Make Beauty a Career

By Oscar Lewis

It is easy, after a man is dead, to remember what he was and what he did, and it is easy to forget what he stood for. Time blurs the entire picture, but some parts fade sooner than others and the lines that grow indistinct first are likely to be significant ones.

Unquestionably this has been true in the case of George Sterling. In memory, the individual is still clearly before us. But what has become of the symbol? Who gives much thought today to what George Sterling stood for?

He stood for something highly important. By his life he demonstrated that it was possible, in San Francisco, during the first quarter of the twentieth century, to make a career of so illusive and unsubstantial thing as beauty.

This was no insignificant achievement. It was an extremely important achievement in the eyes of a group that is larger in San Francisco than in most cities: the young men and women who know the stirrings of an awakening urge to create, and interpret, and live, beauty. We all know how thoroughly the cards are stacked today against the youth who wants wistfully to follow an artistic career. More often than not he is discouraged and defeated before he begins; he merely pauses for a time, his eyes fixed on the blue beyond the street-ends, then moves inevitably toward the revolving doors of the office buildings.

Make beauty a career? Thus, the young man is reminded tolerantly, is the twentieth century. Hustlers, not dreamers, are in demand. With fortunes to be made on Montgomery street, and room for more country homes down the peninsula, why contemplate the folly of a life without possessions? Why inflict on trusting parents the near-disgrace of a professionally artistic son?

Materialism has so many confident champions, beauty so few. Yet, because of George Sterling, the other, steeper road has come to look less difficult, the goal less remote, to every young San Franciscan who wants to be a poet, or an artist, or a musician. Thinking of Sterling, he has an answer to the old crafty argument that he will be "wasting his life." Make beauty a career? Well—why not? It can be done. That much he knows now. It is all he wants to know.

Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine (1868-1935); Dec 1927; Vol LXXXV, Number 12, pg.366.