Mammonart (Hyperion Press, 1975)

Sunday, January 4, 2009



Mammonart is another member of Upton Sinclair's "Dead Hand" series and, as he put it, "An interpretation of the arts from the point of view of the class struggle". The "great" artists here have their pockets turned out, from Homer all the way up to Sinclair's contemporaries Jack London and Anatole France. Sinclair's ultimate thesis is that all art is propaganda, but some types of propaganda are useful in the class struggle and some are not, and much of history is devoted to the art that glorifies the upper class - ground that would be later covered in a much more popular book by John Berger (Ways of Seeing).

Posted by St. Drogo at 2:18 PM  

7 comments:

"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:

1) 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 ... this lie is a defense mechanism of artists gone to seed ... means degeneracy in art and the society where such art appears

2) The Art Snobbery Lie; the notion that art is something esoteric, for the privileged few

3) The Art Tradition Lie; the notion artists must follow old models and learn how to work from the classics (vital artists make their own technique)

4) The Art Dilletantism Lie; the notion that art is entertainment and escape from reality (true purpose is to alter reality)

5) The Art Pervert Lie; the notion that art has nothing to do with moral questions

6) The Vested Interest Lie; the notion that art excludes propaganda and has nothing to do with freedom and justice (all art is, universally and inescapably, propaganda)

What Is Art? Art is a representation of life, modified by the personality of the artist, for the purpose of modifying other personalities, inciting them to changes of feeling, belief and action

What is great art? Great art is produced when propaganda of vitality and importance is put across with technical competence in terms of the art selected

St. Drogo said...
January 11, 2009 at 10:22 PM  

" ... all orthodox critics agree that Jesus and Tolstoi are propagandists, while Shakespeare and Goethe are pure and unsullied creative artists. Such distinction between "art" and "propaganda" is purely a class distinction and a class weapon; itself a piece of ruling-class propaganda, a means of duping the minds of men, and keeping them enslaved to false standards both of art and of life"

St. Drogo said...
January 11, 2009 at 10:22 PM  

Becoming social beings - "hearing stories of others so as to live in their minds for a time".

Difference between types of artists - " ... one who wishes to probe the depths of the human spirit, and one who wishes merely to be popular with children and childish-minded adults"

St. Drogo said...
January 11, 2009 at 10:23 PM  

"Every little tea-party poet and semi-invalid cherishes a strong and cruel dream - Nietzsche with his Blond Beast, and Carlyle with his Hero-worship, and Henley with his Song of the Sword, and Kipling with his God of our Fathers"

St. Drogo said...
January 11, 2009 at 10:23 PM  

"In present-day society, the sellers are nearly all organized, while labor is only ten per cent organized, and the ultimate consumer is not organized at all"

St. Drogo said...
January 11, 2009 at 10:23 PM  

“Shelley died at the age of thirty, drowned in a storm while sailing a boat; and with him perished the finest mind the English race had produced. I make this statement deliberately, knowing the ridicule it will excite; but I ask you, before you decide: take the men of genius of England one by one, wipe out their lives after the age of thirty, and see what you have left. Will you take Shakespeare? You will know him as the author of “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece” and “Love’s Labor Lost” and “The Comedy of Errors,” and possibly “Richard III” and some sonnets. Will you take Milton, with “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso” and “Comus” and “Lycidas,” and nothing else? Will you go to the Continent, and take Goethe, who outlived Shelley? What would you think of Goethe if you had only “Goetz” and “Werther” and a few lyric poems? Shelley was one among the sons of Rousseau who did not falter and turn back to feudalism, Catholicism, or mysticism of any sort. He fixed his eyes upon the future, and never wavered for a moment. He attacked class privilege, not merely political, but industrial; and so he is the coming poet of labor.”

St. Drogo said...
January 11, 2009 at 10:23 PM  

What is art? We shall give a definition, and take the rest of the book to prove it. We hope to prove it both psychologically, by watching the art process at work, and historically, by analyzing the art works of the ages. We assert:

Art is a representation of life, modified by the personality of the artist, for the purpose of modifying other personalities, inciting them to changes of feeling, belief and action.

We put the further question: What is great art? We answer:

Great art is produced when propaganda of vitality and importance is put across with technical competence in terms of the art selected.

As commentary we add that whether a certain propaganda is really vital and important is a question to be decided by the practical experience of mankind. The artist may be overwhelmingly convinced that his particular propaganda is of supreme importance, whereas the experience of the race may prove that it is of slight importance; therefore, what was supposed to be, and was for centuries taken to be a sublime work of art, turns out to be a piece of trumpery and rubbish. But let the artist in the labor of his spirit and by the stern discipline of hard thinking, find a real path of progress for the race; let him reveal new impulses for men to thrill to, new perils for them to overcome, new sacrifices for them to make, new joys for them to experience; let him make himself master of the technique of any one of the arts, and put that propaganda adequately and vitally before his fellows — and so, and so alone, he may produce real and enduring works of art.

St. Drogo said...
January 11, 2009 at 10:23 PM  

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