"When I was in Venice," he says, "the method I took to avail myself of their principle was this: When I observed an extraordinary effect of light and shade in any picture I darkened every part of a page in my note-book in the same gradation of light and shade as the picture, leaving the white paper untouched to represent light and this without any attention to the subject or the drawing of the figures. A few trials of this kind will be sufficient to give the method of their conduct in the management of their lights. After a few experiments I found the paper blotted nearly alike: their general practice appeared to be to allow not above a quarter of the picture for light, including in this portion both the principal and secondary lights; another quarter to be as dark as possible and the remaining half kept in mezzo-tint or half shadow."
"Rubens appears to have admitted rather more light than a quarter and Rembrandt much less, scarce an eighth; by this conduct Rembrandt's light is extremely brilliant, but it costs too much; the rest of the picture is sacrificed to this one object. That light will certainly appear the brightest which is surrounded with the greatest quantity of shade, supposing equal skill in the artist."
"By this means you may likewise remark the various forms and shapes of those lights as well as the objects on which they are flung; whether a figure, or the sky, a white napkin, animals, or utensils, often introduced for this purpose only. It may be observed likewise, what a portion is strongly relieved and how much is united with its ground; for it is necessary that some part (though a small one is sufficient) should be sharp and cutting against its ground whether it be light on dark, or dark on a light ground, in order to give firmness and distinctness to the work. If, on the other hand, it is relieved on every side, it will appear as if inlaid on its ground."
"Such a blotted paper held at a distance from the eye would strike the spectator as something excellent for the disposition of the light and shadow though he does not distinguish whether it is history, a portrait, a landscape, dead game, or anything else; for the same principles extend to every branch of art. Whether I have given an exact account or made a just division of the quantity of light admitted into the works of those painters is of no very great consequence; let every person examine and judge for himself: it will be sufficient if I have suggested a mode of examining pictures this way and one means at least of acquiring the principles on which they wrought."
The accompanying page of sketches has been produced in the spirit of this recommendation.
Turning from examples of figure art, to outdoor nature, it will be found that these principles apply with equal force to landscape composition. No better advice could be offered the beginner in landscape than to resolutely select and produce three, four or five distinct and separate tones in every study. The incoherency of beginner's work out of doors is largely due to its crumbling into a great number of petty planes, a fault resulting from observation of detail instead of the larger shapes. For this reason the choice of subjects having little or no detail should be insisted on: sky and land, a chance for organic line and a division of light and shade, such as may be found in an open, rolling country where the woodland is grouped for distant masses.
PRINCIPALITY BY EMPHASIS, SACRIFICE, AND CONTRAST.
Under the discussion of Balance it was shown that a small measure often became the equivalent of a larger measure by reason of its particular placement. The sacrifice of many measures to one, also is often the wisest disposition of forces. Upon the stage, spectacular arrangement is constructed almost entirely on this principle. The greater the number of figures supporting, or sacrificing to the central figure, the greater its importance. The sun setting over fields or through the woods though covering but a very limited measure of the picture is what we see and remember, the remaining space serving this by subordination. Note how masters of landscape reach after such a point either by banking up abruptly about it as in the wood interior, or by vast gradations toward it. The muzzle of the cannon is the only place where the fire and smoke are seen, but how much weight is necessitated back of this for the recoil, and how much space must be reckoned on for the projectile of the gun. A terrific explosion takes place; but we do not realize its power until it is noted that sound reverberated and the earth trembled for miles around. For its full realization the report of the quiet miles is important. The lack of this support in the light and shade scheme, whereby the principal object is made to occupy too much space is one of the commonest of faults in photography and illustration.
One familiar with woodland scenery knows well how often a subject is lost and found as the sun changes in its course. At one moment a striking composition is present, the highest light giving kingly distinction to one of the monarchs of the forest. Passing on to return in a few minutes one looks in vain for the subject. He is sure of the particular spot, but the king stands sullen in the shadow, robbed of his golden mantle which is now divided to bedeck two or three striplings in the background. For the painter the only recourse is to make a pencil note of the original scheme of light and shade and hold resolutely to it. The photographer must patiently wait for it.
"Every man that can paint at all can execute individual parts; but to keep these parts in due subordination as relative to a whole, requires a comprehensive view of art that more strongly implies genius than perhaps any quality whatever."(13)
No more forcible examples of this truth may be had than the art of Claude Lorraine. Claude whose nature painting Ruskin berates but whose composition is strong, had two distinct arrangements, both based on the principle of Principality. In the first he created sides for the centre which were darkened so that the light of the centre might gain by contrast. It is the formal Raphaelesque idea; the other and much better one shows a division of the picture into thirds. The first division is given to the largest mass but usually not the most important. This, if trees or a building, is shadow covered, reserving the more distant mass, which is the most attractive, to gain by the sacrifice of the foreground mass.
[Spots and Masses; Note-book sketches from Rubens, Velasquez, Claude Lorrain and Murillo]
The first of these forms was evidently most esteemed by Claude, for his greatest works are thus conceived: "Cleopatra Landing at Tarsus," "The Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba,". "The Flight into Egypt," "St. Paul leaving Ostia," "The Seaport with the Large Tower" and others. In all of these the light proceeds toward us through an avenue which the sides create. Under this effect we receive the light as it comes to us. In the other form the vision is carried into the picture by a series of mass attractions the balance being less apparent. "The Landscape of the Dresden Gallery," "The Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca," "The Finding of Moses," "Egeria and Her Nymphs," and "Driving Cattle to the Meadows," together with many etchings, are based on the second form. In all these about one third of the picture is put into shadow, a great right angle being constructed of the vertical mass and the shadow which it casts, generally across the entire foreground.
[Death of Caesar—Gerome; The Travel of the Soul—After Howard Pyle]
In "The Travel of the Soul" by Howard Pyle, reproduced from the Century Magazine, is remarkably expressed the fullness of quality resulting from these few principles. The force of the light is increased first by juxtaposition with the deepest dark merging so gradually into the darkness behind as to become the end or culmination of the great gradation of the background. As in many works by the older masters the source of light is conceived within the picture, so by its issuance from the inward of the wing, the valuable principle of radiation has resulted, the light passing upward through the wan face behind to the crescent moon and below through the sleeve and long fold of the dress to the ground. On the side it follows the arm disappearing through the fingers into the shadow.
Beyond this circuit lies the great encasement of another gradation darkening toward the sides and corners. This has been interrupted by the tree masses and sky of the upper side, as the idea of radiation was changed on the left by the oppositional line of branch forms. In the other pictures of this remarkable series may be found three distinct type forms of composition.
Together they set forth the structure of the circle or ellipse, the letter S or line of beauty, the triangle, and the cross. The one before us discloses a triangle or letter V, on which the figures compose, within a triangle formed of the rock fracture and path.
It must be remembered that the effort of the artist is to secure light in the degree which his subject demands. There are many degrees of light and they must not be confounded. The light of a lantern is not sufficient illumination for an effect under gas and a window on the north side won't do to call sunlight into a room upon a posed figure. The fault of many pictures is that the proprieties just here are violated. Some of the lowest toned interiors of Israels are satisfactory when judged from the standpoint of light, while out of door attempts in high key fail to suggest the fact of a sun in nature. The fault is that the exact degree of illumination which the subject demands is not present.
There may be a greater feeling of light in a figure sitting in the shadow than in the same figure next to a window.
To the painter, light and air are but degrees of the same idea. If the figure seated in the shadow is well enveloped and relieved by the exact temper of reflected lights, it takes its place in his scheme of brilliant lighting as much as any other part.
The purpose of shadow is first to produce light, second to secure concentration, third to dismiss space not required and incidentally to suggest air and relief by the gradation which every shadow must have.
The idea of Notan, or the Light and Dark combination of Japanese art, differs from this in its intent, which is merely to set forth an agreeable interchange of light, dark and medium toned spaces. To the decorative intentions of the oriental artist natural fact is of small concern and the fact of shade produced by light is dismissed as are many other notions which are non-conformable to his purpose. The great value of this concept, however, should be recognized, and in formulating a scheme of light and shade for any picture its light and dark masses may be so arranged as to suggest much of the beauty which its flat translation by Notan would yield. The practice of laying out the flat light and dark scheme of every picture which is to be finished in full relief is therefore most helpful, and directly in line with Sir Joshua's habit with the old masters.
It is not sufficient that pictures have lights and darks. The balance here is quite as important as line and measure. The proportion of light to dark depends on the importance required by certain parts of the picture. Effectiveness is given to that end of the scale which is reserved in small quantity. The white spot attracts in the "Dead Warrior," the dark spot in the "Lion of the Desert." A comparison of the "Night Watch" and the "Landscape" by Inness will show that both are constructed on a medium tone on which strong relief is secured by contrasts of light and dark. Isolated spots occur through each contributing an energy opposed to the subtle gradations of the large spaces. The rich depths of the background and the frequent opposition of shadow with light in the landscape are very typical of Inness' art and we know that the "Night Watch" contains the best thought and richest conclusions of the greatest master of light and shade.
