Do his observations hold true today?
Over at Design*Sponge, one of my favorite blogs, Grace Bonney has introduced a new column wherein she asks favorite artists or designers to show and describe their teenage bedrooms. This got me thinking so I went through some old photos and found this one, of my sister:
She's reading "A Long Day in a Short Life," by Albert Maltz (1908 –1985), who wrote fiction, plays, and screenplays. Maltz was one of "the Hollywood Ten," a group of writers who were blacklisted when they refused to answer the House Un-American Activities Committee's questions about Communist Party affiliations, their own and those of their friends and colleagues. Maltz was fined and, in 1950, sentenced to a year’s imprisonment. Blacklisted in Hollywood and unable to work there for many years, he moved to Mexico after his release from prison and remained until 1962.
In 1946 Maltz published a controversial essay in which he criticized the shallow aesthetic tenets of the left, questioning whether art was to be used as a weapon in the class war. Here are a few excerpts.
It has been my conclusion for some time that much of left-wing artistic activity—both creative and critical-— has been restricted, narrowed, turned away from life, sometimes made sterile —because the atmosphere and thinking of the literary left wing has been based upon a shallow approach. Let me add that the left wing has also offered a number of vital intellectual assets to the writer—such as its insistence that important writing cannot be socially idle —that it must be humane in content, etc. Schneider enumerated these assets and I take them here for granted. But right now it is essential to discuss where things have gone wrong—why and how. I believe the effects of the shallow approach I have mentioned—like a poison in the bloodstream—largely cause the problems Schneider mentioned. Indeed, these problems are merely the pustules upon upon the body, the sign of ill health . . .
Whatever its original stimulating utility in the late twenties or the early thirties, this doctrine—"art is a weapon" —over the years, in day-to-day wear and tear, was converted from a profound analytic, historical insight into a vulgar slogan: "art should be a weapon." This, in turn, was even more narrowly interpreted into the following: "art should be a weapon as a leaflet is a weapon." Finally, in practice, it has been understood to mean that unless art is a weapon like a leaflet, serving immediate political ends, necessities and programs, it is worthless or escapist or vicious. The result of this abuse and misuse of a concept upon the critic's apparatus of approach has been, and must be, disastrous. From it flow all of the constrictions and—we must be honest— stupidities—-too often found in the earnest but narrow thinking and practice of the literary left wing in these past years. And this has been inevitable. First of all, under the domination of this vulgarized approach, creative works are judged primarily by their formal ideology. What else can happen if art is a weapon as a leaflet is a weapon? If a work, however thin or inept as a piece of literary fabric, expresses ideas that seem to fit the correct political tactics of the time, it is a foregone conclusion that it will be reviewed warmly, if not enthusiastically. But if the work, no matter how rich in human insight, character portrayal and imagination, seems to imply "wrong" political conclusions, then it will be indicted, severely mauled or beheaded—as the case may be.
Maltz was criticized harshly for the essay, so much so that he printed a retraction. Too bad. Do you think his observations hold true today?
You can read the complete essay here.
Maltz wrote the film "The House I Live In," a short in which Frank Sinatra teaches a group of children about religious tolerance. The title song is inspiring. You can read more about the film in David Lehman's book Sinatra's Century: One-Hundred Notes on the Man and His World.