by Clive Bell
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"Come away, come away, death, And in sad cypress let me be laid; Fly away, fly away, breath; I am slain by a fair cruel maid."

Could anything be more commonplace?

"Hark, hark! Bow, wow, The watch-dogs bark; Bow, wow, Hark, hark! I hear The strain of strutting chanticleer Cry, Cock-a-diddle-dow!"

What could be more nonsensical? In the verse of our second poet, Milton—so great that before his name the word "second" rings false as the giggle of fatuity—the ideas are frequently shallow and the facts generally false. In Dante, if the ideas are sometimes profound and the emotions awful, they are also, as a rule, repugnant to our better feelings: the facts are the hoardings of a parish scold. In great poetry it is the formal music that makes the miracle. The poet expresses in verbal form an emotion but distantly related to the words set down. But it is related; it is not a purely artistic emotion. In poetry form and its significance are not everything; the form and the content are not one. Though some of Shakespeare's songs approach purity, there is, in fact, an alloy. The form is burdened with an intellectual content, and that content is a mood that mingles with and reposes on the emotions of life. That is why poetry, though it has its raptures, does not transport us to that remote aesthetic beatitude in which, freed from humanity, we are up-stayed by musical and pure visual form.

The Classical Renaissance was a new reading of human life, and what it added to the emotional capital of Europe was a new sense of the excitingness of human affairs. If the men and women of the Renaissance were moved by Art and Nature, that was because in Art and Nature they saw their own reflections. The Classical Renaissance was not a re-birth but a re-discovery; and that superb mess of thought and observation, lust, rhetoric, and pedantry, that we call Renaissance literature, is its best and most characteristic monument. What it rediscovered were the ideas from the heights of which the ancients had gained a view of life. This view the Renaissance borrowed. By doing so it took the sting out of the spiritual death of the late Middle Ages. It showed men that they could manage very well without a soul. It made materialism tolerable by showing how much can be done with matter and intellect. That was its great feat. It taught men how to make the best of a bad job; it proved that by cultivating the senses and setting the intellect to brood over them it is easy to whip up an emotion of sorts. When men had lost sight of the spirit it covered the body with a garment of glamour.

That the Classical Renaissance was essentially an intellectual movement is proved, I think, by the fact that it left the uneducated classes untouched almost. They suffered from its consequences; it gave them nothing. A wave of emotion floods the back-gardens; an intellectual stream is kept within the irrigation channels. The Classical Renaissance made absolute the divorce of the classes from the masses. The mediaeval lord in his castle and the mediaeval hind in his hut were spiritual equals who thought and felt alike, held the same hopes and fears, and shared, to a surprising extent, the pains and pleasures of a simple and rather cruel society. The Renaissance changed all that. The lord entered the new world of ideas and refined sensuality; the peasant stayed where he was, or, as the last vestiges of spiritual religion began to disappear with the commons, sank lower. Popular art changed so gradually that in the late fifteenth and in the sixteenth century we still find, in remote corners, things that are rude but profoundly moving. Village masons could still create in stone at the time when Jacques Coeur was building himself the first "residence worthy of a millionaire" that had been "erected" since the days of Honorius. But that popular art pursued the downhill road sedately while plutocratic art went with a run is a curious accident of which the traces are soon lost; the outstanding fact is that with the Renaissance Europe definitely turns her back on the spiritual view of life. With that renunciation the power of creating significant form becomes the inexplicable gift of the occasional genius. Here and there an individual produces a work of art, so art comes to be regarded as something essentially sporadic and peculiar. The artist is reckoned a freak. We are in the age of names and catalogues and genius-worship. Now, genius-worship is the infallible sign of an uncreative age. In great ages, though we may not all be geniuses, many of us are artists, and where there are many artists art tends to become anonymous.

The Classical Renaissance was something different in kind from what I have called the Christian Renaissance. It must be placed somewhere between 1350 and 1600. Place it where you will. For my part I always think of it as the gorgeous and well-cut garment of the years that fall between 1453 and 1594, between the capture of Constantinople and the death of Tintoretto. To me, it is the age of Lionardo, of Charles VIII and Francis I, of Cesare Borgia and Leo X, of Raffael, of Machiavelli, and of Erasmus, who carries us on to the second stage, the period of angry ecclesiastical politics, of Clement VII, Fontainebleau, Rabelais, Titian, Palladio, and Vasari. But, on any computation, in the years that lie between the spiritual exaltation of the early twelfth century and the sturdy materialism of the late sixteenth lies the Classical Renaissance. Whatever happened, happened between those dates. And all that did happen was nothing more than a change from late manhood to early senility complicated by a house-moving, bringing with it new hobbies and occupations. The decline from the eleventh to the seventeenth century is continuous and to be foreseen; the change from the world of Aurelian to the world of Gregory the Great is catastrophic. Since the Christian Renaissance, new ideas and knowledge notwithstanding, the world has grown rotten with decency and order. It takes more than the rediscovery of Greek texts and Graeco-Roman statues to provoke the cataclysms and earthquakes with which it grew young.

The art of the High Renaissance was conditioned by the demands of its patrons. There is nothing odd about that; it is a recognised stage in the rake's progress. The patrons of the Renaissance wanted plenty of beauty of the kind dear to the impressionable stock-jobber. Only, the plutocrats of the sixteenth century had a delicacy and magnificence of taste which would have made the houses and manners of modern stock-jobbers intolerable to them. Renaissance millionaires could be vulgar and brutal, but they were great gentlemen. They were neither illiterate cads nor meddlesome puritans, nor even saviours of society. Yet, if we are to understand the amazing popularity of Titian's and of Veronese's women, we must take note of their niceness to kiss and obvious willingness to be kissed. That beauty for which can be substituted the word "desirableness," and that insignificant beauty which is the beauty of gems, were in great demand. Imitation was wanted, too; for if pictures are to please as suggestions and mementoes, the objects that suggest and remind must be adequately portrayed. These pictures had got to stimulate the emotions of life, first; aesthetic emotion was a secondary matter. A Renaissance picture was meant to say just those things that a patron would like to hear. That way lies the end of art: however wicked it may be to try to shock the public, it is not so wicked as trying to please it. But whatever the Italian painters of the Renaissance had to say they said in the grand manner. Remember, we are not Dutchmen. Therefore let all your figures suggest the appropriate emotion by means of the appropriate gesture—the gesture consecrated by the great tradition. Straining limbs, looks of love, hate, envy, fear and horror, up-turned or downcast eyes, hands outstretched or clasped in despair—by means of our marvellous machinery, and still more marvellous skill, we can give them all they ask without forestalling the photographers. But we are not recounters all, for some of our patrons are poets. To them the visible Universe is suggestive of moods or, at any rate, sympathetic with them. These value objects for their association with the fun and folly and romance of life. For them, too, we paint pictures, and in their pictures we lend Nature enough humanity to make her interesting. My lord is lascivious? Correggio will give him a background to his mood. My lord is majestic? Michelangelo will tell him that man is, indeed, a noble animal whose muscles wriggle heroically as watch-springs. The sixteenth century produced a race of artists peculiar in their feeling for material beauty, but normal, coming as they do at the foot of the hills, in their technical proficiency and aesthetic indigence. Craft holds the candle that betrays the bareness of the cupboard. The aesthetic significance of form is feebly and impurely felt, the power of creating it is lost almost; but finer descriptions have rarely been painted. They knew how to paint in the sixteenth century: as for the primitives—God bless them—they did their best: what more could they do when they couldn't even round a lady's thighs?

The Renaissance was a re-birth of other things besides a taste for round limbs and the science of representing them; we begin to hear again of two diseases, endemic in imperial Rome, from which a lively and vigorous society keeps itself tolerably free—Rarity-hunting and Expertise. These parasites can get no hold on a healthy body; it is on dead and dying matter that they batten and grow fat. The passion to possess what is scarce, and nothing else, is a disease that develops as civilisation grows old and dogs it to the grave: it is saprophytic. The rarity-hunter may be called a "collector" if by "collector" you do not mean one who buys what pleases or moves him. Certainly, such an one is unworthy of the name; he lacks the true magpie instinct. To the true collector the intrinsic value of a work of art is irrelevant; the reasons for which he prizes a picture are those for which a philatelist prizes a postage-stamp. To him the question "Does this move me?" is ludicrous: the question "Is it beautiful?"—otiose. Though by the very tasteful collector of stamps or works of art beauty is allowed to be a fair jewel in the crown of rarity, he would have us understand from the first that the value it gives is purely adventitious and depends for its existence on rarity. No rarity, no beauty. As for the profounder aesthetic significance, if a man were to believe in its existence he would cease to be a collector. The question to be asked is—"Is this rare?" Suppose the answer favourable, there remains another—"Is it genuine?" If the work of any particular artist is not rare, if the supply meets the demand, it stands to reason that the work is of no great consequence. For good art is art that fetches good prices, and good prices come of a limited supply. But though it be notorious that the work of Velasquez is comparatively scarce and therefore good, it has yet to be decided whether the particular picture offered at fifty thousand is really the work of Velasquez.

