Digital History at Ursinus

To the Conservatives

Dublin Core

Title

To the Conservatives

Subject

Art, Modernism, and Bohemia

Description

Dodge’s Open Letter in Attacks Opposition of “The New”

Dodge’s defense the spirit of the new and the production of The Armory Show in her piece “To Conservatives,” published in January of 1913 in the public periodical, The New York Globe, displays her understanding of cultural and societal trends in her time and beyond (Rudnick 1510). Dodge also articulates the importance of supporting the forerunners of “The New.” Despite a somewhat attacking tone towards “the conservatives,” Dodge’s piece does not discredit the past or tradition. The article does not seek to incite argument, but rather to seriously address conservatives and the importance of their support. Dodge’s piece is working to try to further conversation about why there was resistance to the presence of a modern art exhibition in the city. Rudnick writes that Dodge’s “To Conservatives” conveys her “impatience, excitement, and commitment to a life of experimentation” (1510). Dodge also glorifies the artists and radicals who were ‘forging’ the path of the new and therefore seeks to win them public praise and admiration. Dodge displays modernism and new exploration as valiant and necessary for the continuing growth of humanity.

In order to understand Dodge’s role in The Armory show, it is important to understand how radical the Show was for New York. Dodge’s defense was not directed only at a shocked general public; it was also directed at a slew of critics who thought the Armory Show marked the degradation of the standards of art in America. Rudnick wrote, “the public who attended the show viewed the exhibition as a desecration of traditional values and a violation of common-sense vision” (1427). This was the perspective Dodge was working against as she wrote in defense of the movement and the show. Dodge has a unique role having come from a high society background because her defense of the show is given more weight by her “honorable” societal status. When people read Dodge’s writing, they were getting the voice of the radicals from the mouth of a high society woman who they could feel “safe” listening to. Dodge made the radical beliefs she supported less threatening compared to a fiery radical feminist like Mina Loy. Dodge describes “the conservatives” as “impatient.” Dodge addresses them saying, “You accuse us of being a set of anarchists because we do not linger contently over the records of past intellectual achievement.” By calling them “impatient,” Dodge draws attention to the importance of accepting imperfection when forging new ideas. Dodge recognizes that “The New” is imperfect and does not hold all the answers. In fact, she suggests that is precisely why “The New” is so crucial during any time period: to continue to develop new ideas and ways of expressing the human condition. Dodge also specifically denounces the label of “anarchists.” Despite supporting the work of people like Emma Goldman who openly support anarchy, Dodge recognizes that when addressing the public, taking away labels that carry a negative connotation is a way to make the public more receptive to “The New”.

Dodge explains that the people of “The New” are not “content” with past achievements. The word choice conveys how Dodge does not at any point condemn the past, a purposeful strategy to sway the public. Dodge does not want this piece to attack the traditions that she disagrees with but rather to rally support for the New. Dodge’s crafty language conveys that she not only understood the idea of modernism and the efforts of the artists and radicals, but also how to explain their ideas so as to bring counterculture into the mainstream. Dodge continues to relate modernism to life itself in order to display the radical movement in a positive and uplifting light. Rudnick explains that Dodge tirelessly “tried to allay the fears of the opposition of the show” in order to generate wider support for the exhibition (1423). Dodge writes, “It is the business of every soul who has belief in regeneration to crowd these dead and encumbering forms out of the way and to clear a space for that which is already abroad on the earth, now life—new life—truth forcing its way into new forms backed by every mind that has faith.” Dodge uses the phrase “every soul” so as to break apart separations of class, gender, or political background. By portraying change as a shared experience, Dodge is again able to convey the work of The Armory Show as not threatening, but rather as thrilling.

Dodge’s piece also shows how Dodge comprehends overall cultural trends. Dodge writes, “The supernormal, on the contrary, sustain, not only itself but it carries the whole community upon its back.” By “supernormal,” Dodge is basically referring to the tendency for ideas and practices to originate in the fringes of culture and move to the mainstream. Dodge sees this unfold in her own time as she helped move modernism to popular culture, but it is a concept that exists in a cycle before and after Dodge as well. Dodge conveys this cyclical nature of change in order to display radical ideas as less threatening or out of the ordinary.

In her conclusion, Dodge writes, “In order that you may be conservative and skeptical (and cosy!) today, we are out in the untried—feeling our way towards the truth of tomorrow.” Dodge presents the radicals as valiant because they are willing to take on uncertainty for the greater good of society. Dodge’s comment that the conservatives are “cosy” exists to push conservatives to action in support of the new. Though Dodge clearly believes the truth to be uncertain, she does believe that the only way to attain any semblance of it would be to push forward and thus concludes with her optimistic portrait of a better tomorrow.

