Gerald Stanley Lee.

Crowds: a moving-picture of democracy online

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to begin with wall-papers, to make machinery say something as
beautiful as possible, inasmuch as it is bound to have, for a
long time at least, about all the say there is. The photograph

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does not go about the world doing Murillos everywhere by
pressing a button, but the camera habit is doing more in the
way of steady daily hydraulic lifting of great masses of men to
where they enjoy beauty in the world than Leonardo da Vinci
would have dared to dream in his far-ofiF day; and Leonardo's
pictures, thanks to the same photograph, and everybody's
pictures, films of paper, countless spirits of themselves, pass
around the world to every home in Christendom. The printing
press made literature a democracy, and machinery is making all
the arts democracies. The symphony piano, an invention for
making vast numbers of people who can play only a few very
poor things play very poorly a great many good ones, is a con-
summate instance both of the limitation and the value of our
contemporary tendency in the arts. The pipe organ, though
on a much higher plane, is an equally characteristic contrivance
making it possible for a man to be a complete orchestra and a
conductor all by himself, playing on a crowd of instruments, to
a crowd of people, with two hands and one pair of feet. It is a
crowd invention. The orchestra — a most distinctively mod-
em institution, a kind of republic of sound, the unseen spirit
of the many in one — is the sublimest expression yet attained
of the crowd music, which is, and must be, the supreme music
of this modem day, the symphony. Richard Wagner comes to
his triumph because his music is the voice of multitudes. The
opera, a crowd of sounds accompanied by a crowd of sights,
presented by one crowd of people on the stage to another crowd
of people in the galleries, stands for the same tendency in art
that the syndicate stands for in commerce. It is syndicate
music; and in proportion as a musical composition in this present
day is an aggregation of multitudinous moods, in proportion
as it is suggestive, complex, paradoxical, the way a crowd
is complex, suggestive, and paradoxical — provided it be
wrought at the same time into some vast and splendid unity —
just in this proportion is it modem music. It gives itself to
the counterpoints of the spirit, the passion of variety in modem

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life. The legacy of all the ages, is it not descended upon us?
— the spirit of a thousand nations? All our arts are thousand-
nation arts, shadows and echoes of dead worlds playing upon
our own. Italian music, out of its feudal kingdoms, comes to
us as essentially solo music — melody; and the civilization of
Greece, being a civilization of heroes, individuals, comes to us
in its noble array with its solo arts, its striding heroes every-
where in front of all, and with nothing nearer to the people in it
than the Greek Chorus, which, out of limbo, pale and featureless
across all ages, sounds to us as the first far faint coming of the
crowd to the arts of this groping world. Modem art, inheriting
each of these and each of all things, is revealed to us as the
struggle to express all things at once. Democracy is democracy
for this very reason, and for no other: that all things may be ex-
pressed at once in it, and that all things may be given a chance to
be expressed at once in it. Being a race of hero-worshippers, the
Greeks said the best, perhaps, what could be said in sculpture;
but the marbles and bronzes of a democracy, having average
men for subjects, and being done by average men, are aver-
age marbles and bronzes. We express what we have. We are
in a transition stage. It is not without its significance, however,
that we have perfected the plaster cast — the establishment
of democracy among statues, and mobs of Greek gods min-
gUng with the people can be seen almost any day in every con-
siderable city of the world. The same priniciple is working
itself out in our architecture. It is idle to contend against
the principle. The way out is the way through. However
eagerly we gaze at Parthenons on their ruined hills, if
thirty-one-story blocks are in our souls thirty-one-story
blocks will be our masterpieces, whether we like it or not. They
will be our masterpieces because they tell the truth about us;
and while truth may not be beautiful, it is the thing that must
be told first before beauty can begin. The beauty we are to
have shall only be worked out from the truth we have. Living
as we do in a new era, not to see that the thirty-one-story

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block is the expression of a new truth is to turn ourselves away
from the one way that beauty can ever be found by men, in this
era or in any other.

