by Clive Bell
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It is hard to conjecture; for our portrait-painters live in a world which, though not insensitive to prettiness, and impressed by obvious manifestations of ability, cares nothing for art or good painting. In such a world an artist—who is, after all, little better than a human being—can hardly be expected to develop his critical faculty. If some of our gifted men were to take their talents to Paris, where is a press and public that knows how to be serious about art, they would, one fancies, begin to feel dissatisfied with their facile triumphs and appetizing confections. They would feel, too, that they were surrounded by people who could recognize and appreciate conviction and science even though these were presented in forms too recondite for the mob. They would find that in Paris a painter can have praise enough without stooping for the applause of Mayfair. It is significant that, whereas English painters once they have found a style that hits the public taste, are not much inclined to change it, in Paris such an artist as Picasso, who has taken the fancy of amateurs and dealers in at least three different manners, goes on from experiment to experiment, leaving the public to follow as best it can.

But this difference between the atmosphere of London and of Paris brings up a question that had best be stated at once. What are the causes of British provincialism? Though its existence is a fact that runs right through the history of British art, it would be rash to assume that the causes have always been the same. For instance, the geographical isolation of England may at one time have been a cause; that has been removed by railways and steamboats. It will be sensible to speak in this article only of present causes of present ills.

Some people will have it that the insignificance of English art is very simply to be explained by a complete absence of native talent; but the mere inspection of English children's and students' work suffices to dispose of this too convenient hypothesis. In no country, perhaps, except France, is there more of that raw material from which good art is made. More plausible is the theory that the vast and towering greatness of English literature overhangs and starves all other forms of expression. In such a land as this it seems natural that any sense of art or power of creation should drift towards literature, and almost inevitable that the painters themselves should be half poets at heart, hardly convinced of the intrinsic value of their own medium, tending ever to substitute literary for plastic significance. Every critic is on the watch for a literary symbol and the chance of an allegorical interpretation, every cultivated amateur is eager to spy out an adroitly placed anecdote or shaft of pictorial satire; only with great pains is any one induced to regard a picture as an independent creation of form. In so literary a society it seems paradoxical almost to believe in pure painting; and, in despair, we cry out that no country can be expected to excel, at one time, in two arts. We forget Athens and Tuscany; we also forget France. For more than two hundred years France has led the visual art of Europe; and if English painting were ever to become one-tenth part as good as French literature I, for my part, should be as pleased as surprised. Of music I say nothing; yet in that art too France was beginning, just before the war, to challenge, not very formidably perhaps, the pre-eminence of Germany and to stand as the fair rival of Russia.

What hampers English artists most is, unless I mistake, the atmosphere in which they work. In France—in Germany too, they say—there is a fairly large, authoritative, and intensely serious public composed of artists, critics, and competent amateurs. This public knows so well what it is about that no painter, be he never so grandly independent, can make himself impervious to its judgments. It is an unofficial areopagus which imposes its decisions, unintentionally but none the less effectively, on the rich floating snobisme of Paris and of continental Europe. Those who go to the Salon for their art or invest in Henners and Bougereaus are reckoned hopelessly bourgeois even by the cultivated pressmen. It is a fastidious public, intelligent, learned, and extremely severe: painting it regards as an end in itself, not as a branch of journalism or a superior amenity; and no artist can begin to abuse his talent or play tricks with the currency without getting from this formidable body the sort of frown that makes even a successful portrait-painter wince. Indeed, many popular continental likeness-catchers, some of whom enjoy the highest honours in this country, having come under its ban, are now ruled out of contemporary civilization.[21] In England, on the other hand, the artist's public consists of that fringe of the fashionable world which dabbles in culture and can afford to pay long prices; from it the press obsequiously takes the cue; and any honest burgher who may wish to interest himself in the fine arts goes, I presume, for instruction to the place from which instruction comes—I mean the ha'penny papers.

Patronage of the arts in England is an expensive pleasure. In France the prices of the most promising young men range from one hundred to one thousand francs, and many an amateur with a first-rate collection of modern work has never paid more than five hundred francs for a picture. The Englishman who would possess the works of native geniuses must be able to put down from L50 to L2000. Thus it comes about that a few of the richer people in the more or less cultivated class form in England the artist's public. To them he must look for criticism, sympathy, understanding, and orders; and most of them, unluckily, have no use either for art or for good painting. What they want is furniture and a background—pretty things for the boudoir, handsome ones for the hall, and something jolly for the smoking-room. They want, not art, but amenity; whether they get it is another matter. What is certain is that their enthusiasms and disappointments, likes and dislikes, fancies and prejudices, have nothing whatever to do with art.

Behind the patrons and their decorators there is, of course, that odd little world sometimes called Bohemia, about which very little need be said. Every master, be he academician, New Englisher, or comic illustrator, is followed by a tail of lads and lasses whose business it is to sing the great man's praises and keep up, in the face of disheartening indifference, the pathetic tradition of British immorality. They give tips to the critics sometimes, but no one else marks them.

Such being the public, not unnaturally the more serious and independent painters endeavour to set up small coteries of their own as far from Mayfair and the Chelsea embankment as possible. Thus arose the Camden Town group under Mr. Sickert, thus arose the Friday Club and the London group. And here we may pause in our miserable and comminatory progress to admit gladly that in such societies are to be found plenty of talent and of what is much rarer, sincerity. Here are men who take art seriously; here are men who have no prospective sitter, no rich patron, no terrible drawing-master in mind; here are men to whom painting is the most important thing in the world. Unfortunately, in their isolation they are apt, like the rest, to come on the parish. Theirs is no vulgar provincialism; but in its lack of receptivity, its too willing aloofness from foreign influences, its tendency to concentrate on a mediocre and rather middle-class ideal of honesty, it is, I suspect, typically British. There is nothing Tennysonian about these men, nothing Kiplingesque; their art is neither meretricious nor conceited; but it reminds one oddly of perpendicular architecture.