Enter the Expert, whom I would distinguish from the archaeologist and the critic. The archaeologist is a man with a foolish and dangerous curiosity about the past: I am a bit of an archaeologist myself. Archaeology is dangerous because it may easily overcloud one's aesthetic sensibility. The archaeologist may, at any moment, begin to value a work of art not because it is good, but because it is old or interesting. Though that is less vulgar than valuing it because it is rare and precious it is equally fatal to aesthetic appreciation. But so long as I recognise the futility of my science, so long as I recognise that I cannot appreciate a work of art the better because I know when and where it was made, so long as I recognise that, in fact, I am at a certain disadvantage in judging a sixth-century mosaic compared with a person of equal sensibility who knows and cares nothing about Romans and Byzantines, so long as I recognise that art criticism and archaeology are two different things, I hope I may be allowed to dabble unrebuked in my favourite hobby: I hope I am harmless.

Art criticism, in the present state of society, seems to me a respectable and possibly a useful occupation. The prejudice against critics, like most prejudices, lives on fear and ignorance. It is quite unnecessary and rather provincial, for, in fact, critics are not very formidable. They are suspected of all sorts of high-handed practices—making and breaking reputations, running up and down, booming and exploiting—of which I should hardly think them capable. Popular opinion notwithstanding, I doubt whether critics are either omnipotent or utterly depraved. Indeed, I believe that some of them are not only blameless but even lovable characters. Those sinister but flattering insinuations and open charges of corruption fade woefully when one considers how little the critic of contemporary art can hope to get for "writing up" pictures that sell for twenty or thirty guineas apiece. The expert, to be sure, is exposed to some temptation, since a few of his words, judiciously placed, may promote a canvas from the twenty to the twenty thousand mark; but, as everyone knows, the morality of the expert is above suspicion. Useless as the occupation of the critic may be, it is probably honest; and, after all, is it more useless than all other occupations, save only those of creating art, producing food, drink, and tobacco, and bearing beautiful children?

If the collector asks me, as a critic, for my opinion of the Velasquez he is about to buy, I will tell him honestly what I think of it, as a work of art. I will tell him whether it moves me much or little, and I will try to point out those qualities and relations of line and colour in which it seems to me to excel or fall short. I will try to account for the degree of my aesthetic emotion. That, I conceive, is the function of the critic. But all conjectures as to the authenticity of a work based on its formal significance, or even on its technical perfection, are extremely hazardous. It is always possible that someone else was the master's match as artist and craftsman, and of that someone's work there may be an overwhelming supply. The critic may sell the collector a common pup instead of the one uncatalogued specimen of Pseudo-kuniskos; and therefore the wary collector sends for someone who can furnish him with the sort of evidence of the authenticity of his picture that would satisfy a special juryman and confound a purchasing dealer. At artistic evidence he laughs noisily in half-crown periodicals and five-guinea tomes. Documentary evidence is what he prefers; but, failing that, he will put up with a cunning concoction of dates and watermarks, cabalistic signatures, craquelure, patina, chemical properties of paint and medium, paper and canvas, all sorts of collateral evidence, historical and biographical, and racy tricks of brush or pen. It is to adduce and discuss this sort of evidence that the Collector calls in the Expert.

Anyone whom chance or misfortune has led into the haunts of collectors and experts will admit that I have not exaggerated the horror of the diseases that we have inherited from the Classical Renaissance. He will have heard the value of a picture made to depend on the interpretation of a letter. He will have heard the picture discussed from every point of view except that of one who feels its significance. By whom was it made? For whom was it made? When was it made? Where was it made? Is it all the work of one hand? Who paid for it? How much did he pay? Through what collections has it passed? What are the names of the figures portrayed? What are their histories? What the style and cut of their coats, breeches, and beards? How much will it fetch at Christie's? All these are questions to moot; and mooted they will be, by the hour. But in expert conclaves who has ever heard more than a perfunctory and silly comment on the aesthetic qualities of a masterpiece?

We have seen the scholars at loggerheads over the genuineness of a picture in the National Gallery. The dispute rages round the interpretation of certain marks in the corner of the canvas. Are they, or are they not, a signature? Whatever the final decision may be, the picture will remain unchanged; but if it can be proved that the marks are the signature of the disciple, it will be valueless. If the Venus of Velasquez should turn out to be a Spanish model by del Mazo, the great ones who guide us and teach the people to love art will see to it, I trust, that the picture is moved to a position befitting its mediocrity. It is this unholy alliance between Expertise and Officialdom[18] that squanders twenty thousand on an unimpeachable Frans Hals, and forty thousand on a Mabuse for which no minor artist will wish to take credit.[19] For the money a judicious purchaser could have made one of the finest collections in England. The unholy alliance has no use for contemporary art. The supply is considerable and the names are not historic. Snobbery makes acceptable the portrait of a great lady, though it be by Boldini; and even Mr. Lavery may be welcome if he come with the picture of a king. But how are our ediles to know whether a picture of a commoner, or of some inanimate and undistinguished object, by Degas or Cezanne is good or bad? They need not know whether a picture by Hals is good; they need only know that it is by Hals.

I will not describe in any detail the end of the slope, from the beginning of the seventeenth to the middle of the nineteenth century. The seventeenth century is rich in individual geniuses; but they are individual. The level of art is very low. The big names of El Greco, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Vermeer, Rubens, Jordaens, Poussin, and Claude, Wren and Bernini (as architects) stand out; had they lived in the eleventh century they might all have been lost in a crowd of anonymous equals. Rembrandt, indeed, perhaps the greatest genius of them all, is a typical ruin of his age. For, except in a few of his later works, his sense of form and design is utterly lost in a mess of rhetoric, romance, and chiaroscuro. It is difficult to forgive the seventeenth century for what it made of Rembrandt's genius. One great advantage over its predecessor it did enjoy: the seventeenth century had ceased to believe sincerely in the ideas of the Classical Renaissance. Painters could not devote themselves to suggesting the irrelevant emotions of life because they did not feel them.[20] For lack of human emotion they were driven back on art. They talked a great deal about Magnanimity and Nobility, but they thought more of Composition. For instance, in the best works of Nicolas Poussin, the greatest artist of the age, you will notice that the human figure is treated as a shape cut out of coloured paper to be pinned on as the composition directs. That is the right way to treat the human figure; the mistake lay in making these shapes retain the characteristic gestures of Classical rhetoric. In much the same way Claude treats temples and palaces, trees, mountains, harbours and lakes, as you may see in his superb pictures at the National Gallery. There they hang, beside the Turners, that all the world may see the difference between a great artist and an after-dinner poet. Turner was so much excited by his observations and his sentiments that he set them all down without even trying to co-ordinate them in a work of art: clearly he could not have done so in any case. That was a cheap and spiteful thought that prompted the clause wherein it is decreed that his pictures shall hang for ever beside those of Claude. He wished to call attention to a difference and he has succeeded beyond his expectations: curses, like hens, come home to roost.

In the eighteenth century, with its dearth of genius, we perceive more clearly that we are on the flats. Chardin is the one great artist. Painters are, for the most part, upholsterers to the nobility and gentry. Some fashion handsome furniture for the dining-room, others elegant knick-knacks for the boudoir; many are kept constantly busy delineating for the respect of future generations his lordship, or her ladyship's family. The painting of the eighteenth century is brilliant illustration still touched with art. For instance, in Watteau, Canaletto, Crome, Cotman, and Guardi there is some art, some brilliance, and a great deal of charming illustration. In Tiepolo there is hardly anything but brilliance; only when one sees his work beside that of Mr. Sargent does one realise the presence of other qualities. In Hogarth there is hardly anything but illustration; one realises the presence of other qualities only by remembering the work of the Hon. John Collier. Beside the upholsterers who work for the aristocracy there is another class supported by the connoisseurs. There are the conscientious bores, whose modest aim it is to paint and draw correctly in the manner of Raffael and Michelangelo. Their first object is to stick to the rules, their second to show some cleverness in doing so. One need not bother about them.