What is it that the thirty-one-story block is trying to say
about us? The thirty-one-story block is the masterpiece of
mass, of immensity, of numbers; with its 2427 windows and its
779 offices, and its crowds of lives piled upon lives, it is express-
ing the one supreme and characteristic thing that is taking
place in the era in which we- live. The city is the main fact
that modem civilization stands for, and crowding is the logical
architectural form of the city idea. The thirty-one-story
block is the statue of a crowd. It stands for a spiritual fact,
and it will never be beautiful until that fact is beautiful. The
only way to make the thirty-one-story block beautiful (the
crowd expressed by the crowd) is to make the crowd beautiful.
The most artistic, the only artistic, thing the world can do next
is to make the crowd beautiful.

The typical city blocks, with their garrets in the lower stories
of the sky, were not possible in the ancient world, because steel
had not been invented; and the invention of steel, which is not
the least of our triumphs in the mechanical arts, is in many
ways the most characteristic. Steel is republican for stone.
Putting whole quarries into a single girder, it makes room for
crowds; and what is more significant than this, inasmuch as the
steel pillar is an invention that makes it possible to put floors
up first, and build the walls around the floors, instead of putting
the walls up first and supporting the floors upon the walls, as
in the ancient world, it has come to pass that the modern world
being the ancient world turned upside down, modem architec-
ture is ancient architecture turned inside out, a symbol of many
things. The ancient world was a wall of individuals, supporting
floor after floor and stage after stage of society, from the lowest
to the highest; and it is a typical fact in this modem demo-
cratic world that it grows from the inside, and that it supports
itself from the inside. When the mass in the centre has been

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finished, an ornamental stone facing of great individuals will
be built around it and supported by it, and the work will be
considered done.

The modern spirit has much to boast of in its mechanical arts,
and in its fiine arts almost nothing, because the mechanical arts
are studying what men are needing to-day, and the fine arts
are studying what the Greeks needed three thousand years ago.
To be a real classic is, first, to be a contemporary of one's own
time; second, to be a contemporary of one's own time so deeply
and widely as to be a contemporary of all time. The true
Greek is a man who is doing with his own age what the Greeks
did with theirs, bringing all ages to bear upon it, and interpreting
it. As long as the fine arts miss the fundamental principle of
this present age — the crowd principle, and the mechanical
arts do not, the mechanical arts are bound to have their way
with us. And it were vastly better that they should. Sincere
and straightforward mechanical arts are not only more beautiful
than aflFected fine ones, but they are more to the point: they are
the one sure sign we have of where we are going to be beautiful
next. It is impossible to love the fine arts in the year 1913
without studying the mechanical ones; without finding one's self
looking for artistic material in the things that people are using,
and that they are obliged to use. The determining law of a
thing of beauty being, in the nature of things, what it is for, the
very essence of the classic attitude in a utilitarian age is to make
the beautiful follow the useful and inspire the useful with its
spirit. The fine art of the next thousand years shall be the
transfiguring of the mechanical arts. The modern hotel, having
been made necessary by great natural forces in modern life, and
having been made possible by new mechanical arts, now puts
itself forward as the next great opportimity of the fine arts.
One of the characteristic achievements of the immediate future
shall be the twentieth-century Parthenon — a Parthenon not
of the great and of the few and of the gods, but of the great
many, where, through mighty corridors, day and night, democ-

