To supplement last week's dispatch, I thought I'd slap an excerpt from William Carlos Williams' "The Basis of Faith in Art" up on here. But since I can't find an etext and the thing is hard to chop up (like much of Williams' poetry, it doesn't trace out an easy A to Z argument and lends itself poorly to blurbs), I went ahead and transcribed the whole damn thing out of his Selected Essays. Hopefully there aren't too many typos.
Thought to have been written around 1937, the piece depicts an impassioned dialogue between the poet and his architect brother about art -- what it is, what it does, who it's for. It can be hard to follow, but I can promise an interesting and fun (if not rewarding) read if you can spare the time and patience.
The Basis of Faith in Art
William Carlos Williams
My brother, who is an architect, told me recently that his mind had been aflame over the problems of construction today more than ever before. Upon what she we base our judgments? he said to me almost in despair. You are a writer, he said, I'd like to know how you work. What do you find to be of importance? We must both be looking for more or less the same things. Tell me how you go about it.
I just sit down and write.
It must be more conscious than that. You must have some basis for acceptance of a word, a phrase——a general character of composition. I, for instance, after a lifetime of practice, feel that I'm just beginning to sense a few of the underlying movements, call them rules, governing my profession and that this talk of "old" and "modern" has very little to do with the matter.
That's a large piece of woods, though, to get lost in.
The basis is honesty in construction, that you can do certain things with the material and other things you cannot do. Therein lie all the answers.
Yes, if you get it down to a bare hunk of rock, a few tree-length timbers, a bucket of rubble and cement and a bundle of glass. But what are you going to do with them? Isn't that more to the point?
Build a house. A few years ago we began to get the first models and then gradually the local examples of the modernistic dwellings as originated in France and Germany, the so-called "functional" dwelling. This, we were told, is the future. Everything else is old hat. At last architecture has been freed from its trammels. This is the new.
It was intended to be a house though, wasn't it?
Yes, a house; rooms, doors, windows....
Electricity, modern plumbing, refrigeration, autos, twin beds....just to emphasize the modern phase.
And very good houses they are too, some of them——by Le Corbusier and the rest. But I always wondered about certain of their structural features, their narrow moldings, etc. Look at them today. They are falling apart. Look. I've been designing a display window for a large manufacturer down South. I've been almost crazy with it. I tried the engineers, the glass makers, everybody, on the proper thickness of the pane, the maximum area and safety factors, the proper anchoring of it. They all say it can't be done. But I've got to do it. Then one day last week, right in the middle of my troubles, I walked out of the office and hadn't gone three blocks when I ran plump into such a window as I had been working on, installed, right in front of me. I couldn't believe my eyes so I went up and put my thumb against the glass and pressed! The whole thing shook as if an earthquake had struck it and almost exploded in my face on the rebound. Such a thing can't stand. It wobbled back and forth even under that slight pressure. That's not architecture.
So we talked along.
On the other hand, he said, look at the new So-and-So building they want to put up in Washington. As if we hadn't enough stone columns there already, X's idea is to take such and such a perfect example of the Greek——he doesn't even bother to design anything——and tell them to large-scale it in everywhere. I can't do anything better than that, he says, why even try?
The spirit of Phidias, eh?——without Phidias.
Tell me, continued my brother earnestly, what about writing? I'm tremendously interested.
You know how I started to write, I said. I didn't know what I was doing but I knew what I wanted to do.
What, for instance?
I wanted to protest against the blackguardy and beauty of the world, my world.
So you took to poetry.
The only way I could find was poetry——and prose to a lesser extent. So I gradually began to learn, very slowly. If I remember rightly it was more a matter of how I could cling to what I had and not relinquish it in the face of tradition than anything else.
It sounds very simple.
All you have to know is the meaning of the words——and let yourself go.
Then what? What did you learn first?
That it isn't easy to let yourself go. I had learned too much already, even before I started to write. I ran into good safe stereotype everywhere. Perfectly safe, that's why we cling to it. If I ducked out of that I ran into chaos.
So I had to begin to invent——or try to invent. Of course I had the advantage of not speaking English. That helped a lot.