These are the men that might profit by good criticism, for they are intelligent and fair-minded. Alas! English criticism is more woefully out of it than painting even. The ignorance of our critics is appalling.[22] Seven years ago there was brought over to London a collection of pictures by Cezanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. Every man and woman on the Continent who claimed acquaintance with modern art had already come to some conclusion about these painters whose works were in the public collections of Germany and the North and in the private collections of directors of French galleries. Some thought that they took rank amongst the very great painters of the world; others that there was a general disposition to overrate them; no one denied that they were considerable men or that Cezanne was a master. In London no one had heard of them, so it was decided out of hand that they were immoral aliens fit only to be thrown on the nearest bonfire. Cezanne was a butcher, Gauguin a farceur, Van Gogh a particularly disagreeable lunatic: that is what the critics said, and the public said "Hee-haw." They reminded one of a pack of Victorian curates to whom the theory of natural selection had been too suddenly broken. Two years later Roger Fry and I collected and arranged at the Grafton Galleries an exhibition of contemporary French art—Matisse, Picasso, Maillol, etc. Every one abroad had recognized these men as interesting artists of varying merit; no one doubted that the movement they represented was significant and of promise. Only the English critics had learnt nothing. They never do; they only teach. Here was something going on under their noses that might well turn out to be as important as the early fifteenth-century movement in Tuscany, and they went on directing the attention of their pupils to the work of Alfred Stevens. Here was the art of the East—of China, Persia, and Turkestan—being revealed to us by European scholars, and they went on messing about with English choir-stalls and sanctuary-rings.

Our critics and teachers provided, and continue to provide, an artistic education comparable with the historical education provided by our board-schools. People who have been brought up to believe that the history of England is the history of Europe—that it is a tale of unbroken victory, leadership, and power—feel, when they hear of the ascendancy of France or of the House of Austria or of the comparative insignificance of England till the dawn of the eighteenth century, angry first and then incredulous. So they give themselves the least possible chance of hearing such unpalatable nonsense by living snugly in the slums and suburbs, where, persuaded that they have nothing to learn from damned foreigners, they continue to entertain each other with scraps of local and personal gossip. That is what our art criticism sounds like to cultivated people from abroad.

A few months ago an extraordinarily fine Renoir, a recognized masterpiece of modern art, was hung in the National Gallery. Any young painter who may have seen and profited by it need not thank those directors of public taste, the critics. It was passed by in silence or with a nod by the bulk of our paid experts, who were much more pleased by a particularly poor but very large Puvis, which possibly reminded them in some obscure way of a pre-Raphaelite picture.[23] But when there was question of selling a block of unimportant water-colours by our national Turner and buying with the proceeds two or three great masterpieces of Italian art the hubbub of these patriot-geese rose for a moment above the noise of battle. Such is the atmosphere in which young British artists are expected to mature.

One wonders what is going to happen to them—these young or youngish Englishmen of talent. There are at least half a dozen on whom a discerning critic would keep a hopeful eye—Mr. Duncan Grant, Mr. Lewis, Mr. Stanley Spenser, Mr. Gertler, Mr. Roberts, Mr. Bomberg, Mrs. Bell, and Mr. Epstein—for it would be absurd to omit from this list an artist possessed of such skill, scholarship, and surprising powers of improvisation and development as the last-named. Of these some already have been touched by that breath of life which, blowing from Paris, has revolutionized painting without much discomposing the placid shallows of British culture. Standing in the broad light of European art, these can hardly detect that sacred taper which the New English Art Club is said to shield from the reactionary puffings of the Royal Academy. And, although it is a dangerous thing in the suburbs to ignore nice points of precedence and venerable feuds, such magnanimity makes for progress. Mr. Grant, Mr. Lewis, Mr. Epstein, and Mrs. Bell, at any rate, are all cut by Tooting, for they have seen the sun rise and warmed themselves in its rays; it is particularly to be regretted, therefore, that Mr. Lewis should have lent his great powers to the canalizing (for the old metaphor was the better) of the new spirit in a little backwater called English vorticism, which already gives signs of becoming as insipid as any other puddle of provincialism. Can no one persuade him to be warned by the fate of Mr. Eric Gill, who, some ten years ago, under the influence presumably of Malliol, gave arresting expression to his very genuine feelings, until, ridden by those twin hags insularity and wilful ignorance, he drifted along the line of least resistance and, by an earnest study of English ecclesiastical ornament, reduced his art to something a little lower than English alabasters? The danger is there always; and unless our able young men make a grand struggle, they too will find themselves sucked into the backwater, impotent, insignificant, and prosperous.

It is not treasonable, I think, to hope that the war will some day be over. And let no one imagine that when the war is over it will be found that the new movement in France is dead or dying. In little periodicals, photographs, brochures, letters, and stray works that from time to time cross the Channel there is plenty of evidence that it is as vital as ever. Even a European war cannot kill a thing of that sort. The question is whether, after the war, young English artists will realize that they too, by reason of their vocation, of the truth that is in them, belong to a communion wider and far more significant than the conventicle to which they were bred. England, we hear, is to wake up after the war and take her place in a league of nations. May we hope that young English artists will venture to take theirs in an international league of youth? That league existed before the war; but English painters appear to have preferred being pigmies amongst cranes to being artists amongst artists. Aurons-nous change tout ca? Qui vivra verra. The league exists; its permanent headquarters are in Paris; and from London to Paris is two hundred and fifty miles—a journey of seven and a half hours in times of peace.


[21] Since these words were written the British Press, or the Government maybe, has had the bright idea of interning one of them. To be sure he was a very bad painter; but the punishment seems rather severe for an offence which usually incurs nothing worse than a knighthood.

[22] There are, of course, exceptions. The critics of the Times, the Westminster Gazette, and the Evening Standard, for instance, are neither ignorant nor stupid; but they are all, one fancies, hampered by nervous and ill-educated editors.

[23] I have referred already to Mr. Roger Fry's article in the Burlington Magazine, and would draw attention also to his article in the Nation.


An acquaintance of mine, a French artist, who used to live in England and paint pictures for which I care nothing but on which the cultured dote, started early in August to join his regiment, leaving behind him his wife and five children. So miserable was the prospect before these that a benevolent lady wrote to such of her rich friends as happened to be amateurs of painting praying them to buy a picture or two and so help the family of their unfortunate favourite. One and all refused, severely giving the lady to understand that this was no time to think about art. Of charity they said nothing; but they were generous, I dare say, in some more patriotic and conspicuous fashion.

