Home > 19th Century, EU Book Tour, Novel, Strindberg August, Swedish Literature > The artist according to Strindberg in The Red Room

The artist according to Strindberg in The Red Room

In The Red Room (one day, I’ll have time, alert and available neurons to write my billet about it)August Strindberg exposes his views on the artist as a character:

“‘I can analyse the much-talked-of artistic instinct because I was endowed with it myself. It rests on a broad base of longing for freedom, freedom from profitable labour; for this reason a German philosopher defined Beauty as the Unprofitable; as soon as a work of art is of practical use, betrays a purpose or a tendency its beauty vanishes. Further-more the instinct rests on pride; man wants to play God in art, not that he wants to create anything new–he can’t do that–but because he wants to improve, to arrange, to recreate. He does not begin by admiring his model, Nature, but by criticizing it. Everything is full of faults and he longs to correct them. “‘This pride, spurring a man on to never-ceasing effort, and the freedom from work–the curse of the fall–beget in the artist the illusion that he is standing above his fellow creatures; to a certain extent this is true, but unless he were constantly recalling this fact he would find himself out, that is to say find the unreal in his activity and the unjustifiable in his escape from the profitable. This constant need of appreciation of his unprofitable work makes him vain, restless, and often deeply unhappy; as soon as he comes to a clear understanding of himself he becomes unproductive and goes under, for only the religious mind can return to slavery after having once tasted freedom. “‘To differentiate between genius and talent, to look upon genius as a separate quality, is nonsense, and argues a faith in special manifestation. The great artist is endowed with a certain amount of ability to acquire some kind of technical skill. Without practice his ability dies. Somebody has said: genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains. This is, like so many other things, a half-truth. If culture be added–a rare thing because knowledge makes all things clear, and the cultured man therefore rarely becomes an artist–and a sound intellect, the result is genius, the natural product of a combination of favourable circumstances.

It seems a bit negative to me although I agree with the vision of art as the Unprofitable. That’s why it’s essential. It’s good the be reminded that everything doesn’t need to be profitable or provide return on investment.

See you soon with the full billet about this interesting Swedish novel.

  1. August 5, 2012 at 1:23 am

    I agree–rather negative, but then Strindberg isn’t exactly known for his ‘glass half full’ approach. Art can be profitable, though. Just think of Warhol’s piss paintings. Should they be worth more or less if Warhol used his own urine?


    • August 5, 2012 at 3:28 pm

      I heard the word “profitable” more in the sense of useful. Perhaps it’s because I’ve read the book and it fitted with the context.


  2. August 5, 2012 at 9:20 am

    I personally think this is a bit of a dated view. L’art pour l’art or so. I think art can be profitable in another sense. Not only related to financial gain but in the sense of serving a cause. Even entertainment is profitable. Would that mean art cannot be entertaining? I think the boundaries are not as strict.


    • August 5, 2012 at 3:34 pm

      It’s a bit dated, I agree. Very “poète maudit”, impressionists booed at the Salon, 1870s.
      For me art shouldn’t aim for profit but still brings a lot of non-monetary benefits to humanity. And sometimes it brings monetary If people are willing to pay a lot for a painting, I’m happy for the painter. But I still think a real artist will paint or write no matter what their work is worth on the market.


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