The type forms in light and shade are less pronounced than those of linear construction, though through all compositions of effect, certain well defined schemes of chiaroscuro are traceable. As soon as any one is selected it rests with the artist to vary its conventional structure and make it original.
Lack of a well-defined scheme of light and dark however, is ruinous to any pictorial or decorative undertaking.
The accompanying wood interiors are introduced in proof that light and shade rather than form is the pictorial element of greatest value. In both pictures the principles of chiaroscuro are strongly expressed, and we look closely before discovering that the first one is the second placed on end.
Analysis of pictures into light, dark, and halftone develops the following forms.
Light being the happy and positive side of art presentation, any form or modification of it partakes of its quality. The gradation bespeaks its tenderness, and, much as we may admire light's power, this, by its mere variety, is more attractive.
We well endure the shadow if in it can be noticed a movement toward the light. Technically, an ungraded shadow means mud. One in which reflection plays a part speaks of the life of light and in it we feel that promise. We know it to be on its travels, glancing and refracting from every object which it touches. The shadows which it cannot penetrate directly, receive its gracious influence in this way and always under a subtler law which governs its direct shining—by gradation.
Most good pictures are produced in the medium range and the ends of the scale are reserved for incisive duty. A series of gradations in which the grace and flow of line and tone are made to serve the forcible stroke which we see, presents a combination of subtlety and strength. Again the art of Inness affords illustration.
There are three forms of this quality: that in which light shows a gradual diminution of power, as seen upon a wall near a window, or in white smoke issuing from a funnel; that in which the color or force of a group of objects weaken as they recede, as may be observed in fog; and that in which the arrangement secures, in disconnected objects a regular succession of graded measures. In each case the pictorial value of this element is apparent. The landscape painter may avail himself of it as the figure painter does of his screen, counting on the cloud shadow to temper and unite disjointed items of his picture. He makes use of it where leading lines are wanting or are undesirable, or to give an additional accent to light by such contrast or to introduce a note of dark by suppressing the tone of an isolated object. Gradation is the sweetening touch in art, ofttimes making unity of discordant and unartful elements. The vision will pierce the shadow to find the light beyond. It will dwell longest on the lightest point and believe this more brilliant than it is if opposed by an accent of dark which is the lowest note in a dark gradation.
Turner and Claude often brought the highest light and deepest dark together in close opposition through a series of big gradations of objects, the most light-giving device known in painting. The introduction of a shadow through the foreground or middle distance, over which the vision travels to the light beyond, always gives great depth; another of the devices in landscape painting frequently met with in the work of Claude, Ruysdael, Corot, Vandevelde, Cuyp, Inness, Wyant, Ranger, and all painters of landscape who attain light by the use of a graded scale of contrasts. A cumulative gradation which suddenly stops has the same force in light and shade as a long line which suddenly changes into a short line of opposed direction. They are both equivalent to a pause in music, awakening an attention at such a point, and only to be employed where there is something important to follow.
It is the experience of all picture makers that under the limitations which special subjects impose they are often obliged to search for an equivalent with which to comply with the requirements of composition.
If, for instance, in the arrangement of a picture it is found necessary to move an object—a tree, figure or other item of importance, instead of obliteration and repainting, the result is attained by creating an attraction on the side from which it is to be moved.
By so doing the range of the picture is increased and its space seems to take in more than its limits presupposed: If an isolated tree standing against a mass of trees, by opening the sky through that mass or by creating attraction of color or form therein, the vision is led to the far side of the object to be moved, which is thereby crowded out of its position in the balancing scheme.
An object upon a surface may frequently give place to a dark or light variation of the surface itself which becomes an equivalent of attraction.
Several objects may be made to balance without rearrangement though the marginal proportions of the picture are altered. The ship and moon compose as an upright, but not in long shape without either the following line which indicates the ship's course; or an object of attraction in the opposing half either in the distance or foreground, much less being required in the latter than the former. The equivalent therefore of the leading line is the object on the farther shore.
The necessity of either the one or the other is more clearly shown when the line from the boat swings in the opposite direction.
An object may be rendered less important by surrounding it with objects of its own kind and color.
An abrupt change in the direction of a line may have attraction equal to an object on that line.
With two spaces of equal size, importance may be given to one of them by increasing its light; by using leading lines toward it, by placing an accent upon it, by creating a gradation in it.
Spots often become the equivalent of lines in their attractive value.
A series of oppositional lines has more picturesqueness than the tangent, its equivalent.
A gradation may have the equivalent attraction of an object.
A line in its continuity is more attractive than a succession of isolated objects.
The attractive value of an object in the scale of balance may be weakened by moving it toward the centre or extending the picture on that side.
Motion toward, either in intention or by action, is equivalent to balancing weight in that space of the picture to which the action is directed.
Light is increased by deepening contiguous tones; dark, by heightening contiguous tones.
A still-life may be constructed on the same lines as any form on the vertical plane and many of the perspective plane of composition. See Fundamental Forms.
CHAPTER XI - THE PLACE OF PHOTOGRAPHY IN FINE ART
Since the time that photography laid its claim to be reckoned among the fine arts the attention of artists has been attracted first by the claim and thereafter, with acknowledgments, to the performance.
The art cry of the newly baptized had the vehement ring of faith and determination. Like the prophecy of the embryo premier it sounded: "My lords, you will hear me yet."
The sustained interest of the "Photographic Salon" and the utterance of its exhibitors in the language of art, has long since obtained concession to the claim for associate membership. To make this relationship complete became the effort of many writers of the photographic circle. "The whole point then," writes Prof. P. H. Emerson, B. A., M. D., of England, "is that what the painter strives to do is to render, by any means in his power, as true an impression of any picture which he wishes to express as possible. A photographic artist strives for the same end and in two points only does he fall short of the painter—in color and in the ability to render so accurately the relative values, although this is to a great extent compensated by the tone of the picture. How then is photography superior to etching, wood-cutting, charcoal drawing? The drawing of the lens is not to be equalled by any man. There is ample room for selection, judgment and posing, and, in a word, in capable hands a finished photograph is a work of art. Thus we see that the art has at last found a scientific basis and can be rationally discussed, and I think I am right in saying that I was the first to base the claims of photography as a fine art on these grounds and I venture to predict that the day will come when photographs will be admitted to hang on the walls of the Royal Academy."
Since the appearance of the above which comes as close to the real reason in question as its logic might intimate, but which is worth quoting from the prophecy which it contained, there have been many expressions of opinions by photographers. None, however, are more to the point than the following from the pen of Mr. F. H. Wilson: "When, fifty years ago, the new baby, photography, was born, Science and Art stood together over her cradle questioning what they might expect of her, wondering what place she would take among their other children. Science soon found that she had come with her hands full of gifts and her bounty to astronomy, microscopy and chemistry made her name blessed among these, her elder sisters. Art, always more conservative, hung back. But slowly jealous Art who first frowned and called the rest of her brood around her, away from the parvenue, has let her come near, has taken her hand, and is looking her over with questioning eyes. Soon, without doubt, she will have her on her lap with the rest."
"Why has she been kept out so long? Almost from the beginning she claimed a place in the house beautiful of art. In spite of rebuffs she knocked at its doors, though the portrait painter and the critic flung stones at her from the house-top, and the law itself stood at the threshold denying her entrance. Those early efforts were not untinctured with a fear that if she should get in she would run the establishment, but the law long since owned her right, and instead of the crashing boulders of artistic dislike and critical indignation the volleys they drop at her feet now are mere mossy pebbles flung by similarly mossy critics or artist-bigots. Still, the world at large hears them rattle and does not give her the place and estimation she has won."
"Art began with the first touch of man to shape things toward his ideal, be that ideal an agreeable composition, or the loftiest conception of genius. The higher it is the more it is art. Art is head-and-hand work and a creation deserves the name of art according to the quality and quantity of this expended on it. Simply sit down squarely before a thing and imitate it as an ox would if an ox could draw, with no thought or intention save imitation and the result will cry from every line, 'I am not art but machine work,' though its technique be perfection. Toil over arrangement and meditate over view-point and light, and though the result be the rudest, it will bear the impress of thought and of art. I tell you art begins when man with thought, forming a standard of beauty, commences to shape the raw material toward it. In pure landscape, where modification is limited, it begins when the artist takes one standpoint in preference to another. In figure composition, where modification is infinite, it begins with the first touch to bring the model into pose. When he bends a twig or turns a fold of drapery the spirit of art has come and is stirring within him. What matters the process! Surely it is time that this artistic bigotry was ended."
The kernel lies in the sentence "when he bends a twig," etc., "the spirit of art has come." In other words when he exhibits choice and preference, when, in short, he composes.
Recognizing that composition was the only portal through which the new candidate for art recognition could gain an entrance into the circle of Art, the single effort of the past photographer, viz.; the striving for detail and sharpness of line, has been relegated to its reasonable place. A comprehension of composition was found to demand the knowledge of a score of things which then by necessity were rapidly discovered, applied and installed. Composition means sacrifice, gradation, concentration, accent, obliteration, replacement, construction of things the plate does not have, destruction of what it should not have.