Charity, however, is beside my point. What interests me in this little story is the unanimity with which the cultivated people agree that this is no time for art. It interests me because I have lately been taken to task for saying that the cultured regard art as no more than an elegant amenity. The war has put my opinion to the proof and I am shocked to discover how much I was in the right. From every quarter comes the same cry—"This is no time for art!" Those galleries and exhibitions which are not closed are visited chiefly by homeless refugees; if literary taste goes beyond the newspapers it is only to salute the verse of Mr. Begbie and the prose of Mr. H. G. Wells; even at concerts our ears are exasperated by national platitudes and the banalities of our Allies. This is no time for art. Good taste is unpatriotic; the man who continues to care for painting, poetry, or music is little better than a Hun.

That people who in times of peace treat art as an amenity should feel that this is no time for art is, I suppose, natural. That they should expect those who feel that art is the most important thing in the world to do the same seems to me unreasonable. To those who care seriously for art, to those for whom it is a constant source of passionate emotion, the notion that this is no time for art seems as ludicrous as to a Christian mystic of the ninth century would have seemed the notion that that tortured age was no time for religious ecstasy. People who are capable of ecstasy, be it religious or aesthetic, are apt to distinguish between ends and means. They know that empires and dominations, political systems and material prosperity and life itself are valuable only as means to those states of mind which alone are good as ends. Thus it comes about that the things which to the majority are of primary importance, because to the majority they seem to be ends, are to a handful of mystics and artists of secondary importance because to them they are no more than means. They cannot forget about art and think exclusively about war, because if they forgot about art the world and its ways would seem unworthy of thought. Public activities and operations they feel are of consequence only in so far as they affect the things that matter—the raptures of art and religion, that is to say, and abstract thought and personal relations.

It is not reasonable to expect us to turn our backs on absolute good and consider exclusively what may be a means to good. Besides, we could not do so if we would. The artist must think more about art, the philosopher more about truth, the mystic more about God, the aesthete more about beauty, and the lover, they tell me, more about the beloved, than about anything else. The fact is, we are not practical people; we cannot adjust ourselves to circumstances, so we must be content to appear imprudent and unpatriotic. We are not masters of our fate; not only have we got hold of what we believe to be the greatest thing in the world, the greatest thing in the world has got hold of us.

A crisis has divided the sheep from the goats—I care not on which hand I am marshalled—and now we know who are the people that love art because they must and who love it because they think they ought to. I am making no moral judgment; I am pointing out merely that those who say "This is no time to think about art" admit that for them thinking or not thinking about art is a matter of choice. I have always supposed that it was perfectly well with one who had lost himself in an ecstasy of creation or contemplation. How can he be better off who has already attained beatitude? To invite such a one to relinquish the best and bestir himself about what may be a means to good seems to me absurd. That has always been my opinion and I cannot conceive the circumstances that would compel me to change it. Those who reject it, those who deny that certain states of mind, amongst which is the state of aesthetic contemplation, are alone good as ends, will find themselves in an intellectual position which appears to me untenable: I shall not quarrel with them, however, so long as they leave us alone and refrain from cant. According to them there are better things than Beauty or Truth or the contemplation of either. I simply disagree: it is only when I catch them wringing their hands over the ruins of Reims that I protest.

Take not the name of art in vain: at least be ashamed to use it for political purposes. Any stick may be good enough to beat Germans with. Beat them if you can: I shall have no tears for them and their strong military government. It is not people like me who will weep for Prussia. But, though any stick may be good enough, some are too good. Besides, however much we love France and the French, let us have the justice to remember that if, as seems possible, French soldiers were using the cathedral as a post of observation, the Germans, according to what are called the rules of war, were in the right. In that case it was the French themselves who first transgressed that law which, they now tell us, makes neutral and inviolate works of art. For my own part, I utterly deny that it can ever, in any circumstances, be right to destroy or put in jeopardy beautiful things. But for any of those governments which took a hand in the deliberate ruin of the summer palace at Pekin to prate of vandalism and pose as defenders of art is not only disingenuous but silly. The spectacle of European soldiers and statesmen who, to admonish such evil Chinamen as might persist in defending their liberty and their religion, destroyed without demur the masterpieces of Oriental art, the spectacle, I say, of these people whimpering over the late Gothic of Louvain or the early Gothic of Reims, strikes me as being what the French, if their sense of humour had not suffered more than their monuments, would call un peu trop fort.

Reims is, or was—I am not sure whether we are more conscious of what existed before the bombardment or of what we imagine remains—Reims is or was a typical thirteenth-century building; and, like most thirteenth-century buildings, is or was, to my feeling, of no great artistic significance. That it is a venerable focus of sentiment no one denies; so, I suppose, is the monstrosity of Cologne and the Albert Memorial. I am not concerned with sentiment, but with art. Therefore, I must note that of such artistic value as the cathedral ever possessed the greater part was not destroyed by the German bombardment: it was destroyed when, some years ago, the upper part of the church was made as good as new by the Ministry of Fine Arts. Only the glass, and the sculpture over the little door in the north transept, and a few twelfth-or very early thirteenth-century figures which had escaped restoration will be a great loss to the world; and, for our comfort, we may remember that the glass was not comparable with the glass at Chartres or Bourges, while finer sculpture is to be seen in scores of Romanesque churches. I can listen with admirable patience to tales of damage done to Reims cathedral; but should the abbey church of St. Remi have been injured it would be less easy to pardon the responsible party. St. Remi is a masterpiece of the eleventh century, and was still, when last I saw it, a work of splendour and significance in spite of having suffered at the hands of French architects worse things than it is likely to have suffered from German gunners.

