Page:Poet Lore, At the Chasm, volume 24, 1913.pdf/38

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


By Van Wyck Brooks

I DO not suppose that any serious man ever looked upon his own work in the world as anything better than a necessary evil, a stop-gap, something to fill a void,—something, that is, which, as things are, could not well have been left undone. The very fact of being serious implies a personal conviction that things as they might be are, quite exactly, things as they must be; while every method, every process toward making things what they must be contains the inherent promise that some day the method and the process will be superseded. All truly disinterested work implies that the worker is a scapegoat. Yet if we are all scapegoats after some fashion, the disinterested man surely has the satisfaction of knowing that he is one,—that he is not, at least, his own dupe.

If this is true it is plain that art—the most disinterested and the most ingenuous of all work—endeavors, by every means in its power, to render itself unnecessary, to supplant itself, to permit its forces to be absorbed by life.


For example, the art of landscape, which attempts to put before us not the natural scene but the ideal essence of the natural scene. The landscape stirs and elevates us by giving us precisely what we do not get from nature itself. In training us to see the ideal essence of things rather than the convential appearance of things, it assists us to become unconventional as the artist is unconventional. But if we were able to derive from nature the ideal essence that is put before us in art, should we not obtain from nature the same stir and elevation which we now obtain from art? If we were unconventional, that is?

Art is evidently a method of approach adopted by the artist in his relation to the conventional mind of the public. It is a medium, which may be conceived as growing less and less necessary according as the conventionality of the public's mind approaches the unconventionality of the artist's mind. Now every work of art has two aspects—content and form. And the more the artist occupies himself with his form the more he makes concessions to the conventional mind of the public. On the other hand, the more he occupies himself with his content the more he insists that the conventional mind of the public will make concessions to him.