2 autograph notes, signed on correspondence cards, 25 typed letters, signed (plus a few newspaper clippings, prints, 2 photographs, and two letters from his wife Sally, plus photocopies of two replies by Nichols) to Dale Nichols. Ausable Forks, New York: 21 March 1953 – 8 September 1970
Various sizes of 4to and 8vo, 32 ½ typed pages, 2 pages manuscript, 2 envelopes addressed to Nichols, laid in to a small folio album.
The two painters evidently had much in common including a horror for abstract art, a voracious appetite for reading, and a host of friends. Nichols (1904-1995), an American regionalist painter, was art editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Nichols's oil paintings center on recreations of the farm life he experienced in his early years in Nebraska. He stated, "I feel that an artist paints best what he has been exposed to during his youth. I think my memory paintings of my home state may be my only creations that I sign with full confidence." They seemed to differ most strenuously on the role of the artist in public affairs. The letters span the McCarthy Era and the Vietnam War which both figure largely in Kent’s writing. He goes on at some length on the relations between Communism, socialism, art and the artist's role. Some samples of his discourse follow:
[21 March 1953]: “I believe that you will be glad to know that I fully share your disgust with abstractionism. My own opinion of that cultural aberration is made clear in the copy which I enclose [present in the lot] of a letter of mine that was published about a month ago in the Magazine section of the ‘New York Times.’... I find the use of the term “Communism” in the discussion of current political matters extremely confusing. Strictly speaking, Communism is nowhere in operation in the world today. Communism as defined by Karl Marx – ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’ – is an ideal that none of the Soviet countries pretend to have attained.... Although I am a life-long believer in socialism, I am not a member of any political party. ... But if you will pardon me, you are guilty of a very serious error ... namely, that the Communist Party sponsors abstractionism in art and that Lenin gave it his approval....[Discusses the origin of the Soviet turn toward Realism in art] ... To be sure, Picasso is a socialist and, I believe, a member of the Communist Party. He calls himself a Communist ... And now you may have read of the French Communist Party’s rejection of Picasso’s portrait of Stalin ... Art is not an end in itself. It is a means toward the end of human happiness. Its function is to increase men’s understanding and appreciation of our world and its people – to stimulate their love of life.” [9 April 1953]. “I see not only “Modern” art, as I expressed it in my letter to the “Times”, as the cultural counterpart of the atom bomb but our whole cultural demoralization as evidenced in the virtual abandonment of reading in favor of strip comics, of the increasing depravity of the comics themselves, the prevalence of lurid sex and crime in the more popular cheap books and magazines ... as consistent with an economy that can only maintain itself through war preparedness and actual war and with that trend toward outright fascism which is observable in the increasing suppression of all our civil liberties and in the admitted widespread fear in which our people live.” [29 April 1953] “In my early twenties I became, and have remained, a materialist, having been led by much reading and reflection to reject the whole idea of a Supreme Being or a Supreme Consciousness. The essence of Christianity became to me one of ethics alone, and I take this aspect of Christianity so seriously and interpret the teaching of Jesus so literally that, for the simple reason that I do not live up to them, I don’t presume to call myself a Christian.... We are also at one in our detestation of the present character and trend of the civilization of which we are, unhappily, a part and in our belief that a true brotherhood of Man must eventually supplant it. To me, that brotherhood, translated into constructive terms, is socialism.” [27 March 1960]: “If the article I sent you about the Soviet debate on art vs. science surprizes you, you can have little realization of what great freedom prevails in the arts in the Soviet Union. Their artists, I may say, have entire freedom. The worst that can happen to an artist for extreme or irresponsible use of his freedom to paint or write as he pleases is that no one might like or buy his pictures; and none of the many publishers might like his book—as happened with Pasternak. It is exactly what happens over here. ... During McCarthy days—and probably still today—the American writer, Howard Fast, couldn’t get anything of his published. When he recanted his beliefs and quit the Communist Party he was suddenly taken up, made a best seller; books previously rejected were advertised as sensationally great; and one of them, Spartacus, was accepted by Hollywood for a million dollar spectacle.” [22 December 1960]: “We have just returned from two months in the Soviet Union where, in Moscow, we attended the opening of a big show of my work. Wanting my pictures to be seen and liked by people, and having found that they were unacceptable in America, I presented all my work that remained in my possession—80 painting and over 800 drawings and prints—to the Soviet people. Now, instead of rotting in the wooden fire trap—my studio—they will be seen and loved throughout the years by millions of people.”
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