It is a mistake for the English upper classes to assure the world that they prize a work of art above a victory; the world knows better. Are not these the people who were telling us just now that this was no time for art? Is it seemly in them, is it prudent even, to revile their own class in Germany for caring as little about art as themselves? When the Germans sacked Louvain and shelled Reims our politicians and press discovered suddenly that art is a sacred thing and that people who disrespect it are brutes. Agreed: and how have the moneyed classes in England respected art? What sacrifices, material, moral or military, have they made? Here, in the richest country in the world, with what difficulty do we raise a few thousand pounds to buy a masterpiece. What institution do we starve so abjectly as we starve the National Gallery? Has any one met a rich man who denied himself a motorcar to keep a genius? How dare the people who fill our streets and public places with monuments that make us the laughing-stock of Europe, the people who cannot spare a few guineas to save a picture, who cheerfully improve away respectable architecture, who allow artists to perish and put up the Admiralty Arch—how dare such people pose as the champions of culture and expose their wounded feelings in the penny and halfpenny papers. In times of peace they used art as a hobby and a means of self-advertisement, in wartime they would brandish it as a stick against their foes. The old abuse was vulgar, the new one is worse.

We can measure the sensibility of these politic amateurs when we overhear their chatter about patriotic art and catch them, as we caught them lately, attempting to ban German music. "Give us patriotic art," they cry. As if art could be patriotic or unpatriotic! One might as well cry for patriotic mathematics. The essence of art is that it provokes a peculiar emotion, called aesthetic, which, like religious emotion or the passion for truth, transcends nationality. Art's supreme importance lies precisely in this: its glory is to share with truth and religion the power of appealing to that part of us which is unconditioned by time or place or public or personal interests. A work of art satisfies us aesthetically, just as a true proposition satisfies us intellectually, whether it was made in Germany or elsewhere: by whom it was created, when it was created, and where it was created are matters of no consequence to any one but an archaeologist.

There is no such thing as patriotic art. The qualities in a poem, a picture, or a symphony that lead people to describe the work as patriotic are purely adventitious and have nothing to do with its aesthetic significance. Wordsworth's so-called patriotic sonnets, in so far as they are works of art—and what superb works of art they are!—are as appreciable in Berlin as in London. They appeal as directly to the aesthetic sensibility of any German who can read English and appreciate poetry as to the sensibility of an Englishman; and unless a man be aesthetically sensitive he will never really appreciate them no matter where he was born. The state of mind which art provokes and which comprehends and reacts to art is one in which nationality has ceased to exist. I am not saying that an ardent patriot cannot appreciate art; I say that when he appreciates it he is carried into a world in which patriotism becomes meaningless. If he has not been carried into that world he has not appreciated art. I shall not deny that at the present moment an Englishman may find something peculiarly sympathetic in the ideas and memories associated with the poetry of Wordsworth. It is conceivable that a Frenchman may find unpalatable certain memories and ideas associated with the music, or more probably with the name, of Bach. But these memories and ideas are not a part of the music; they are only the contribution of an unaesthetic auditor. The man who says that he can no longer appreciate the music of Bach merely admits that he has never appreciated the music of any one.

Two things above all others give value to a civilization, art and thought. It were well that those even who cannot appreciate Beauty and Truth should bear this in mind. Instead of blustering about this being no time for art they should rejoice that there are some who, rising above tumultuous circumstance, continue to create and speculate. So long as a sense of art and the disinterested passion for truth persist, the world retains some right to respectful consideration; once these disappear its fate becomes a matter of indifference. The continued existence of a stupid and insensitive world, incapable of aesthetic rapture or metaphysical ecstasy, is not particularly desirable. It may be wise to wage war for the sake of civilization; that is a question of probabilities with which I am not at present concerned: but a war that leaves the world poorer in art or thought is, whatever its political consequences, a victory for barbarism and for humanity a disaster. A nation that would defend the cause of civilization must remain civilized; and that a nation may emerge civilized from fierce and exhausting war, that it may preserve unabated its power for good, it is necessary that during its horrid and circumscribing labours there should have been men who, detached and undismayed, continued to serve interests higher and wider than the interests of any State or confederacy. In times of storm and darkness it is the part of artists and philosophers to tend the lamp. This duty they perform unconsciously by simply minding their own business.

Artists and philosophers and those who are apt to handle truth and beauty are, in fact, the vestals of civility. To be sure, they are not appointed or elected, neither are they consecrate nor shorn nor always chaste; nevertheless, they tend the lamp. Because they alone can project their thoughts and feelings far beyond the frontiers of States and Empires, because their sympathies and interests are universal, because they can lose themselves in timeless abstractions, because their kingdom is not of this world, they alone in times of division and calamity and shortsighted passion can keep the flame alive. Thus do they unintentionally serve the State. So far as they are concerned their beneficence is quite adventitious, their service supererogatory. For they do not live to serve humanity, but to serve their masterful and inhuman passion; by serving that faithfully they save the world. Let them continue to think and feel, watching, untroubled, the cloudless heavens, till men, looking up from their beastly labours, again catch sight of the unchanging stars.

Mens equa in arduis: calm and unconcerned in the hurricane: the mind set steadily on indestructible things: that, I think, is how it should be in these days with artists and philosophers. When the Roman soldiers entered Syracuse they found Archimedes absorbed in a mathematical problem. He never raised his head and they killed him where he sat.

I want to save those nice, cultivated people who go about saying that this is no time for art from doing some harm and making themselves ridiculous. To them, not to the artists, is my mission. They are in danger of becoming coarse and absurd and of saying things that their enemies will never allow them to forget. They are not formidable: besides, art is fearless. For art cannot die; neither can the desire for art. If history teaches nothing else worth remembering, it teaches that. Artists will create though they must starve for it, and art we will have though our days be numbered. Artists and those who care for art may be a mere handful in the human mass, but theirs is the passionate faith that conquers somehow in spite of battles and holds the world in fee.

Art survives: the state of this chilly, quarrelsome little planet has never grown so desperate that artists have lost faith. After all, why should they? Art is not less important because some men are bad and most are wretched; and it is no part of an artist's business to straighten out the contortions of humanity. "The loss of hue to river-banks," observed Ch'eng Hao, the Sung poet, "is the river-banks' affair." Art has seen worse days than these. Between 937 and 1059, if we may believe Glaber, there were forty-eight years of pestilence and famine. From Constantinople to Exeter the world was one miserable sore. Cannibalism became chronic. In the market-place of Tournus human joints were exposed for sale. Man had sunk to such depths of impotence that the wolves came out and disputed with him the mastery of Europe. War seems to have been the only activity for which the leaders of the people were not too feeble: let us hope that they kept honour bright and preserved nicely the balance of Neustria, Austria, and the kingdom of Italy. And over all hung, as well it might, the terror of judgment and the end of the world. Yet art survived. The years that lie round about the millennium are precisely those in which artists seem to have been unable almost to do wrong. Then it was that the aesthetic sense, rising calm above confusion, detached and remote from human woes, expressed itself gravely in that early Romanesque architecture and sculpture which remains the imperishable glory of the Middle Age.