So the power of creating is almost lost, and limners must be content to copy pretty things. The twin pillars of painting in the eighteenth century were what they called "Subject" and "Treatment." To paint a beautiful picture, a boudoir picture, take a pretty woman, note those things about her that a chaste and civil dinner-partner might note, and set them down in gay colours and masses of Chinese white: you may do the same by her toilette battery, her fancy frocks, and picnic parties. Imitate whatever is pretty and you are sure to make a pretty job of it. To make a noble picture, a dining-room piece, you must take the same lady and invest her in a Doric chiton or diploida and himation; give her a pocillum, a censer, a sacrificial ram, and a distant view of Tivoli; round your modelling, and let your brush-strokes be long and slightly curved; affect sober and rather hot pigments; call the finished article "Dido pouring libations to the Goddess of Love." To paint an exhibition picture, the sort preferred by the more rigid cognoscenti, be sure to make no mark for which warrant cannot be found in Rubens, Sarto, Guido Reni, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, Raffael, Michelangelo, or Trajan's Column. For further information consult "The Discourses" of Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A., whose recipes are made palatable by a quality infrequent in his dishes, luminosity.

The intellectual reaction from Classical to Romantic is duly registered by a change of subject. Ruins and mediaeval history come into fashion. For art, which is as little concerned with the elegant bubbles of the eighteenth century as with the foaming superabundance of the Romantic revival, this change is nothing more than the swing of an irrelevant pendulum. But the new ideas led inevitably to antiquarianism, and antiquarians found something extraordinarily congenial in what was worst in Gothic art. Obedient limners follow the wiseacres. What else is there for them to follow? Stragglers from the age of reason are set down to trick out simpering angels. No longer permitted to stand on the laws of propriety or their personal dignity, they are ordered to sweeten their cold meats with as much amorous and religious sentiment as they can exude. Meanwhile the new fellows, far less sincere than the old, who felt nothing and said so, begin to give themselves the airs of artists. These Victorians are intolerable: for now that they have lost the old craft and the old tradition of taste, the pictures that they make are no longer pleasantly insignificant; they bellow "stinking mackerel."

About the middle of the nineteenth century art was as nearly dead as art can be. The road ran drearily through the sea-level swamps. There were, of course, men who felt that imitation, whether of nature or of another's work, was not enough, who felt the outrage of calling the staple products of the "forties" and "fifties" art; but generally they lacked the power to make an effective protest. Art cannot die out utterly; but it lay sick in caves and cellars. There were always one or two who had a right to call themselves artists: the great Ingres[21] overlaps Crome; Corot and Daumier overlap Ingres; and then come the Impressionists. But the mass of painting and sculpture had sunk to something that no intelligent and cultivated person would dream of calling art. It was in those days that they invented the commodity which is still the staple of official exhibitions throughout Europe. You may see acres of it every summer at Burlington House and in the Salon; indeed, you may see little else there. It does not pretend to be art. If the producers mistake it for art sometimes, they do so in all innocence: they have no notion of what art is. By "art" they mean the imitation of objects, preferably pretty or interesting ones; their spokesmen have said so again and again. The sort of thing that began to do duty for art about 1840, and still passes muster with the lower middle class, would have been inconceivable at any time between the fall of the Roman Empire and the death of George IV. Even in the eighteenth century, when they could not create significant form, they knew that accurate imitation was of no value in itself. It is not until what is still official painting and sculpture and architecture gets itself accepted as a substitute for art, that we can say for certain that the long slope that began with the Byzantine primitives is ended. But when we have reached this point we know that we can sink no lower.

We must mark the spot near which a huge impulse died; but we need not linger in the fetid swamps—or only long enough to say a word of justice. Do not rail too bitterly against official painters, living or dead. They cannot harm art, because they have nothing to do with it: they are not artists. If rail you must, rail at that public which, having lost all notion of what art is, demanded, and still demands, in its stead, the thing that these painters can supply. Official painting is the product of social conditions which have not yet passed away. Thousands of people who care nothing about art are able to buy and are in the habit of buying pictures. They want a background, just as the ladies and gentlemen of the ancien regime wanted one; only their idea of what a background should be is different. The painter of commerce supplies what is wanted and in his simplicity calls it art. That it is not art, that it is not even an amenity, should not blind us to the fact that it is an honest article. I admit that the man who produces it satisfies a vulgar and unprofitable taste; so does the very upright tradesman who forces insipid asparagus for the Christmas market. Sir Georgius Midas will never care for art, but he will always want a background; and, unless things are going to change with surprising suddenness, it will be some time before he is unable to get what he wants, at a price. However splendid and vital the new movement may be, it will not, I fancy, unaided, kill the business of picture-making. The trade will dwindle; but I suspect it will survive until there is no one who can afford ostentatious upholstery, until the only purchasers are those who willingly make sacrifices for the joy of possessing a work of art.



In the nineteenth century the spirit seems to enter one of those prodigious periods of incubation for a type of which we turn automatically to the age that saw the last infirmity of Roman imperialism and of Hellenistic culture. About Victorian men and movements there is something uneasy. It is as though, having seen a shilling come down "tails," one were suddenly to surprise the ghost of a head—you could have sworn that "heads" it was. It doesn't matter, but it's disquieting. And after all, perhaps it does matter. Seen from odd angles, Victorian judges and ministers take on the airs of conspirators: there is something prophetic about Mr. Gladstone—about the Newcastle programme something pathetic. Respectable hypotheses are caught implying the most disreputable conclusions. And yet the respectable classes speculate while anarchists and supermen are merely horrified by the card-playing and champagne-drinking of people richer than themselves. Agnostics see the finger of God in the fall of godless Paris. Individualists clamour for a large and vigilant police force.

That is how the nineteenth century looks to us. Most of the mountains are in labour with ridiculous mice, but the spheres are shaken by storms in intellectual teacups. The Pre-Raffaelites call in question the whole tradition of the Classical Renaissance, and add a few more names to the heavy roll of notoriously bad painters. The French Impressionists profess to do no more than push the accepted theory of representation to its logical conclusion, and by their practice, not only paint some glorious pictures, but shake the fatal tradition and remind the more intelligent part of the world that visual art has nothing to do with literature. Whistler draws, not the whole, but a part of the true moral. What a pity he was not a greater artist! Still, he was an artist; and about the year 1880 the race was almost extinct in this country.[22]

Through the fog of the nineteenth century, which began in 1830, loom gigantic warnings. All the great figures are ominous. If they do not belong to the new order, they make impossible the old. Carlyle and Dickens and Victor Hugo, the products and lovers of the age, scold it. Flaubert points a contemptuous finger. Ibsen, a primitive of the new world, indicates the cracks in the walls of the old. Tolstoi is content to be nothing but a primitive until he becomes little better than a bore. By minding his own business, Darwin called in question the business of everyone else. By hammering new sparks out of an old instrument, Wagner revealed the limitations of literary music. As the twentieth century dawns, a question, which up to the time of the French Revolution had been judiciously kept academic, shoulders its way into politics: "Why is this good?" About the same time, thanks chiefly to the Aesthetes and the French Impressionists, an aesthetic conscience, dormant since before the days of the Renaissance, wakes and begins to cry, "Is this art?"