Supplied with such a magician's wand no effect was denied: all things seemed possible.
Gratified by recognition in a new realm the new associations should be strengthened. Whereas photography had been spanned by the simple compass of Mr. and Mrs. A. and their daughter, in figures; or topographical accuracies in landscape, revellers in the new art talked of Rembrandt and Titian, Corot and Diaz. To do something which should put their art in touch with these, their new-found brethren, was the thing! A noble ambition, but only a mistaking of the effect for the cause. These men composed. The blurred outline, the vacant shadow, the suppressed corners, the clipped edges. This all means composition in the subduing of insistent outline, in the exchange of breadth for detail, in the centralization of light, in the suppression of the unnecessary.
But no, the employment of these devices of the painter from the photographer's point of view of composition is not sufficient. Photography is now busy complimenting every school of painting under the sun. Yesterday it was Rembrandt's school. Now that is passed, and Carriere is better and to-morrow, perchance, it will be Raphael or Whistler or some Japanese, why not?
The one and only good sign which marks imitation is that it shows appreciation, and this of the standards is a good thing. Let each have its turn. Their synthesis may be you.
But to a man of the professions or business whose time for study in these vast fields of the classics is so disproportionate to their extent and who, though supplied with search warrants and summons, still fails to make a capture, how ineffectual and wearying this chase after ideals—subjective. Why not shorten your course? Why not produce Rembrandts and Corots because you apprehend the principles on which they work and anticipate a surprise in discovering, as by chance, that you have produced something which recalls them. In this way and by these means there will be meaning in your claim of brotherhood.
One may scarcely call an estimate in art matters complete without an opinion from Mr. Ruskin. "In art we look for a record of man's thought and power, but photography gives that only in quite a secondary degree. Every touch of a great painting is instinct with feeling, but howsoever carefully the objects of a picture be chosen and grouped by the photographer, there his interference ends. It is not a mere matter of color or no color, but of Invention and Design, of Feeling and Imagination. Photography is a matter of ingenuity: Art of genius."
On these lines however the philosopher of Coniston hardly proves his case.
Invention and design, feeling and imagination, are all a part of the photographer's suite. He employs them all. And these too are qualities the most artistic. Technique, which is manual and not spiritual, is the one point at which art and photography cannot coalesce. To Art's sentient finger-tips, Photography holds up only steel, wood and glass. Art therefore holds the winning cards.
P. G. Hamerton, England's safest and surest critic of art, writing a generation ago on the "Relation between Photography and Painting," says: "But all good painting, however literal, however pre-Raphaelite or topographic, is full of human feeling and emotion. If it has no other feeling in it than love or admiration for the place depicted, that is much already, quite enough to carry the picture out of the range of photography into the regions of real art."
"And this is the reason why good painting cannot be based on photography. I find photographic data of less value than hasty sketches. The photograph renders the form truly, no doubt, as far as it goes, but it by no means renders feelings and is therefore of no practical use (save for reference) to a painter who feels habitually and never works, without emotion."
It is very much to be questioned if Mr. Hamerton in the face of what has since been done with the camera by men who feel and are led by the emotional in art, would claim a distinction to the painter and deny that the photographic product was unaffected by the emotional temperament.
A friend shows us a group of his pets, either dogs, horses or children, done by an "artist photographer." We find it strongly composed, evincing a clear knowledge of every point to be observed in extracting from the subject all the picturesqueness there was in it. We notice a soft painter-like touch, shadows not detailed—simply graded—aerial envelopment everywhere suggested.
It would be pedantry for the painter to correct the expression of his friend and suggest that the man who produced the picture was not an artist. It is the product of a man who felt exactly as an artist would have felt; an expression of views upon a subject entirely governed by the principles of art, and the man who made it, by that sympathy which he exhibits with those principles, is my brother in art to a greater degree than the painter who, with youthful arrogance, throws these to the winds "mistaking," as has been cleverly said, "the will-o'-the-wisp of eccentricity for the miracle working impulse of genius." In whatsoever degree more of the man and less of the mechanics appear, in that degree is the result a work of art.
The reliance of photography on composition has provoked an earnest search for its principles. The photographer felt safe in going to the school of painting for these principles and accepted without question the best book written for painters, that by John Burnet, penned more than a century ago at a time when the art of England was at a low imitative ebb, and unduly influenced by imitation. This has been abundantly quoted by photographic teachers and evidently accepted, with little challenge, as final.
The best things, discoverable to the writer, in the field of composition, have been by the photographers themselves—the best things as well as the most inane; but in the face of so many results that earnest workers with the camera produce and continue to put forth, which cannot find a place in the categories of Art, it would seem that these preachments have been unheeded, or were not sufficiently clear to afford practical guidance for whom they were intended. Mr. P. H. Robinson(14)declares most strenuously for composition. "It is my contention," he says, "that one of the first things an artist should learn is the construction of a picture." On a par with this is the opinion of Mr. Arthur Dow, the artist, who declares that "art education should begin at composition."
It is for lack of this that the searcher for the picturesque so frequently returns empty handed.
PART II - THE AESTHETICS OF COMPOSITION
CHAPTER XII - BREADTH VERSUS DETAIL
Subjectively the painter and the photographer stretch after the same goal.
Technically they approach it from opposite directions.
The painter starts with a bare surface and creates detail, the photographer is supplied therewith.
Art lies somewhere between these starting points; for art is a reflection of an idea and ideas may or may not have to do with detail.
According to the subject then is the matter of detail to serve us. In the expression of character a certain amount of detail is indispensable; by the painter to be produced, by the photographer saved. But detail is often so beautiful in itself! and is not art a presentation of the beautiful, pleads the photographer. And the reply in the Socratic method is: "Look at the whole subject: does the idea of it demand this detail?"
The untutored mind always sees detail. For this reason most education is inductive, but though the process is inductive, the goal is the eternal synthesis. It is the reporter who gathers the facts: the editor winnows therefrom the moral.
The artist must—in time—get on top and take this survey. Looking at any subject with eyes half closed enables him to see it without detail, and later, with eyes slowly opening, admitting that much only which is necessary to character.
The expression of character by masses of black and white proves this. Bishop Potter is unmistakable, his features bounded by their shadows. From such a start then it is a question of procedure cautiously to that point where the greatest character lies, but beyond which point detail becomes unnecessary to character.
The pen portrait of Thackeray by Robt. Blum is a careful delineation of the characteristic head of the novelist set on shoulders characteristically bent forward and the body characteristically tall. What more can be told of Thackeray's personality? Would the buttons and the wrinkles of the clothing help matters! No, as facts they would not, and when art has to do only with character, the simplest statement is the most forcible.
Millet, at one time, was known as "the man who painted peasants without wrinkles in their breeches." Not because wrinkles were too much for him, nor because they were not thought worth while, but because, in his effort to prune his picture of the unessentials, the wrinkles were brushed aside.
When, however, art has to do with filling an entire space with something, and the clothing occupies a considerable part of it, what shall be done? This changes the details of the question. Yet all portraits that hit hard in exhibitions are those conceived in simplicity, those in which the personality is what stops and holds us.
There are certain large organic lines of drapery which the character demands, but beyond this point opinion divides authoritatively from the complete silence of obliteration to the tumultuous noisiness of "the whole truth"
In the portraits by Carriere all detail is swept away, and the millinery artists are shocked. Simplicity should never compromise texture and quality. This side of the truth cannot prove objectionable.
"You have made my broadcloth look like two-fifty a yard and it really cost four," was a criticism offered by a young lady who posed in a riding habit. Such practical criticism is frequently necessary to bring the artist down from the top height observatory where he is absorbed with "the big things."
Breath does not signify neglect of detail or neglect of finish; it means simplification where unity had been threatened. It is seeing the big side of small things, if the small things cannot be ignored.
The lighting of a subject has much to do with its breadth. A light may be selected that will chop such a well organized unit as the body into three or four separate sections, or one that produces an equal division of light and shade—seldom good. Shadows are generally the hiding-places for mystery; and mystery is ever charming. None better than Rembrandt knew the value of those vague spaces of nothingness, in backgrounds, and in the figure itself, a sudden pitch from light and positiveness into conjecture. We hear in photography much of the "Rembrandt-esque effect," which when produced, proves to be just blackness. There can be no shadow without light, and Rembrandt's effort was to obtain this, rather than produce darkness.
The feeling of light may also be broadly expressed by a direct illumination. Here the shadow plays a very small part, and the subject is presented in its outline. Under such an effect we lose variety but gain simplicity. This brings us close to the region of two dimensions, the realm of Japanese art and mural decoration. The portraits of Manet, the decorations of Puvis de Chavannes, and the early Italians, display the quality of breadth because of the simplicity of lighting which these subjects received.