There have been wars as great as this; there may be greater. Empires and continents have gone down and may again go down into misery. Art survives. What remains of Egypt but her monuments? In Babylonia there were kings and princes before the coming of the Assyrians; there were statesmen, generals, and priests: but the glory and story of that land would be for us a vague, bad dream were it not that the sculpture of the vanquished Sumerians remains splendid and unobscure. Kublai Khan, that conquerer of China and scourge of all the East, lives, if he live at all, in the verse of an English poet, while the art of the people he came to destroy is the great glory of Asia and the inspiration of half the world.

To be or not to be thinking about art is not a matter of choice. Art is imperious. As well tell an artist not to breathe as not to create. Artists will be artists; and so far as I can see the spirit has never foundered in the wreck of material things. If those ancient ministers of the devil, fire and sword, pestilence and famine, could not force men to stop creating and feeling, I do not suppose that journalists and politicians and inactive colonels and fire-eating curates will be more successful. There never was a time that was no time for art. In the darkness of the darkest ages the aesthetic sense shines clear. Were not the masterpieces of Attic comedy written in a beleagured State in the throes of a disastrous war? And was it not in 1667 that England suffered what has been called her greatest humiliation? Certainly it was in 1667 she received her greatest epic.

Few, indeed, can look steadily at their own times. To the ephemera that tossed on the waters of the past the ripples were mountainous; to us the past is a sad, grey lake, scarcely ruffled, from which emerge the tall lights of art and thought. It must be a defective sense of proportion, I think, that makes people who cite Aristophanes, but never heard of Conon, who are deep in Paradise Lost but neither know nor care who won the battle of Lowestoft, assert so confidently that this is no time for art. Let them, for their own sakes, consider what sort of figure in history one would cut who had adjured young Shakespeare—thirty years of age and, if one may draw inferences from tradition, able at least to shoot—to give over his precious fooling and join the expeditionary force in Portugal. Yet the moment was grave: we had lost The Revenge and failed ignominiously before Cadiz; we still expected invasion. Shakespeare and the rest of them might surely have done something for their country.


[24] This essay was written for a Hampstead literary society—I forget the name—and read some time in October 1914. It was printed the following year in the International Journal of Ethics.


[Sidenote: Cambridge Magazine May 1917]

It is to me a strange thing that since the beginning of the war Utopia-building has gone on more merrily than ever. Almost every one has a scheme for social reconstruction; and of these schemes, though most are of that familiar kind which discovers in compulsory strike-arbitration the true and only panacea, some are in themselves attractive enough, being more or less intelligent attempts to combine Socialist economics with the maximum of personal liberty. And yet I can take no interest in any of them, though my apathy, I know, vexes my friends who complain that in old days, before the war, no castle-builder was more reckless than I.

Very true: but things have changed since then. Before the war England was immensely rich; and the upper classes, before the war, were beginning to find barbarism boring. Consequently the lower and lower-middle, as they got money and pushed up towards the light, entered a world that could afford to be liberal, about which floated, vaguely enough, ideas that in time might have been turned to good account. That is where the Edwardian-Georgian age differed most hopefully from the Victorian. In Victorian days when a man became rich or ceased to be miserably poor he still found himself in a society where money-making was considered the proper end of existence: intellectually he was still in the slums. In the spring of 1914 society offered the new-comer precisely what the new-comer wanted, not cut-and-dried ideas, still less a perfect civilization, but an intellectual flutter, faint and feverish no doubt, a certain receptivity to new ways of thinking and feeling, a mind at least ajar, and the luxurious tolerance of inherited wealth. Not, I suppose, since 1789 have days seemed more full of promise than those spring days of 1914. They seem fabulous now, and a fairy-tale never comes amiss.

The generation that takes its first look at the world in the years that follow the war will hardly be persuaded that in the years that just preceded it the governing class was drifting out of barbarism. Yet so it was. The brighter and better educated, at any rate, were beginning to discover that clever people are more entertaining than stupid ones, and that social experiment is as good an extravagance as another. England was fantastically rich; and some of the very rich allowed some of the very clever to wheedle from them great sums of money, knowing all the time that these would be applied to such unsettling activities as the education of thankless labourers or anti-sweating propaganda. Even towards Art rolled a few coppers; indeed, the best painter in England tells me that about this time he was earning as much as two hundred a year. It was thought odd but not shameful in Mr. Thomas Beecham to spend some part of his father's fortune on producing modern music and the operas of Mozart. In fact, it was coming to be a question whether there was anything essentially ridiculous about a musician, a poet, or a Socialist. Punch was rarely seen in the best houses. For a few dizzy years it was wildly surmised that to found a civilization might be as thrilling as to found a family, and that one could be as romantic and snobbish about Art as about bull-dogs or battleships. To be open-minded became modish; people with interesting, subversive things to say were encouraged to talk—always provided they talked with an air of not taking quite seriously what they said. The poor were repressed as firmly as ever, but the job was left to such paid bullies as constables, magistrates, and judges, whom the nicer patricians employed, but took leave to despise.

In 1914 what in England is called "Society" gave promise of becoming what it had not been since the French Revolution—something that a fastidious person could tolerate. It was becoming open-minded. Now open-mindedness is the sine qua non of what is called "brilliant society," and brilliant society is by far the best manure with which to fertilize the soil in which revolutions are to be cultivated. Only when Society becomes clever and inquisitive, and wants to be amused, does it open its doors to reformers, and only in such society can most reformers—reformers, that is to say, who have not been born with an exceptional gift of self-criticism—acquire that sense of humour and dash of cynicism lacking which they perish.

