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On n'y marche dans les villes
Non, je n'ay rien veu de rude
Compare with this the remark of the already-mentioned M. Perlin, in Queen Mary's reign, that when Englishmen come to Paris they are treated like little gods, but when he came to England, they spat in his face.
Of their cooking St. Amant naturally has nothing flattering to say, and the conclusion of the whole is :
Pour moy, laissant leur mangeaille,
E. S. BATES.
IS ART A FAILURE?
A TALK for half an hour with some Symbolist, Cubist, or PostImpressionist will go far to convince one of the futility of all the Art of the past, as far as Europe is concerned at least. They may be forced to concede that there have been great men in the past but they were all on wrong lines' and of 'no use to us of the twentieth century. The audacity is interesting and commands our unstinted admiration. It carries us off our feet.
On cooler reflection, however, doubts present themselves and we say to these gentlemen : 'Yes, we can see, now you have pointed it out, that the past, with all its lumbering machinery, has been suddenly wiped out, and a good riddance to it. But do you think-we speak with all diffidence-do you really think that you and your friends are going to fill the void? That is the question. How are we to know for certain that you are the one and only ultimate? May you not all be superseded in a month or so? Did we not in our simplicity think the original Post-Impressionists were indeed original? But lo! Gauguin, Van Googh, and the rest have in a short year become interesting antiquities with an almost British Museum kind of flavour about them.' Yes, it already seems an age since we excited ourselves so splendidly over these painters. Even Matisse now fails to raise any wild emotion in our hearts, since some three weeks ago or is it only two weeks?-another new Art has been born into the world. The proud father is one M. Picasso, of Paris. This new Art consists in the power to render a most truthful and speaking likeness of the soul of inanimate objects, such as two glasses on a table with a mandoline, etc. Since Art has really, at last, been set free, there seems no end to its possibilities and things move much things move much more rapidly.
Our own Augustus John, whom we all quite lately thought so daring, defiant, wayward, and sometimes even outrageous, has, by comparison, become a classic, and seems to possess a chaste and even sickly kind of beauty that may ultimately bring him dangerously near to full philistine appreciation.
Well, here we are, without any Art of the past, and yet dare pot put our full trust in these men of modern movements VOL. LXXII–No. 425
on account of the failing they all possess of getting themselves quite hopelessly superseded.
What is to be done? It is a horrible sensation when we begin to suspect that we, with all our wealth of affection and enthusiasm, might be wasting it on unsafe and doubtful objects.
We are fully aware, without having to be told, that it is useless at this time of the day to make any suggestion without it being sufficiently audacious to startle or shock and, if possible, to beget a violent, black-in-the-face opposition.
We have just such a proposition to make, and hope the audacity of it will make the appeal irresistible. The Art world at present is in such a state of perplexity that anyone pointing to a way out' ought to be gladly heard and followed.
The daring proposition is, to make truth to nature the standard of art work in the future : Nature all along has been shamefully neglected. One must really take up the cudgels on her behalf. Let us take a few extracts from painters of repute to show the general attitude towards her. They are taken almost at random. A few writers on Art are added to give weight to the others :
I All the germs of Beauty are in Nature, but it is the mind of man alone that can disengage them. That Nature is beautiful man knows; but Nature does not; thus Beauty exists only in the mind of man, and the artist who understands the beautiful is greater than Nature which only shows it.
The use of Nature to the artist is to stimulate his memories of the style and methods of previous artists. As Nature is never perfect, it needs memories of other great works, consciously, or unconsciously, blended with the artist's own personality to make her acceptable to the cultured intelligence.
III Ho (the artist) is urged on by his very perception of the beautiful to embody in some sort of way what he has seen floating before his inward eye. . . . In so doing, he first of all reaches for himself, and afterwards discloses to others, a higher kind of truth than a realistic perception of fact, or a study of science, can yield.
The imitation theory of Art starts from a truth, which becomes falsehood if it is not transcended. Art is Art, said Goethe, precisely because it is not Nature. If it were so true to reality that it deceived the spectator, who took it for Nature, it would not be real Art at all, but mere artifice, mimicry, and deceit.