It is amusing to remember that the first concerted clamour against the Renaissance and its florid sequelae arose in England; for the Romantic movement, which was as much French and German as English, was merely a reaction from the classicism of the eighteenth century, and hardly attacked, much less threw off, the dominant tyranny. We have a right to rejoice in the Pre-Raffaelite movement as an instance of England's unquestioned supremacy in independence and unconventionality of thought. Depression begins when we have to admit that the revolt led to nothing but a great many bad pictures and a little thin sentiment. The Pre-Raffaelites were men of taste who felt the commonness of the High Renaissance and the distinction of what they called Primitive Art, by which they meant the art of the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries. They saw that, since the Renaissance, painters had been trying to do something different from what the primitives had done; but for the life of them they could not see what it was that the primitives did. They had the taste to prefer Giotto to Raffael, but the only genuine reason they could give for their preference was that they felt Raffael to be vulgar. The reason was good, but not fundamental; so they set about inventing others. They discovered in the primitives scrupulous fidelity to nature, superior piety, chaste lives. How far they were from guessing the secret of primitive art appeared when they began to paint pictures themselves. The secret of primitive art is the secret of all art, at all times, in all places—sensibility to the profound significance of form and the power of creation. The band of happy brothers lacked both; so perhaps it is not surprising that they should have found in acts of piety, in legends and symbols, the material, and in sound churchmanship the very essence, of mediaeval art. For their own inspiration they looked to the past instead of looking about them. Instead of diving for truth they sought it on the surface. The fact is, the Pre-Raffaelites were not artists, but archaeologists who tried to make intelligent curiosity do the work of impassioned contemplation. As artists they do not differ essentially from the ruck of Victorian painters. They will reproduce the florid ornament of late Gothic as slavishly as the steady Academician reproduces the pimples on an orange; and if they do attempt to simplify—some of them have noticed the simplification of the primitives—they do so in the spirit, not of an artist, but of the "sedulous ape."

Simplification is the conversion of irrelevant detail into significant form. A very bold Pre-Raffaelite was capable of representing a meadow by two minutely accurate blades of grass. But two minutely accurate blades of grass are just as irrelevant as two million; it is the formal significance of a blade of grass or of a meadow with which the artist is concerned. The Pre-Raffaelite method is at best symbolism, at worst pure silliness. Had the Pre-Raffaelites been blessed with profoundly imaginative minds they might have recaptured the spirit of the Middle Ages instead of imitating its least significant manifestations. But had they been great artists they would not have wished to recapture anything. They would have invented forms for themselves or derived them from their surroundings, just as the mediaeval artists did. Great artists never look back.

When art is as nearly dead as it was in the middle of the nineteenth century, scientific accuracy is judged the proper end of painting. Very well, said the French Impressionists, be accurate, be scientific. At best the Academic painter sets down his concepts; but the concept is not a scientific reality; the men of science tell us that the visible reality of the Universe is vibrations of light. Let us represent things as they are—scientifically. Let us represent light. Let us paint what we see, not the intellectual superstructure that we build over our sensations. That was the theory: and if the end of art were representation it would be sound enough. But the end of art is not representation, as the great Impressionists, Renoir, Degas, Manet, knew (two of them happily know it still) the moment they left off arguing and bolted the studio door on that brilliant theorist, Claude Monet. Some of them, to be sure, turned out polychromatic charts of desolating dullness—Monet towards the end, for instance. The Neo-Impressionists—Seurat, Signac, and Cross—have produced little else. And any Impressionist, under the influence of Monet and Watteau, was capable of making a poor, soft, formless thing. But more often the Impressionist masters, in their fantastic and quite unsuccessful pursuit of scientific truth, created works of art tolerable in design and glorious in colour. Of course this oasis in the mid-century desert delighted the odd people who cared about art; they pretended at first to be absorbed in the scientific accuracy of the thing, but before long they realised that they were deceiving themselves, and gave up the pretence. For they saw very clearly that these pictures differed most profoundly from the anecdotic triumphs of Victorian workshops, not in their respectful attention to scientific theory, but in the fact that, though they made little or no appeal to the interests of ordinary life, they provoked a far more potent and profound emotion. Scientific theories notwithstanding, the Impressionists provoked that emotion which all great art provokes—an emotion in the existence of which the bulk of Victorian artists and critics were, for obvious reasons, unable to believe. The virtue of these Impressionist pictures, whatever it might be, depended on no reference to the outside world. What could it be? "Sheer beauty," said the enchanted spectators. They were not far wrong.

That beauty is the one essential quality in a work of art is a doctrine that has been too insistently associated with the name of Whistler, who is neither its first nor its last, nor its most capable, exponent—but only of his age the most conspicuous. To read Whistler's Ten o'Clock will do no one any harm, or much good. It is neither very brilliant nor at all profound, but it is in the right direction. Whistler is not to be compared with the great controversialists any more than he is to be compared with the great artists. To set The Gentle Art beside The Dissertation on the Letters of Phalaris, Gibbon's Vindication, or the polemics of Voltaire, would be as unjust as to hang "Cremorne Gardens" in the Arena Chapel. Whistler was not even cock of the Late Victorian walk; both Oscar Wilde and Mr. Bernard Shaw were his masters in the art of controversy. But amongst Londoners of the "eighties" he is a bright figure, as much alone almost in his knowledge of what art is, as in his power of creating it: and it is this that gives a peculiar point and poignance to all his quips and quarrels. There is dignity in his impudence. He is using his rather obvious cleverness to fight for something dearer than vanity. He is a lonely artist, standing up and hitting below the belt for art. To the critics, painters, and substantial men of his age he was hateful because he was an artist; and because he knew that their idols were humbugs he was disquieting. Not only did he have to suffer the grossness and malice of the most insensitive pack of butchers that ever scrambled into the seat of authority; he had also to know that not one of them could by any means be made to understand one word that he spoke in seriousness. Overhaul the English art criticism of that time, from the cloudy rhetoric of Ruskin to the journalese of "'Arry," and you will hardly find a sentence that gives ground for supposing that the writer has so much as guessed what art is. "As we have hinted, the series does not represent any Venice that we much care to remember; for who wants to remember the degradation of what has been noble, the foulness of what has been fair?"—"'Arry" in the Times. No doubt it is becoming in an artist to leave all criticism unanswered; it would be foolishness in a schoolboy to resent stuff of this sort. Whistler replied; and in his replies to ignorance and insensibility, seasoned with malice, he is said to have been ill-mannered and caddish. He was; but in these respects he was by no means a match for his most reputable enemies. And ill-mannered, ill-tempered, and almost alone, he was defending art, while they were flattering all that was vilest in Victorianism.

As I have tried to show in another place, it is not very difficult to find a flaw in the theory that beauty is the essential quality in a work of art—that is, if the word "beauty" be used, as Whistler and his followers seem to have used it, to mean insignificant beauty. It seems that the beauty about which they were talking was the beauty of a flower or a butterfly; now I have very rarely met a person delicately sensitive to art who did not agree, in the end, that a work of art moved him in a manner altogether different from, and far more profound than, that in which a flower or a butterfly moved him. Therefore, if you wish to call the essential quality in a work of art "beauty" you must be careful to distinguish between the beauty of a work of art and the beauty of a flower, or, at any rate, between the beauty that those of us who are not great artists perceive in a work of art and that which the same people perceive in a flower. Is it not simpler to use different words? In any case, the distinction is a real one: compare your delight in a flower or a gem with what you feel before a great work of art, and you will find no difficulty, I think, in differing from Whistler.

Anyone who cares more for a theory than for the truth is at liberty to say that the art of the Impressionists, with their absurd notions about scientific representation, is a lovely fungus growing very naturally on the ruins of the Christian slope. The same can hardly be said about Whistler, who was definitely in revolt against the theory of his age. For we must never forget that accurate representation of what the grocer thinks he sees was the central dogma of Victorian art. It is the general acceptance of this view—that the accurate imitation of objects is an essential quality in a work of art—and the general inability to create, or even to recognise, aesthetic qualities, that mark the nineteenth century as the end of a slope. Except stray artists and odd amateurs, and you may say that in the middle of the nineteenth century art had ceased to exist. That is the importance of the official and academic art of that age: it shows us that we have touched bottom. It has the importance of an historical document. In the eighteenth century there was still a tradition of art. Every official and academic painter, even at the end of the eighteenth century, whose name was known to the cultivated public, whose works were patronised by collectors, knew perfectly well that the end of art was not imitation, that forms must have some aesthetic significance. Their successors in the nineteenth century did not. Even the tradition was dead. That means that generally and officially art was dead. We have seen it die. The Royal Academy and the Salon have been made to serve their useful, historical purpose. We need say no more about them. Whether those definitely artistic cliques of the nineteenth century, the men who made form a means to aesthetic emotion and not a means of stating facts and conveying ideas, the Impressionists and the Aesthetes, Manet and Renoir, Whistler and Conder, &c. &c., are to be regarded as accidental flowers blossoming on a grave or as portents of a new age, will depend upon the temperament of him who regards them.