Society to be good must be open-minded; without that there can be neither wit nor gaiety nor conversation worth the name. Prejudices and pruderies, respect of persons, reverence of sentiments, and consideration for the corns of the dull are fatal. On such terms even fun and high spirits soon degenerate to buffoonery and romps. There must be no closed subjects at the mention of which faces lengthen, voices become grave, and the air thickens with hearty platitudes: the intellect must be suffered to play freely about everything and everybody. Wit is the very salt and essence of society, and you can no more have wit that hurts nothing Queen Victoria respected than you can have truth that hurts nothing she believed. Now wit is purely an affair of the intellect, and so is society when it is at all good; no one but a fool dreams of going there for fine feelings and profound emotions. But the intellect to be nimble must be free: 'tis a sprite will play you the prettiest tricks an you give it the run of the house; close but one door though, and it sits sulking in the lobby. Delightful are the games it can play you: wit, irony, criticism, thrilling ideas, visions of fantastic anarchy and breathless generalizations—all these it can give; but the earth and all things above and below must be its toy-box; from the deferential intellect expect nothing better than puns, anecdotes, comfortable platitudes, elaborate facetiousness, and the Saturday Westminster.

I do not suggest that in the spring of 1914 English society was brilliant or anything of that sort: I think it was tired of being merely decent. One or two fine ladies had made open-mindedness and a taste for ideas fashionable: snobisme was doing the rest. And we may as well recognize, without more ado, that, Athens and Florence being things of the past, a thick-spread intellectual and artistic snobisme is the only possible basis for a modern civilization. Thanks chiefly to the emergence of a layer of this rich and rotten material one had hopes in 1914 of some day cultivating a garden in which artists and writers would flourish and prophets learn not to be silly. Society before the war showed signs of becoming what French society before the Revolution had been—curious, gay, tolerant, reckless, and reasonably cynical. After the war I suppose it will be none of these things. Like the eighteenth century, having learnt its lesson, it will borrow a sober tone and simpler tastes from the bourgeoisie.

For the Edwardian culture did not go very deep; the country gentlefolk and elder business men, the middling professionals and half-pay officers, never abandoned the Victorian tradition. They could not but deplore the imprudence of their too affable leaders, whom, nevertheless, it was their duty and pleasure to admire. They knew that Mr. Balfour was addicted to the plays of Bernard Shaw, that Anatole France had been entertained at the Savoy, and that Cunninghame Graham—a man who was once sent to prison for rioting—sat down to dinner at the tables of the nobility. It made them uneasy and irritable; it also made them fancy that they, too, should keep abreast of the times. So they let their wives subscribe to some advanced fashion-paper with Beardsleyesque-Brunelleschi drawings and felt, quite rightly, that it was rather nasty. The heart of England was sound. All over the country were homes in which ladies were permitted neither to smoke cigarettes nor read the plays of Ibsen nor pronounce, without a shudder, the name of Mr. Lloyd George. By the majority the use of cosmetics was still reckoned a sin, Wagner a good joke, and Kipling a good poet. The Spectator was still read. Nevertheless, the student of paulo-pre-war England will have to recognize that for a few delirious years a part of the ruling faction—cosmopolitan plutocrats and some of the brisker peeresses—listened more willingly to the clever than to the good. There was a veneer of culture or, as I have hinted, of intellectual snobisme.

Heaven may delude those whom it wills to destroy, but the very infirmities of its favourites it shapes to their proper advantage. The governing classes of Europe effectually upset the apple-carts of their fanciful friends by getting into a war. When that happened these dream-pedlars surely should have perceived that the game was up. They had always known that only by devoting its first half to the accumulation of wealth and culture could the twentieth century hope in its second to make good some part of its utopic vision. Wealth was the first and absolute necessity: Socialism without money is a nightmare. To live well man must be able to buy some leisure, finery, and elbow-room. Anything is better than a poverty-stricken communism in which no one can afford to be lazy or unpractical.

If, as seems probable, the energies of Europe during the next fifty years must be devoted to re-amassing the capital that Europe has squandered, the concentration on business will be as fatal to the hopes of social reformers as the poverty that provokes it. One foresees the hard, unimaginative view of life regaining the ascendancy, laborious insensibility re-crowned queen of the virtues, "Self-help" by Smiles again given as a prize for good conduct, and the grand biological discovery that the fittest to survive do survive adduced again as an argument against income-tax. When one remembers the long commercial tyranny that followed the Napoleonic wars, the tyranny under which money-making became the chief duty of man, under which Art foundered and middle-class morality flourished, one grows uneasy. And if one cannot forget the stragglers from the Age of Reason, the old, pre-Revolutionary people who, in the reign of Louis XVIII, cackled obsolete liberalism, blasphemed, and span wrinkled intrigues beneath the scandalized brows of neo-Catholic grandchildren, one becomes exceedingly sorry for oneself.

Even before the war we were not such fools as to suppose that a new world would grow up in a night. First had to grow up a generation of civilized men and women to desire and devise it. That was where the intellectual dilettanti came in. Those pert and unpopular people who floated about propounding unpleasant riddles and tweaking up the law wherever it had been most solemnly laid down were, in fact, making possible the New Age. Not only did they set chattering the rich and gibbering with rage the less presentable revolutionaries, it was they who poured out the ideas that filtered through to the trades-union class; and, if that class was soon to create and direct a brand-new State, it was high time that it should begin to handle the sort of ideas these people had to offer. Doubtless the trade-unionists would have developed a civilization sweeter and far more solid than that which flitted so airily from salon to studio, from Bloomsbury to Chelsea; before long, I dare say, they would have dismissed our theories as heartless and dry and absurd to boot; in the end, perhaps, they would have had our heads off—but not, I think, until they had got some ideas into their own. The war has ruined our little patch of civility as thoroughly as a revolution could have done; but, so far as I can see, the war offers nothing in exchange. That is why I take no further interest in schemes for social reconstruction.



