Mencken’s Opinion on Artists’ Relation to Society

Human beings, otherwise known as homo sapiens, are one of the only species on this planet that is known to have an innate variety of sentiments, both negative and positive. And with these sentiments come bias and opinion; with these, mankind desires to express its individual sentiments and differing perspective on what changes are significantly necessary in the world. Artists, such as writers and composers, are able to convey this through their pieces of work; and in Mencken’s perspective, the majority of artists utilize their skills in order to criticize life and escape from the harsh realities along with it. Yet this may be taken to an extreme level – in which artists’ creations are for the sole benefit of the individuals who created them – and this would not be completely true: there are those who criticize parts of life in order for humanity as a whole to be able to escape from stated parts of life.

This is evident in past, historical pieces of art – going from art to literature – such as inventors and writers. Leonardo Da Vinci created a variety of artistic works from diagrams to paintings, all for the sole purpose of helping humanity progress in areas such as technology, mentality, and nationally. With this contribution in the progression and development of humanity, Da Vinci was able to create vehicles of war that would be the foundation of future ones like the helicopter and the airplane. In addition to this, his contribution into art with his detail-oriented style of drawing along with its ulterior meaning in works such as the Mona Lisa, influenced the style of drawing, specifically realism, that would emerge during this time period and would have a historical significance on the development of art. The development of mankind is not only evident in art but also evident in literature in works such as Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and The Lord of the Flies by William Golding. These three books each had a prominent impact on different areas and periods of time: such as Hugo’s novel, which was a window to the reality of the middle to lower classes of society in France during the July Revolution; Bradbury’s work that showed the consequences to the advancement of technology which would only further humanity’s desire to not dedicate themselves to labor; and finally Golding’s book which occurred during World War II, in which he predicted there would be a World War III which would be an international nuclear war. In both art and literature, these creators, otherwise known as artists, portray their innate desire to change the world and its problems and perhaps allowing there to be an escape for not only themselves but also humanity.

Furthermore this yearning to aid society with its diverse variety of problems going from global wars to the regression of humanity due to technology, artists in modern times also desire to significantly affect the problems of modernity. Such artists include actors and authors – including Joseph Gordon-Levitt and John Green; Joseph Gordon-Levitt strives to connect mankind not only for entertainment purposes but also for productive and self-ameliorating purposes. And so it is evident in Levitt’s creation of his production company called HitRecord, where people all over the world in a variety of countries, including artists, are given an outlet where they can also spread out their individual opinions and perspectives on different areas in society. This production company creates short films, paintings, and more to express concerns about modern-day problems such as discrimination. John Green, on the other hand, is a writer of award-winning books and manages a YouTube channel where he spreads his knowledge on a variety of topics, including history and psychology. The purpose of these works, for Green, is to give esoteric information that people should know from global to national events from both the past and the present, so that overall mankind would become more literate and rational than prior. And so, both in the past and in the present, though there are those artists who utilize their skills in order to create an escape for themselves out of the harsh truths of life, there are others like Da Vinci, Hugo, Bradbury, and Golding of the past and Levitt and Green in the present, that use their abilities to create ‘escapes’ for the rest of humanity.

However one may consider in a more vague perspective that the reasons for their motivation in creating these escapes are selfish and fully self-ameliorating. Yet this strikes the contrary due to the fact that these creations have had a positive effect and influence on those who are literate and educated of modern day: for example with Hugo’s Les Miserables, we have learned the cruel realities of life and how as humanity we should strive to reach full, uniform equality yet still have a sense of individualism. In addition to Levitt’s HitRecord production company, people from a variety of differing countries with differing cultures and religions are unified and are able to escape from the harshness of life together and unified, rather than the art being an individual escape for the artist himself or herself. So, though if viewed in a more generalized view, the purpose for the creation of these artistic works is not only for the artists’ self-benefit but also for the benefit of the rest of humanity, or for those who are struggling.

Therefore, Mencken’s view on the artist’s relation to society is correct but there are those who create works in order to creates escapes for not only themselves but also the rest of mankind, so that everyone as a whole is benefited rather than just one individual human being. Because there is a variety of homo sapiens with varying emphasis on certain sentiments, and so there will be those artists with their creations that criticize certain aspects in life for not only themselves but also for the rest of the people.

And finally we have come to an end. What parts of Mencken’s perspective on the artist’s relation with society do you agree or disagree with? Or do you completely fathom and support Menckens’ assertion?

What do you think?


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