Rudnick, Lois. Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds (Kindle Locations 1423-1510). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.

Creator

Mabel Dodge

Source

Mabel Dodge Luhan Collection

Publisher

Beinecke Library

Date

1913

Rights

Mabel Dodge Luhan Collection

Format

Typed document

Language

English

Type

Essay

Text Item Type Metadata

Text

January 1913
To Conservatives,
The time has come to make an answer to your impatient complaints. A mysterious smile no longer seems to be a sufficient reply. Bergson is on his way to us, the vigorous pioneers for renewed expression of life in art will so on show us they have done, at the great show, at the Armory. It is time indeed that every one of us who has a conviction about life or a vestige of faith in it, should come out into the and say so.
You accuse us of being a set of anarchists because we do not linger contently over the records of past intellectual achievement. This is as true of us as it is of any moderns who have ever concerned themselves with a the hitherto “unknown”. But we claim it as a virtue that we want to know more and that our minds are open to new manifestations.
You wrote Locke to us on “the human understanding” and accuse us of “excess”; but we do not mind that word. What already exists has been evolved through a practical necessity, has passed the bar of reason and been admitted as scientific fact. All scientific facts are self-operative to the point of being self-preservative, and the conservative proves its right to exist by the fact that it does exist. But existence presupposes life and many of the scientific facts that started with life in them have consumed their own energy and become merely automatic. It is the business of every soul who has belief in regeneration to crowd these dead and encumbering forms out of the way and to clear a space for that which is already abroad on the earth, now life—new life—truth forcing its way into new forms backed by every mind that has faith. Facts that are proved by the evidence of the five sense—yes, of course! But these do not fill the vessel. These are not enough. You say we are irrational and ignorant because we do not know enough about these facts to discuss them fully and do not content ourselves with pausing until we do. We claim that the “known”, the “proven” is already ours through the racial intuition and memory and our ambition is to extend the racial memory rather than to draw upon it as every normal average mind does for its (parasitical!) nourishment.
This we enter the lists of the abnormal! However “away from the normal” signifies two things—the subnormal and the supernormal. The subnormal is negligible and dies out by itself. The supernormal, on the contrary, sustain, not only itself but it carries the whole community upon its back. It is the supernormal in every social group that is the leaven which makes it possible for that group to rise. It is in the supernormal alone that we can have forward movement. It is the supernormal that finds the path—that breaks the road upon which the “average” follows after. It is following the beaten path that constitutes the “average”. Had the supernormal with its “excess” of vitality not had the creative impulse to cut the path—the “average” would constitute to wallow in anti-diluviun mud! It has always been the supernormal which has forged a scientific and civilized process of existence out of chaos—and it has always been the “average” which as continued in it when it has become outgrown, lifeless and insufficient for progress and has turned into an automatic convention, -- a dead formula.
Of course, you reply with your safe and sane talk of equilibrium—and equilibrium is an achievement, but to tip the scales on the right side deserves recognition even from you, whose ideal is a perfect balance between inertia and energy.
The outline around many of the old forms has to be admitted as too hard and too narrow. It’s inelasticity constitutes its defeat. Recognized definitions no longer enclose the whole truth, and the first qualification of a definition is that there shall be nothing left over. There is so much left over, in many cases that the important constitutes are now mostly on the outside and this is our area—the outside—that is where we have our being—it is our element and our native air, and the name that we give to it is the universal consciousness.
The need of every growing thing is for room for expansion, for self-expression. Have the limits of the academic in art proved wide enough for this process! “The great master is he who expresses himself perfectly with in limits, “you reply. Yes, but who shall fix the boundary? And in the technique of life, which is convention, who shall decide the ultimate boundary? In the institution of today is there room for unfolding? Does marriage foster the inherent nobility of the human animal? Does our prison system correct the mistakes of ignorance and give direction to rudderless souls? If not, then our institutions are crystals thrown off by civilization into the waste heap of the world, ready for the cosmic melting pot. There are questions that have somehow to be answered and because every question preposes an answer, we know that we will find them out in that open space where we are groping and where all the truth that we have already seized upon his has been found and given to others for your comfort and security. In order that you may be conservative and skeptical (and cosy!) today, we are out in the untried—feeling our way towards the truth of tomorrow.
Mabel Dodge

Original Format

Typed essay

Files

toconservatives.JPG
Beinecke_DL_10189990.pdf

Citation

Mabel Dodge, “To the Conservatives ,” Digital History at Ursinus, accessed November 20, 2017, http://omeka.ursinus.edu/items/show/18.