Abbas, Shah, 163

Abbassi, Riza, 162

Abraham, Miss E., 13, 132

Adeney, 178

Aeschylus, 32

Alexander, 24

Alfieri, 33

Anet, Claude, 157, 159, 160

Angelo, Michael, 185

Archer, 29

Archibald, Raymond Clare, 82, 84

Archimedes, 242

Ariosto, 55

Aristophanes, 99-103, 106-111, 246

Aristotle, 25, 34

Arnold, Matthew, 86

Asselin, 186

Athenaeum, the, 3, 4, 5

Auchinleck, Laird of, 80

Bach, 240

Bakst, 129, 131

Balfour, 252

Balzac, 99

Beecham, Sir Thomas, 249

Begbie, Harold, 232

Bell, Vanessa, 206, 207, 228, 229

Bennett, Arnold, 1, 3, 8, 9-11, 13-15

Bergson, 89

Berkley, 89

Behzad, 156, 159, 161-163

Binyon, 135

Bjornsen, 14

Blake, 125, 214

Bloy, Leon, 89

Bonnard, 194, 200, 211, 215

Boswell, James, 74-81

Botticelli, 140, 211

Bougereau, 222

Bourget, Paul, 15

Brock, Clutton, 146-149, 151

Brougham, Lord, 56

Browne, Sir Thomas, 56

Buchanan, Robert, 51

Burlington Magazine, the, 7, 157, 159, 163, 188, 216

Byron, Lord, 94, 115, 117, 118, 124

Caesar, 24

Cambridge Magazine, the, 7

Canning, 57

Carlyle, Alexander, 97

Carlyle, Mrs., 94, 96, 97

Carlyle, Thomas, 75, 82-98, 152

Cato, 24, 25

Catullus, 99

Cezanne, 11, 28-30, 183, 194, 195, 196, 201, 206, 209, 211, 215, 216, 225, 226

Champaigne, Philippe de, 219

Chardin, 196, 218

Chateaubriand, 86

Chaucer, 100

Chesterton, G. K., 88, 106

Chrysostom, St., 100

Cicero, 94

Cimabue, 157

Clairmont, Claire, 117, 119-121

Clarke, Mrs., 51

Claude, 213

Cole, Sir Henry, 51

Coleridge, 14

Coleridge, Miss Mary, 41-49

Conder, 205

Conon, 246

Conrad, Joseph, 11, 14

Constable, 214, 218

Creighton, 86

Crome, 214

Dante, 99

Darwin, 98, 125

Davies, Randall, 165, 166, 168, 170-173

Delaunay, 183, 215

Derain, 181, 200, 211, 215

Dixon, Canon, 48

Doren, Carl Van, 62-65

Dostoievsky, 13, 213

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan, 14

Drummond, Malcolm, 178

Edwards, George, 133

Emerson, 86

Epictetus, 86

Epstein, 176, 228, 229

Etchells, 178

Faguet, 88

Ferrers, 88

Fildes, Sir Luke, 181

Finch, Madame Renee, 178

FitzGerald, 94, 129

Flammarion, MM., 17

Flaubert, 108

Forman, H. Buxton, 115

France, Anatole, 11, 22, 90, 252

Francis, Sir Philip, 74-76 St., 86

Freeman, A., 62, 64, 65

Friesz, 181, 200, 215

Frith, 170

Fry, Roger, 170, 216, 226

Galsworthy, John, 11, 12, 132

Galt, 10

Garnett, Richard, 51

Garrod, 133

Gauguin, 181, 195, 211, 215, 216, 225, 226

George V, 177

George, Lloyd, 253

Gertler, Mark, 203, 204, 228

Gibbon, 99

Giles, Prof., 135

Gill, Eric, 229

Gilman, 177

Ginner, 178

Giotto, 157, 161, 206

Glaber, 242

Godwin, 86

Gogh, Van, 181, 211, 215, 225, 226

Goldoni, 33, 51

Goncharova, 207, 215

Gordon, Margaret, 82, 83

Gore, S. F., 177, 184

Gournay, Mlle. de, 18

Grahame, Cunninghame, 252

Grant, Duncan, 196, 202, 205, 206, 228, 229

Gray, 94

Greco, El, 206, 211

Gris, 200

Hals, Frans, 140

Hamilton, 186

Hao, Ch'eng, 243

Hardie, Keir, 111

Hardy, Thomas, 10, 11

Harvey, Martin, 128

Henner, 222

Herbin, 181

Herramaneck, 159

Hobson, 188, 189, 191

Homer, 13, 41

Horace, 39, 91

l'Hote, 181, 200

Houghton, Lord, 51

Hoyles, Lady, 84

Hume, David, 76, 80

Ibsen, Henrik, 28-40, 253

Ingres, 197

International Journal of Ethics, the, 7

Irving, Sir Henry, 192

James, Henry, 127

John, 205, 210

Johnson, Samuel, 14, 20, 76, 77, 80, 81, 147

Jones, Inigo, 214

Jonson, Ben, 4

Kandinsky, 215

Keats, 41, 102, 202

Kevorkian, 158

Kipling, Rudyard, 15, 145, 225, 253

Kokan, Shiba, 143, 145

Korin, 140

Kublai Khan, 245

Laforgue, 10, 213

Lamb, Charles, 94, 96, 200

Laprade, 215

Larionoff, 215

Laurenciu, Marie, 207

Leopardi, 94

Lespinasse, Julie de, 94

Lesueur, 205

Lewis, Wyndham, 175, 176, 182, 183, 199, 228, 229

Lippi, Lippo, 211

London, Bishop of, 151

Macaulay, 147

Maillol, 211, 215, 226, 229

Mallarme, 213

Manguin, 194

Mantegna, 197

Marchand, 181, 194-198, 200, 201, 202, 206, 215

Marinetti, 88

Marivaux, 9, 10

Marquet, 181, 215

Mathews, Elkin, 32

Matisse, Henri, 10, 181, 194, 196, 200, 211, 215, 226

McEvoy, 210

Meredith, 120, 127

Merimee, 94

Meyer-Riefstahl, 160

Mill, 89

Milton, 13, 41

Mirek, Aga, 162, 163

Mohamed, Sultan, 161, 162

Montagu, Lady Mary, 94

Montaigne, 17-27

Montgomerie, Miss Margaret, 79

Moore, George, 11, 12, 15

Morgan, Pierpont, 157

Morris, William, 146-155

Mozart, 70, 249

Murray, Prof. Gilbert, 127, 128

Nation, the, 7

Nevinson, 186

New Age, the, 3

New Statesman, the, 7

Nicholson, 129

Nietzsche, 213

Nineteenth Century, the, 52

Norton, Mrs., 122

Ogilvie, Mrs., 178

Okakura, 135

Okio, 144, 145

Oliphant, Mrs., 10

Orpen, 129, 210

Pallas, 7

Paoli, 80

Paul, Herbert, 52

Peacock, Thomas Love, 50-73

Peguy, 90

Philippe, Charles-Louis, 10

Phillips, Stephen, 129

Picasso, 10, 181, 184, 194, 195, 196, 200, 215, 216, 219, 226

Pichard, Mrs. Louise, 178

Piret, Fernand, 177

Pissarro, Camille, 179

Pissarro, Lucien, 178

Plato, 86, 90, 99, 100, 114

Pollock, Sir Frederick, 51

Poynter, Sir Edward, 210

Punch, 100, 249

Puvis, 228

Pythagoras, 86

Rabelais, 99

Raphael, 156, 160, 161, 213

Reinhardt, 129, 130, 131

