Voices on the Wind Obscure Voices
Art Should be Independent (from Pound Laundry) by Michael Gregory Art should be independent of all clap-trap— should stand alone and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it as devotion pity love patriotism and the like its value having little to do with how well it represents something else something other than itself but everything to do with its technical felicities, the craftsmanship with which true genius creates its own reality. Thus spake the stock artist à la bohème in cartoon when not done up sartorially in top hat frock coat monocle square-tipped patent leather pumps white shirt and a long cane flourished it was said menacingly on occasion ex-pat Irish-American in St Petersburg Paris London during the thickest Victorian fog sometimes passing himself off as of Russian birth (I shall be born when and where I want he answered when confronted with the plain fact that he first saw light in a state of the art Massachusetts mill town)— inspiration to generations of wildean spirits perfecting the gentle art of making enemies seeing at once that whatever the grey and black and peacock blue arrangements what sells art is the artist’s persona performance image will; whose pyrrhic victory in court against the libel enounced by the reigning elder left him bankrupt whistling in the dark said elder’s stone lamps first brought to light in order to save modern art from industrialized palates; that elder who had long said the capital-A Artist addresses any particular scene in any medium by recalling thousands of such previous scenes commingling the new with those now passing through him a morris dance of traditional properties (Well-meaning said the sage of Tigullia but a goose to think the stagecoach the answer to the foul locomotive when clean quiet electric trains are already running); who, by giving up aesthetics in the ascetic sense, his main value in the public’s heart, to preach instead his last forty years on nothing but economic morality and the present recession thereof, alienated his audience at the height of his fame; but who was spot on nonetheless concerning the dismal science and dirty politics of art— ugliness and injustice unidentical twins injustice the first born of that misbegot pair all money an acknowledgment of debt scarcity a by-product of monopoly imagination and the passionate element values that must be figured into every calculation the body politic weakened if men spend their lives manufacturing trivialities wealth the possession of the valuable by the valiant capital capital proper only when producing something useful something other than itself consumption the end aim of all production to use everything and to use it nobly usefulness value in the hands of the valiant distribution the physics of wealth—not wealth absolute but discriminate, not everything to every man but the right thing to the right man not equality in the leveling sense but the obvious superiority of some; the root of war the capitalists’ will risen to the top of a covetous culture, unjust wars supported if not by pillaging the enemy then by loans from private parties to be repaid by taxing the public, the proper function of businessmen neither self-interest nor making themselves rich, gaining the power of riches (the power of keeping your neighbor poor the tradesman servile the artist in poverty) but to provide for the nation, teach it righteousness—what is vanity what substance—the difference between grapes and grape-shot; who, one of those rare men said Tolstoy who think with their hearts conceived culture to be an organism so that as cultural degradation depraves the arts (slurred lines always a sign of vice the moral history of nations there in the construct of their buildings,) changes for the better in art might prompt broader improvements; who, fined a farthing for saying in print that the coxcomb in asking two hundred guineas for his black and gold imposture was throwing a pot of paint in the public’s face (recalling how he himself had first been provoked into becoming a critic when the spattered paint image was thrown at Turner) arguing in his own defense his right to speak his mind—especially on morality in art, the character of the art indicative of the artist, especially in the written-letter format where opinion is to be not only expected but welcomed, especially when the opinions expressed are right as his he pointed out were, and though admittedly his impulsive style might seem scurrilous, forceful expression is native to caricature the proper voice to draw attention to dark truths— resigned his chair at Oxford in a fit of protest at the fine, took it up again then resigned it again to protest vivisection on campus; who said he saw as he walked to the British Museum the faces of people more corrupt daily the great majority already gone rancid less so he thought or so he told himself than the one he saw when he cared to look in his shaving mirror; who, having tried to hold everything in his mind, in his declining years had to let go— no summing up, only chance remarks casual thoughts memories letting time in, suffering mental breakdowns (attacks of madness as it was called) his last twenty-five years spending the last ten in intense silence.