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racy wanders and sleeps and chatters and is sad and lives and
dies, streets rumbling below. The hotel — the crowd fireside
— being more than any other one thing, perhaps, the thing that
this civilization is about, the token of what it loves and of how it
lives, is bound to be a masterpiece sooner or later that shall
express democracy. The hotel rotunda, the parlour for multi-
tudes, is bound to be made beautiful in ways we do not guess.
Why should we guess? Multitudes have never wanted par-
lours before. The idea of a parlour has been to get out of a
multitude. All the inevitable problems that come of having
a whole city of families live in one house have yet to be solved
by the fine arts as well as by the mechanical ones. We have
barely begim. The time is bound to come when the radiator,
the crowd's fireplace-in-a-pipe, shall be made beautiful; and
when the electric light shall be taught the secret of the candle;
and when the especial problem of modern life — of how to make
two rooms as good as twelve — shall be mastered aesthetically
as well as mathematically; and when even the piano-folding,
bed-bookcase-toilet-stand- writing-desk — a crowd invention for
living in a crowd — shall either take beauty to itself or lead
to beauty that serves the same end.

While for the time being it seems to be true that the fine arts
are looking to the past, the mechanical arts are producing con-
ditions in the future that will bring the fine arts to terms,
whether they want to be brought to terms or not. The mechani-
cal arts hold the situation in their hands. It is decreed that
people who cannot begin by making the things they usebeautifid
shall be allowed no beauty in other things. We may wish that
Parthenons and cathedrals were within our souls; but what the
cathedral said of an age that had the cathedral mood, that had
a cathedral civilization and thrones and popes in it, we are
bound to say in some stupendous fashion of our own — some-
thing which, when it is built at last, will be left worshipping
upon the ground beneath the sky when we are dead, as a me-
morial that we too have lived. The great cathedrals, with the

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feet of the huddled and dreary poor upon their floors, and samts
and heroes shining on their pillars, and priests behind the
chancel with God to themselves, and the vast and vacant nave,
symbol of the heaven glimmering above that few could reach —
it is not to these that we shall look to get ourselves said to the
nations that are now unborn; rather, though it be strange to say
it, we shall look to something like the ocean steamship —
cathedral of this huge unresting modem world — under the
wide heaven, on the infinite seas, with spars for towers and the
empty nave reversed filled with human beings* souls — the
cathedral of crowds hiurying to crowds. There are hundreds
of them throbbing and gleaming in the night — this very mo-
ment — lonely cities in the hollow of the stars, bringing together
the nations of the earth.

When the spirit of our modem way of Uving, the idea in it,
the bare facts about our modem human nature have been
noticed at last by our modem artists, masterpieces shall come
to us out of every great and living activity in our lives.
Art shall tell the things these lives are about. When this
is once realized in America as it was in Greece, the fine arts
shall cover the other arts as the waters cover the sea. The
Brooklyn Bridge, swinging its web for immortal soi^s across
sky and sea, comes nearer to being a work of art than almost
anything we possess to-day, because it tells the truth, because
it is the material form of a spiritual idea, because it is a
sublime and beautiful expression of New York in the way
that the Acropolis was a sublime and beautiful expression
of Athens. ^The Acropolis was beautiful because it was the
abode of heroes, of great individuals; and the Brooklyn Bridge,
because it expresses the bringing together of millions of men.
It is the architecture of crowds — this Brooklyn Bridge —
with winds and sunsets and the dark and the tides of souls
upon it; it is the type and symbol of the kind of thing that our
. modem genius is bound to make beautiful and immortal before
it dies. The very word "bridge" is the symbol of the future of