But a sketch of the Christian slope may well end with the Impressionists, for Impressionist theory is a blind alley. Its only logical development would be an art-machine—a machine for establishing values correctly, and determining what the eye sees scientifically, thereby making the production of art a mechanical certainty. Such a machine, I am told, was invented by an Englishman. Now if the praying-machine be admittedly the last shift of senile religion, the value-finding machine may fairly be taken for the psychopomp of art. Art has passed from the primitive creation of significant form to the highly civilised statement of scientific fact. I think the machine, which is the intelligent and respectable end, should be preserved, if still it exists, at South Kensington or in the Louvre, along with the earlier monuments of the Christian slope. As for that uninteresting and disreputable end, official nineteenth-century art, it can be studied in a hundred public galleries and in annual exhibitions all over the world. It is the mouldy and therefore the obvious end. The spirit that came to birth with the triumph of art over Graeco-Roman realism dies with the ousting of art by the picture of commerce.

But if the Impressionists, with their scientific equipment, their astonishing technique, and their intellectualism, mark the end of one era, do they not rumour the coming of another? Certainly to-day there is stress in the cryptic laboratory of Time. A great thing is dead; but, as that sagacious Roman noted:

"haud igitur penitus pereunt quaecumque videntur, quando alid ex alio reficit natura nec ullam rem gigni patitur nisi morte adiuta aliena."

And do not the Impressionists, with their power of creating works of art that stand on their own feet, bear in their arms a new age? For if the venial sin of Impressionism is a grotesque theory and its justification a glorious practice, its historical importance consists in its having taught people to seek the significance of art in the work itself, instead of hunting for it in the emotions and interests of the outer world.


[Footnote 10: I am not being so stupid as to suggest that in the sixth century the Hellenistic influence died. It persisted for another 300 years at least. In sculpture and ivory carving it was only ousted by the Romanesque movement of the eleventh century. Inevitably a great deal of Hellenistic stuff continued to be produced after the rise of Byzantine art. For how many years after the maturity of Cezanne will painters continue to produce chromophotographs? Hundreds perhaps. For all that, Cezanne marks a change—the birth of a movement if not of a slope.]

[Footnote 11: It will be found instructive to study cases 10-14 of enamels and metal-work at South Kensington. The tyro will have no difficulty in "spotting" the German and Rheinish productions. Alas! the only possible mistake would be a confusion between German and English. Certainly the famous Gloucester candlestick (1100) is as common as anything in the place, unless it be the even more famous Cologne Reliquary (1170).]

[Footnote 12: Patriots can take pleasure in the study of Saxon sculpture.]

[Footnote 13: Several schools of painting and drawing flourished during these centuries in Italy and north of the Alps. In S. Clemente alone it is easy to discover the work of two distinct periods between 600 and 900. The extant examples of both are superb.]

[Footnote 14: The Making of Western Europe: C.L.R. Fletcher.]

[Footnote 15: Throughout the whole primitive and middle period, however, two tendencies are distinguishable—one vital, derived from Constantinople, the other, dead and swollen, from imperial Rome. Up to the thirteenth century the Byzantine influence is easily predominant. I have often thought that an amusing book might be compiled in which the two tendencies would be well distinguished and illustrated. In Pisa and its neighbourhood the author will find a surfeit of Romanised primitives.]

[Footnote 16: Pietro is, of course, nearer to Giotto.]

[Footnote 17: Owing to the English invention of "Perpendicular," the least unsatisfactory style of Gothic architecture, the English find it hard to realise the full horrors of late Gothic.]

[Footnote 18: In speaking of officialdom it is not the directors of galleries and departments whom I have in mind. Many of them are on the right side; we should all be delighted to see Sir Charles Holroyd or Mr. Maclagan, for instances, let loose amongst the primitives with forty thousand pounds in pocket. I am thinking of those larger luminaries who set their important faces against the acquisition of works of art, the men who have been put in authority over directors and the rest of us.]

[Footnote 19: The Mabuse, however, was a bargain that the merchants and money-lenders who settle these things could hardly be expected to resist. The ticket price is said to have been L120,000.]

[Footnote 20: It was Mr. Roger Fry who made this illuminating discovery.]

[Footnote 21: It is pleasant to remember that by the painters, critics, and rich amateurs of "the old gang" the pictures of Ingres were treated as bad jokes. Ingres was accused of distortion, ugliness, and even of incompetence! His work was called "mad" and "puerile." He was derided as a pseudo-primitive, and hated as one who would subvert the great tradition by trying to put back the clock four hundred years. The same authorities discovered in 1824 that Constable's Hay Wain was the outcome of a sponge full of colour having been thrown at a canvas. Nous avons change tout ca.]

[Footnote 22: As Mr. Walter Sickert reminds me, there was Sickert.]








That with the maturity of Cezanne a new movement came to birth will hardly be disputed by anyone who has managed to survive the "nineties"; that this movement is the beginning of a new slope is a possibility worth discussing, but about which no decided opinion can yet be held. In so far as one man can be said to inspire a whole age, Cezanne inspires the contemporary movement: he stands a little apart, however, because he is too big to take a place in any scheme of historical development; he is one of those figures that dominate an age and are not to be fitted into any of the neat little pigeon-holes so thoughtfully prepared for us by evolutionists. He passed through the greater part of life unnoticed, and came near creeping out of it undiscovered. No one seems to have guessed at what was happening. It is easy now to see how much we owe to him, and how little he owed to anyone; for us it is easy to see what Gaugin and Van Gogh borrowed—in 1890, the year in which the latter died, it was not so. They were sharp eyes, indeed, that discerned before the dawn of the new century that Cezanne had founded a movement.

That movement is still young. But I think it would be safe to say that already it has produced as much good art as its predecessor. Cezanne, of course, created far greater things than any Impressionist painter; and Gaugin, Van Gogh, Matisse, Rousseau, Picasso, de Vlaminck, Derain, Herbin, Marchand, Marquet, Bonnard, Duncan Grant, Maillol, Lewis, Kandinsky, Brancuzi, von Anrep, Roger Fry, Friesz, Goncharova, L'Hote, are Rolands for the Olivers of any other artistic period.[23] They are not all great artists, but they all are artists. If the Impressionists raised the proportion of works of art in the general pictorial output from about one in five hundred thousand to one in a hundred thousand, the Post-Impressionists (for after all it is sensible to call the group of vital artists who immediately follow the Impressionists by that name) have raised the average again. To-day, I daresay, it stands as high as one in ten thousand. Indeed, it is this that has led some people to see in the new movement the dawn of a new age; for nothing is more characteristic of a "primitive" movement than the frequent and widespread production of genuine art. Another hopeful straw at which the sanguine catch is the admirable power of development possessed by the new inspiration. As a rule, the recognition of a movement as a movement is its death. As soon as the pontiffs discovered Impressionism, some twenty years after its patent manifestation, they academized it. They set their faces against any sort of development and drove into revolt or artistic suicide every student with an ounce of vitality in him. Before the inspiration of Cezanne had time to grow stale, it was caught up by such men as Matisse and Picasso; by them it was moulded into forms that suited their different temperaments, and already it shows signs of taking fresh shape to express the sensibility of a younger generation.[24]

This is very satisfactory but it does not suffice to prove that the new movement is the beginning of a new slope; it does not prove that we stand now where the early Byzantines stood, with the ruins of a civilisation clattering about our ears and our eyes set on a new horizon. In favour of that view there are no solid arguments; yet are there general considerations, worth stating and pondering, though not to be pushed too violently. He who would cast the horoscope of humanity, or of any human activity, must neither neglect history nor trust her overmuch. Certainly the neglect of history is the last mistake into which a modern speculator is likely to fall. To compare Victorian England with Imperial Rome has been the pastime of the half-educated these fifty years. "Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento," is about as much Latin as it is becoming in a public schoolman to remember. The historically minded should travel a little further with their comparison (to be sure, some have done so in search of arguments against Socialism), on their way, they will not have failed to remark the materialism, the mechanical cunning, the high standard of comfort, the low standard of honesty, the spiritual indigence, the unholy alliance of cynicism with sentimentality, the degradation of art and religion to menial and mountebank offices, common in both, and in both signifying the mouldy end of what was once a vital agitation. To similise the state superstitions and observances of Rome with our official devotions and ministration, the precise busts in the British Museum with the "speaking likenesses" in the National Portrait Gallery, the academic republicanism of the cultivated patricians with English Liberalism, and the thrills of the arena with those of the playing-field, would be pretty sport for any little German boy. I shall not encourage the brat to lay an historical finger on callousness, bravado, trembling militarism, superficial culture, mean political passion, megalomania, and a taste for being in the majority as attributes common to Imperial Rome and Imperial England. Rather I will inquire whether the rest of Europe does not labour under the proverbial disability of those who live in glass-houses. It is not so much English politics as Western civilisation that reminds me of the last days of the Empire.