Breadth in the treatment of the figure may be obtained by graded light. If a shadow be produced at the bottom of the picture sufficiently strong to obliterate both the light and shade of detail, and thence be made to weaken as it proceeds upward and finally give place to light, where light is most needed, great simplicity as well as the element of variety will be the result.
Thus, in the most effective treatment in mural decoration, one sees only the grand forms, the movement, the intention, those things which most befit the inner surface of the building being also those which bear the greater importance. The fact is used as an argument for the assumption that painting should, after all, be an art of two dimensions, length and breadth, reserving thickness and its representation, for sculpture. This robs painting of the quality of natural aspect, except under the single effect of absolutely direct lighting and ignores its development beyond the flatly colored representations of the ancient Egyptians, our American Indians and the Japanese, a development inaugurated by the Greeks and since adhered to by all occidental nations.
The student who goes to nature and sees mass only, discarding all detail, will run the chance of being a colorist as well as a painter of breadth, two of the most important qualifications; for if he refuses to be stopped by detail his intelligence will crystallize upon that other thing which attracts him. He will think the harder upon the simple relations of tones and the exact color. Slowly dexterity will add a facility to his brush and he will, while aiming at character, through breadth, unconsciously introduce characteristic detail. This is the hope of the new method which is now being introduced into the system of public school instruction.
The scheme as developed by Mr. Dow is decorative rather than naturalistic, the aesthetic side with "Beauty," as the watchword being in greatest point. The filling of spaces in agreeable and harmonious arrangement does not demand strict acknowledgment to natural aspect. Indeed this is denied in most cases where the limitations of decoration are enjoined. With the first principle, truth, upon which all education rests, as the basis of such study, the nature part of this system will fall into its logical channels. If nature's largeness and simplicity contributes to its value, then nature should be consulted when she is large and simple. Studies of trees in gray silhouette, should be made at twilight, either of evening or early morning, when the detail, which is useless to the decorative scheme, is not seen. Under such conditions no slight or sacrifice is necessitated. Nature then contributes her quantity directly and the student has no warrant in assuming to change her. There are times also when the face of nature is so varied that the most fantastic schemes of Notan(15) are observed; a harbor filled with sails and sea-gulls, a crowd of people speckling the shore, the houses of a village dotted over a hillside. Under a direct light these become legitimate subjects offered by nature herself to the scheme which, however, she only now and then honors.
The system therefore accompanies the student but part way and leaves him still knocking at the door of the complete naturalistic presentation of pictorial art, a development which stretches into limitless possibilities by the use of the third dimension.
Work in two dimensions by reason of its greater simplicity should naturally precede the complications involved in producing the completely modelled forms of nature, and therein the argument for its use in the early stages of the student's development is a strong one.
Breadth, so often accountable for mystery, leads to suggestiveness. It is at this point that graphic art touches hands with the invisible,—where the thing merges into the idea. Here we deliver over our little two by four affair with its specifications all marked, into the keeping of larger hands which expand its possibilities. If then Imagination carries us beyond the limits of graphic art let us by all means employ it. Upon this phase of art the realist can but look with folded arms. The dwellers in the charmed world of Greek mythological fancy came on tiptoe to the borders only of the daily life of that age.
The still-life painter has to do with fact, and for many other subjects also the fact alone is sufficient. It is generally so in portraiture where rendition of externals is attempted, but the portrait may suggest revery and reflection, or, by intimate accessory, provoke a discursive movement in thought.
The realist is a man of drawing and how to do it, of paint and putting it on, of textures and technique; he is a painter; and stops with that. But the maker of pictures would step to another point of sight. He would so aim as to shoot over the hilltop. He would hit something which he cannot see.
Suggestion is both technical and subjective. There is suggestion of detail, of act and of fact. In producing the effect, instead of the detail, of a bunch of grass or a mass of drapery, we substitute suggestion for literalism.
Fortuny, as a figure painter, was master of this art, his wonderful arrangements of figures amongst drapery and in grasses bearing evidence. Here, out of a fantastic crush of color, will be brought to view a beautifully modelled hand and wrist which connect by the imagination only, with the shoulder and body. These however, are ready to receive it and like other parts of the picture are but points of fact to give encouragement to the quest for the remainder. The hide and seek of the subject, the "lost and found" in the line, the subsidizing of the imagination for tribute, by his magic wand stroke were the artifices by which Fortuny coquetted with nature and the public, fascinating the art world of his day.
Fortuny, however, never took us beyond the bounds of his picture. It was his doctrine that avoidance of detail was artful; that to carry the whole burden when imagination could be tricked into shouldering some of it was fool's drudgery. Millet, who was his antipode as a clumsy handler of his tools, declared himself fortunate in being able to suggest much more than he could paint.
In one of the competitions at the Royal Academy in England, the prize was awarded to that rendering of the expression of Grief which showed the face entirely covered, the suggestion being declared stronger than the fact.
In the realm of suggestion however the landscape artist has much the wider range. Who has not experienced the fascination of a hilltop? The hill may be uninteresting—on your side,—but there is another. There is a path winding over it, telling of the passing of few or many; your feet have touched it and imagination has you in her train, and you follow eagerly to the beck of her enchantment.
Suppose the scene at twilight on one of the great plains of northern France where beets are the sole crop. A group of carts and oxen shut out the background and no figures are seen. If however against the sky are the silhouetted forms of two handfuls of beets, the sight of a figure or even a part of him would seem unnecessary to a casual observer who wished to know if there was any one about. These inanimate things moving through the air mean life. The painter has created one figure and suggested the likelihood of others by these few touches. Herein we have the suggestion of a fact. The suggestion of an act, may further be developed by showing the figure, having already finished with the handful, bending to pick up others. Such a position would be an actual statement regarding the present act but a suggested one concerning the former, the effect of which is still seen. If then the figure were represented as performing something in any moment of time farther removed from that governing the position of the beets than natural action could control, he has forced into his figure an accelerated action which ranges anywhere between the startling, the amusing, and the impossible.
The power of implied force or action by suggestion is the basis of the Greek sculptured art of the highest period. Much of the argument of Lessing's elaborate essay on the "Laocoon" is aimed at this point, which is brought out in its completeness in his discussion of Timomachus' treatment of the raving Ajax. "Ajax was not represented at the moment when, raging among the herds he captures and slays goats and oxen, mistaking them for men. The master showed him sitting weary after these crazy deeds of heroism, and meditating self-destruction. That was really the raving Ajax, not because he is raving at the moment, but because we see he has been raving and with what violence his present reaction of shame and despair vividly portrays. We see the force of the tempest in the wrecks and the corpses with which it has strewn the beach."
In the photographic realm of the nude, this quality is compulsory. We don't want to have offered us so intimate a likeness of a nude figure that we ask, "Who is she, or he?" The general and not the particular suffices; the type not the person. The painter's art contains few stronger touches through this means than the incident of the sleeping senator in Gerome's "Death of Caesar".
In the suggestion of an idea, graphic and plastic art rise to the highest levels of poetry. The picture or the poem then becomes the surface, refracting the idea which stretches on into infinity.
The dying lion of Lucerne, mortally pierced by the shaft, the wounded lion of Paris, striking under his forepaw the arrow meant for his destruction are symbols memorializing the Swiss guard of Louis XVI, and the unequal struggle of France against Germany in '72.
At the death of Lorenzo the arts languished and Michel Angelo's supine and hanging figures in his tomb are there to indicate it.
Suggestion with its phantom guide-posts leads us through its varied mazes to the dwelling-place of mystery. Here the artist will do well to tarry and learn all the oracle may teach him.
The positive light of day passes to the twilight of the moon and stars.
What things may be seen and forms created out of the simple mystery of twilight!
Its value by suggestion may be known technically to the artist, for through the elimination of detail, the work is sifted to its essence and we then see it in its bigness, if it has any, and if not we discover this lack. When the studio light fails our best critic enters and discloses in a few moments what we have been looking for all day long.
There should be in most pictures an opportunity of saying that which shall be interpreted by each one according to his temperament, a little place where each may delight in setting free his own imagination.
To account for the popularity of many pictures in both color and black and white on any other ground than that of mystery seems ofttimes impossible. The strong appeal made to all classes by subjects containing mysterious suggestion is evidenced by the frequency of awards to such in photographic and other competitions.
The student of photography asks if blurred edges, empty shadows and vaporous detail mean quality. They certainly mean mystery, which when applied to an appropriate subject signifies that the artist has joined his art with the imagination of the beholder. He has therefore let it out at large usury.
A cottage near a wood may be a very ordinary subject at three in the afternoon, but at eight in the evening, seen in palpitating outline against the forest blackness or the low toned sky, it becomes an element in a scheme of far larger dimensions. The difference between the definite and indefinite article, when coupled with that house, is the difference in the quality of the art of which we speak.
Mystery by deception is a misguided use of an art quality.
