Genius Ignored, Chapter 10: Twentieth Century Art: The Emperor’s New Clothes; Talking in Esperanto

Many years ago there lived an Emperor. He was so fond of new clothes that he spent all his time and all his money in order to be well dressed. He did not care about his soldiers nor did he go to the theatre or even ride out except to show off his beautiful new clothes.
Time passed merrily in the big town which was the Emperor’s capital city. Visitors arrived every day at court and one day there came two men who called themselves weavers, but they were in fact clever robbers. They pretended that they knew how to weave cloth of the most beautiful colors and magnificent patterns. Moreover, they said, the clothes woven from this magic cloth could not be seen by anyone who was unfit for the office he held or who was very stupid. The Emperor ordered large sums of money to be given to both the weavers in order that they might begin their work at once.

After a while the Emperor sent his faithful old Minister to see how the weavers were getting on. The Minister went into the hall where the wicked men were working with all their might at the empty looms. “What can be the meaning of this?” thought the old man, opening his eyes very wide. “I cannot see the least bit of thread on the looms, not the least bit of cloth woven!” However, he did not speak his thoughts out loud. The men who were pretending to weave asked him very politely to be so good as to come nearer, and then, pointing to the empty looms, asked him whether the design pleased him and whether the colors were not very beautiful. The poor old Minister looked and looked but he could not see anything on the looms for the very good reason that there was nothing there. But, of course, he did not know this and thought only that he must be a foolish man or unfit for the office of Minister.

“Dear me,” he said to himself, “I must never tell anyone that I could not see the cloth.” He reported to the Emperor that the cloth was very beautiful.

The Emperor soon after sent another officer of his court to see how the men were getting on and to find out how soon the cloth would be ready. He, too, did not want to be thought stupid and returned to the Emperor saying, “Indeed, please your Imperial Majesty, the cloth which the weavers are making is extraordinarily magnificent.”

And then the Emperor himself, accompanied by a few of his officers, went. “How is this?” said the Emperor to himself, “I can see nothing! This is indeed terrible! Am I a stupid man, or am I unfit to be Emperor? That would be the worst thing that could happen.”

“Oh! The cloth is beautiful,” he cried out loud, “I am delighted with it,” and he smiled most charmingly for on no account would he say that he could not see what his officer and Minister had praised so much. His followers advised His Majesty the Emperor to have some new clothes made from this splendid material and to wear them in the great procession that was soon to take place.

On the day of the procession the Emperor and all his court came to see the weavers’ work. The rogues raised their arms as though they were holding up something to be seen and said, “Here are your Majesty’s trousers! Here is the scarf! Here is the coat! The whole suit is as light as a cobweb!” The Emperor was then undressed, and the rogues pretended to put on new clothes. “How splendid His Majesty looks! How well the new clothes fit!” everyone cried out. “What a design! What colors! They are indeed royal robes!”

The Lords of the Bedchamber who were to carry His Majesty’s train felt about on the ground and then pretended to be carrying something. They could never for a moment let anyone think that they were stupid or unfit for their office.

So now the Emperor walked under his high canopy in the middle of the procession right through the streets of his capital city. And all the people standing by and those at the windows cried out, “Oh, how beautiful are our Emperor’s new clothes! What a magnificent train! And how gracefully the scarf hangs!” In fact, no one would admit that he could not see these clothes which everyone seemed to think so beautiful for fear he would be called a simpleton or unfit for his office. Never before had any of the Emperor’s clothes caused so much excitement as these.

“But the Emperor has nothing on at all!!!” said a little child. “The child tells the truth,” said the father. And so it was that what the child said was whispered from one to another until all knew and they cried out altogether , “BUT HE HAS NOTHING ON AT ALL!!!”

The Emperor felt very silly for he knew that the people were right but he thought, “The procession has started and it must go on now!” So the Lords of the Bedchamber held their heads higher than ever and took greater trouble to pretend to hold up the train which wasn’t there at all.


[condensed from Andersen, pp. 1-44]


<The middle part of Chapter 10 has been incorporated onto the Humanist Art Homepage.>


The 20th century — especially the last half of the 20th century — will be recognized as the wasteland that it is and young artists will turn to the reservoir of older, greater Western art for inspiration. Will they paint bright pastel Impressionistic flowers? Will they write poems in iambic tetrameter? No. New forms will be developed — not in a vacuum, but as organic outgrowths of traditional forms. Non-Western cultures will exert important influences upon, but will not overwhelm, this revitalized Western art.

Artists will once again create meaningful poems, music, and visual images — both as part of movies and as separate works. Their expression will be grounded in the rich, allusive language of a real culture, imbedded in their bones. They will not be speaking Esperanto.


Copyright © Lucius Furius 1997; last updated, 2012.Link back to Genius Ignored –Table of Contents