I always knew that I was I, precisely where I stood and that nothing could make me accept anything that had no counterpart in myself by which to recognize it. I always said to myself that I did not speak English, for one thing, and that that should be the basis for a beginning, that I spoke a language that was my own and that I would govern it according to my necessities and not according to unrelated traditions the necessity for whose being had long since passed away. English is full of such compunctions which are wholly irrelevant for a man living as I am today but custom makes it profitable for us to be bound by them. Not me.
I can't tell you anything offhand. I made up my mind that everything must come out of someone and relate to him, first and last. And it had to be for all, whether they liked it or not. You ought to know. Houses are to live in, that's one of the finest things about architecture. You build houses, for people. Poems are the same.
Yes, I know, he said. But I'm sick of this "back to humanity, back to the soil" business. You grow spinach in the soil, you don't grow writing there and certainly it doesn't sprout little new buildings ready-made. Neither does humanity. Architecture is an art and writing is an art also, mossy with tradition.
Who said anything else? What I said was that I go back to people. They are the origin of every bit of life that can possibly inhabit any structure, house, poem or novel of any conceivable human interest. It doesn't precisely come out of the tops of their heads like flowers but they represent, in themselves, the structure which art...Put it this way: If we don't cling to the warmth which breathes into a house or a poem alike from human need———
The stink, you mean.
———the whole matter has nothing to hold it together and becomes structurally weak so that it falls to pieces.
Possibly but I don't follow you.
Maybe I don't follow myself, it's always a possibility. You began by telling me about a craftsmanlike integrity to one's materials. No lying. But that's no incentive to either build or write——no safe incentive, that is. It would apply just as well if you hung a house from a pole like a bird cage.
It's been done only he put the pole up the center of it. Because of earthquakes.
There you are! Just what I said. I mean you build a house for people, don't you? Then the needs of...I mean, the minute you let yourself be carried away by purely "architectural" or "literary" reasoning without consulting the thing from which it grew, you've cut the life-giving artery and nothing ensues but rot.
What we seem to be getting to is that all the arts have to come back to something.
And that thing is human need. When our manner of action becomes imbecile we breed Dada, Gertrude Stein, surrealism. These things seem unrelated to any sort of sense UNTIL we look for the NEED of human beings. Examining that we find that these apparently irrelevant movements of art represent mind saving, even at moments of genius, soul saving, continents of security for the pestered and bedeviled spirit of man, bedeviled by the deadly, lying repetitiousness of doctrinaire formula worship which is the standard work of the day. In my young days it was "English." In your young days it was "Greece," "Rome." But the mind is merely enslaved by these ideals, these ideas, unless we can relate them, here, now, in our environment, to ourselves and our day. This requires invention....
Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You forget you are a writer, I am an architect. You are working with words. I am working with building materials. We have to have rules which shall govern us. I grant you that we have to have universal rules——that will work today just as they worked to produce the marvels of antiquity——but they're rules just the same.
As far as I'm concerned I don't think they're any different from human character in service to the inauguration.
You mean that art should be useful?
Stuck your foot out that time, didn't you? But I didn't trip. Yes, useful. They try to deny it. There's an arrogance in art that likes to set itself up against the world. Don't let it fool you. We know we're rather a small band of gypsies. Some still think we had better be driven out of the towns as the medieval lepers were. But don't forget that in a scientific era like the one now passing, the artist's protest that his art is wholly nonutilitarian has a certain amount of truth in it. It's a wonderful picture of us all. The uselessness of it might constitute its principal use, sometimes. Anger, disgust, defiance to a sordid, scurrilous world drive a man to...
Whoa, boy. What I want is a cold explanation.
But I insist, yes, that the purpose of art IS to be useful. Why does a poet write as he does? It may be defiance because he sees something worth having. He must shake himself free, he himself as one man, from the destroying horror of an oppressive existence, but it he writes it can only be in the hope that he may gather to himself others with whom he would like to see the world better populated.
But good people are repelled by such an artist's efforts.
Don't let's talk about good people.
But I mean it.