In photography one man delights in the etching point and cannot stop until he has made a net work all over his plate and led us to look at this instead of his picture, which, if good, would have been let alone—a clever device of throwing dust into our eyes. Another produces what appears to be a pencil drawing, and a very good imitation some of them are, but at best a deception. To make something look like something else is a perversion of a brilliant discovery in photographic processes, which offers the means for securing unity (and in this word lies every principle of composition) by adding to or subtracting from the first product.
This may involve the destruction of two-thirds or three-fourths of the plate or it may demand many an accent subtly supplied before unity is satisfied, before the subject is stripped of its non-essentials or before it may be regarded complete. Let such good work go on—and the other sort too, if you will, the stunts, the summersaults and the hoop performances, but in the dignity of photographic competitions give the deceptions, the imitations of other things, no standing or quarter.
No one will deny the interest there is in a sensitive, flexible line and in the rendition of mass by line. But photography is an art dealing with finished surfaces of perfect modelling, and workers in this art should preserve the "nature" of their subject. The man who feels line had better etch or use a pencil.
Breadth while fostering suggestiveness gives birth to simplicity; a subjective quality.
When applied to pictorial art, simplicity's first appeal is a mental one. We are attracted by neither technique nor color, nor things problematic to the painter; but by his mental attitude toward his subject. If we determine that the result has come of elimination, that to produce it, much has been thrown away and that the artist prefers what he has left at a sacrifice, to what might have been, acknowledgment for this condensation is coupled with respect. There is however a type of simplicity, the Simple Simon sort, or an indisposition to undertake difficult things, which leads to a selection of the easy subject in nature. Having found some modest bit of charm, the Simple Simon turns and twists it to attenuation, with the earnest declaration that there is no greater quality than simplicity; but purposeful emptiness lifts its hands in vain for the baptismal sanctification of the poetic spirit.
Where simplicity really serves the artist in his task is in those cases demanding the unification of many elements.
In painting, Rubens and Turner thus wrought, bringing harmony from an organ of three banks and a score of stops, setting themselves the task of strong men.
Whatsoever subject be projected, the quality of principality takes precedence over all others. This is the first step toward simplicity; some one thought made chief; therefore some one object in the composition of quantities and some one light in the scheme of chiaroscuro dominant. With this determined, the problem which follows is, how shall principality be maintained and to what degree of sacrifice must all other objects be submitted. In the rapid examination of many works of art, those that appeal strongest will be found to be those in which the elements are simple, or, if complex, are governed by this quality through principality.
Another bifurcation of simplicity is Reserve. In the simple statement of the returning Roman general: "I came, I saw, I conquered," all that the senate desired to know was stated and it gained force by virtue of what was left unsaid. Anything else might have gratified the curiosity of his auditors, but the man, in holding this secret, made himself an object of interest. Rembrandt has told us that the legitimate gamut of expression lies some distance between the deepest dark of our palette and its highest light. Expression through limitations is dignified, a quality which the strain to fill all limits sacrifices. It is the force quickly squandered by the young actor, who "overacts," disturbing the balance of forces in the other parts.
Upon the pivot of Reserve the opposing creeds of the Impressionists and Tonists bear with most contention. The former would lash their coursers of Phoebus with unsparing hand from start to finish; the latter prefer the "Waiting Race," every atom of force governed and in control, held for the opportunity, when increasing strength is necessary. It is the difference between aiming at the bull's-eye or the whole target.
The recent tendency of illustration to produce a result in three or four flat tones is another voice proclaiming for reserve. The new movement in decorative art may rightly claim this acknowledgment to it. In the work of Jules Guerin it is interesting to note how the bit and bridle of these two factors of breadth have been applied to every stroke, now and then only, detail being allowed its say, and in but a still small voice.
With the large number of pictorial ideas now being recast in the decorative formula it is necessary to have a clear notion of the purpose and the limitations of decorative art, that this new art may not be misunderstood nor confounded with the purely pictorial.
[Decorative Evolving the Pictorial; The North River—Prendergast; An Intrusion—Bull; Landscape Arrangement—Guerin]
Decoration is essentially flat. It represents length and breadth. It applies primarily to the flat vertical plane. It deals with the symbols of form, with fact by suggestion, with color in mass. It substitutes light and dark for nature's light and shade. Conceptions evolved upon the flat vertical plane deal with pictorial data as material for heraldic quartering, with natural fact as secondary to the happy adjustment of spaces. Nature to the decorative mind presents a variegated pattern from which to clip any shape which the color design demands.
The influence on pictorial art of the decorative tendency, has brought much into the pictorial category which has never been classified.
The Rose Croix influence has witnessed its seed maturing into the art nouveau, and what was nurtured under the forcing glass of decoration has suddenly been transplanted into the garden of pictorial art. In consequence it would appear that the constitution of the latter required amendments as being scarce broad enough to accommodate the newer thing. It is difficult, for instance, to reconcile the crowded and spotted surfaces in Mr. Maurice Prendergast's pictures, to the requirements of the balanced conception. It must be recognized however that their first claim for attraction is their color which is usually a harmony in red, yellow and blue, and when the crowds of people or buildings do not form balancing combinations they oft-times so fill the canvas as to leave excellent spaces, more commanding through their isolation than the groups choking the limits of the canvas. More often however these crowds may be found to hang most beautifully to a natural axis and to comply with all the principles of pictorial structure.
In his park scene, showing several tiers of equestrians one above the other, the chief charm is the idea of continuous movement which the scene conveys. The detail, wisely omitted, if supplied would arrest the attention and a challenge on this basis would follow. It would then be found that what we accepted as an impression of natural aspect we would demand more of as a finished picture. It is because it is more decorative than pictorial and because its pictorial parts are rendered by suggestion, that it makes so winning an appeal.
The quaint and fascinating concepts of Mr. Bull in the range of animal delineation are all struck in the stamp of this newer mould, and the list is a constantly increasing one of the illustrators whose work bears this sign.
The popular notion concerning pictures is that they should stand out; but as has been aptly said, "they should stand in"; so stand as to keep their places within the frame and to keep the component parts in control. A single object straining itself into prominence through the great relief it exhibits, is just as objectionable as the one voice in a chorus heard above the rest.
It is a law of light that all objects of the same plane receive identically the same illuminations. If then, one seems favored, it must be by suppression of the rest. Now and then this is necessary, but that it occurs by this means and not by unnatural forcing must be evident.
It is not necessary for the artist to lift his sitter off the canvas by a forced light on the figure and an intense shadow separating him from the wall behind.
Correggio knew so well to conserve breadth just here. Instead of this cheap and easy relief, he almost invariably chose to offset the dark side with a darker tone in the background, allowing the figure's shadow to melt inperceptibly into the back space. Breadth and softness was of course the result.
Occasionally however a distinct attempt at relief may be witnessed in the work of good painters. Some of Valesquez' standing portraits are expressive of the painter's joy in making them "stand out." In all these pictures however there are no other objects, no items added to the background from which the figure is separated. The subject simply stands in air. In other words it is an entity and not a composition.
The process technically for the subduing of relief is flattening the shadows, thus rendering the marked roundness of objects less pronounced. The envelopment of air which all painting should express,—the detachment of one object from another,—goes as far toward the production of relief as is necessary.
But the enquiry is naturally made, "if deception is undesirable, should the artist pause before he has brought his work to a complete finish?" Finish is not dependent upon putting in everything which nature contains, else would art not be a matter of selection. Finish, though interpreted singularly by different artists as to degree, is universally understood to mean the same thing. Finish is the expression of the true relations of objects or of the parts of one object. When the true relations or values of shade and color are rendered the work is complete. That ends it. The student for the first year or so imagines his salvation depends on detail and prides himself on how much of it he can see. The instructor insists on his looking at nature with his eyes half closed in the hope that he will take the big end of things. There is war between them until the student capitulates, after which the instructor tells him to go as he pleases knowing with this lesson learned he will not go wrong.
As a comprehensive example of finish without detail, one may take the works of Mauve which aim to represent nature as truly as possible in her exact tints. No one can observe any picture ever painted by this master and not be drawn down close to the ground that he may walk on it or elevate his head into the air and breathe it or feel it possible to send a stone sailing into its liquid depths; but finish! when we look for it where or what is it? At the Stewart Gallery the attendant was accustomed to offer the visitor a magnifying glass with which to examine the lustre of a horse's eye or the buckles upon Napoleon's saddle, in the "Review of Cuirassiers at the Battle of Friedland" by Meissonier. These items are what interested the great detailist and they are perfect; but with all the intense effort of six close years of labor the picture has less real finish than any work ever signed by Mauve. The big thing in finish has been missed and I doubt if any artist or connoisseur has ever come upon this picture, now in the Metropolitan Museum, without a slight gasp at the false relation of color existing between the green wheat, the horses trampling through it and the sky above it. The unity of these elements was the first step in finish and the artist with all his vast knowledge of little things never knew it.
If then, perfect finish is a matter beyond detail, it follows it must be looked for elsewhere than at this end of nature.
The average man soon takes the artist's intention and accepts the work on this basis, thinking not of finish nor of its lack, but of nature; acknowledging through the suggestions of the picture that he has been touched by her.
