Marxism and Modern Art: An approach to social realism by F. D. Klingender 1943


The Battle of Britain was a landmark in the life of our people. There have been few moments in our history -moments of great peril, such as 1588 or 1803 – when our nation was as firmly united in mood and will and action as in the winter of 1940-41. Fighting Hitler’s bombs as wardens, firemen or stretcher-bearers side by side with men and women from every walk of life, artists could not fail to share in the common spirit of defiance. The works which reflect that spirit, the blitz paintings of 1940-41, are a landmark in the history of British art.

The response of the people to these pictures greatly encouraged all who had felt alarmed at the growing isolation of British art in the recent past. It gave a new impetus to the efforts of private individuals, educational bodies, public authorities and the artists themselves to bring art back to the people. Exhibitions in factories and barrack rooms, no less than in galleries, all over the country, and a concerted drive for the decoration of works canteens and British Restaurants, were the fruits of their enthusiasm. But the main lesson of the blitz has still to be assimilated: the people will respond if the artist gives imaginative form to their own experience.

How does this conclusion square with the current conception of good art and of its relation to life? Does it imply a revision of the principles which still guide the practice of our foremost artists? What lessons can be drawn from the tradition of English art and from the great teachers of dialectical materialism in the present crisis of aesthetic feeling? Such are the questions I have attempted to formulate in this essay. The artists themselves will answer them – by their actions in the coming offensive and by their contributions to the post-war work of reconstruction.