Well, perhaps. All right, good people. A man writes as he does because he doesn't know any better way to do it, to represent exactly what he has to say CLEAN of the destroying, falsified, besmirching agencies with which he is surrounded. Everything he does is an explanation. He is always trying his very best to refine his work until it is nothing else but "useful knowledge." I say everything, every minutest thing that is part of a work of art is only good when it is useful and that any other explanation of the "work" would be less useful than the work itself. Don't worry, the artist will die and his work will be explained later. Then other times will require new artists.
You talk as if art should be a department of government——like public health, etc.
Poetry is a rival government always in opposition to its cruder replicas.
Be that as it may, it seems to me that we have wandered. I'm looking for aid in architectural construction from you, a poet. I am working with building materials. You are working with words. But there should be rules which will guide us, rules which may be interchangeable among all the arts.
I think right here we'd better recognize the differences between architecture and poetry. A poet has a less material tenant for his domicile than an architect———
Not if you include cathedrals———
Anyhow house do have to be lived in physically. That makes a big practical difference. But wait a minute, maybe I am the one who should be learning, from you. A man comes to you and wants a house. What happens? Some will belie their materials and do anything the client asks. But you're an architect, what would you do?
I wouldn't sell out, I'd rather lose the commission——and do lose them very often for that reason——rather than lie.
I know. But what would you "do," you, yourself, while the man is still in the act of making his proposal to you? You'd start on the house, in your mind, I mean, constructing it as it must be FOR CERTAIN REASONS. Isn't that right?
Yes, of course.
Nine case out of ten you'd have the thing up there inside your head within the first ten minutes.
Then so far it's just like a poem. After that, hungry for work, you'd look at the man, inwardly, and size him up as to just what he amounted to in your mind, architecturally speaking.
After that you'd go to work on him to get what YOU wanted. Isn't that right?
That's right. I would——with my heart in my mouth.
What else does a poet do? And how can I tell you anything else about it? It isn't only the tensile strength of the materials. It isn't just "honesty." It isn't standard lengths and all that. It's everything in the world today. First it's human character that decides. Your character, the quality of your client. The only difference with poetry is that the poet builds for an everybody, any person, while you build for everyone in one person. All the modern necessities, the social needs, the falsification of thought, the constrictions of vile habit. The architect is a rebel just as I am. He should be a philosopher, a sociologist, he must have read Thornstein Velben. He must know human habits, eccentricities. But above all he must know how to put it over.
Fine! But what "art" means to most seems to be the art of deceit. If they flatter a client and give him what he wants they feel that they don't give up their franchise as an artist. On the contrary, they're doing something human, they're employing their hard-earned structural skill to bring into effect the bare demands he makes of them———
The commercial artist, so-called.
Some are pretty good, too.
Why not? provided, they can adapt the client's needs to their own necessities. This applies also to propaganda.
I'd solve the problem architecturally till hell freezes over——or not at all.
That's why you're a poor man——and my brother!
And the idea that the government can tell me...
Whoa, boy! Now it's your turn to take it easy.
I'd discover a material that would be honestly suited to the structure or change the structure to suit the material that I had.
Not enough. Not enough. Nobody gives a whoop in hell for such a viewpoint.
Nobody but an engineer who has a bridge to build maybe, or an astronomer who has no bridge to build.
True, but it still isn't enough.
They don't lie. Everybody else does.
Why should they lie, nobody expects it of them.
Do they expect you to lie, as a poet?
And how! You gotta write propaganda today. You know, yuh gotta "help humanity"———
Now, it seems to me, you're the one that's going in the other direction.
Well, aren't you ridiculing the tough-guy party man and his intellectual henchmen? They're the ones who are trying to take you writers over for their own purposes and make liars of you, as you say. What about it?
You know, you've made me think. Propaganda is like a house an architect has to build for people to live in. Maybe your client is a damn fool, maybe he isn't. You've got to argue with him——broadly speaking. That broadens the whole matter, doesn't it? Only we're so damned beset with hangovers and dragbacks. They've got to live in them, the houses, poems, we make——but they don't even know they're houses. Their needs govern it but in such a complex manner that it flies out of the mind and nobody knows what it is about. But we've got to come back to it, from both sides. The poeat has to serve and the reader has to——be met and won——without compromise.