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art and of everything else, the bringing together of things that
are apart — democracy. The bridge, which makes land across
the water, and the boat, which makes land on the water, and
the cable, which makes land and water alike — these are the
physical forms of the spirit of modern life, the democracy of
matter. But the spirit has comitless forms. They are all new
and they are all waiting to be made beautiful. The dumb
crowd waits in them. We have electricity — the life current
of the republican idea — characteristically our foremost
invention, because it takes all power that belongs to individual
places and puts it on a wire and carries it to all places. We
have the telephone, an invention which makes it possible for
a man to live on a back street and be a next-door neighbour to
boulevards; and we have the trolley, the modem reduction of
the private carriage to its lowest terms, so that any man for five
cents can have as much carriage power as Napoleon with all his
chariots. We have the phonograph, an invention which gives
a man a thousand voices; which sets him to singing a thousand
songs at the same time to a thousand crowds; which makes it
possible for the commonest man to hear the whisper of Bismarck
or Gladstone, to unwind crowds of great men by the firelight
of his own house. We have the elevator, an invention for mak^
ing the many as well oflF as the few, an approximate arrange-
ment for giving first floors to everybody, and putting all men
on a level at the same price — one more of a thousand instances
of the extraordinary manner in which the mechanical arts have
devoted themselves from first to last to the Constitution of the
United States. While it cannot be said of many of these tools
of existence that they are beautiful now, it is Plough to affirm
that when they are perfected they will be beautiful; and that
if we cannot make beautiful the things that we need, we cannot
expect to make beautiful the things that we merely want.
When the beauty of these things is at last brought out, we shall
have attained the mostcharacteristicand original andexpressive
and beautiful art that is in our power. It will be unprecedented

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foecause it will tell unprecedented truths. It was the mission of
ancient art to express states of being and individuals, and it
may be said to be in a general way the mission of our modem
art to express the beautiful in endless change, the movement
of masses, coming to its sublimity and immortality at last by
revealing the beauty of the things that move and that have to do
with motion, the bringing of all things and of all souls togetbrjr
on the earth.

The fulfillment of the word that has been written, "Your
valleys shall be exalted, and your mountains shall be made low ."
is by no means a beautiful process. Democracy is the grading
principle of the beautiful. The natural tendency the arts have
had from the first to rise from the level of the world, to make
themselves into Switzerlands in it, is finding itself confronted
with the Constitution of the United States — a Constitution
which, whatever it may be said to mean in the years to come,
has placed itself on record up to the present time, at least, us
standing for the tableland.

The very least that can be granted to this Constitution is
that it is so consummate a political document that it has made
itself the creed of our theology, philosophy, and sociology; the
principle of our commerce and industry; the law of production,
education, and journalism; the method of our life; the con-
trolling characteristic and the significant force in our literature;
and the thing our religion and our arts are about.

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THIS outlook or glimmer of vision I have tried to trace,
for the art of crowds is something we want, and want daily,
in the future. We want daily a future. But, after all, it
is a future.

I speak in this present chapter as one of the crowd who
wants something now.

I find myself in a world in which apparently some vast
anonymous arrangement was made about me and about
my life, before I was born. This arrangement seems to be,
as I understand it, that if I want to Uve while I am on this
planet a certain sort of life or be a certain sort of person,
I am expected practically to take out a permit for it from
the proper authorities.

In the previous chapter I made a request of the authorities,
as perhaps the reader will remember. I said, *I want to
be good now."

In this one I have a further request to make of the authori-
ties: "I want to be beautiful."

I want to be beautiful now.

I find thousands of other people about me on every hand
making these same two requests. I find that the authorities
do not seem to notice their requests any more than they have
noticed mine.


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NOW! 281

Some of us have begun to suspect that we must have made
the request in the wrong way. Perhaps we should not ask
a world — a great, vague thing like the world in general —
to make any slight arrangement we may need for being beau-
Uful. We have come to feel that we must ask somebody
in particular, and do something in particular, and find some
one in particular with whom we can do it. There is getting
to be but one course open to a man if he wants to be beau-
tiful. He must bone down and work hard with his soul, make
himself see precisely what it is and who it is standing between
him and a beautiful world. He must ask particular persons
in particular positions if they do not think he ought to be
allowed to be beautiful. He must ask some millionaire prob-
ably first — his employer, for instance — to stop getting in
his way, and at least to step one side and let him reason with
him. And when he cannot ask his millionaire — his own
particular humdrum millionaire — to step one side and reason
with him, he must ask iron-machines to step one side and
reason with him. After this he must ask crowds to please
to step one side and reason with him.

Whatever happens, he is sure to find always these same
three great, imponderable obstructions in the way of his
being beautiful — the humdrum millionaires, the iron-machines,
and crowds.