"During these moments," says John La Farge in his "Considerations on Painting," "are not the spectators excusable who live for the moment a serene existence, feeling as if they had made the work they admire?"
The argument then is that the master painter is one who selects the subject, takes precious care that its foundation quantities and qualities are furnished and then hands it over to any one to finish. That it falls into sympathetic hands is his single solicitude.
"It requires two men to paint a picture," says Mr. Hopkinson Smith, "one to work the brush and the other to kill the artist when he has finished his picture and doesn't know it."
PART III - THE CRITICAL JUDGEMENT OF PICTURES
"With the critic all depends on the right application of his principles in particular cases. And since there are fifty ingenuous critics to one of penetration, it would be a wonder if the applications were in every case with the caution indispensable to an exact adjustment of the scales of art."—Lessing's Laocoeon.
CHAPTER XIII - THE MAN IN ART
"Art is a middle quality between a thought and a thing—the union of that which is nature with that which is exclusively human."(16)
For the every-day critic much of the secret lies in the proposition art is nature, with the man added; nature seen through a temperament. Nature is apparent on the surface of pictures. We see this side at a glance. To find the man in it requires deeper sight.
If a painter of portraits, has he painted the surface, or the character? Has he gone halting after it, or has he nailed it: has he won with it finally? Is he a man whose natural refinement proved a true mirror in which his sitter was reflected or has the coarse and uneven grain of the artist become manifest in the false planes of the character presentation? With respect to portraits less than other subjects, can we expect to find them reflections of the artist's personality. But some of the ablest, while interpreting another's character, frequently add somewhere in it their own. The old masters rarely signed, feeling that they wrote themselves all through their works.
The sure thing regarding the great portraitist is that he is a man of refinement. This all history shows.
Is our artist a genre painter: then does his mind see small things to delight in them, or to delight us—if this, he is our servitor or little better,—does he go at the whole thing with the sincerity of an artistic purpose and somewhere place a veritable touch of genius, or only represent one item after another until the whole catalogue of items is complete, careful that he leave behind no just cause for reproach? Has the man dignified his subject and raised it to something above imitative art, or does he clearly state in his treatment of it that imitation is the end of art?
Is he a painter of historic incident; then does he convince you that his data are accurate, or allow you to conjecture that his details are makeshifts? Is the scene an inspiration or commonplace? Has he been able to put you into the atmosphere of a bygone day, or do his figures look like models in hired costume and quite ready to resume their own clothes and modern life?
Is he a painter of flowers; then is he an artist or a botanist? Is he a marinist; then, as a landsman has he made you feel like one, or has he painted for you water that can be walked on without faith? Has he shown you the dignity, the vastness, the tone, and above all the movement of the sea?
Is he a landscape painter? Then is he in a position to assert himself to a greater degree than they all? The farther one may remove himself from his theme, the less of its minutiae will he see. The process of simplification is individual. What he takes from nature he puts back out of himself. The landscape painter becomes an interpreter of moods, his own as well as nature's, and in his selection of these he reveals himself. Does he show you the kingdoms of the world from some high mount, or make you believe they may be found if you keep on moving through the air and over the ground such as he creates? Does he make you listen with him to the soft low music when nature is kindly and tender and lovable, or is his stuff of that robust fibre which makes her companionable to him in her ruggedness and strength?
As the hidden forces of nature control man yet bend to his bidding—electricity, air, steam, etc.—so do the open and obvious ones which the painter deals with. They dictate all the conditions and yet somehow—he governs. The different ways in which he does this gives to art its variety and enables us to form a scale of relative values.
The work of art which attracts us excites two emotions; pleasure in the subject; admiration for the artist. Exhibitions of strength and skill claim our interest not so much for the thing done, which often perishes with the doing, as for the doer. The poet with a hidden longing to express or a story to tell, who binds himself to the curious limitations of the Italian sonnet, in giving evidence of his powers, excites greater admiration than though he had not assumed such conditions.
It is the personal element which has established photography and given it art character. Says J. C. Van Dyke, "a picture is but an autobiographical statement; it is the man and not the facts that may awaken our admiration; for, unless we feel his presence and know his genius the picture is nothing but a collection of incidents. It is not the work but the worker, not the mould but the moulder, not the paint but the painter."
Witness it in the work of Michel Angelo, in both paint and marble. How we feel the man of it in Franz Hals, in Rembrandt, in Rubens, Van Dyck, Valasquez, Ribera and Goya, in Watteau and Teniers, in Millet and Troyon, in Rousseau and Rico, in Turner, Constable and Gainsborough, in Fildes and Holl, in Whistler, in Monet, in Rodin and Barnard, in Inness, in Wyant and Geo. Fuller.
Like religion, art is not a matter of surfaces.
Its essence is to be spiritually discerned. It is the spirit of the artist you must seek;—find the man.
Back of the canvas that throbs, the painter is hinted and hidden; Into the statue that breathes the soul of the sculptor is bidden; Under the joy that is felt lie the infinite issue of feeling; Crowning the glory revealed is the glory that crowns the revealing. Great are the symbols of being, but that which is symboled is greater; Vast the create and beheld, but vaster the inward creator; Back of the sound broods the silence, back of the gift stands the giving; Back of the hand that receives thrill the sensitive nerves of receiving.
CHAPTER XIV - SPECIFIC QUALITIES AND FAULTS
If we recognize the manly qualities in a picture, the work has at least a favorable introduction. Farther than this point it may not please us, but if not, it should remain a question of taste between the artist and yourself; and, concerning taste there is no disputing. It is just at this point that the superficial critic errs. Dislike for the subject, however ably expressed, is never cause for condemnation. The fair question to ask is, what was the artist's intention? Its answer provokes your challenge; "Is it worth the expression!" If conceded, the real judgment begins. Has he done it; if not wholly—in what degree?
The question of degree will demand the patience of good judgment. There may be much or little sanity in condemning a picture owing to a single fault. It depends on the kind. There are errors of selection, of presentation (technique) of natural fact, and of art principle. We can excuse the first, condone the second, find small palliation for the third, but he for whom art principles mean nothing, is an art anarchist.
Errors of selection are errors of judgment. A man may choose a subject which is unprofitable and which refuses to yield fruit; and yet in his effort at reediting its elements he may have shown great skill and knowledge and may have expended upon it his rarest gifts—fine technique and good color. The critic must read between the lines and blame the judgment, not the art. Feeble selection and weak composition will be more easily specified as faults than bad drawing and unworthy color.
To the profession, the epithet "commonplace" weighs heavily against a work of art. Selection of what is fitting as an art subject means experience. The "ungrateful" subject and bad composition are therefore likely to mark the nouveau in picture making—the student fresh from the atelier with accurate drawing and true color and who may be full of promise, but who has become tangled with what the French term the soujet ingrat. Every artist has studies of this sort which contain sufficient truth to save them from being painted over as canvas, and most painters know the place for such—the storeroom. Exhibition of studies is interesting as disclosing the means to an end, and the public should discern between the intention of the "study" and of the picture.
Herein lies the injustice of acquiring the posthumous effects of an artist and exposing for sale every scrap to be found. The ravenous group of dealers which made descent upon the Millet cottage at the death of that artist effected as clean a sweep as an army of ants in an Indian bungalow. In consequence we see in galleries throughout Europe and this country many trifles in pastel which are not only incomplete but positively bad as color. Millet used but a few hard crayons for trials in color suggestion, to be translated in oil. Some were failures in composition and in most the color is nothing more than any immature hand could produce with such restricted means. To allow these to enter into any estimate of Millet or to take them seriously as containing his own estimate of art, or as intrinsically valuable, is folly.
The faults of selection may also be open to difference of opinion. "Who would want to paint you when no one wants to look at you?" said an old epigrammatist to a misshapen man. "Not so," says the artist; "I will paint you though people may not like to look at you and they will look at my portrait not for your sake but for my art, and find it interesting."
The cult that declares for anything as a subject, its value dependent upon that which the artist adds, stands as a healthy balance to that band of literary painters which affected English art a generation ago, the school of Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and Maddox-Brown, who strove to present ideas through art. With them the idea was paramount, and the technical in time dwindled, the subject with its frequently ramified meaning, proving to be beyond their art expression.
Again, the popular attempt to conceive in pictures that which the artist never expected us to find is as reprehensible in graphic as in musical art. There is often no literary meaning whatever in some of the best examples of both. Harmony, tone, color and technique pure and simple are the full compass of the intention. What this may suggest to the individual he is welcome to, but the glib dictum of certain preachers on art as to hidden intentions would indicate that they had effected an agreement, with the full confidence of the silent partner to exploit him. Beware of the gilt edged footnote, or the art that depends upon it. A writer of ordinary imagination and fluent English can put an aureole about any work of art he desires and much reputation is secured on this wise.