Who's going to decide——as it touches the poet, I mean. That's what we're really up against. They want to kill him, if he's good enough. To laugh at him at the very least, in his time. It's a sign of his excellence in most cases. Then, it's not the people who decide. Never. It's got to be the artist, himself.
I see what you mean. What do they make of——Poe, or Whitman, for instance, even today, to say nothing of Stein, eh?
Yes, a man like Poe.
Do you mean Poe was a "necessity"———
Well, what then?
If the party man sees a writer whom he thinks he can use, wouldn't he be a fool if he didn't try to corral him and use him? Let him go ahead. All I say is, the artist is a pitiful liar if he allows himself to be used that way. As an artist I'm for the party man, maybe, but as an artist I know how I can work most effectively. And if he doesn't use me, as material, for the things I am best able to perform, my best as an artist, then he's a jackass of a party man and doesn't know his own business. He can take advantage of me temporarily and discredit me momentarily, perhaps, but he cannot destroy my work for him unless he succeeds in destroying my integrity as an artist toward my own work. And that he shall never do.
I know what they think. They think that, like Jesuits, the end justifies the means. They think that until something is accomplished it is more economical to join solidly on a single front, skilled and unskilled alike———
By what authority?
Take sides and fight!
You mean try to get a job with one of the official housing corporations?
Boy! Oh boy! the housing problem isn't going to be solved by any of the bureaus but by some bring boy steeped in the best there is in architecture. He'll find it and nobody else will.
Sure, if he goes back to humanity far enough.
He'll find it architecturally, not any other way; without the aid of their damned wasteful propaganda. The answers don't come that way, they come to someone, some ONE, working by the means of his art——alone——in some relative attic somewhere. And that's the only way they'll ever come and ever can come.
Hot stuff! We'll get together yet. What faith is there left to humanity anyway other than its faith in art?
Without faith in humanity, anyhow, there's no faith in art. Put it either way, it amounts to the same thing.
Very well, let humanity be your ground, an arterial continuity....
No, no! People, this person and that person, human beings, the ones that get killed by the bombs and ride across the United States on bicycles.
I notice you're not too anxious to be classed among them. You still want to maintain your independence as an artist. You don't want to be told what to do.
On the contrary, I am always looking for someone to tell me what to do.
But you wish to maintain the government. Yet from the people, you say, the artists derives all that he is. Aren't these two viewpoints mutually contradictory? I think they are and I think you're not half the people's man you think you are. I don't think the people in general have a thing to do with the artist or with you.
Warmth, yes. That's all right. But what of aspirations? Do you mean to tell me that they arise from the people? No sir. What of dreams? Where are they to come from? Their origin is not in the people but in you. You betray yourself when you reserve to yourself what you call the artist's prerogative to decide. You may be rooted in the people but your aspirations...
Come from them also.
Your aspirations are antagonistic to the people's wishes and come from you alone. But you do not believe in the soul.
Because you say as much.
I don't say anything.
You believe everything is here and now.
Isn't it?——if it expects to be tomorrow?
In them. From them to me.
That's a fair question. Through the independence of the artist.
The unpredictable artist! The people's slave! Go on.
You know, of course, what the usual answer is. Peasants hung from crossbars of telegraph poles in Mexico and Lorca shot by a Fascist firing squad in Granada, his Granada!
What's the connection?
You want me to define the connection between the poet and the mob.
And to show how his aspirations arise from them. Not for them, mind you, but from them. I haven't forgotten what we started with. Architecture.
He must maintain his independence———
Which amounts to a divorce from society.
———in order to be able to perceive their needs and to act upon the imperative necessities of his perceptions.
Independent and dependent! you make me laugh.
Independent of opinion, dependent of body. The artist had better be a poor man.
A sort of sleuth, eh? who goes smelling about to unearth social requirements.
Absurd. Shouldn't we rather say a rudderless nonentity furiously laboring at random whims, from among whose works, with time, a public takes the initiative to select its equally haphazard choices?
Then whose is the government?
The one who most needs.
This is nothing but confusion. Disturbing to good sense.