Renan, 86

Renoir, 196, 216, 227

Rimbaud, 213

Roberts, Ellis, 28, 31, 32, 33, 39, 40

Roberts, 199, 228

Rogers, Bickley, 101

Rostand, 129

Rousseau, 201, 211

Ruck, Arthur, 159, 160

Russell, Bertrand, 90

Rutter, 179

Sainte-Beuve, 26

Saintsbury, Prof., 51, 53

Saunders, Miss Helen, 178

Seccombe, Thomas, 74, 75

Segonzac, 215

Severini, 181

Sevigne, Madame de, 94

Shakespeare, 4, 10, 14, 32, 56, 99, 100, 108, 125, 246

Shaw, Bernard, 106, 132, 252

Shelley, 51, 68, 69, 115, 116-118, 120-125, 150

Shelley, Mary, 119

Sichel, Miss, 43, 47

Sickert, Walter, 175, 184, 195, 209, 224

Socrates, 24, 105

Sophocles, 34, 41, 55, 126

Spectator, the, 253

Spedding, James, 51

Spenser, Stanley, 199, 228

Stanhope, 86

Steer, 205, 210

Stephen, Leslie, 147

Sterne, 56, 60

Stevens, Alfred, 226

Stockmann, 39

Stone, Major, 74

Strowski, Fortunat, 17

Swift, 94

Swinburne, 89, 125, 128, 152

Tabari, 158

Tchekov, 213

Temple, Rev. W. J., 74, 77, 78

Tennyson, Alfred, 151, 152, 225

Thackeray, 13

Thucydides, 104

Times, the, 100

Titian, 185, 211

Tolstoy, Leo, 89

Trelawny, Edward John, 115-125

Turner, 214, 228

Velasquez, 140

Veuillard, 194

Victoria, Queen, 99

Vigee Lebrun, Madame, 207

Vignier, 157

Vivarini, 219

Vlaminck, de, 200, 201, 202, 215

Voltaire, 94, 99

Wagner, 11, 253

Waller, Edmund, 29

Walpole, Horace, 94

Ward, Mrs. Humphrey, 12

Watteau, 140

Wells, H. G., 9, 11, 12, 13, 88, 232

Welsh, Jane, 91, 93, 94, 96, 97

Whistler, 140, 152

Whitman, Walt, 151

Whitworth, Geoffrey, 1, 2

Woolf, Virginia, 11

Wordsworth, 240

Wren, 214

Yeats, J. B., 178

Young, Dr. Arthur Button, 53, 64

Zola, 126, 127


* * * * *



Fourth Impression. Illustrated Cr. 8vo. Cloth, gilt top. 5s. net

For Press Opinions see over

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"A book of absorbing interest. No one who reads it will, I am sure, find the brief and somewhat comprehensive title either arrogant or misleading. It contains some of the profoundest, truest and most courageous considerations stated with connected and well-supported conviction. The book is not only racy and readable, but—rarest of all things on this subject—it is comprehensible. The value of the book as an illuminant to thought on painting is henceforth impossible to ignore."—Mr. WALTER SICKERT in the New Age.

"Certainly one of the most brilliant, provocating, suggestive things that have ever been written on the subject. What a breath of fresh air this iconoclast brings in with him, what masses of mouldy snobbism he sweeps into the dust-heap, how salutary even for the idols themselves is such a thorough turning out! It will be seen that this is a book that all who care for art must read; the surprising good fortune that has befallen them is that it is so eminently readable."—Mr. ROGER FRY in the Nation.

"By reason of its originality of thought and virility of expression Mr. Clive Bell's "Art" is entitled to rank as a remarkable contribution to the literature of art. The contemporary movement has found no abler defender and exponent."—Glasgow Herald.

"Lovers of art owe Mr. Clive Bell thanks for the most stimulating, not to say the most provoking, book on art that has recently appeared."—Athenaeum.

"Mr. Bell says many wise and witty things. Few people will agree with them all, many will get angry with the remorselessness of his logic, but nobody can read the book through carefully without clearing up their own minds on the subject and incidentally acquiring a sounder understanding of what art is and means."—Sunday Times.

"He utters paradoxes as if they were the tritest things in the world; all epigram and impudence he trails his coat assiduously, and, while his brilliance is vastly entertaining, his method of bouncing us into liking what he likes, and hating what he hates, is likely to infuriate quite as many readers as it takes by storm."—Manchester Guardian.

"The rather sterile literature of art criticism has been seriously enriched by a brilliant if wilful manifesto. The refreshing absence of obscurity common to art criticism will be particularly welcome. For genuine students the book possesses significant form, and will be indispensable."—Westminster Gazette.

"This is the best and most entertaining book about art that we have ever read."—Standard.

"This book is of first-rate importance. But nobody need be frightened of it on that account. Unlike most important works on the theory of art, it is thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end. Its main thesis is a generalization which, if true, is applicable to all schools and all epochs. The book is stimulating and suggestive."—Cambridge Review.

"Mr. Bell's book has been generally recognized as the most interesting and stimulating appreciation that has yet appeared in this country of the movement which we call post-impressionism. The book is, however, much wider in its scope. A book upon aesthetics at once serious (on the whole), sane, and extremely entertaining."—Welsh Outlook.



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