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Florence Earle Coates

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The business of art is to enlarge and correct the heart and to lift our ideals out of the ugly and the mean through love of the ideal...The business of art is to appeal to the soul.
--
The New York Times (10 December 1916) From "Godlessness Mars Most Contemporary Poetry."

 
Florence Earle Coates

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There is no business like show business, Irving Berlin once proclaimed, and thirty years ago he may have been right, but not anymore. Nowadays almost every business is like show business, including politics, which has become more like show business than show business is.

 
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It is held that one fulfils his whole duty when he is industrious in his business or vocation, observing also the decencies of domestic, civil, and religious life. But activity of this kind stirs only the surface of our being, leaving what is most divine to starve; and when it is made the one important thing, men lose sense for what is high and holy, and become commonplace, mechanical, and hard. Science is valuable for them as a means to comfort and wealth; morality, as an aid to success; religion, as an agent of social order. In their eyes those who devote themselves to ideal aims and ends are as foolish as the alchemists, since the only real world is that of business and politics, or of business simply, since politics is business.

 
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In movies, the balance between art and business has always been precarious, with business outweighing art, but the business was, at least, in the hands of businessmen who loved movies. As popular entertainment, movies need something of what the vulgarian moguls had — zest, a belief in their own instincts, a sentimental dedication to producing pictures that would make their country proud of their contribution, a respect for quality, and the biggest thing: a willingness to take chances. The cool managerial sharks don’t have that; neither do the academics. But the vulgarians also did more than their share of damage, and they’re gone forever anyway. They were part of a different America. They were, more often than not, men who paid only lip service to high ideals, while gouging everyone for profits. The big change in the country is reflected in the fact that people in the movie business no longer feel it necessary to talk about principles at all.

 
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Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer. Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas. The man of no ideas will find the first idea fly to his head like wine to the head of a teetotaller. It is a common error, I think, among the Radical idealists of my own party and period to suggest that financiers and business men are a danger to the empire because they are so sordid or so materialistic. The truth is that financiers and business men are a danger to the empire because they can be sentimental about any sentiment, and idealistic about any ideal, any ideal that they find lying about, just as a boy who has not known much of women is apt too easily to take a woman for the woman, so these practical men, unaccustomed to causes, are always inclined to think that if a thing is proved to be an ideal it is proved to be the ideal.

 
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In the lifetime that has passed since Calvin Coolidge gave his speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in which he famously proclaimed that “the chief business of the American people is business,” the dominion of the ants has grown enormously. Look about: The business of business is everywhere and inescapable; the song of the buyers and the sellers never stops.

 
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