You wouldn't want to jail me or possibly shoot me for it?
It's an idea.
But an old one. It's never worked——for long.
Antisocial, in spite of all your protestations.
We're attempting to track down the origins of a poet's aspirations, what might be called his soul, his longings, toward that as yet imaginative new province to which we shall come——tomorrow! That's where our souls are always living.
Let's stick to facts.
Do you know what they are today, our souls?
Ourselves. That's fact enough, isn't it?
Let's say, ourselves. There are qualities in us thoroughly disassociated from social origins, lonely and forbidding to the mass. The iciness of virtue, the uncompromising recognition of good and evil, heroic self-denial and the tragedy of unequivocal loss.
Only he is lost who has been cut off from his fellows.
The way you talk nothing is either bad or good so long as the mob sanctions it. Get what you want. Have your cake and eat it at the same time. That's the mob. What principles are there in that———?
As a matter of fact, it's absolutely unprincipled.
Well, what then?
What? Why it's the truth and the truth can't be ignored.
But it's wrong. If you are unprincipled you are evil. You know perfectly well what is bad and what is good. Do you believe in your marriage vows?
But you pretend that you're married.
I am married.
But you have no faith in it.
Perfect faith. It's like a rock to me.
A rock you say!
That I use sometimes to fling at birds.
You'll lose it some day.
I always find it again.
No fault of your own.
On the contrary, that which is used is saved——often by dint of a considerable effort. But I don't believe in vows.
Then you're a liar, an evil thing floating around on any breeze that blows.
It had better blow me where I intend to go. If not, I'll go against it anyhow. It's a matter of principle.
A disorderly mind, all you do merely hides for a few years the basic faithlessness of your life. If understanding catches up with you on this track you quickly switch to another. Then when you hear the bloodhounds baying you jump into the water——being sure it is shallow enough!——and run for miles. But you will not be able to throw posterity off your track forever. You will be caught in the end and your work will be found to be empty——without the basis of faith.
That I don't believe. But you mentioned something about order——you said I had a disorderly mind. If to have a mind in which order is broken down to be redistributed, then you are right, not otherwise. I was early in life sick to my very pit with order that cuts off the crab's feelers to make it fit into the box. You remember how Taine left Keats out of his criticism of English literature because to include him would spoil the continuity of his argument? And you recall how, failing to discover the thread of its order, Z. moved from the rigors of a harsh sequence to become part of an order easier of access, an established order to which the access had been made easier by a well-trodden path. But order is in its vigor the process of ordering——a function of the imagination———
Hardihood, honesty, devotion...
Those are the nicknames for penury. You asked me about marriage and its vows. Let me ask you, Have vows ever made a marriage?
There is no marriage without them.
But marriages may languish even when the vows are not broken, may they not?
Yes, I suppose so.
Did it ever occur to you that a marriage might be invigorated by deliberately breaking the vows.
That is impossible.
Nothing is impossible to the imagination.
I'm not talking about imagination but——the basis of faith in art. And I said that without principles...
No, you began by objecting to my attachment to people and asked the source of aspiration. You see how confused and foolish we have become. If one were versed in philosophy, eh? How orderly might be one's progress, none of the head of mere human combat, prejudice...How can a man make any progress in his life without philosophy? And yet, one must. But even a peasant may sing and in Spain they, anonymously, indite coplas to the expansive mind in all sorts of colors. So that, not having philosophy, nor even a shadow of it, some sort of order still emerges———
In the world we are confused, embittered, we lose our sense of order and are likely to cling to death because we fear the apparent disorderliness of our lives. We have no faith so we accuse everyone else of breaking his vows. This is pitiful but who is free either from the sins of commission, of lying or envy? Why, envy is the very backbone of conformity. But there remains the province of art.
I know what's coming. You're going to canonize the artist.
You're mistaken, I detest him. I admire your Savonarolas and Calvins. But I disagree with them. I always agree with the blackguardly artist. Why? Because he lives in a world of the imagination where there is nothing but truth and beauty. It is there, in that Olympus, that all our destinies are solved. It is for that alone what we go to our deaths. In that country nothing detracts a man from following his bent, honestly. He may fail to follow it if he remain too ardently attached to the accidents of the world but up there one flies at enormous speed.