In the presentation of a subject through given pictorial elements, the critic will know whether the most has been made of the opportunity. If the composition prove satisfactory and the theme as presented still fails to move the critic, he must shift from the scientific analysis to those qualities governing the artist subjectively. He is lacking in "temperament," and without temperament who in art has a chance? With years in the schools and a technique of mechanical perfection he lacks the divine fire and leaves us cold. It is for the critic to say this, and herein he becomes a teacher to public and artist.
The patron who agreed that a picture under discussion had every quality which the salesman mentioned and patiently heard him through but quietly remarked, "It hasn't that," as he snapped his finger, is the sort of a critic who does not need to know the names of things in art. He felt a picture should have snap, and if it did not, it was lacking.
But beyond the presentation of a theme having in it the mark of genius, is that of workmanlike technique. The demand of the present age is for this. If a subject is not painted it will scarce hold as art. Ideas, composition, even color and harmony plead in vain; the spirit of the times sits thus in judgment.
The presentation also should be individual, the unmistakable sign of distinction. To be able to tell at a glance by this mark puts us on the footing of intimate acquaintance. A difference exists between this and the well-known mannerisms of individuals. The latter applies to special items in pictures, the former to the individual style of expression. An artist may have one way of seeing all trees, or the similarity of one picture with another may be because there is only one sort of tree that interests him, or one time of day when all trees attract his brush. In the first case he is a mannerist, in the other a worker in a chosen groove. It cannot be denied that many artists making a success in a limited range of subject consent to stop, and go no further, under pressure of dealers or the public. The demand for specialists has much more reason in science and mechanics than in art, which is or should be a result of impulse.(17)
Corot declared he preferred the low sweet music of early dawn and to him there was enough variety in it to keep him employed as long as he could paint; but the thralldom of an artist who follows in the groove of a bygone success because if he steps out of it the dealer frowns and will not handle his work, is pitiable, exposing to view year by year the remonitory canvas with such slight changes as newness demands. It would be a healthier sign in art if the press and public would applaud new ventures when it was clear that an artist, thereby, was seeking to do better things and perhaps find himself in a newer vein. But variety in art it is maintained need not come of variety in the individual but of a variety of individuals. So Van Marke must paint cows, and Jacque sheep and Wouvermanns must be told by the inevitable white horse, and have the mere mention of the artist's name mean the same sort of picture every time. This aids the simplification of a many-sided question. The public, as Mr. Hamerton declares, hates to burden itself with names; to which might be added that it also hates to differentiate with any single name. A good portraitist in England one year exhibited at the Royal Academy a wonderfully painted peacock. The people raved and thereafter he was allowed to paint nothing else. Occasionally it is shown that this discrimination is without reason, as many men rise above the restriction. The Gainsborough portrait and landscape are equally strong, the works of painters in marble, and sculptors who use color, have proved a surprise to the critics and an argument against the "specialty."
There are two degrees in the subversion of the natural fact.
If, for example, under the rule in physics, the angle of incidence being equal to the angle of reflection, it be found that a cloud in the sky will reflect into water too near the bottom of the picture, a painter's license may move it higher in its vertical line; but if the same cloud is made to reflect at an angle several degrees to right or left, the artist breaks the simplest law of optics. The painter's art at best is one of deception. In the first case the lie was plausible. In the second case any schoolboy could have "told on" the artist.
There are good painters who appear to know little and care less for physical fact. Their business is with the surface of the earth; the whys and wherefores of the universe they ignore, complacent in their ignorance until it leads them to place the evening star within the arc of the crescent moon, when they are annoyed to be told that the moon does not grow from this shape to the full orb once a month. But ofttimes, though the artist may not flout the universe, he shows his carelessness of natural fact and needs the snubbing. It is in this range that the little critic walks triumphantly posing as a shrewd and a discerning one. He holds up inconsistencies with his deft thumb and finger and cries, "what a smart boy am I." And yet in spite of him Rubens, for the sake of a better line in the foreground of one of his greatest compositions dares to reconstruct a horse with his head issuing from his hind quarters, allowing the tail to serve as the mane, and Turner kept on drawing castles all wrong.
But these critics have their place. Even Ruskin accepted this as a part of his work.
There are occasions, as every artist will admit, when the artless critic with his crude commonplaces is most welcome.
As to the violator of art principles, his range in art must perforce be short, his reward a smile of pity, his finish suicide. Originality may find all the latitude it requires within the limits of Art Principles.
Ruskin in his principles of drawing enumerates these as "Principality, i.e., a chief object in a picture to which others point: Repetition, the doubling of objects gives quietude: Symmetry develops solemnity, but in landscape it must be balanced, not formal. Continuity: as in a succession of pillars or promontories or clouds involving change and relief, or else it would be mere monotonous repetition. Curvature: all beautiful objects are bounded by infinite curves, that is to say, of infinitely changing direction, or else made up of an infinite number of subordinate curves. Radiation: illustrated in leaves and boughs and in the structure of organic bodies. Contrast: of shapes and substances and of general lines; being the complement of the law of continuity, contrast of light and shade not being enough. Interchange: as in heraldic quartering. Consistency: or breadth overriding petty contrast and giving the effect of aggregate color or form. Harmony: art is an abstract and must be harmoniously abstracted, keeping the relations of values."
With the above principles of composition Mr. Ruskin aims to cover the field of architecture, sculpture and painting, and he declares there are doubtless others which he cannot define "and these the most important and connected with the deepest powers of art. The best part of every work of art is inexplicable. It is good because it is good."
Mr. Hamerton enumerates the duties of the critic as follows; "to utter unpopular truths; to instruct the public in the theoretical knowledge of art; to defend true living artists against the malice of the ignorant; to prevent false living artists from acquiring an influence injurious to the general interests of art; to exalt the fame of dead artists whose example may be beneficial; to weaken the fame of dead artists whose names have an injurious degree of authority; to speak always with absolute sincerity; to give expression to vicissitudes of opinion, not fearing the imputation of inconsistency; to make himself as thoroughly informed as his time and opportunities will allow, about everything concerning the Fine Arts, whether directly or indirectly; to enlarge his own powers of sympathy; to resist the formation of prejudices." The above requirements are well stated for critics who, by reason of the authority of their position as press writers, are teachers of art. As to the personnel and qualifications of this Faculty of Instruction, investigation would prove embarrassing. The shallowness of the average review of current exhibitions is no more surprising, than that responsible editors of newspapers place such consignments in the hands of the all-around-reporter, to whom a picture show is no more important than a fire or a function. Mr. Hamerton in his essay urges artists to write on art topics, as their opinions are expert testimony, a suggestion practically applied by a small group of daily papers in America. Says Mr. Stillman, "No labor of any human worker is ever subjected to such degradation as is art to-day under the criticism of the daily paper." Probably no influence is more responsible for the apathy and distrust of the public regarding art than these reviews of exhibitions for the daily press. The reader quotes as authoritative the dictum of a great journal, seldom reflecting that this is the opinion of one man, who, with rarest exception, is the least qualified of any writer on the staff to speak on his theme. Such is the value which the average manager puts upon the subject. To review the picked efforts of a year, of several hundred men, a scant column is deemed sufficient. Howsoever honest may be the intention toward these, the limitations render the task hopeless, for all efforts to level the scales to a nicety may be foiled by the shears of the managing editor if perchance another petit larceny should require any part of the space.
So the critic gives it up, mounts a pedestal, waves whole walls, aye galleries, to oblivion, and with the sumptuousness of a Nero, adopts the magnificent background, in the light of which for a moment he shines resplendent, as a gilded setting for his oracles.
CHAPTER XV - THE PICTURE SENSE
"Fortunate is he, who at an early age knows what art is."(18)
Howsoever eloquent may be the artist in his work, it is convincing only in that degree to which his audience is prepared to understand his language and comprehend his subject.
"The artist hangs his brains upon the wall," said the veteran salesman of the National Academy, and there they remain without explanation or defense. The crowd as it passes, enjoys or jeers, as the ideas of this mute language are comprehended or confounded. Art requires no apology and asks none; all she requests is that those who would affect her must know the principles upon which she works. An age of altruism should be able to insure to the artist sufficient culture in his audience so that his language be understood and that his speech be not reckoned as an uncertain sound. The public should form with him an industrial partnership, not in the limited sense of giving and taking, but of something founded on comprehensibility.
What proportion of the visitors to an annual exhibition can intelligently state the purpose of impressionism, or distinguish between this and tonal art; what proportion think of art only as it exploits a "subject" or "tells a story"; how many look at but one class of pictures and have no interest in the rest; how many go through the catalogue with a prayer-book fidelity, and know nothing of it all when they come out! How many know enough to hang the pictures in their own houses so that each picture is helped and none damaged?
Could it be safely inferred that every collector of pictures knows and feels to the point of giving a reason for his choice of pictures, or even reasonable advice to a friend who would also own pictures? Is not much of what is bought taken on the word of a reliable dealer and owned in the satisfaction of its being "all right," and perhaps "safe," as an investment? Is it unreasonable to ask the many sharers in the passing picture pleasures of a great city to make themselves intelligent in some other and more practical way than by contact, gleaning only through a lifetime what should have been theirs without delay as a foundation and to exchange for the vague impression of pleasure, defended in the simple comfort of knowing what one likes, the enjoyment of sure authority and a reason for it.
