The Seven Lively Arts

by Gilbert Seldes. New York: Harper & Bros. 1924. 8vo. Illustrated. xii + 398 pp. $4.00.
IT was rather disconcerting to find myself, on the early pages of Gilbert Seldes’s The Seven Lively Arts, labeled the leading opponent of the movies, and engaged in an imaginary conversation with Mr. David Griffith. I expected to discover myself made ridiculous, but as I read on I rejoiced at my wit and erudition, and as far as I could see came out of the encounter with as much honor as my famous antagonist. I could have done a little better, though, if Mr. Seldes had given me a couple more pages. I did n’t have time to say quite all I wanted to. Griffith talked too much. Still, after being treated so fairly by the author, I can hardly be severe on The Seven Lirely Arts. It is an extremely shrewd and entertaining book, which will be almost completely unintelligible to the great mass of people who patronize the seven lively arts, and much of which will sound like nonsense to the self-satisfied minority who patronize the seven lively arts. (When the English language is capable of so effective a double use of a word like ‘patronize,’one rejoices that he does not have to try to learn it late in life.)
As a matter of fact, though I am too old and too set in my ways to share all Seldes’s enthusiasms, I have long shared most of his aversions, for the ‘bunk’ of grand opera, of ‘serious drama’ by second-rate dramatists, of Academy painting, and so forth. And I travel right along with him in his appreciation of Charlie Chaplin, and his belief that the Keystone Comics showed the movies the road to take, not the terrible DeMille ' dramas. I doubt, in fact, if anybody has written more intelligently about the movies than he has in this book. I share entirely his admiration for the honesty and spontaneity and true creative force in the lively arts as they are practised in America, in the movies, the newspaper comicstrips, ragtime, the stage reviews, the satire of Mr. Dooley and Ring Lardner, native dancing. the circus, and such like. As between Irene Castle, for instance, and the bare-legged, cheesecloth ‘interpreters’ of Beethoven, I agree with Mr. Seldes that the art is all on Irene’s side, and the bunk on the other. And when he declared that The Mikado was worth a wilderness of Puccinis, I startled the occupants of a Boston and Albany Pullman by crying ‘Amen!’
I cannot quite bring myself to agree that the creator of Krazy Kat, to be sure, is the greatest artist in America. But I am in entire sympathy with the impulse which prompts Seldes to make this statement, and with his whole effort to bring a genuine criticism to bear on the lively and enormously popular arts of America: not to make those arts self-conscious — Heaven forbid!—but to impress on as many people as he can reach the value in all art of spontaneity, honesty, and an imagination unfettered, unrestricted by any preconceived notions of what is genteel or proper or dignified. He has applied a lively mind to a lively subject.