In the old days when any one wanted to be beautiful he
found it more convenient. There was very likely some one
who was more beautiful than he W£^s nearby, some one who
found him craving the same thing that he had craved, and
who recognized it and delighted in it, and who could make
room and help.

Nowadays, if one wants to be beautiful one must ask every-
body. Every man finds it the same. He must ask mil-
lions of people to let him be something, one after the other
in rows, that they do not want him to be or do not care whether
he is or not. He has to ask more people than he could count,

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before he dies, to let him be beautiful. Many of them that
he has to ask, sometimes most of them, are his inferiors.

I have tried to deal with how it is going to be possible for
a man to break through to being beautiful, past millionaires
and past iron-machines. I would like now to deal with the
people-machines or crowds, and how perhaps to break past
them and be beautiful in behalf of them, in spite of them.

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THE problem seems to be something like this. One finds
one has been born and put here whether or no, and that one
is inextricably alive in a state of society in which men are
coming to live in a kind of vast disease of being obliged to
do everything together.

We are still old-fashioned enough to be bom one at a time,
but we are educated in litters and we do our work in the world
in herds and gangs. Even the upper classes do liieir work
in gangs, and with overseers and little crowds called com-
mittees. Our latest idea consists in putting parts of a great
many diflFerent men together to make one great one — ^form-
ing a committee to make a man of genius.

There is no denying that, in a way, a committee does things;
but what becomes of the committee?

And the lower in the scale of life we go the fnore commit-
tees it takes to do the work of one man and the more im-
possible it becomes to find anything but parts of men to do
things. I put it frankly to the reader. The chances are
nine out of ten that when you meet a man nowadays and
look at him hard or try to do something with him you find
he is not a man at all but is some subsection of a committee.
You cannot even talk with such a man without selecting
some subsection of some subject which interests him; and
if you select any other subsection than his subsection he will
think you a bore; and if you select his subsection he will think
that you do not know anything.

And if you want to get anything done that is different,


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or that is the least bit interesting, and want to get some one
to do it, how will you go about it? You will find yourself
being sent from one person to another; and before you know
it you find yourself mixed up with nine or ten subdivisions
of nine or ten conunittees; and after you have got your nine
or ten subsections of nine or ten committees to get together
to consider what it is you want done, they will tell you, after
due deUberation, that it is not worth doing, or that you had
better do it yourself. Then every subsection of every com-
mittee will go home muttering under its breath to every other
subsection that a man who wants slightly diflFerent and in-
teresting things done in society is a public nuisance; and
that the man who does not know what subsection he is
in and what subsection of a man he was intended to
be, and who tries to do things, carries dismay and
anger on every side around him. Drop into your pigeon-
hole and be filed away, O Gentle Reader! Do you think
you are a soul? No; you are Series B. No. 2574, top row on
the left.

In my morning paper the other day I read that in a factory
whose long windows I often pass in the train, they have their
machinery so perfected that it takes sixty-four machines to
make one shoe.

Query — ^If it takes sixty-four machines run by sixty-four
men who do nothing else to make one shoe, how many
machines would it take, and how many shoes, to make one

Query — And when an employer in a shoe factory deals
with his employee, can it really be said, after all, that he is
dealing with him? He is dealing with It — ^with Nine Hours
a Day, of one sixty-fourth of a man.

The natural effect of crowds and of machines is to
make a man feel that he is, and always was, and
always will be, inmiemorially, unanimously, inniunerably

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Sometimes we are allowed a little faint numeral to dangle
up over our oblivion. Not long ago I saw a notice or letter
in the West Bulletin — ^probably from a member of something
— ending like this: "... I hope the readers of the Bulletin
will ponder over this suggestion of Number 29,619. — Sincerely
yaurs. No. 11, 175."

Online LibraryGerald Stanley LeeCrowds: a moving-picture of democracy → online text (page 21 of 44)