The facility of the comparison disfavours the raking up of similarities; I need not compare Mr. Shaw with Lucian or the persecution of Christians with the savage out-bursts of our shopkeepers against anarchists. One may note, though, that it is as impossible to determine exactly when and whence came the religious spirit that was to make an end of Graeco-Roman materialism as to assign a birth-place to the spiritual ferment that pervades modern Europe. For though we may find a date for the maturity of Cezanne, and though I agree that the art of one genius may produce a movement, even Cezanne will hardly suffice to account for what looks like the beginning of an artistic slope and a renaissance of the human spirit. One would hesitate to explain the dark and middle ages by the mosaics at Ravenna. The spirit that was to revive the moribund Roman world came from the East; that we know. It was at work long before the world grew conscious of its existence. Its remotest origins are probably undiscoverable. To-day we can name pioneers, beside Cezanne, in the new world of emotion; there was Tolstoi, and there was Ibsen; but who can say that these did not set out in search of Eldorados of which already they had heard travellers' tales. Ruskin shook his fist at the old order to some purpose; and, if he could not see clearly what things counted, succeeded at least in making contemptible some that did not. Nietzsche's preposterous nonsense knocked the bottom out of nonsense more preposterous and far more vile. But to grub for origins is none of my business; when the Church shall be established be sure that industrious hagiographers will do justice to its martyrs and missionaries.

Consider, too, that a great emotional renaissance must be preceded by an intellectual, destructive movement. To that how shall we assign a starting-point? It could be argued, I suppose, that it began with Voltaire and the Encyclopaedists. Having gone so far back, the historian would find cause for going further still. How could he justify any frontier? Every living organism is said to carry in itself the germ of its own decay, and perhaps a civilisation is no sooner alive than it begins to contrive its end. Gradually the symptoms of disease become apparent to acute physicians who state the effect without perceiving the cause. Be it so; circular fatalism is as cheerful as it is sad. If ill must follow good, good must follow ill. In any case, I have said enough to show that if Europe be again at the head of a pass, if we are about to take the first step along a new slope, the historians of the new age will have plenty to quarrel about.

It may be because the nineteenth century was preparing Europe for a new epoch, that it understood better its destructive critics than its constructive artists. At any rate before that century ended it had produced one of the great constructive artists of the world, and overlooked him. Whether or no he marks the beginning of a slope, Cezanne certainly marks the beginning of a movement the main characteristics of which it will be my business to describe. For, though there is some absurdity in distinguishing one artistic movement from another, since all works of art, to whatever age they belong, are essentially the same; yet these superficial differences which are the characteristics of a movement have an importance beyond that dubious one of assisting historians. The particular methods of creating form, and the particular kinds of form affected by the artists of one generation, have an important bearing on the art of the next. For whereas the methods and forms of one may admit of almost infinite development, the methods and forms of another may admit of nothing but imitation. For instance, the fifteenth century movement that began with Masaccio, Uccello, and Castagno opened up a rich vein of rather inferior ore; whereas the school of Raffael was a blind alley. Cezanne discovered methods and forms which have revealed a vista of possibilities to the end of which no man can see; on the instrument that he invented thousands of artists yet unborn may play their own tunes.

What the future will owe to Cezanne we cannot guess: what contemporary art owes to him it would be hard to compute. Without him the artists of genius and talent who to-day delight us with the significance and originality of their work might have remained port-bound for ever, ill-discerning their objective, wanting chart, rudder, and compass. Cezanne is the Christopher Columbus of a new continent of form. In 1839 he was born at Aix-en-Provence, and for forty years he painted patiently in the manner of his master Pissarro. To the eyes of the world he appeared, so far as he appeared at all, a respectable, minor Impressionist, an admirer of Manet, a friend, if not a protege, of Zola, a loyal, negligible disciple. He was on the right side, of course—the Impressionist side, the side of the honest, disinterested artists, against the academic, literary pests. He believed in painting. He believed that it could be something better than an expensive substitute for photography or an accompaniment to poor poetry. So in 1870 he was for science against sentimentality.

But science will neither make nor satisfy an artist: and perhaps Cezanne saw what the great Impressionists could not see, that though they were still painting exquisite pictures their theories had led art into a cul de sac. So while he was working away in his corner of Provence, shut off completely from the aestheticism of Paris, from Baudelairism and Whistlerism, Cezanne was always looking for something to replace the bad science of Claude Monet. And somewhere about 1880 he found it. At Aix-en-Provence came to him a revelation that has set a gulf between the nineteenth century and the twentieth: for, gazing at the familiar landscape, Cezanne came to understand it, not as a mode of light, nor yet as a player in the game of human life, but as an end in itself and an object of intense emotion. Every great artist has seen landscape as an end in itself—as pure form, that is to say; Cezanne has made a generation of artists feel that compared with its significance as an end in itself all else about a landscape is negligible. From that time forward Cezanne set himself to create forms that would express the emotion that he felt for what he had learnt to see. Science became as irrelevant as subject. Everything can be seen as pure form, and behind pure form lurks the mysterious significance that thrills to ecstasy. The rest of Cezanne's life is a continuous effort to capture and express the significance of form.

I have tried to say in another place that there are more roads than one by which a man may come at reality. Some artists seem to have come at it by sheer force of imagination, unaided by anything without them; they have needed no material ladder to help them out of matter. They have spoken with reality as mind to mind, and have passed on the message in forms which owe nothing but bare existence to the physical universe. Of this race are the best musicians and architects; of this race is not Cezanne. He travelled towards reality along the traditional road of European painting. It was in what he saw that he discovered a sublime architecture haunted by that Universal which informs every Particular. He pushed further and further towards a complete revelation of the significance of form, but he needed something concrete as a point of departure. It was because Cezanne could come at reality only through what he saw that he never invented purely abstract forms. Few great artists have depended more on the model. Every picture carried him a little further towards his goal—complete expression; and because it was not the making of pictures but the expression of his sense of the significance of form that he cared about, he lost interest in his work so soon as he had made it express as much as he had grasped. His own pictures were for Cezanne nothing but rungs in a ladder at the top of which would be complete expression. The whole of his later life was a climbing towards an ideal. For him every picture was a means, a step, a stick, a hold, a stepping-stone—something he was ready to discard as soon as it had served his purpose. He had no use for his own pictures. To him they were experiments. He tossed them into bushes, or left them in the open fields to be stumbling-blocks for a future race of luckless critics.

Cezanne is a type of the perfect artist; he is the perfect antithesis of the professional picture-maker, or poem-maker, or music-maker. He created forms because only by so doing could he accomplish the end of his existence—the expression of his sense of the significance of form. When we are talking about aesthetics, very properly we brush all this aside, and consider only the object and its emotional effect on us; but when we are trying to explain the emotional effectiveness of pictures we turn naturally to the minds of the men who made them, and find in the story of Cezanne an inexhaustible spring of suggestion. His life was a constant effort to create forms that would express what he felt in the moment of inspiration. The notion of uninspired art, of a formula for making pictures, would have appeared to him preposterous. The real business of his life was not to make pictures, but to work out his own salvation. Fortunately for us he could only do this by painting. Any two pictures by Cezanne are bound to differ profoundly. He never dreamed of repeating himself. He could not stand still. That is why a whole generation of otherwise dissimilar artists have drawn inspiration from his work. That is why it implies no disparagement of any living artist when I say that the prime characteristic of the new movement is its derivation from Cezanne.