The best of all means for acquiring art sense is association; first, with a personality; second, with the product. The artist's safest method with the uninitiated is to use the speech which they understand. In conversation, artists, as a rule, talk freely, and one may get deeper into art from a fortnight's sojourn with a group of artists than from all the treatises ever written on the philosophy of art. The most successful collectors of pictures know this. They study artists as well as pictures. But on the other hand must it not also be conceded that acquaintance with fine examples of art is in a fair way of cultivating the keen and intelligent collector in the pictorial sense to a degree beyond that of those artists whose associations are altogether with their own works or with those who think with them, who must of necessity believe most sincerely in themselves and who are thus obliged to operate in a groove, and with consequent bias. For this reason association should be varied. No one has the whole truth.
Music scores a point beyond painting, in necessitating a personality. We see the interpreter and this intimacy assists comprehension. But howsoever potent is association with art and artist, one may thus never get as closely in touch with art as by working with her. The best and safest critic is of course one who has performed. Experts are those persons who have passed through every branch and know the entire "business."
The years of toil to students who eventually never arrive are incidentally spent in gaining the knowledge to thus know pictures, and though the success of accomplishment be denied, their compensation lies in the lengthened reach of a new horizon which meantime has been opened to them. Whether the picture be found in nature and is to be rescued, as is the bas-relief from its enveloping mould, cut out of its surroundings by the four sides of the canvas and brought indoors with the same glow of triumph as the geologist feels in picking a turquoise out of a rock at which others had stared and found nothing; or whether it be found, as one of many in a collection of prints or paintings; or whether the recognition be personal and asks the acceptance of something wrought by one's own hand—to know a picture when one sees it—this is art sense. Backed by a judgment presenting a defense to the protests of criticism, it becomes art knowledge.
To find and preserve pictures out of the maze of nature is the labor of the artist: to recognize them when found, the privilege of the connoisseur.
The guileless prostrations which the many affect regarding art judgments evoke the same degree of pity as the assertion of the beggar that he needs money for a night's lodging when you and he know that one is awaiting him for the asking at the Bureau of Charities. The many declare they know nothing about art, the while having an all around culture in the humanities, in literature, poetry, prose composition, music, aesthetics, etc. The principles of all the arts being identical, how simple would it be to apply those governing the arts which one knows to what is unknown. The musician and poet make use of contrast, light and shade, gradation, antithesis, balance, accent, force by opposition, isolation and omission, rhythm, tone-color, climax, and above all unity and harmony.
Let the musician and him who knows literature challenge the work of art for a violation of any of these and the judgment which results may be accepted seriously; and yet the essence lies beyond—with nature herself. It is just here that the stock writer of the daily paper misses it. He may have science enough, but lacks the love, the revelation through communion.
But, with this omitted, critical judgment is safer in the hands of a person of broad culture, who knows nothing of the tools of painting and sculpture, than when wielded by a half-educated student of art with his development all on one side. Ruskin warns us of young critics.
As a short cut, the camera fills a place for the many who feel pictures and wish to create them, but at small cost of time and effort. A little art school for the public has the small black box become, into which persons have been looking searchingly and thoughtfully for the past dozen years. To those who have thus regarded it and exhibit work in competition, revelations have come. Non-composition ruins their chances. Good composition is nine-tenths of the plot. When this is conceded the whole significance of their art is deepened. Then and not until then does photography become allied with art, for this is the only point at which brains may be mixed with the photographic product.
Any one who has experienced a lantern slide exhibition of art, where picture after picture follows rapidly and the crowd expresses judgment by applause, will not long be in doubt what pictures make the strongest appeal. The "crowd" applauds three types; something recognized as familiar, the "happy hit," especially of title, and, (not knowing why) all pictures, without regard to subject, which express unity. The first two classes are not a part of this argument, but of the last, the natural, spontaneous attraction of the healthy mind by what is complete through unity contains such reason as cannot be ignored. Subjects of equal or greater interest which antagonize unity fall flat before this jury.
There is no opportunity more valuable to the amateur photographer than the lantern slide exhibition, and the fact that even now no more than ten or twelve per cent. of what is shown is pictorially good should provoke a search for the remedy.
For the student, to fill the eye full of good compositions and to know why good, is of equal value with the study of faulty composition to discover why bad.
The challenge of compositions neither good nor bad to discover wherein they could be improved is better practice than either.
This is the constant exercise of every artist, the ejection of the sand grains from his easy running machinery.
Before photography became a fashion it was the writer's privilege to meet a county physician who had cultivated for himself a critical picture sense. The lines of his circuit lay among the pleasantest of pastoral scenes. Stimulated by their beauty it became his habit, as he travelled, to mark off the pictures of his route, to note where two ran together, to decide what details were unnecessary, or where, by leaving the highway and approaching or retiring he discovered new ones. After a time he bought a Claude Lorraine glass. It was shortly after this purchase that I met him. His enthusiasm was delightful. With this framing of his views his judgment grew sensitive and as he showed these mirrored pictures to friends who rode with him he was most particular at just what point he stopped his horse. The man for whom picture galleries were a rarity, talked as intelligently upon the fundamental structure of pictures as most artists.
"I buy the pictures of Mauve," remarked a clergyman in Paris, "because he puts into them what I try to get into my sermons; simplicity, suggestiveness and logical sequence."
CHAPTER XVI - COLOR, HARMONY, TONE
In viewing a picture exhibition the average man, woman and child would be attracted by different aspects of it; the man by the tone of the pictures, the woman by their color, the child almost wholly by the form or subject. The distinction is of course epigrammatic, but there is a basis for it in the daily associations of each of the three, the man with the conventional appointments of his dress and his business equipment, the woman with her gowns, her house decorations and flowers, the child with the world of imagination and fancy in which he dwells.
The distinction has much to do with the method and the degree of one's aesthetic development. That a picture must have a subject is the first pons asinorum to be crossed, the child usually preferring to remain on the farther side. The delight in color belongs to the lighter, freer or more barbaric part of the race. Tone best fits the sobriety of man.
The distinction is the difference in preference for an oak leaf as it turns to bronze, and a maple as it exchanges its greens for yellow and scarlet.
In the latter case two primaries are evolved from a secondary color and in the other a tertiary from a secondary. In the case of the oak bronze there is more harmony, for the three primaries are present.
In the case of the yellow and red, there is contrast and effect, but less harmony, since but two primaries appear.
As the walls are studied that sort of color art is found to be most conspicuously prominent which is in the minority and probably one's unsophisticated choice, from the point of view of color, would be that which has the distinction of rarity, as the red haired woman is at a premium in the South Sea isles. If, however, the tonal and the coloresque art were in even interchange, the former would have much of its strength robbed, to the degree of the excessive color of its neighbors. If, however, the pictures of tone and of color, instead of being hung together were placed apart, it would be found that the former expressed the greater unity and presented a front of composure and dignity and that the varied color combinations would as likely quarrel among themselves as with their former neighbors.
That a just distinction may be had between tonal and coloresque and impressionist art, the purpose of each must be stated. The "tonist" aims primarily at unified color, to secure which he elects a tone to be followed, which shall dominate and modify every color of his subject. This is accomplished by either painting into a thin glaze of color, administered to the whole canvas so that every brushful partakes of some of it; or by modifying the painting subsequently by transparent glazes of the same tone.
The conscientious impressionist, on the contrary, produces harmony by juxtapositions of pure color. Harmony results when the three primary colors are present either as red, yellow and blue or as a combination of a secondary and primary: green with red, orange with blue or purple with yellow.
The impressionist goes farther, knowing that the complementary of a color will tend to neutralize it, supplying as it does the lacking element to unity, he creates a vivid scheme of color on this basis. In representing therefore a gray rock he knows that if red be introduced, a little blue and yellow will kill it, and the three colors together at a distance will produce gray. Instead, therefore, of mixing upon his palette three primaries to produce the tertiary gray, he so places them on the canvas that at the proper distance (though this consideration is of small concern to him) the spectator will mix them—which he often does. The advantage of this method of color presentation lies in the degree of purity which the pigment retains. Its disadvantage appears in its frequent distortion of fact and aspect of nature, sacrificed to a scientific method of representation. An estimate of impressionism is wholly contained in the reply to the question, "Do you like impressions? Yes, when they are good;" and in the right hands they are.
They are good only when the real intention of impressionism has been expressed, when the synthesis of color has actually produced light and air, and an impression of nature is quickened. But the voice from the canvas more frequently cries "nature be hanged—but this is impressionism."
The little people of impressionism finding it possible to represent more light than even nature shows in very many of her aspects, delight in exhibiting the disparity existing between nature and, forsooth, impressionism. Thus we see attempts to "knock out" with these scientific brass knuckles all those who refuse to fight with them. The rumpus grows out of the different attitudes in which nature is approached.