'The Bray of the Gramophones and the Voices of the Poets'

Art and Political Crises in Between the Acts

in Volume 10 (1998): Issue 3 (Dec 1998): Literature of the 1930s. Guest Editors: Mary Joannou and John Lucas
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In ‘Why Art Follows Politics’, published in The Daily Worker in 1936, Virginia Woolf remarked on a change in the conditions for creativity in the late 1930s. She wrote that the artist’s studio was now ‘far from being a cloistered spot where he can contemplate his model or his apple in peace’, for it was ‘besieged by voices, all disturbing, some for one reason, some for another.’ She characterised the developing political crisis in terms of auditory disturbance or interruption, including the noises of radio news; the voices of dictators addressing the public by megaphone in the streets, and public opinion, which, Woolf wrote, called for artists to prove their social and political usefulness. In extreme political systems, artists were forced to compromise and use their work for political purposes – to ‘celebrate fascism; celebrate communism’ – in order to be allowed to practise at all.