The Historical Spectator.

Art for Art’s Sake Kills Civilization

Dr. Wilbur F. Crafts was one of the most influential men in the history of American culture. His New York Times obituary remembered that “Dr. Crafts, charged by opponents of legislation he sponsored with being a ‘reform fanatic,’ was for years a picturesque figure in congressional lobbies and committee rooms. By those in sympathy with his policies he was credited with having an influential part in enactment of prohibition, of laws to restrict the use of narcotics and of legislation of similar nature.… To the general public Dr. Crafts was of course, best known for his attacks on popular amusements. Screen vampires, close dancing, ‘joy rides,’ which he said ‘often proved a ride of lifelong shame and woe’; Sunday baseball, cigarettes were a few of the objects of his tireless reforming zeal.” His Reform Bureau also succeeded in encouraging Hollywood to censor its own movies in order to prevent the government from doing it, and there can be little doubt that it had the same effect on American books and magazines. Shadowland was a trendy magazine with pretensions to up-to-date taste, as expressed in reviews of modernist literature and semi-nude portraits of movie stars. It was a everything Dr. Crafts deplored and a frequent target of his ire, so the editor invited him to write his opinions as an article. Clearly Dr. Crafts was very familiar with the sorts of entertainment he deplored; he had made an exhaustive study of them, in order to deplore them with proper vigor.

Morals and America

By Wilbur F. Crafts, Ph.D.

Superintendent of the International Reform Bureau

Dr. Wilbur F. Crafts is the recognised head of the reform movement in this country. He has expressed himself as at variance with Shadowland’s reproductions of pictures and, consequently, the Editor called upon him for a clean-cut expression of his views upon morality. It is interesting to note his opinion which is herewith reproduced in its entirety—exactly as it came to the editorial offices.

With your three artistic magazines before me I am glad to respond to your request to write on moral standards in magazine art. I write not alone or chiefly as a reformer, for I have visited great temples of art at home and abroad.

The fundamental fact I keep in mind is, that there were no nude female figures in the Periclean age, the supreme period of sculpture, the greatest works of which are found in the Vatican Gallery, regarded as the world’s chief treasure house of art. Every female figure in that gallery is draped and carving drapery is the masterpiece of sculpture—far more difficult than the exact reproduction of a naked body. A stone cutter could do that.

One who cannot see Periclean sculpture in Greece or Rome can see it, chronologically arranged, in bound volumes of large pictures in the Philadelphia Public Library, and, doubtless, in other American libraries.

That illustrated history of all great sculpture, shows that Greece produced no naked Venus till the nation had begun to decline in mental, as well as physical virility, and had been conquered by Philip of Macedon. Art declined with patriotism and prowess, and inferior artists found it necessary to make their art appeal not alone to the eye and mind, but to the passions in order to get attention and purchasers.

Many who put on airs as masters of art, bulldoze those who shrink at lasciviousness and sheer nakedness in art by charging they lack artistic sense, but I gravel such with the historic fact that the most artistic statues of womanhood, those of Diana and Minerva and others in the Vatican Gallery, are representations of superbly draped womanhood—not lascivious, nude portraits of giddy artist’s models.

The only Venus that comes to us from the Periclean Age, the Venus de Milo, is but a draped representation of dignified womanhood, with no lascivious suggestion about it.

That is a good study for a moral standard in artistic treatment of the female form. It is a standing figure, not reclining; a dignified figure with no suggestiveness in face or pose or place; and it is draped, not stark and bare.

From my first tour of European art galleries I brought home a large portfolio of photographs of the finest nude female statues, which tho nude were not passion-stirring to me nor to my educated friends, either men or women. Some of these photographs I framed for walls and mantels of my home, and others I laid in portfolios on my parlor table. But I soon discovered that such pictures were not mere art to the average young people, even those of a religious congregation, and I laid them away to be shown only to the few friends sufficiently educated to get only cultured enjoyment from their beauty. That is my mature conviction as to even the most chaste of nude art, and copies of it—that it should not be spread before those unprepared to receive its artistic message.

Tho an artist is supposed to paint for the love of it, with no lowering of his standards, to get either attention or pay for his picture, artists are quite human, not always indifferent to their nude living models, and not always oblivious of the fact that a picture that in some way appeals to passion is more likely to be both noticed and purchased.

Both the history of the past and the courts of the present afford very practical tests of what art is harmful to individuals and nations.

Babylon and Athens both fell when they were centers of art and culture, partly because they put beauty above duty, the beauty of the nude, regardless of moral effects—“art for art’s sake.” The world is strewn with the graves of buried nations, which died not of “free trade” or “free silver,” but of free love; not of currency, but of moral cancer. And these dead nations were lands of art, which, instead of saving them, accelerated their fall by making a beautiful Lucifer of the devil of lust.

France, tho she made a great fight for life in the world war, has long been a subject of anxiety to her own loyal statesmen because the birth rate has tended to fall below the death rate. If anything artistic is in actual effect demoralizing and destructive it must give way to public welfare.

The chief difficulty of the editor who is trying to picture not imaginary women but the living actresses of today, without this forbidden obscenity, is that a reckless un-American mood has come on our American girls since the World War.

Commentators say Mary Magdalen was not a Magdalen, but she must have needed careful chaperoning when she was “possessed by seven devils.” Our American girls today, many of them, are surely possessed by seven devils: the devil of immodest dress; the devil of the suggestive song; the devil of the yellow magazine; the devil of the lewd drama; the devil of the vampire film; the devil of the barnyard dance; and the devil of the cabaret, where drink intensifies the indecencies of the dances borrowed from savages and demi-monde.

The painted, powdered and puffed doll of a girl is making a “sex appeal” that is far more likely to end in seduction than matrimony. I do not wonder seventeen millions of our people between twenty-two and forty years of age are unmarried. A real man may play with a silly female fool for an evening, but he is not enough of a fool to tie such a doll to himself for life. Girls, give more attention to athletics and education, and you will have a better chance to win the supreme prize of a good home.

All over the country Americanism is spontaneously rising in revolt against the “Frenchy” dressing and dancing, and the “Frenchy” shows and pictures. And all along the line, among the movie folks, there is talk of a more reticent treatment of sex—the golden mean between the old “conspiracy of silence” and the recent garrulity that leaves no beautiful secrets to young lives, whose faces are many of them old with “vamping” before they are grown. Art should not assume that sex is the only thought in the lives of men or women. “Think of us not always as women but sometimes as humans,” said Dr. Frances E. Willard.

Let us hope the call back to moral normalcy, sounded by President Harding in his advance veto of the Inauguration “show,” is going to be felt all along the line. Let us banish from stage and dance hall and screen and billboard, nude dances in harems; the bare-limbed bathers parading among ogling men; the desecrating glimpses of childbirth; the disrobing scenes in bedrooms and bathrooms; the peeping into brothels, and apartments of kept mistresses, and bacchanalian feasts in bachelors’ apartments; the high kicks of ballet girls; the lascivious kiss and embrace in which body and soul are surrendered to lust.

This is not the American way to treat womanhood. Let us have pictures of happy girlhood; of maiden queens devoted to patriotic service; of clean and loving courtship; of homes musical with the laughter of children, and no lover prying in between wife and husband, for which one of them rather than the meddling lover is blamed.

Instead of always wading the sewer of beastly passion, let us walk with true womanhood on the radiant heights of true love. That is a worthy goal for your high grade magazines, and for the wonderful art of motion pictures, whose future will be powerfully influenced by you as an editor-teacher.

From Shadowland, May 1921.