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 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 and away superior to the technique of any art period preceding.
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.
As further commentary we explain that the word morality is not used in its popular sense, as a set of rules forbidding you to steal your neighbor’s purse or his wife. Morality is the science of conduct; and since all life is conduct, it follows that all art–whether it knows it or not–deals with the question of how to be happy, and how to unfold the possibilities of the human spirit. Some artists preach self-restraint, and some preach self-indulgence; and both are preachers. Some artists say that the purpose of art is beauty, and they produce beautiful works to demonstrate the truth of this doctrine; when such art works are completed, they are beautiful demonstrations of the fact that the purpose of art is to embody the artist’s ideas of truth and desirable behavior.