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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 4, No. 2. March 26, 1941


Both in the University and in the world outside there is to-day an increasingly strong tendency for artists and intellectuals to dissociate themselves from all thought on social questions and to endeavour to escape into some purer realm of art or philosophy "above the battle." The reasons for this lie partly in a natural repugnance from a world which seems to them a chaos of bloodshed and horror and partly in the divided loyalties in the individual artist which mirror the conflict in society.

However it is not these reasons which it is proposed to discuss here but rather the qustion "can such an attitude of isolation produce great art?"

The arguments put forward by its adherents generally boil down to the assertion "You can't mix poetry and politics"—politics, it appears, being not only any discussion of the means for attaining a better social order but also any honest description of how the greater part of humanity lives and dies. This could only be justified by some unreal antithesis between art nad life which disregards the fact that the lines and colours which the painter uses and, to a lesser extent, the combinations of sound which the musician works extent our emotions not because of their intrinsic beauty but because of their associations—bcause they recall and chrystallize sensations which we have actually experienced. If this is partially true of the other arts it is entirely true of literature. For the writer must deal not in actual sight or sounds but in words, the symbols of ideas, which are but themselves the reflection of reality. Verbal music—the sound of the words themselves become pointless if it is not used to drive home the idea. It need hardly be stressed therefore that great literature must correspond with reality in the sense that it deals with the things which people actually feel and which make their lives to-day happy or miserable. This is not to say that the artist should endeavour to give a photographic impression of reality—the very essence of art is the [unclear: elmination] of the extraneous—but he must focus attention on those parts of life which he considers important. The success with which he does this will be determined largely—if we ignore questions of technique—by the opinions which he has formed consciously or subconsciously regarding the decisive forces in the life of the individual and society. However impartial he may endeavour to be he should frankly realize that he cannot escape being, in a certain sense, a propagandist.