The world into which Cezanne tumbled was a world still agitated by the quarrels of Romantics and Realists. The quarrel between Romance and Realism is the quarrel of people who cannot agree as to whether the history of Spain or the number of pips is the more important thing about an orange. The Romantics and Realists were deaf men coming to blows about the squeak of a bat. The instinct of a Romantic invited to say what he felt about anything was to recall its associations. A rose, for instance, made him think of old gardens and young ladies and Edmund Waller and sundials, and a thousand quaint and gracious things that, at one time or another, had befallen him or someone else. A rose touched life at a hundred pretty points. A rose was interesting because it had a past. "Bosh," said the Realist, "I will tell you what a rose is; that is to say, I will give you a detailed account of the properties of Rosa setigera, not forgetting to mention the urn-shaped calyx-tube, the five imbricated lobes, or the open corolla of five obovate petals." To a Cezanne one account would appear as irrelevant as the other, since both omit the thing that matters—what philosophers used to call "the thing in itself," what now, I imagine, they call "the essential reality." For, after all, what is a rose? What is a tree, a dog, a wall, a boat? What is the particular significance of anything? Certainly the essence of a boat is not that it conjures up visions of argosies with purple sails, nor yet that it carries coals to Newcastle. Imagine a boat in complete isolation, detach it from man and his urgent activities and fabulous history, what is it that remains, what is that to which we still react emotionally? What but pure form, and that which, lying behind pure form, gives it its significance. It was for this Cezanne felt the emotion he spent his life in expressing. And the second characteristic of the new movement is a passionate interest, inherited from Cezanne, in things regarded as ends in themselves. In saying this I am saying no more than that the painters of the movement are consciously determined to be artists. Peculiarity lies in the consciousness—the consciousness with which they set themselves to eliminate all that lies between themselves and the pure forms of things. To be an artist, they think, suffices. How many men of talent, and even of genius, have missed being effective artists because they tried to be something else?



At the risk of becoming a bore I repeat that there is something ludicrous about hunting for characteristics in the art of to-day or of yesterday, or of any particular period. In art the only important distinction is the distinction between good art and bad. That this pot was made in Mesopotamia about 4000 B.C., and that picture in Paris about 1913 A.D., is of very little consequence. Nevertheless, it is possible, though not very profitable, to distinguish between equally good works made at different times in different places; and although the practice of associating art with the age in which it was produced can be of no service to art or artists, I am not sure that it can be of no service whatever. For if it be true that art is an index to the spiritual condition of an age, the historical consideration of art cannot fail to throw some light on the history of civilisation. It is conceivable therefore that a comparative study of artistic periods might lead us to modify our conception of human development, and to revise a few of our social and political theories. Be that as it may, this much is sure: should anyone wish to infer from the art it produced the civility of an age, he must be capable of distinguishing the work of that age from the work of all other ages. He must be familiar with the characteristics of the movement. It is my intention to indicate a few of the more obvious characteristics of the contemporary movement.

But how comes it that the art of one age differs from that of another? At first sight it seems odd that art, which is the expression of man's sense of the significance of form, should vary even superficially from age to age. Yet, deeply considered, it is as certain that superficially art will always be changing as that essentially it cannot change. It seems that the ape-instinct in man is so strong that unless he were continually changing he would cease to create and merely imitate. It is the old question of the artistic problem. Only by setting himself new problems can the artist raise his powers to the white heat of creation. The forms in which artists can express themselves are infinite, and their desire to express themselves keeps up a constant change and reaction in artistic form. Not only is there something of the ancestral ape in man, there is something of the ancestral sheep; there are fashions in forms and colours and the relations of forms and colours; or, to put the matter more pleasantly, and more justly, there is sufficient accord in the sensibilities of an age to induce a certain similarity of forms. It seems as though there were strange powers in the air from which no man can altogether escape; we call them by pet names—"Movements," "Forces," "Tendencies," "Influences," "The Spirit of the Age"—but we never understand them. They are neither to be frightened nor cajoled by our airs of familiarity, which impress the public only. They exist, however, and if they did not we should have to invent them; for how else are we to explain the fact that not only do the artists of a particular period affect particular kinds of form, but that even the spectators of each new generation seem to be born with sensibilities specially apt to be flattered by them. In this age it is possible to take refuge under the magic word "Cezanne"; we can say that Cezanne has imposed his forms on Georgian painters and public, just as Wagner imposed his on Edwardian musicians and concert-goers. This explanation seems to me inadequate; and in any case it will not account for the predominance of formal fashions in ages undominated by any masterful genius. The spirit of an artistic age is, I suspect, a composition that defies complete analysis; the work of one great mind is generally one part of it, the monuments of some particular past age are often another. Technical discoveries have sometimes led to artistic changes. For instance, to men who have been in the habit of painting on wood, the invention of canvas would suggest all sorts of fascinating novelties. Lastly, there is a continual change in the appearance of those familiar objects which are the raw material of most visual artists. So, though the essential quality—significance—is constant, in the choice of forms there is perpetual change; and these changes seem to move in long flights or shorter jumps, so that we are able, with some precision, to lay our fingers on two points between which there is a certain amount of art possessing certain common characteristics. That which lies between two such points historians call a period or movement.

The period in which we find ourselves in the year 1913 begins with the maturity of Cezanne (about 1885). It therefore overlaps the Impressionist movement, which certainly had life in it till the end of the nineteenth century. Whether Post-Impressionism will peter out as Impressionism has done, or whether it is the first flowering of a new artistic vitality with centuries of development before it, is, I have admitted, a matter of conjecture. What seems to me certain is that those who shall be able to contemplate our age as something complete, as a period in the history of art, will not so much as know of the existence of the artisans still amongst us who create illusions and chaffer and quarrel in the tradition of the Victorians. When they think of the early twentieth-century painters they will think only of the artists who tried to create form—the artisans who tried to create illusions will be forgotten. They will think of the men who looked to the present, not of those who looked to the past; and, therefore, it is of them alone that I shall think when I attempt to describe the contemporary movement.[25]

Already I have suggested two characteristics of the movement; I have said that in their choice of forms and colours most vital contemporary artists are, more or less, influenced by Cezanne, and that Cezanne has inspired them with the resolution to free their art from literary and scientific irrelevancies. Most people, asked to mention a third, would promptly answer, I suspect—Simplification. To instance simplification as a peculiarity of the art of any particular age seems queer, since simplification is essential to all art. Without it art cannot exist; for art is the creation of significant form, and simplification is the liberating of what is significant from what is not. Yet to such depths had art sunk in the nineteenth century, that in the eyes of the rabble the greatest crime of Whistler and the Impressionists was their by no means drastic simplification. And we are not yet clear of the Victorian slough. The spent dip stinks on into the dawn. You have only to look at almost any modern building to see masses of elaboration and detail that form no part of any real design and serve no useful purpose. Nothing stands in greater need of simplification than architecture, and nowhere is simplification more dreaded and detested than amongst architects. Walk the streets of London; everywhere you will see huge blocks of ready-made decoration, pilasters and porticoes, friezes and facades, hoisted on cranes to hang from ferro-concrete walls. Public buildings have become public laughing-stocks. They are as senseless as slag-heaps, and far less beautiful. Only where economy has banished the architect do we see masonry of any merit. The engineers, who have at least a scientific problem to solve, create, in factories and railway-bridges, our most creditable monuments. They at least are not ashamed of their construction, or, at any rate, they are not allowed to smother it in beauty at thirty shillings a foot. We shall have no more architecture in Europe till architects understand that all these tawdry excrescences have got to be simplified away, till they make up their minds to express themselves in the materials of the age—steel, concrete, and glass—and to create in these admirable media vast, simple, and significant forms.

The contemporary movement has pushed simplification a great deal further than Manet and his friends pushed it, thereby distinguishing itself from anything we have seen since the twelfth century. Since the twelfth century, in sculpture and glass, the thirteenth, in painting and drawing, the drift has been towards realism and away from art. Now the essence of realism is detail. Since Zola, every novelist has known that nothing gives so imposing an air of reality as a mass of irrelevant facts, and very few have cared to give much else. Detail is the heart of realism, and the fatty degeneration of art. The tendency of the movement is to simplify away all this mess of detail which painters have introduced into pictures in order to state facts. But more than this was needed. There were irrelevancies introduced into pictures for other purposes than that of statement. There were the irrelevancies of technical swagger. Since the twelfth century there has been a steady elaboration of technical complexities. Writers with nothing to say soon come to regard the manipulation of words as an end in itself. So cooks without eggs might come to regard the ritual of omelette-making, the mixing of condiments, the chopping of herbs, the stoking of fires, and the shaping of white caps, as a fine art. As for the eggs,—why that's God business: and who wants omelettes when he can have cooking? The movement has simplified the batterie de cuisine. Nothing is to be left in a work of art which merely shows that the craftsman knows how to put it there.

