crane

Social-Democratic federation card : designed by Walter Crane

I do not know the author of this pamphlet, but I consider that he has done good service in putting the case for Art from the Socialist point of view; and I find myself so much in sympathy with what he has written, that I feel constrained to offer a word or two in support of his position.

I have often wondered that Socialism, presenting as it does the only living ideal of human existence on this earth, has not more generally won the enthusiasm of artists, who, as our author points out, have suffered so much under the modern commercial capitalistic system.

Even what are called successful artists are forced to specialise their talents; and to maintain their repute and commercial value must continue to repeat the particular manner or method of work by which they are known, and so it often happens that having no time for experiment and vitalising effort in new directions, they are apt to become played out.

While men of repute become overburdened with work, and have a practical monopoly in certain directions, the struggle for recognition among the young and unknown grows even more severe; and while success can command large fees at one end of the scale, there is a disproportionate drop at the other end, and unrecognised talent often has to do uncongenial work, or work unworthy of its best powers, in order to live. Yet the profits of the most successful artist are as nothing compared to those of the successful dealer in Art.

This is an artificial state of things, and it has produced an artificial atmosphere about Art, which has come to be considered- under a system which measures all things by a money standard, and according to their commercial value-as a luxury for the well-to-do, instead of as the common inheritance and joy of humanity.

If we consider, however, how largely the question of Art enters into human life-into, indeed, it might almost be said, every sphere of human activity, in some form or another, since there is no labour which does not recognise the exercise of some kind ot mental or manual skill, or both-we may reasonably come to regard Art, in its social bearing, and connected, as it is, with the crafts of common life, as a necessity.

Socialists, therefore, who desire to build up a larger and fuller human life, based upon collective ownership of the means of material existence in a co-operative commonwealth, cannot afford to leave Art out of account, as the great source of joy, the harmonising influence of beauty, the spirit of order and proportion, at once creative and adaptive, capable of lifting men's thoughts on to the loftiest plane, and yet, withal, a sweet familiar and domestic spirit, cheering and comforting; and gladdening the eyes with form and colour, as it sheds its refining influence everywhere.

British Socialist Party card : designed by Walter Crane

British Socialist Party card : designed by Walter Crane

It is an open question whether a Socialistic society will be prepared to support artists as a class, but I am inclined to think that Art may and has suffered from professionalism. It may truly be said that it takes a lifetime to produce beautiful work in Art, yet, after all, an artist is, primarily, a man or a woman, and not a specialised function. The more understanding, the more sympathy an artist has in life and labour, surely the better for his art, and a general training as a useful citizen should at least precede specialisation in any branch of Art. With the enormously-increased leisure which would be at the command of any community under Socialism, when labour would be directed not for the increase of profits for the benefit of individual owners, but organised for the service and to supply the wants of the whole people, and supposing that a certain amount of ordinary useful work or service to be required of all able-bodied citizens, each would still have a large margin of spare time which might be spent in the pursuit of Art by any who developed talent and taste in that direction.

I think, too, that under Socialism the mass of productions of false art, which is foisted on the market for purely commercial reasons, would have but little chance of existence.

When, too, the energies of humanity are concentrated upon perfecting the conditions of human life itself, and on increasing its pleasurable resources, and cultivating the aesthetic faculties, it is quite possible that the community might be prepared to make even considerable sacrifices for the sake of the beauty and joy in works of Art-as indeed they have always done.

It is certain, at all events, that Art, as the flower of life, will always be the companion and helpmate of humanity, and must always reflect the character of its own genesis and environment, and be both the imperishable record and true monument of the race and the social state which gave it birth.

WALTER CRANE.
August, 1907.

Jack C Squire, Socialism and art (1907) - Shelfmark: AG Social Democratic Federation Box 1

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