Art / Leaders & People

“The Too General Public”

Cairo at Night Photo by Keri Douglas (Copyright Protected)

There are times when words from the distant past resurface to provoke, inspire and remind contemporary thinking. Who ever said, ‘those who don’t know history, are doomed to repeat it’?

It was a dangerous thing for art to withdraw from life – a dangerous thing for both art and life. The day on which the artist no longer felt the nearness of a public, the day on which art no longer found its justification, its meaning, and its use in society and morals, art was not destroyed, as one might have expected. It did not die, because the laurel of Apollo is hardy, and will not perish until the very race in which it has found sustenance for its del roots has perished. No, art did not die of this: it fell a-doting. The history of modern art is inexplicable otherwise: the artist who is out of touch with his public is prompted, not to cease producing, but to produce works devoid of destination. The painter paints without knowing on what walls his paintings are to hang; a sculptor cannot tell how the light will fall upon his statues; the poet, singing, hears his own voice.

I do not claim that the great artists of the Renaissance or of Antiquity would have censured the doctrines which are known as “art for art’s sake”. I claim that they would not even have understood them. For obviously these doctrines are born of an era in which art, no longer having a place, being now unable to participate actively or find its stimulus in life, isolates itself with hauteur, becomes infatuate, and despises all who cannot value it sufficiently. And, while the artist is deprived of all external tests for the excellence of his work, being forced to look solely within himself for approbation, we see the birth and development of a new form of criticism (it has been called “subjective criticism”) which finds no grounding in a society without taste, but judges works since the need to judge persists) in terms of its own personal taste and of the greater or lesser amount of pleasure which it derives from them.

Andre Gide, wrote this essay The Too General Public: Showing the Degeneration of Art from an Ancient Social Necessity to an “Art for Art’s Sake” in Vanity Fair in 1928. When I stumbled upon this article by Gide, I thought it was fascinating that almost 100 years later, the concept of fine art of the Renaissance period, the perfection found in Antiquity constantly questioning abstract modern contemporary art.

How much is art about self expression or a reflection of society? When the artist and the collector are connected, does the art become a fuller expression, a more determined expression?

The questions in art remain the same though the times change. Is the modern contemporary artist disconnected from society or perhaps the modern artist is in fact actually reinventing the expression of art and connecting with society?

By Keri Douglas, writer/photographers, Washington, D.C. (Please follow 9 Muses News copyright use policy.)

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