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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Paul Green, May 30, 1975. Interview B-0005-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Art as both beautiful and instructive

Green seeks to define art, weighing both its aesthetic and its pedantic power. He thinks that artists seek to interpret real life in a way that might both create beauty and send an important message.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Paul Green, May 30, 1975. Interview B-0005-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACQUELYN HALL:
You don't think that drama should reflect life? That's not what you're trying to do?
PAUL GREEN:
Oh, yes, but it sublimates life or it ….
JACQUELYN HALL:
Ennobles life? When someone reads one of your plays, what is the purpose of that play, what do you want the reader to have from it?
PAUL GREEN:
Well, it's to tell a story. You've got a story to tell and then you say, "Well now, what is a story?" A story is an arrangement on the part of the artist of the actions and the raw material of life shaped into an art form in which the participants, the readers, the spectators, the auditors, they can come and see that and get enriched. It's part of the process of humanistic growth. I was reading last night something of Tennyson. H.L. Mencken used to call him "Long Tennyson" but he's a great poet, and I read about "And on her lover's arm she leant, And round her waist she felt it fold, And far across the hills they went in that new world, which is the old: Across the hills, and far away Beyond their utmost purple rim, And deep into the dying day The happy princess follow'd him. And o'er them many a sliding star, And many a merry wind was borne, And, stream'd thro' many a golden bar, The twilight melted into morn." So, he got something and there it is and "Way the twilight comes down …", it's wonderful. He put it down nearly a hundred years ago and it is still there. The vapor has disappeared, but art takes life, shapes it and fastens it down and a poem is like a chalice. You can go back and drink from it, and art makes permanent the values in life that would fade away. So, you could almost say that a civilization is great only as its artists are great.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But you also wrote with a didactic purpose. The way that you talked about This Body The Earth, that the reader would feel the injustice of the situation in which the man could not succeed. He would want to act in the real world because of having read this play.
PAUL GREEN:
That's right.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Whereas Tennyson's peom does not effect you that way, it's aesthetic.
PAUL GREEN:
Yes, but it makes you … well, it is in a way always that. You could not deny the pay-off of possible learning from any work of art and by learning, you simply mean not only learning of an emotional nature but of a logical strength so that if you have a pedantic novel or play that teaches, if it is done beautifully enough, the pedanticism is illuminated and sublimated in such a way that it is inspiring. Now, I wrote something that I knew when I was working at it, that it wasn't actually physically true, about some people who came to Roanoke Island in the sixteenth century and tried to make a settlement and they perished, they were lost. Well, I put words there that actually, realistically, didn't fit and had them do things that they didn't do, but you could say artistically, they should have done. So, I have a fellow come out, the narrator, and say, "We have come to dedicate this bit of humble earth." It's right where this colony was and then he says, "For here once walked the men of dreams." Well, all of us are dreamers … "the sons of hope and pain and wonder." Then I have him go on about the sunlight of truth on their foreheads, their lips sang a new "song for ages yet unborn, For us the children that came after them, O, new and mighty world to be," they sang. "O, land, majestic, free, unbounded." Well, they never said that but you use them to be beyond themselves so the artist, the playwright, he can never put life down just as it is. He interprets it. Anyway, I do in my feeble efforts. Now, in these later years, in feeling the impact of the country and this democratic faith that we have and the malfeasance that is happening, I guess that I've been encouraged to try to say something about that, to try to deal with people.