William Morris


THE DEEPER MEANING OF THE STRUGGLE

To the Editor: Sir,

May I be allowed to say a word in supplement to your paragraph about my opinions about the fine arts? You rather imply that I am a pessimist on this matter. This is not the case; but I am anxious that there should be no illusions as to the future of art. I do not believe in the possibility of keeping art vigorously alive by the action, however energetic, of a few groups of specially gifted men and their small circle of admirers amidst a general public incapable of understanding and enjoying their work. I hold firmly to the opinion that all worthy schools of art must be in the future, as they have been in the past, the outcome of the aspirations of the people towards the beauty and true pleasure of lfe. And further, that now that democracy is building up a new order, which is slowly emerging from the confusion of the commercial period, these aspirations of the people towards beauty can only be born from a condition of practical equality of economical condition amongst the whole population. Lastly, I am so confident that this equality will be gained, that I am prepared to accept as a consequence of the process of that gain, the seeming disappearance of what art is now left us; because I am sure that that will be but a temporary loss, to be followed by a genuine new birth of art, which will be the spontaneous expression of the pleasure of life innate in the. whole people.

This, I say, is the art which I look forward to, not as a vague dream, but as a practical certainty, founded on the ‘general well being of the people. It is true that the blossom of it Lshall not see; therefore I may be excused if, in common with other artists, I try to express myself through the art of to-day, which seems to us to be only a survival of the organic art of the past, in which the people shared, whatever the other drawbacks of their condition might have been. For the feeling for art in us arists is genuine, though we have to work in the midst of the ignorance of those whose whole life ought to be spent in the production of works of art (the makers of wares to wit), and of the fatuous pretence of those who, making no utilities, are driven to ‘make-believe.'

Yet if we shall not (those of us who are as old as I am) see the New Art, the expression of the general pleasure of life, we are even now seeing the seed of it beginning to germinate. For if genuine art be impossible without the help of the useful classes, how can these turn their attention to it if they are living amidst sordid cares which press upon them day in, day out? The first step, therefore, towards the new birth of art must be a definite rise in the condition of the workers; their livelihood must (to say the least of it) be less niggardly and less precarious, and their hours of Iabour shorter; and this improvement must be a general one, and confirmed against the chances of the market by legislation. But again this change for the better can only be realized by the efforts of the workers themselves. ‘By us, and not for us,' must be their motto. That they are now finding this out for themselves and acting on it makes this year a memorable one indeed, small as as the actual gain whx:h they are claiming. So, Sir, I not only ‘admit’ but insist on the fact ‘that the miners are laying the foundation of something better.' The struggle against the terrible power of the profit-grinder is now practically proclaimed by them a matter of principle, and no longer a mere chance-hap business dispute, and though the importance of this is acknowledged here and there, I think it is even yet underrated. For my part I look upon the swift progress towards equality as now certain; what these staunch miners have been doing in the face of such tremendous odds, other workmen can and will do; and whem life is easier and fuller of pleasure, people will have time to Iook around them and find out what they desire in the matter of art, and will also have power to compass their desires. No one can tell now what form that art will take; but as it is certain that it will not depend on the whim of a few persons, but on the will of all, 5o it may be hoped that it will at last not lag behind that of past ages, but will outgo the art of the past in the degree that life will be more pleasurable from the absence of bygone violence and tyranny, in spite and not because of which our forefathers produced the wonders of popular art, some few of which time has left us.


I am, Sir, yours obediently,

William Morris.

Title

The Deeper Meaning of the Struggle, letter to the Daily Chronicle

Publication History

  1. The Daily Chronicle, 10th November, 1893
  2. Leaflet of the Hammersmith Socialist Society, 1893
  3. In William Morris: Writer, Artist, Socialist, ed. May Morris (Vol. 2, pp. 522-4)

Source

The May Morris edition.

Transcription and HTML

Graham Seaman, June 2020.