Aren't you getting a bit off the subject?
Certainly, for there are no name places there. There isn't any language either. But if an obstruction is placed between it and the artist in his function of an interpreter a blockade results.
But what about people and blood and all that?
They are attractive to the imagination because of their helpless part in it.
As much to destroy them as to build them into political schemes?
History supports you, both things have happened, again and again.
You see there are no principles in matters of the imagination.
No principles save the rediscovery in people of the elements of order.
What do you mean rot?
You haven't answered a single one of my questions. Order? Discipline? What possible sense of order can you have when you go on this way?
Every time I ask you something you sidestep it.
That's an exaggeration.
You run away from it as if it were the devil.
It is the devil.
What do you want me to do, split hairs with you over some asinine pseudo-philosophic imbecility? That would be childish. You ask me about the qualities of the mind and I've told you, the imagination! I'm a man. You can't drag me around by a philosophic beard. I won't have it. I'll cut your damned arm off before I let you try it.
Blah, blah, blah...
That's right. Use your imagination.
Now it's order! That too arises from the people, I suppose———
You don't mean you think you can impose it on them, do you?
So everything is from them, aspiration, order———?
Pitiful. They don't either want or need such things. There's your caviar and bread again. Granted they need bread, shelter, and amusement——a cheap car. Sure they want what you have if you happen to have more than they. Listen, in 1929 a Polish miner went into a large store in Scranton. He asked to see some fur coats, he wanted one for his wife. All right, Joe, said the man and steered him to a good quality cheaper coat. Is him best you got? said the miner. What about him over there? What kind of coat that? You don't want that coat, Joe, said the salesman, that's our finest coat. Too expensive. What you call that kind fur? asked the miner. Mink. How much? Fifteen hundred dollars. All right I take him. Wrap him up. Here two hundred dollar. My wife stay here. I go get more money. He came back with the money and paid cash.
He got what he wanted.
Just a damn fool. A year later a friend of mine who told me the story was around to his house and happened to see a bedraggled looking fur coat hanging behind the door in the kitchen. Is that the swell coat you bought for your wife last year, Joe? Sure, that's him. My God, Joe! said my friend, she sure did go through it. Well, what you expect, said Joe, when she wear him to wash and scrub floors, got to get dirty. That's all right. I buy her another coat some time.
What do you deduce from that?
They don't need what you have to give. All this hue and cry about housing and slum clearance. Nine-tenths of it is bunkum. They live in the slums because they like to live in the slums. They don't want to be sick, no, and they don't want to be cold but they haven't the discipline to avoid the things that make them so, they haven't the restraints which you live by and they don't want them. They are different in nature from you and me.
You don't have to tell me how maddening they can be.
They are unfit to live in decent houses. Look what they do to a park, to a whole countryside if you don't put fences up against them. Go to Coney Island if you want to see what they really enjoy. Put them in a clean domicile and in a week it will be pigsty. They befoul everything. And misuse it. They rip out the plumbing, they steal the electric fixtures, everything that is movable is ripped out, electric bulbs, even tiling from the bathroom walls. They'd steal the eye out of a needle if they could do it. And others of their kind make a business of receiving and selling such stolen goods. You can't change such creatures. They aren't fit to waste our qualities upon. What source for poetry, art of any sort is there in such beasts?
Among them are a few who are not like that.
Yes, of course, the few! Exactly what I am saying: a few rare spirits. But not the mob. All the mob wishes to do is to kill and destroy you because you have ideals which they cannot touch and do not, positively do not, need. I see no reason for dragging the world down to their level from a mistaken sense of pity. Take them out and kill them, that's what I'd do. The world would be better for decent people.
And don't talk to me about education.
No, I won't talk to you about education. We're talking about ourselves and what makes us go, now and here. You know, the matter of better housing is very instructive. Why do we do it?
To get votes.
Architecturally, I mean and poetically. What aspiration makes us want to——how does aspiration arise for our highest achievements in architecture and poetry from humanity——at its worst.
That's what I'm asking you. Why not just fling them a bone?
