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Whats The Matter With Art?

( Originally Published 1916 )

SHORTLY after the first production of the opera "Nail," at Paris, I met its composer, Mr. Isadore Lara, who, I found, saw eye to eye with me on the question, "What's the Matter With Art?"

"The trouble is," he said, in substance, "that opera is controlled by a small class of people. It ought to belong to the whole people."

In other words, that same thing is the matter with art that is the matter with almost everything else, to wit: class.

Like every other department of human activity, art awaits the liberating touch of democracy.

Like everything else, art can have nothing so bad happen to it as to be patronized.

So long as the artist is dependent upon the caprice of millionaires and kings, it will be hampered.

The best friend of the artist is the people. What he needs is a public, not a patron.

To serve the public gives a man freedom, mastery, inspiration. To please a patron invariably produces the spirit of a valet.

First of all, the public must be brought to realize that art is not the plaything of the rich, but the food of the whole community. That it is civilizing, refining, has distinct human value.

When it reaches this point it will pay its artists. It will provide scope, in its public halls, churches, galleries, and parks, for the painter and sculptor.

It will maintain, each city its own opera house, where the masterpieces of all ages can be given at prices the people can afford to pay.

It will abolish the "star" nuisance.

The singers and players will be chosen from among each country's own youth. We shall go to hear, not Caruso or Tetrazzini, but La Tosca and the Mastersingers.

So far from democracy meaning the universal dulness of mediocrity, it means opportunity for real superiority; it means merit to the front, and the contempt of push, pull, influence, and money.

As monarchy has been abolished in America in the realm of politics, as hierarchy has been put by in religion, and as we are working to get wealth into the control of the whole people, instead of a few, so art needs to be delivered from patronage and made a public good.

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