moral and immoral art

Oscar Wilde famously said that, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.” He was of course wrong. Wilde said many clever things but the fact that a statement is clever does not make it true. And of course Wilde was a degenerate so he had an axe to grind.

Books take a moral stance. That may be an explicitly moral or immoral stance, or they may pretend to be neutral. But if you’re neutral on the subject of morality then you’re taking a stance on the issue – you’re coming down on the side of scepticism on the issue of morality.

It’s the same with movies and television, and even the visual arts. Even landscape painting is not immune – pure landscape painting became popular with the rise of the Romantic movement and it was implicitly nature-worship and implicitly pagan.

Everyone has a position on moral issues. If you claim to be indifferent to morality then you’re taking the stance that morality doesn’t matter so effectively you’re casting your vote for amorality at the very least.

Of course there’s a world of difference between an artist or writer (or film-maker or musician) who tolerates or ignores immorality and one who actively promotes. The former can be accused of cynicism or even cowardice, but the latter is actively evil.

It also has to be remembered that today more than ever art and literature are seen as political acts. It’s very hard to be neutral. Art and literature are energetically used to undermine what is left of traditional morality. The question of the morality of art and literature matters very much.

Can a work of art or a book be great and still be immoral? Wilde was certainly partially correct – books are either well written, or badly written. An immoral book can be superbly well written. Perhaps it can even achieve greatness. But it’s still an immoral book. It’s still evil.

Can we afford to tolerate great art and literature that is actively evil? My view is that the history of the past century is pretty strong evidence that we cannot.

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socialist realism reconsidered

Alexander Deineka, The Expanse, 1944

Socialist realism was the officially approved painting style in the Soviet Union from around the time that Stalin came to power. It was very much a reaction what was seen (quite correctly) as the decadent and degenerate modernist art of the West.

It was a direct challenge to the orthodoxy of the western art establishment. Socialist realism was optimistic and wholesome when everybody in the western art establishment knew that art was supposed to be pessimistic and was supposed to celebrate ugliness, squalor and depravity. So socialist realism was the subject of anger and ridicule among western art critics.

When we think of socialist realism we think of the propaganda paintings and posters. We think of heroic portraits of Stalin, inspiring scenes in tractor factories, brave Red Army soldiers fighting evil fascists. There was this side of it, no question of it. But there was a bit more to it than that. Socialist realism was also intended to be art for ordinary people. Art that ordinary people would understand, and like.

The very idea of art that ordinary people would understand and enjoy was of course anathema to western artistic elites. And here we get down to the nitty-gritty. Socialist realism was consciously anti-elite art.

Yuri Pimenov (1903–1977),  Wedding in Tomorrow Street, 1962

Western elites consider that art belongs to them. The notion that the average person has the right to hold an opinion on the subject of art is deeply offensive to western elites.

Being art for ordinary people socialist realism can tend towards sentimentality. But then if you look at the tastes of ordinary people everywhere you’ll find that they do tend towards sentimentality.

Socialist realism upsets western intellectual and artistic elites for other reasons. It challenges assumptions about the purpose of art. For more than a hundred years it has been an article of faith that art is and must be political. That of course means that art must reflect the political views of the elites.

In the west the intellectual/artistic elites identify as left-wing (and back in the 1930s and 40s they really were left-wing). You might think they would therefore admire the art of a country that actually had a socialist government that promoted an avowedly left-wing style of art (socialist realism) but in fact they hated socialist realism because it was the wrong kind of left-wing art.

Western art critics and theorists wanted revolutionary art that would undermine the culture and destroy society. The Soviet Union on the other hand had already had its revolution. What the Soviets wanted was art that would promote stability and social cohesion. In fact what the Soviets wanted looked to left-wing western arty types like reactionary art, or even (horror of horrors) fascist art. So, amusingly, the western left violently disliked the art of the communist world that they so admired in every other way.

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Nikolay Bondarenko (1914-2000), Sport bold and beautiful, 1963

This all raises interesting questions about the purpose of art. Should art be political? Is political art automatically good art (as the western art establishment believes) or is political art automatically bad art (as many traditionalists believe)? Should art make people angry, disturbed and miserable (as the western art establishment believes), or should art make people joyful and optimistic (a belief shared by traditionalists and the Soviets)? Should art celebrate ugliness and degeneracy (as the western art establishment believes) or should it celebrate beauty and health (a belief also shared by traditionalists and the Soviets)?

Of course one could ask whether art even has a purpose. In the late 19th century art started to become a substitute for religion. I’m not sure that this was a good idea. There had always been religious art but that was art that served religion rather than seeking to supplant it.

In any case I don’t think Soviet art was all that bad. In fact there’s quite a lot of socialist realist art that I rather like. I wouldn’t describe it as one of my favourite art movements but it was certainly preferable to most western modernist and postmodernist art.