V We don't want Nature—what we want is the mind and soul of the artist.
VI Nature! Nature, ah, my friend, what mischief that cry has done me. Where was there an apostle apter to receive this doctrine, so convenient as it was beautiful Nature and all that humbug ?
VII To say to the painter that Nature may be taken as she is, is to say to the player that he may sit on the piano.
These quotations, taken upon the whole, are very soothing words for any poor devil of an artist to read; which accounts in no small degree, perhaps, for a very general acceptance by them of their sense and meaning.
One more by a very noted artist may be added; for later it will be specially commented on.
In seeking after truth and endeavour never to be unreal or affected, it must not be forgotten that this endeavour after truth is to be made with materials altogether unreal and different from the object to be imitated. Nothing in a picture is real; indeed the painter's art is the most unreal thing in the whole range of our efforts.
Nature seems to fare rather badly; the only thing one can say in her favour, we suppose, is that she had a considerable hand in the making of this glorious creature, man, who in turn invented the ideas just quoted.
In order to show to Post-Impressionists and any others to whom it might apply how unnecessary it is to run away from Nature on the presumption that it has all been done and is a "played-out game, we are going to advocate and defend a totally different point of view. We will put our case as clearly and uncompromisingly as we can. It is perfectly put in the much-despising phrase, 'a mere imitation of Nature. It is the realistic idea pushed to extreme, and reduces the artist to the condition of a 'mere copyist.' The perfection aimed at is complete and absolute illusion and nothing short. The perfect artist, from this point of view, would be he who renders the common vision of the man in the street without a sign of the beautiful personal vision’ so frequently spoken about in art criticism of the day and so coyly accepted as a compliment by the blushing artist.
The final aim of the artist should be to depict a scene as faithfully as a mirrored image. The only thing to guard against, is subject matter that does not furnish a good design. But it is wonderful how almost any subject will fit a frame when one begins to examine it carefully, and with a natural gift for design.
We will proceed to state and then elaborate our reasons for this view, and will deal with them categorically.
But let us take Voltaire's advice and first define our terms. What does a man mean when he calls a picture 'a mere imitation of Nature'? We have asked many artists what they mean when they speak of Nature, and the answer has always been very undecided and unsatisfactory. One said ‘Everything outside ourselves'; but the usual answer is 'Oh, you know well enough what we mean,' and there it has to end. They doubtless mean, when speaking of Nature, the sum total of all their impressions received through the senses. But does an artist when he speaks of Nature include all the senses, such as taste, or smell, or hearing ? Certainly not, he (unconsciously) refers to only one sense, the sense of sight. So the world he means would better be described as the visual world, which reduces the problem to a question of light and nothing else whatever. No light, no Nature, so far as the painter is concerned.
And this brings us to consider the last, or eighth, statement we have quoted. This artist seems to be not unfavourable to truth, which, in this instance at least, has a definite meaning, i.e. a sincere and honest dealing with one's vision, for he goes on to say that in our search after truth we must not forget that the endeavour has to be made with materials altogether unreal and different from the objects to be imitated.' This idea is almost universal, and it is a pity, for it leaves the painter far too free, and opens the door to all the whims, caprices, and worst of all the 'solemn fakes' with which the world is getting well-nigh filled up. It is a conviction that leaves no real and ultimate standard, and no proper goal. Is it true that the painter is working with totally different materials from the objects to be imitated? Just the reverse-the painter is the only creature who is working in the very medium by which Nature herself produces her most subtle or gorgeous illusions, and in fact all her effects. The white light of the sun is split into various rays (by the action of various stains) which then make their impression on the brain. These rays, through association, etc., are then fixed for us as images. All images, whether animal, vegetable, or mineral, are therefore, in their essence, white light in various wave lengths. The stains (we could use a more scientific word) through which the white light is broken up consist of various natural (or chemical) elements. There are now nearly eighty discovered to date, but most of them are rare; and those with which we are familiar are found everywhere. They are few, some fifteen to twenty. So it comes about that the pigments the painter is using for the purpose of breaking up white light are mostly the same elements with which Nature is producing all her mighty illusions, and by exactly the same process. Is this not a most preposterous ca se