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The Credo of Cadmus

Post #1887 • February 25, 2021, 4:08 PM

[Image: Paul Cadmus, Study for “To E.M. Forster”, circa 1948, graphite on paper, 4 × 6 1/2 inches]

Paul Cadmus, Study for “To E.M. Forster”, circa 1948, graphite on paper, 4 × 6 1/2 inches

Shortly before the organization shut it down, a conversation ensued on the AICA-USA internal message board in which one Philip Eliasoph was moved to contribute this remark from E.M. Forster:

I believe in aristocracy, though—if that is the right word, and if a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive for others as well as themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but power to endure, and they can take a joke.

Utter gold. He cited this in the course of mentioning that he had written the catalogue for the one and only retrospective of the work of Paul Cadmus, in 1981 at the Miami University Art Museum. Being a Cadmus fan myself, I looked up Dr. Eliasoph and reached out to him to thank him for his contribution to the thread. I also obtained the catalogue (thank you AbeBooks), which contains Cadmus’s “Credo.” This does not seem to be preserved anywhere on the Web, which I regard as a shame, but which I’m in a position to do something about. Without further ado, the Credo of Paul Cadmus:

I believe that art is not only more true but also more living and vital if it derives its immediate inspiration and its outward form from contemporary life. The actual contact with human beings who are living and dying, working and playing, exercising all their functions and passions, demonstrating the heights and depths of man’s nature, gives results of far greater significance than those gained by isolation, introspection or subjective contemplation of inanimate objects. Entering the world of human beings plunges one immediately into a mixture of emotions, thoughts and actions, some pleasant, some disturbing; but whether uplifting or disgusting, these reactions spring from a vital source. I cannot term love optimism nor disgust pessimism; one implies rose-colored glasses, the other dark glasses. Therefore the terms optimism and pessimism, seem to me, falsifications. However, in order to make clear one’s disgust (with base actions, conditions, habits, etc.), all sweet and lovely thoughts must be dropped by the wayside. Thus, this apparent falsification is in reality a clarification.

There are, in general, two ways to approach an expression not only of individuals’ reactions to society, but also to approach society itself in all its complex inter-relations. One: to choose the finest and noblest expressions of people and society and to demonstrate them as unalloyed goodness; two: to choose the subversive, selfish and deadening expressions and to display them in all their destructive malignity. Each viewpoint, I believe, presupposes a moral germination. There is, back of every true artistic endeavor, love of life, desire for continuance of life, desire for a better life, etc., and any move toward these goals is moral. But, whereas, it seems to me, we have become immune through continual vaccinations (and plagues) of sweet art to the inspirational, nobler methods of attaining these desires, we are still open and susceptible to attacks upon our foibles and even upon our so-called fundamental baseness.

This, then, is my viewpoint,—a satirical viewpoint; and I think I’m correct in saying that genuine satire has always been considered supremely moral. But, strangely enough, though the artistic expression is often composed of elements repulsive to the artist, the very efficacy of these repulsive and perhaps immoral elements in strengthening and achieving better social standards is a source of infinite concern and even delight to the satirical artist.

Particular people, people molded by their environment and contacts, the actions of these people not only as expressions of their own nature but as products of their attempts to conciliate and ameliorate this environment: these are of the utmost concern to me. A generalized satirical concept, seems to me, to be less significant as art and much less effective as propaganda for correcting evils. Blake has written:

General Knowledge is Remote Knowledge; it is in Particulars that Wisdom consists & Happiness too. Both in Art & in Life, General Masses are as Much Art as a Pasteboard Man is Human. Every Man has Eyes, Nose & Mouth; this Every Idiot knows, but he who enter into & discriminates most minutely the Manners & Intentions, the Characters in all their branches, is the alone Wise or Sensible Man, & on this discrimination All Art is founded. I intreat, then, that the Spectator will attend to the Hands & Feet, to the Lineaments of the Countenances; they are all descriptive of Character, & not a line is drawn without intention, & that most discriminate & particular. As Poetry admits not a Letter that is Insignificant, so Painting admits not a Grain of Sand or a Blade of Grass Insignificant—much less an Insignificant Blur or Mark.

- Paul Cadmus

This appears in Paul Cadmus: Yesterday & Today (1981) courtesy of Midtown Galleries, reprinted from an exhibition catalogue from 1937. All that is left of Midtown rests in the Archives of American Art.

Dr. Eliasoph will be speaking tomorrow (virtually of course) at the Georgia Museum of Art in conjunction with their forthcoming exhibition Extra Ordinary: Magic, Mystery and Imagination in American Realism. I’ll be “there.” Here’s to our queer race.

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