Monday, April 3, 2017


A couple of days ago, ISS member George Austin, from New Zealand, shared with me the following newspaper clipping: 

He told me that in his capacity as marketing person for the Thames Society of Arts, he had chosen this Shaw quotation as the best way to synthesize why groups like theirs are so necessary in today's world. Of course, I asked for permission to reproduce the advertisement as an excuse to share the source of this quotation with you. 

As many of you may already know, this pithy sentence is originally from Part V of Back to Methuselah: "As Far as Thought Can Reach." 

THE HE-ANCIENT. And you, Ecrasia: you cling to your highly artistic dolls as the noblest projections of the Life Force, do you not?
ECRASIA. Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.

That is why I thought I'd provide a few extra references by authors who have discussed this quotation in their Shaw-related scholarship. 

To begin with, several authors have included this quotation in compilations of the "wit and wisdom" of Bernard Shaw. Among them, we can mention Stephen Winsten, who used it on page 10 of his The Quintessence of G.B.S.

Perhaps more apropos is Stanely Weintraub's discussion of the extended context of this quotation in his edited collection of Shaw's art criticism: Bernard Shaw on the London Art Scene, 1885-1950 (p. 32-33): 

"But Arjillax, having matured from abbreviated adolescence, "cannot pretend to be satisfied now with modelling pretty children," although the immature Ecrasia maintains with the steadfastness of youth, "Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable'" To her the She-Ancient suggests better wisdom. "Yes, child: art is the magic mirror you make to reflect your invisible dreams in visible pictures. You use a glass mirror to see your face: you use works of art to see your soul. But we who are older use neither glass mirrors nor works of art. We have a direct sense of life. When you gain that you will put aside your mirrors and statues, your toys and your dolls." Yet the art-starved Ancients are unhappy and bored, their lives long but bleak, their brave new world gained at great price."

This paragraph is also reproduced, verbatim, in the section on "Shaw in the Picture Galleríes and the Picture Galleries in Shaw's Plays" in The Unexpected Shaw, by the same author (p. 86).

Other Shaw scholars have chosen to paraphrase this quotation --without mentioning it-- in order to illustrate Shaw's stance on art at large and in relation to more pragmatic pursuits. 

Michael Holroyd, for example, explains in Bernard Shaw: The One-Volume Definitive Edition (p. 84) that in the 1880s

A similar tension between art and 'reality' (whether it be economics or philosophy) is expressed by Charles A. Berst in Bernard Shaw and the Art of Drama (p. xiii): 

But these notions also pervade Shaw's dramatic texts. Remember, for instance, Caesar's words (and the discussion thereof in Elise Adam's Bernard Shaw and the Aesthetes, p. 114 - full text available online):

All of the above should be taken as part and parcel of Shaw's philosophy. After all, as one of his characters would put it in Immaturity (1879)

By the way, the "somebody" who says that life witout art (and artists) is "brutality" is probably John Ruskin. As Eric Bentley reminds us in his Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950 (p. 34): 

Well, I hope I made these last few minutes worth the while. Because, what is life without art?