" . . . I thought we would come together here, perhaps,
and do something for the public in their confusion concerning
this thing we call 'modern art'––to clear things
up a little bit and explain why this portrait of a time,
of this generation of a civilization, where this particular
art of painting is concerned, is also degenerate . . . "
"As I see the age in which I live, I think it's a very
difficult and very confused age. And I think there are several
patches in it which are laboring and sweating and striving
to be towards a clarity––often in very confused
ways, but still laboring and sweating and I think these
pictures are a part of that sweating and striving. I don't
believe they are on the way down. I believe, on the whole,
they are on the way up."
Frankenstein: " I don't suppose anyone
in Rome knew they were in a decline . . . "
Tobey: "I presume there were some, but they were called
"I ask the privilege of the gentlemen to participate
a bit in this discussion as a historian of ideas . . . "I
suppose I'm the only person present who knows anything about
the history of man's appraisal of his own civilization.
I started a four-volume work some years ago which is now
at the end of its second volume, and we have only got up
to the 13th century. You find that, beginning with Homer
and running straight down to 'Joachim of Florus' a constant
succession of people who say every single age they are living
in is not only bad, but the worst of all ages; and they
give precisely the same reason for it.
"In Homer, you find old Nestor says to the heros: 'You
people don't know what men were like in my day. Heros were
real men' . . . "
Wright: "Where are these civilizations
Moderator Boas: "I think they are
still alive. I don't believe that civilizations die, as
Toynbee does . . . We have a lot that is Egyptian in our
present civilization; a lot that is ancient Greek; a lot
of Rome––Louisiana is still living under Roman
"I want to hear about what the artist called 'degenerate
art,' because we heard that term not so many years ago form
another artist called Adolph Hitler.
" . . . we instinctively hark back to the primitive.
We find it in Negro sculpture, in those things Picasso presents
to us, which could hang on the wall in any of the primitive
African performances. I like to think we find either Picasso
despairing, or in absolute collapse, spiritually speaking
. . ."
"Why do you call it 'degeneracy'? You seek in the primitive
what might be good to take."
Wright: "Would you say homosexuality
Duchamp: "No, it is not degenerate."
Wright: "Would you say that this movement
which we call modern art and painting has been greatly,
or is greatly, in debt to homosexualism?"
Duchamp: "I admit it, but not in your
terms . . . I believe that the homosexual public has shown
more interest or curiosity for modern art than the heterosexual:
so it happened, but it does not involve modern art itself."
Wright: "But no man in his confusion,
in his inability to conduct his life and himself on a plane
more or less of manhood as we understand it––maybe
it's a mistake––feels the need of this refreshment,
and goes to the darkie, goes to the primitive, wherever
he can find it, and feeling strengthened by it begins to
copy it, begin to imitate it . . . this thing that belongs
like a property of childhood to the early days of the race
. . .
Milhaud: "I don't understand the word
Bateson: "I was going to challenge
exactly the same point. I have seen in Bali an Indian dancer,
a Hindu from India, who went to Bali to learn Balinese dancing
. . . He had one of the top Balinese dancers as a teacher.
And you see the Balinese trying to copy the Indian. The
two things cannot copy each other. The bodies aren't put
together the same way. The notions of beauty and human relations
are deeply and implicitly different in the two creatures.
And the same applies to us: the possibility of copying when
you go to a primitive society is not there."
"Isn't this true: that primitive man––
. . . that earlier periods in the art life of the savage
races were more childlike?"
Moderator Boas: "No."
Bateson: "No, no, no; they think we
wonder if you are not referring to what I often call the
'evolutionary fallacy.' That is to say, first of all, the
idea that the evolution of society proceeds in a straight
line; secondly, that that which comes at the end––at
our end of the line––is somehow greater in quality,
more significant, than that which comes at the lower end
of the line."
"It seems to me that the whole line of thought involved
there is completely fallacious, and furthermore overlooks
an obvious fact . . . that that which we frequently call
'primitive' culture is infinitely more sophisticated in
terms of different experiences that we ordinarily admit
Moderator Boas: "Isn't the very term
'primitive' a relic of the evolutionistic period?"
Bateson: "I find it a very useful
term to separate these cultures which have not got script
from those cultures which have got script."
"It means, and it's relevant to this problem about
progress that you are raising, that the addition of script
to a human community––the fact that they can
record, they can time-bind, they can send messages of various
kinds––is a shift in the order of complexities."
" . . . Now, if I can express my own opinion flatly,
I don't think the present age is any worse than any other
age . . . I am very, very deeply moved by modern painting,
much more so than by most classical paintings; and by modern
architecture much more so than architecture of the Beaux-Arts
. . . I think it's a perfectly swell age. I see nothing
degenerate, and I don't care what the sexual like of its
inmates is, or anything of the sort."
Ritchie: " . . . the great pleasure I have
received from modern art is basically its extraordinary
freshness. Looking back, we have spoken of the feeling for
history, which is certainly a part of us; but I think the
most exciting thing in our day is the tremendous break with
all past periods of civilization in an attempt to search
for new forms . . . "