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


Realism, the attitude of the artist who strives to reflect some essential aspect of reality and to face the problems set by life, is from its very nature popular. It reflects the outlook of those men and women who produce the means of life. It is the only standard which can bring art back to the people today. For, as Lenin told Clara Zetkin: ‘it does not greatly matter what we ourselves think about art. Nor does it matter what art means to some hundreds or even thousands in a nation, like our own, of many millions. Art belongs to the people. Its roots should penetrate deeply into the very thick of the masses of the people. It should be comprehensible to these masses and loved by them. It should unite the emotions, the thoughts and the will of these masses and raise them to a higher level. It should awaken artists in these masses and foster their development’. [54]

Such an aim may well seem utopian to the artist who is only too sadly aware of the havoc which a century and a half of unbridled commercialism has wrought with the aesthetic sensibility of our people. But instead of despairing, let him take heart from the words William Morris wrote in 1879, long before the signs could be discerned which herald a revival of popular art today:

‘But I will say at least, Courage! for things wonderful, unhoped-for, glorious have happened even in this short while I have been alive.

‘Yes, surely these times are wonderful and fruitful of change, which, as it wears and gathers new life even in its wearing, will one day bring better things for the toiling days of men, who, with freer hearts and clearer eyes, will once more gain the sense of outward beauty, and rejoice in it.

‘Meanwhile, if these hours be dark, as, indeed, in many ways they are, at least do not let us sit deedless, like fools and fine gentlemen, thinking the common toil not good enough for us, and beaten by the muddle; but rather let us work like good fellows trying by some dim candle-light to set our workshop ready against tomorrow’s daylight – that tomorrow, when the civilised world, no longer greedy, strifeful, and destructive, shall have a new art, a glorious art, made by the people and for the people, as a happiness to the maker and the user.’ [55]