To Be or Not To Be

A little kingdom I possess,
Where thoughts and feelings dwell;
And very hard the task I find
Of governing it well.
-- Louisa May Alcott.
...........hmmm....that more or less describes my situation !!

~A Wise Man Said~

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
-- Aristotle

Tuesday, July 09, 2002
Read Oscar Wilde's, "The Soul of Man Under Socialism". I would like to put down a few passages here -- those that bring out the two ideas I found immensely interesting and those which, I feel, bear deep thought.

The first ...

"I cannot help saying that a great deal of nonsense is being written and talked nowadays about the dignity of manual labour. There is nothing necessarily dignified about manual labour at all, and most of it is absolutely degrading. It is mentally and morally injurious to man to do anything in which he does not find pleasure and many forms of labour are quite pleasureless activities and should be regarded as such. To sweep a slushy crossing for eight hours on a day when the east wind is blowing is a disgusting occupation. To sweep it with mental, moral or physical dignity seems to me to be impossible. To sweep it with joy would be appalling. Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt. All work of that kind should be done by a machine.

"...There is no doubt at all that this is the future of machinery and just as trees grow while the country gentleman is asleep, so while humanity will be amusing itself, or enjoying cultivated leisure - which, and not labour, is the aim of man - or making beautiful things, or reading beautiful things, or simply contemplating the world with admiration and delight, machinery will be doing all the necessary and unpleasant work."

I perfectly agree. The concept of "dignity of labour" has always induced violent emotions in me. I have never understood how a class of people can propagate the values of "dignity of labour" to another class of people, when there is such a wide difference in the kind of labour each is engaged in. I cannot imagine how we can expect a person to feel dignified about doing something that disgusts him and especially so, when we ourselves wouldn't even consider doing it. I do not say that a man should bear the weight of his lot with an unhappy face, but if he is unhappy, who are we to make him feel guilty of his natural and valid feelings? How can we be so cruel as to dictate to him to put on a smiling face, no matter if he is dying inside? It seems to me that it is in the interest of the majority of us to preach the concept of "dignity of labour", because if not, we would be in real trouble. It is because there are people who are contented doing lowly and ugly jobs, that 'we' can apply our minds to the pursuit of cultivated activities and it is on keeping them contented that our happiness very much depends. What better way of doing so than by convincing them that what they are doing is not all mean and how better to convince them than by airing the virtues of "dignity of labour".

The second....

"Whenever a community or a powerful section of a community, or a government of any kind, attempts to dictate to the artist what he is to do, Art either entirely vanishes, or becomes stereotyped, or degenerates into a low and ignoble form of craft. A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is. It has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want. Indeed, the moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman, an honest or a dishonest tradesman.

"...But alone, without any reference to his neighbours, without any interference, the artist can fashion a beautiful thing; and if he does not do it solely for his own pleasure, he is not an artist at all.

"...The public has always, and in every age, been badly brought up. They are continually asking Art to be popular, to please their want of taste, to flatter heir absurd vanity, to tell them what they have been told before, to show them what they ought to be tired of seeing, to amuse them when they feel heavy after eating too much, and to distract their thoughts when they are wearied of their own stupidity. Now Art should never try to be popular. The public should try to make itself artistic. There is a very wide difference.

"...The popular standard is of such a character that no artist can get to it. It is at once too easy and too difficult to be a popular novelist. It is too easy, because the requirements of the public as far as plot, style, psychology, treatment of life, and treatment of literature are concerned are within the reach of the very meanest capacity and the most uncultivated mind. It is too difficult, because to meet such requirements the artist would have to do violence to his temperament, would have to write not for the artistic joy of writing, but for the amusement of half educated people, and so would have to suppress his individualism, forget his culture, annihilate his style and surrender everything that is valuable in him.

"...Art is individualism and individualism is a disturbing and disintegrating force. Therein lies its immense value. For what it seeks to disturb is monotony of type, slavery of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of man to the level of a machine.

"...In Art, a public accept what has been, because they cannot alter it, not because they appreciate it. They swallow their classics whole, and never taste them. They endure them as inevitable and as they cannot mar them, they mouth about them. Strangely enough, or not strangely, according to one's views, this acceptance of the classics does a great deal of harm.

"...The fact is, the public make use of the classics of a country as a means of checking the progress of art. They degrade the classics into authorities. They use them as bludgeons for preventing the free expression of beauty in new forms. They are always asking a writer why he does not write like somebody else, or a painter, why he does not paint like somebody else, quite oblivious of the fact that if either of them did anything of the kind he would cease to be an artist.

To add my own two bits -- I feel that while the principle of supply and demand works very well in the commercial realm, it had best be left out of the artistic picture. Where Art is concerned, one cannot expect the public to know what is good for them. Good food can be appreciated by the meanest of tastes, but not so, say, a good play. By coercing an artist to conform to the popular want of taste, we not only deprive the artist of his unique expression of Art, but also deprive the public, of the opportunity to behold a piece of Art.