E.M. Forster’s Views On Art Essay, Research Paper
“I believe in art for art’s sake” (326). This simple, easily understood sentence is the opening line to E. M. Forster’s address entitled “Art For Art’s Sake”. His speech centers on the concept of art and how it is perceived in today’s society. Should art be something used solely for the furthering of a controversial statement or belief? Is art that has no clear-cut meaning unworthy to behold? These are all questions that are raised in his work to some degree. Where does Forster stand on these questions? The opening line pretty much puts that question to rest. He is a huge supporter of art no matter in what shape or form. Is Forster correct in his view? Absolutely. But does everyone feel this way? Unfortunately, no.
Upon writing this, Forster seems to not have a very high opinion on his current society in their regarding of the appreciation of art. In fact, he downright blasts them for their ignorance. At one point in his address, he says:
[I]f, in other words, men were more interested in knowledge than in power-mankind would be in a far safer position, the stability statesmen talk about would be a possibility, there could be a new order based on vital harmony, and the earthly millennium might approach. But Science shows no signs of doing this: she gave us the internal combustion engine, and before we had digested and assimilated it with terrible pains into our social system, she harnessed the atom, and destroyed any new order that seemed to be evolving. (328)
Forster clearly feels that there is too much of an emphasis on convenience and, in a way, efficiency. So many people are just thinking about themselves and how their lives can be made easier. And furthermore, if they can figure out a way to make both their own and others’ lives easier, they can become rich and famous out of it. As a result, art is ignored altogether. People’s minds are too preoccupied. Also, Forster blames greed for the overlooking of art. He feels that too many people are on the lookout for wealth and status. They do things in that vein; their intentions are misguided and pigheaded. However, if people would take a good hard look at art and find joy in it, society would be much better off. People would think in a multidimensional way and their once wicked intentions would become pure and honorable. Art seems to hold the greatest power of all to Forster.
How would Forster feel about Socrates and his views on art? You would think that he would agree with one of the world’s most famed and respected historical figures, but this would probably not be the case. Socrates had a very radical view on the arts. First of all, he felt that a majority of art was merely imitation. All the artists were doing was taking something that they did not create or make and drawing it. Most artists were not original in any way according to Socrates. He also felt that art was awful and harmful because it brought out emotions in people that they supposedly are embarrassed to feel. In Plato’s “The Seduction of Art” Socrates says in regards to the feelings elicited by art:
But when any sorrow of our own happens to us, then you may observe that we pride ourselves on the opposite quality-we would fain be quiet and patient; this is considered the manly part, and the other which delighted us in the recitation is now deemed to be the part of the woman.
Now can we be right in praising and admiring another who is doing that which any one of us would abominate and be ashamed of in his own person? (323)
I think that this would infuriate Forster. Socrates is simply assuming that people are afraid to show certain emotions, not just to others, but themselves as well. Socrates also makes the artists the bad guys, as though they intend to embarrass and demean the innocent people who behold their art. While Socrates holds one centered, clear-cut definition of art and what it should do, Forster feels quite liberally about art. He thinks that it’s all in the eye of the beholder, which is absolutely true. What’s an utter piece of trash to one person can be the most beautiful thing in the world to another. His view is very humanistic and worldly. It’s also very correct.
Socrates takes his beliefs even further. In Plato’s “Censorship” portion of The Republic Socrates says that many works of art, mainly literature, should be completely censored to children because some of their contents are not true; they’re fiction. At one point Socrates says:
And shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we shall wish them to have when they are grown up? Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad; and we will persuade mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized ones only. (311)
This would enrage Forster as well. First of all, Socrates is giving this plan on how to censor literature according to the guidelines that he thinks should be in place. He never establishes a consensus decision on the matter. Then, they should throw out any other fiction that doesn’t abide by those guidelines denying its publication completely. He’s trying to program children to grow up to have the desired personality traits that he renders worthy. The new generation would all have similar views and outlooks, thus limiting individuality in a major way. Also, by censoring these works of fiction, the imaginations of children would be greatly limited as well. Russia had a very similar system of censorship for over thirty years. It originated during Stalin’s reign and outlined that all works of art were to be reviewed by the government before being publicly released (Censorship, para. 14). These sound like very boring, strict societies and I’m sure Forster would agree. It sounds quite similar to Forster’s view of his own society. Socrates is only thinking of himself and what he thinks art should be. He’s not considering other people at all. His radical views and censorship itself led to Socrates’ ultimate demise. According to the Compton’s online encyclopedia, many in Athens, including leaders and hierarchy, did not agree with Socrates’ views. So, he was charged with neglecting the Gods and corrupting the youth. He was put to death as a result of these charges (Socrates para. 6).
Why do all these people feel the need to badmouth and even censor art? Art should be a universal icon for all to experience and cherish. Art has done so much for this world and its people. This is how Forster’s views were formed. Art moves and inspires him and he sees the great power that it has. If only everyone thought this way.
“Censorship”. Compton’s Encyclopedia Online. .
Forster, E.M. “Art For Art’s Sake”. The Harper and Row Reader. Eds. Marshall
W Gregory and Wayne C Booth. New York: Harper Collins, 1992.
Plato. “Censorship”. The Harper and Row Reader. Eds. Marshall W Gregory
and Wayne C Booth. New York: Harper Collins, 1992. 310-14.
Plato. “The Seductions of Art”. The Harper and Row Reader. Eds. Marshall W
Gregory and Wayne C Booth. New York: Harper Collins, 1992. 317-24.
“Socrates”. Compton’s Encyclopedia Online. .