Many and various are the art-forms which the sons and grandsons of Ogi [first artist] have invented; but of all these forms, the one which bores us most quickly is the parable–a little story made up for the purpose of illustrating a special lesson. Therefore, I hasten to drop Ogi and his sons and grandsons, and to say in plain English that this book is as study of the artist in his relation to the propertied classes. Its thesis is that from the dawn of human history, the path to honor and success in the arts has been through the service and glorification of the ruling classes; entertaining them, making them pleasant to themselves, and teaching their subjects and slaves to stand in awe of them.
Throughout this book the word artist is used, not in the narrow sense popular in America, as 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 priest 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.