Although I know a bit about 19th century Russian art I must confess to my complete ignorance of the artists of the Soviet period. The paintings included in this post just happened to be paintings I found on the web that appeal to me. I have no idea if all these artists identified as socialist realists, or whether they were generally regarded as belonging to that school.

time to take the razor to the arts

In the 2014 Budget the Abbott federal government made some small cuts to arts funding. The Australia Council budget of $222 million annually was cut by around $10 million. While it’s pleasing to see cuts being made this really is a pathetically timid and inadequate beginning.
The issue the government needs to address is whether the government should have any role at all in the arts. State-subsidised “art” is almost always dire and more often than not the results are not art at all but political propaganda. This might have seemed like a great idea in the heyday of the Soviet Union but it is hardly appropriate in a free society.
State subsidies to the arts have the effect of enforcing political correctness in the arts. Any writer, artist or film-maker hoping for a government grant knows that even the smallest trace of political correctness, even the faintest hint of independent thought, will be enough to ensure that they miss out on a grant. The arts cannot possibly flourish in such a Soviet-style system. 
The reality is that a great many people who currently describe themselves as artists or writers are merely deluding themselves. If you cannot make a living from your art that probably means your art isn’t any good. If no-one wants to buy your art then the obvious conclusion is that you should start looking for another job. You should not expect the taxpayer to support you in luxury for the rest of your life. We also need to ask ourselves how many artists and writers we actually need. If a large proportion of these people can’t support themselves from their art then it is likely that the art and literary markets are suffering from a serious over-supply of artists and writers.
Government subsidies for the arts are nothing more than welfare payments to a self-appointed elite of spoilt parasites. It’s time the arts gravy train was cancelled.

1950s Hollywood anti-communist movies

I’ve been getting into 1950s anti-communist movies recently. These movies have for years been dismissed by liberal film critics as paranoia movies. In fact they depict the activities, the methods and the mindset of communists pretty accurately. And at least a couple of these movies can be regarded as pretty good examples of film noir.
I’ve reviewed two these films recently on my classic movies blog – RKO’s 1949 production The Woman on Pier 13 (originally released as I Married a Communist) and Warner Brothers’ 1950 offering I Was a Communist for the FBI. The latter was based on a true story. Both movies deal with communist infiltration of labour unions, which was in fact one of the favoured methods of the Communist Party at that time, both in the United States and in other countries.
If these movies have a fault it’s perhaps that they let the unions off the hook too easily, but Hollywood has always been a union so it was unlikely that a movie critical of the union movement was ever going to get made. In fact given the large-scale real-life communist infiltration of Hollywood and the domination of Hollywood by liberals it’s surprising that these anti-communist movies got made. The only problem with the movie industry’s response to communist infiltration, the blacklist, is that it didn’t go far enough.
Both of these movies are worth a look, both for their historical interest and as worthy examples of the film noir of the period. They’re a reminder of a time when Americans were still willing to fight back against leftist tyranny.

art as a hate crime

No-one who’s ever been unlucky enough to wander into a museum of modern art could doubt that art since the Cubists has had an obsession with the rejection of beauty. To many modernist and postmodernist artists and critics ugliness seems to be synonymous with Serious Art. 

Artists who continued to pursue the ideal of beauty in the 20th century found themselves marginalised and scorned.


This is not accidental. It reflects an entire worldview, a belief that there is nothing to celebrate in western civilisation, and that the purpose of art is to attack our own civilisation. There is an agenda to make art depressing, negative, squalid and generally miserable, a celebration of victimhood rather than a celebration of truth and beauty.

The purpose of what has passed for art since the early 20th century is to demoralise the popluation of the west. Modern art is in fact a hate crime against western civilisation.

In 1932, Stalin directed the Communist Party apparatus in the U.S. to “cultivate the ugly, futuristic and aberrant in art, literature, the drama and music. Every sick-brained fanatic must be used, every talented artist must be discouraged. Control all juries of selection, but by a bare majority. Never shut out the regulars entirely. Give the prizes to the worst, most hideous and worthless paintings or sculpture in the show. Keep rational art out of all public exhibitions, allow only empty or distorted art to be shown in museums, dealers’ exhibits. Eliminate all good sculpture from parks and buildings, substitute shapeless, awkward and meaningless forms. 

“It is astonishing what we have been able to get away with. Even our most experienced experts directing operations can scarcely believe it. No good citizen wants to be the first to step up and protest! It is almost a shame to take advantage of these silly, cowardly people.”

The worst part is that much of this so-called art is paid for for by the taxpayer. If these overgrown babies want to throw their toys out of the pram let them do so, but they should buy their own toys and their own prams.

why the arts community is so important

NSW taxpayers are no doubt currently overjoyed that their government is flushing down the toilet wisely investing more millions of their hard-earned dollars in grants to the arts community. About another $15 million. Including $91,600 to the De Quincey Company Ltd, a group of parasitical drones artistic visionaries who have given the world such important works as this:

Now I know that to you it might just look like a clown with his head inside a rubbish bin but it’s actually making an important statement about….something. No-one knows what, but it’s undoubtedly a highly significant statement. Because, you know, it’s art.

And to think that governments used to fritter away public money on unimportant trifles like roads, schools and hospitals. While the arts languished. Creative individuals with important things to say were unable to do so because they couldn’t get the funding to buy rubbish bins. Now thanks to the government’s stupidity visionary policies thousands more worthless arty spongers artists will be able to afford rubbish bins so they can express themselves.

Of course some of those taxpayers may feel like expressing themselves in slightly different terms about all this but that just shows the mindless philistinism the arts community has to deal with (poor darlings). If those taxpayers all had the benefits of arts degrees they’d see at once just how much the arts community contributes to this country. Without the arts community where would we find people to stick their heads inside rubbish bins?

Rubbish bins are a vital creative tool. They express so much. In fact they express rather neatly the value of the arts community.