Category Archives: aesthetes

Integrity in art

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 09.10.30L.S. Lowry, Dalrymple explains,

ploughed his own artistic field for years, decades, before he achieved recognition: and when such recognition came, it did not change his simple mode of life. He had a day job until his retirement at the age of sixty-five of a most unromantic and unartistic kind: he worked as a rent-collector for a property company in the days when tenants of tiny workers’ houses paid their rent weekly and in cash. He painted between collecting rents.

Lowry saw

in the bleak townscapes of the Industrial Revolution, and in the inhabitants of those townscapes, a subject worthy of artistic representation, as nobody had before: finding a beauty in them without in the least prettifying them, or without resort to sentimentality.

The Tate Gallery had a fine collection of Lowry’s work, but

for long refused to display any of it, mainly from a kind of snobbery. Lowry was utterly a provincial, he was allied to and influenced by no current of modern art, theoretical or practical, and (in the end) he was widely loved by people who otherwise had no artistic tastes. He was original in an original way. For a certain kind of æsthete, for whom the main attraction of the appreciation of beauty is to mark him off from the philistines, Lowry was all wrong.

Even worse,

Lowry did not care what anyone thought: he did what inner necessity dictated.

Ancoats Hospital Outpatients' Hall, 1952. Whitworth Art Gallery, ManchesterAncoats Hospital Outpatients’ Hall, 1952. Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester

 

Zweig’s descent from bliss to torment

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 22.25.31The main themes of the writings of Stefan Zweig are, Dalrymple explains,

  • the part that passion plays in human life. The need for control and the need for expression are in constant tension; any attempt to resolve the contradictions of our existence by dogmatic reference to a simple doctrine (and, compared with life, all doctrines are simple) will end in monomania and barbarism.
  • the destruction of civilisation by political dogma, exemplified by the wars that destroyed Zweig’s world and led him to suicide.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 22.27.32Having grown up in a world

where it was possible to live happily as so free an agent, Zweig found himself plunged into a world where it became impossible, where men had to organize to resist evil so that any freedom at all might be enjoyed.

In such a world,

Zweig’s refusal to commit to any collective institution or endeavour appeared feeble and parasitic.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 22.28.44Early in life,

by cultivating the acquaintance of prostitutes, pimps, and others on the margins of society, he learned about the lower depths, from whose ugly reality his status as a child of the haute bourgeoisie had sheltered him.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 22.31.29War

smashed the old world that Zweig so esteemed.

He saw the storm clouds gathering over his native Austria earlier than many. But other German exiles criticized him for being insufficiently vociferous in denouncing the Nazis.

Hitler in Vienna

The messenger of misery comes to Vienna

It is true that he joined no anti-Nazi groups and hardly raised his voice against the Nazi horror. As a free man, he did not want the Nazis to be able to dictate his mode of expression—even if it were in opposition to them. The insufficiency of this fastidiousness at such a conjuncture needs little emphasis.

But Zweig felt

that strident denunciation would grant the Nazis a victory of sorts. And—like many intellectuals who overestimate the importance that the intellect plays in history and in life—Zweig viewed the Nazis as beneath contempt. Their doctrine and world outlook being so obviously ridiculous and morally odious, why waste time refuting them?

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 22.39.37The nearest he came to denouncing the Nazis

was in one of his brilliant historical studies, published in 1936: The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin.

Of course, it was not so easy to dismiss the Nazis.

The contempt of a fastidious aesthete would not defeat them: far sterner measures were necessary. But Zweig, born in the pre-ideological age, did not want to live in a world where the only alternative to one ideology was what he thought would be a counter-ideology.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 22.54.57Dalrymple doubts that the modern world would have pleased Zweig.

The shrillness of our ideological debates, the emotional shallowness, the vulgarity of our culture, would have appalled him.

To read Zweig

is to learn what, through stupidity and evil, we progressively lost in the twentieth century.