Alas! It generally turns out that Life and Art are rather more complicated than we could wish; to understand exactly what is meant by simplification we must go deeper into the mysteries. It is easy to say eliminate irrelevant details. What details are not irrelevant? In a work of art nothing is relevant but what contributes to formal significance. Therefore all informatory matter is irrelevant and should be eliminated. But what most painters have to express can only be expressed in designs so complex and subtle that without some clue they would be almost unintelligible. For instance, there are many designs that can only be grasped by a spectator who looks at them from a particular point of view. Not every picture is as good seen upside down as upside up. To be sure, very sensitive people can always discover from the design itself how it should be viewed, and, without much difficulty, will place correctly a piece of lace or embroidery in which there is no informatory clue to guide them. Nevertheless, when an artist makes an intricate design it is tempting and, indeed, reasonable, for him to wish to provide a clue; and to do so he has only to work into his design some familiar object, a tree or a figure, and the business is done. Having established a number of extremely subtle relations between highly complex forms, he may ask himself whether anyone else will be able to appreciate them. Shall he not give a hint as to the nature of his organisation, and ease the way for our aesthetic emotions? If he give to his forms so much of the appearance of the forms of ordinary life that we shall at once refer them back to something we have already seen, shall we not grasp more easily their aesthetic relations in his design? Enter by the back-door representation in the quality of a clue to the nature of design. I have no objection to its presence. Only, if the representative element is not to ruin the picture as a work of art, it must be fused into the design. It must do double duty; as well as giving information, it must create aesthetic emotion. It must be simplified into significant form.

Let us make no mistake about this. To help the spectator to appreciate our design we have introduced into our picture a representative or cognitive element. This element has nothing whatever to do with art. The recognition of a correspondence between the forms of a work of art and the familiar forms of life cannot possibly provoke aesthetic emotion. Only significant form can do that. Of course realistic forms may be aesthetically significant, and out of them an artist may create a superb work of art, but it is with their aesthetic and not with their cognitive value that we shall then be concerned. We shall treat them as though they were not representative of anything. The cognitive or representative element in a work of art can be useful as a means to the perception of formal relations and in no other way. It is valuable to the spectator, but it is of no value to the work of art; or rather it is valuable to the work of art as an ear-trumpet is valuable to one who would converse with the deaf: the speaker could do as well without it, the listener could not. The representative element may help the spectator; it can do the picture no good and it may do harm. It may ruin the design; that is to say, it may deprive the picture of its value as a whole; and it is as a whole, as an organisation of forms, that a work of art provokes the most tremendous emotions.

From the point of view of the spectator the Post-Impressionists have been particularly happy in their simplification. As we know, a design can be composed just as well of realistic forms as of invented; but a fine design composed of realistic forms runs a great risk of being aesthetically underrated. We are so immediately struck by the representative element that the formal significance passes us by. It is very hard at first sight to appreciate the design of a picture by a highly realistic artist—Ingres, for instance; our aesthetic emotions are overlaid by our human curiosity. We do not see the figures as forms, because we immediately think of them as people. On the other hand, a design composed of purely imaginary forms, without any cognitive clue (say a Persian carpet), if it be at all elaborate and intricate, is apt to non-plus the less sensitive spectators. Post-Impressionists, by employing forms sufficiently distorted to disconcert and baffle human interest and curiosity yet sufficiently representative to call immediate attention to the nature of the design, have found a short way to our aesthetic emotions. This does not make Post-Impressionist pictures better or worse than others; it makes them more easily appreciable as works of art. Probably it will always be difficult for the mass of men to consider pictures as works of art, but it will be less difficult for them so to consider Post-Impressionist than realistic pictures; while, if they ceased to consider objects unprovided with representative clues (e.g. some oriental textiles) as historical monuments, they would find it very difficult to consider them at all.

To assure his design, the artist makes it his first care to simplify. But mere simplification, the elimination of detail, is not enough. The informatory forms that remain have got to be made significant. The representative element, if it is not to injure the design, must become a part of it; besides giving information it has got to provoke aesthetic emotion. That is where symbolism fails. The symbolist eliminates, but does not assimilate. His symbols, as a rule, are not significant forms, but formal intelligencers. They are not integral parts of a plastic conception, but intellectual abbreviations. They are not informed by the artist's emotion, they are invented by his intellect. They are dead matter in a living organism. They are rigid and tight because they are not traversed by the rhythm of the design. The explanatory legends that illustrators used to produce from the mouths of their characters are not more foreign to visual art than the symbolic forms with which many able draughtsmen have ruined their designs. In the famous "Melancholia," and, to some extent, in a few other engravings—"St. Eustace," for instance, and "The Virgin and Child" (B. 34. British Museum),—Duerer has managed to convert a mass of detail into tolerably significant form; but in the greater part of his work (e.g. "The Knight," "St. Jerome") fine conception is hopelessly ruined by a mass of undigested symbolism.

Every form in a work of art has, then, to be made aesthetically significant; also every form has to be made a part of a significant whole. For, as generally happens, the value of the parts combined into a whole is far greater than the value of the sum of the parts. This organisation of forms into a significant whole is called Design; and an insistence—an exaggerated insistence some will say—on design is the fourth characteristic of the Contemporary Movement. This insistence, this conviction that a work should not be good on the whole, but as a whole, is, no doubt, in part a reaction from the rather too easy virtue of some of the Impressionists, who were content to cover their canvases with charming forms and colours, not caring overmuch whether or how they were co-ordinated. Certainly this was a weakness in Impressionism—though by no means in all the Impressionist masters—for it is certain that the profoundest emotions are provoked by significant combinations of significant forms. Also, it seems certain that only in these organised combinations can the artist express himself completely.

It seems that an artist creates a good design when, having been possessed by a real emotional conception, he is able to hold and translate it. We all agree, I think, that till the artist has had his moment of emotional vision there can be no very considerable work of art; but, the vision seen and felt, it still remains uncertain whether he has the force to hold and the skill to translate it. Of course the vast majority of pictures fail in design because they correspond to no emotional vision; but the interesting failures are those in which the vision came but was incompletely grasped. The painters who have failed for want of technical skill to set down what they have felt and mastered could be counted on the fingers of one hand—if, indeed, there are any to be counted. But on all sides we see interesting pictures in which the holes in the artist's conception are obvious. The vision was once perfect, but it cannot be recaptured. The rapture will not return. The supreme creative power is wanting. There are holes, and they have to be filled with putty. Putty we all know when we see it—when we feel it. It is dead matter—literal transcriptions from nature, intellectual machinery, forms that correspond with nothing that was apprehended emotionally, forms unfired with the rhythm that thrilled through the first vision of a significant whole.

There is an absolute necessity about a good design arising, I imagine, from the fact that the nature of each form and its relation to all the other forms is determined by the artist's need of expressing exactly what he felt. Of course, a perfect correspondence between expression and conception may not be established at the first or the second attempt. But if the work is to be a success there will come a moment in which the artist will be able to hold and express completely his hour or minute of inspiration. If that moment does not come the design will lack necessity. For though an artist's aesthetic sense enables him, as we shall see, to say whether a design is right or wrong, only this masterful power of seizing and holding his vision enables him to make it right. A bad design lacks cohesion; a good design possesses it; if I conjecture that the secret of cohesion is the complete realisation of that thrill which comes to an artist when he conceives his work as a whole, I shall not forget that it is a conjecture. But it is not conjecture to say that when we call a design good we mean that, as a whole, it provokes aesthetic emotion, and that a bad design is a congeries of lines and colours, individually satisfactory perhaps, but as a whole unmoving.

For, ultimately, the spectator can determine whether a design is good or bad only by discovering whether or no it moves him. Having made that discovery he can go on to criticise in detail; but the beginning of all aesthetic judgment and all criticism is emotion. It is after I have been left cold that I begin to notice that defective organisation of forms which I call bad design. And here, in my judgments about particular designs, I am still on pretty sure ground: it is only when I attempt to account for the moving power of certain combinations that I get into the world of conjecture. Nevertheless, I believe that mine are no bad guesses at truth, and that on the same hypothesis we can account for the difference between good and bad drawing.

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