The point is that you have here a direct, unmistakable assault on sanity and decency; and even - since some of Dali’s pictures would tend to poison the imagination like a pornographic postcard - on life itself. What Dali has done and what he has imagined is debatable, but in his outlook, his character, the bedrock decency of a human being does not exist. He is as anti-social as a flea. Clearly, such people are undesirable, and a society in which they can flourish has something wrong with it.
Now, if you showed this book, with its illustrations, to Lord Elton, to Mr. Alfred Noyes, to The Times leader writers who exult over the “eclipse of the highbrow” - in fact, to any “sensible” art-hating English person - it is easy to imagine what kind of response you would get. They would flatly refuse to see any merit in Dali whatever. Such people are not only unable to admit that what is morally degraded can be æsthetically right, but their real demand of every artist is that he shall pat them on the back and tell them that thought is unnecessary. And they can be especially dangerous at a time like the present, when the Ministry of Information and the British Council put power into their hands. For their impulse is not only to crush every new talent as it appears, but to castrate the past as well. Witness the renewed highbrow-baiting that is now going on in this country and America, with its outcry not only against Joyce, Proust and Lawrence, but even against T. S. Eliot.
But if you talk to the kind of person who can see Dali’s merits, the response that you get is not as a rule very much better. If you say that Dali, though a brilliant draughtsman, is a dirty little scoundrel, you are looked upon as a savage. If you say that you don’t like rotting corpses, and that people who do like rotting corpses are mentally diseased, it is assumed that you lack the æsthetic sense. Since “Mannequin rotting in a taxicab” is a good composition. And between these two fallacies there is no middle position, but we seldom hear much about it. On the one side Kulturbolschewismus: on the other (though the phrase itself is out of fashion) “Art for Art’s sake.” Obscenity is a very difficult question to discuss honestly. People are too frightened either of seeming to be shocked or of seeming not to be shocked, to be able to define the relationship between art and morals.
It will be seen that what the defenders of Dali are claiming is a kind of benefit of clergy. The artist is to be exempt from the moral laws that are binding on ordinary people. Just pronounce the magic word “Art,” and everything is O.K.