Monday, July 13, 2009

Text and footnote [#5] in Clement Greenberg's essay Avant Garde and Kitsch, from 1939. In Art and Culture: Critical Essays
Returning to our Russian peasant for the moment, let us suppose that after he has chosen Repin in preference to Picasso, the state's educational apparatus comes along and tells him that he is wrong, that he should have chosen Picasso - and shows him why. It is quite possible for the Soviet state to do this. But things being as they are in Russia - and everywhere else- the peasant soon finds the necessity of working hard all day for his living and the rude, uncomfortable circumstances in which he lives do not allow him enough leisure, energy and comfort to train for the enjoyment of Picasso.This needs, after all, a considerable amount of 'conditioning' Superior culture is one of the most artificial of all human creations, and the peasant finds no 'natural' urgency within himself that will drive him toward Picasso in spite of all difficulties. In the end the peasant will go back to kitsch when he feels like looking at pictures, for he can enjoy kitsch without effort. The state is helpless in this matter and remains so as long as the problems of production have not been solved in a socialist sense. The same holds true, of course, for capitalist countries and makes all talk of art for the masses there nothing but demogogy*

*It will be objected that such art for the masses as folk art was developed under rudimentary conditions of production - and that a good deal of folk art is on a high level, Yes it is - but folk art is not Athene, and it's Athene whom we want: formal culture with its infinity of aspects, its luxuriance luxuriance, its large comprehension. Besides. we are now told that most of what we consider good in folk culture is the static survival of dead formal, aristocratic, cultures. Our old English ballads, for instance, were not created by the 'folk' but by the post-feudal squireachy of the English countryside to survive in the mouth--. of the folk long after those for whom the ballads were composed had gone on to other forms of literature. Unfortunately, until the machine age, culture was the exclusive prerogative of a society that lived by the labor of serfs or slaves.They were the real symbols of culture. For one man to spend time and energy creating or listening to poetry meant that another man had to produce enough to keep himself alive and the former in comfort. In Africa today we rind that the culture of slave-owning tribes is generally much superior to that of the tribes that possess no slaves.
A mixture of Rabbinical snobbery and German idealism: rationalism on a foundation of hot air. Compare to T.S. Eliot
It requires some effort of analysis to understand why one person, among many who do a thing with accomplished skill, should be greater than the others; nor is it always easy to distinguish superiority from great popularity, when the two go together. I am thinking of Marie Lloyd, who has died only a short time before the writing of this letter. Although I have always admired her genius I do not think that I always appreciated its uniqueness; I certainly did not realize that her death would strike me as the most important event which I have had to chronicle in these pages. Marie Lloyd was the greatest music-hall artist in England: she was also the most popular. And popularity in her case was not merely evidence of her accomplishment; it was something more than success. It is evidence of the extent to which she represented and expressed that part of the English nation which has perhaps the greatest vitality and interest.
Greenberg begins his essay from 1939 with a discussion of the fact that one culture can produce both the art of Eliot and the kitsch of Tim Pan Alley. Marie Lloyd died and Eliot published the above as a 'London Letter' in The Dial in 1922.
see earlier

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