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'The Bray of the Gramophones and the Voices of the Poets': Art and Political Crises in Between the Acts

Jane De Gay

Abstract

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.’1 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.

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