If you have a bone, why not?
But in an artist what inspiration is there, in humanity in the mass, for those intricacies, refinements, difficulties of your art? What is there in them that stirs you to invention, to the decisions which make you, as it might happen, great? You can't tell me that there is any need in the ordinary man for these superb movements of the mind——Why they laugh at you for such things. The need of that is only for the rare spirit which knows———
The appreciation but not the need. It is bread and not caviar. The need is always there.
How? Why is the crowd important to you——at your highest moment of activity.
In an artist it must come from a sense of totality; the whole; humanity as a whole. How can a man be satisfied when he sees another man lacking———
But he doesn't lack if he doesn't need a thing or want it.
He doesn't know he lacks and needs it but I know he needs it. I know what he needs better than he and I cannot ignore it.
That is pure arrogance.
That is the source of aspiration, a need which the poet sees and devotes his small life to find and to delineate. You know, He watches the sparrow fall. Everything happens within everything else. There can be no satisfaction to the poet otherwise. What can he be without the mob?
"There is no conflict between the individual and society——unless the individual offend. None but a fool contends that the function of society is to generate surpassing individuals. That is antiquated reasoning. The truth is nearer and harder, merely that society, to be served, must generate individuals to serve it, and cannot do otherwise than to give such individuals full play——until or unless their activities prove antisocial.
"Society must and will and has always helped its servants to retire at the proper moment——whether it be the defeated general, the discredited statesman, the woman who has lost her beauty or the diseased mind. Heartlessly society discards them, and rightly so——but heaven help the society that fails to discard the heel, the sycophant liar who serves it only to flatter command——and yet does away with the useful dissenter.
"That a wealthy and corrupt society indulges, conceivably, in the purchase of costly art works at the expense of the starving poor has no relation to the aspirations, accomplishments or the importance of the artist himself.
"No matter what happens to his works, the artist is the truthfulest scribe of society that is found when he is left free. And if his works are purchased by corrupt or tyrannical fools or institutions, nevertheless, in those very works of art are likely to lie the disruptive seeds which will destroy the very hosts who have taken them in——and preserved them for society even against their will.
"The artist's success as an individual is to be judged in the end not by the purchasers of his work but inexorably by society——by society as a whole, the great being great only as society accepts and enthrones them. For what are men to do with themselves once they have been fed? The artist must be their preceptor.
"It is essential to good government that the poet, as an individual, remain at liberty to possess his talent, answerable to no one before the act but to his own conception of truth.
"On the other hand he is answerable to society for his survival and he knows it, has no other returns for what he does and is governed thus not indirectly by a political agency before the act but directly by society itself after the act. In this men differ from bees and ants since with man society must wait upon the individual and not the other way around. Therefore, Man.
"Who shall tell him how or what he must write? His very function as a servant of society presupposes his ability to see clearly beyond the formulations of his day and to crystallize his findings in a durable form for social confirmation, that society may be built more praiseworthily.
"He will be the critic of government whether the party in power like it or not.
"The process is ancient and dynamic——that is to say, constantly operative under all conditions. All the best has been maintained in spite of government as a limiting power. Not against government, not against government, but against usurpation of government by a class, a group, a set of any sort, king, bureaucracy or sans-culotte——which would subvert the freedom of the individual for some temporary need.
"The artist, an individual, a worker, the type of person who is creative, who has something to give to society must admit all classes of subject to his attention——even though he hang for it. This is his work. Nothing poetic in the feudal, aristocratic sense but a breaking down, rather of those imposed tyrannies over his verse forms. Technical matters, certainly, but most important to an understanding of the poet as a social regenerator. The facts are enclosed in his verses like a fly in amber."
That's a long quotation. Where did you get it?
I wrote it myself but for another purpose.
I can't say I've been much enlightened. What, in a word, would you say was the gist of the things you've been talking about? Couldn't you sum the matter up for me in a sentence or two? I thought perhaps you might be able to give me a little help in facing my particular problems as an architect——and an artist. Who, in a word, will be the best designer?
He with the most profound insight into the lives of the people and the widest imaginative skill in its technical interpretation——or any part thereof.