[Note: for this online edition I have moved the Table of Contents to the beginning of the text. Also I have made one spelling change: irrevelant circumstance to irrelevant circumstance.]
THE GATE OF APPRECIATION Studies in the Relation of Art to Life
BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY The Riverside Press, Cambridge 1907
COPYRIGHT 1907 BY CARLETON NOYES ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published April 1907
TO MY FATHER AND THE MEMORY OF MY MOTHER
"Only themselves understand themselves and the like of themselves, As souls only understand souls."
Preface i I. The Impulse to Expression i II. The Attitude of Response 23 III. Technique and the Layman 44 IV. The Value of the Medium 87 V. The Background of Art 105 VI. The Service of Criticism 137 VII. Beauty and Common Life 165 VIII. The Arts of Form 201 IX. Representation 221 X. The Personal Estimate 254
IN the daily life of the ordinary man, a life crowded with diverse interests and increasingly complex demands, some few moments of a busy week or month or year are accorded to an interest in art. Whatever may be his vocation, the man feels instinctively that in his total scheme of life books, pictures, music have somewhere a place. In his own business or profession he is an expert, a man of special training; and intelligently he does not aspire to a complete understanding of a subject which lies beyond his province. In the same spirit in which he is a master of his own craft, he is content to leave expert knowledge of art to the expert, to the artist and to the connoisseur. For his part as a layman he remains frankly and happily on the outside. But he feels none the less that art has an interest and a meaning even for him. Though he does not practice any art himself, he knows that he enjoys fine things, a beautiful room, noble buildings, books and plays, statues, pictures, music; and he believes that in his own fashion he is able to appreciate art, I venture to think that he is right.
There is a case for the outsider in reference to art. And I have tried here to state it. This book is an attempt to suggest the possible meaning of art to the ordinary man, to indicate methods of approach to art, and to trace the way of appreciation. It is essentially a personal record, an account of my own adventures with the problem. The book does not pretend to finality; the results are true for me as far as I have gone. They may or may not be true for another. If they become true for another man, he is the one for whom the book was written. I do not apologize because the shelter here put together, in which I have found a certain comfort, is not a palace. Rude as the structure may be, any man is welcomed to it who may find solace there in an hour of need.
C. N. CAMBRIDGE, November second, 1906.
THE IMPULSE TO EXPRESSION
TOWARD evening a traveler through a wild country finds himself still in the open, with no hope of reaching a village that night. The wind is growing chill; clouds are gathering in the west, threatening rain. There rises in him a feeling of the need of shelter; and he looks about him to see what material is ready to his hand. Scattered stones will serve for supports and low walls; there are fallen branches for the roof; twigs and leaves can be woven into a thatch. Already the general design has shaped itself in his mind. He sets to work, modifying the details of his plan to suit the resources of his material. At last, after hours of hard thought and eager toil, spurred on by his sense of his great need, the hut is ready; and fee takes refuge in it as the storm breaks.
The entire significance of the man's work is shelter. The beginning of it lay in his need of shelter. The impulse to action rose out of his consciousness of his need. His imagination conceived the plan whereby the need might be met, and the plan gave shape to his material. The actual result of his labor was a hut, but the hut itself was not the end for which he strove. The hut was but the means. The all-inclusive import of his work—the stimulus which impelled him to act, the purpose for which he toiled, and the end which he accomplished—is shelter.
A man of special sensitiveness to the appeal of color and form finds himself also in the open. He is weary with the way, which shows but broken glimpses of the road. His spirit, heavy with the "burden of the mystery," is torn by conflict and confusion. As he looks across the stony places to the gnarled and weather-tortured trees beyond, and up to the clouds piling black above him, there is revealed to him a sudden harmony among the discords; an inner principle, apprehended by his imagination, compels the fragments of the seeming chaos into a regnant order. These natural forms become for him the expression external to himself of the struggle of his own spirit and its final resolution. The desire rises in him to express by his own act the order he has newly perceived, the harmony of his spirit with the spirit of nature. As life comes to him dominantly in terms of color and form, it is with color and form that he works to expression so as to satisfy his need. The design is already projected in his imagination, and to realize concretely his ideal he draws upon the material of nature about him. The picture which he paints is not the purpose of his effort. The picture is but the means. His end is to express the great new harmony in which his spirit finds shelter.
Both men, the traveler and the painter, are wayfarers. Both are seeking shelter from stress and storm, and both construct their means. In one case the product is more obviously and immediately practical, and the informing purpose tends to become obscured in the actual serviceableness of the result. The hut answers a need that is primarily physical; the need in the other case is spiritual. But it is a matter of degree. In essence and import the achievement of the two men is the same. The originating impulse, a sense of need; the processes involved, the combination of material elements to a definite end; the result attained, shelter which answers the need,—they are identical. Both men are artists. Both hut and picture are works of art.
So art is not remote from common life after all. In its highest manifestations art is life at its best; painting, sculpture, poetry, music are the distillment and refinement of experience. Architecture and the subsidiary arts of decoration adorn necessity and add delight to use. But whatever the flower and final fruit, art strikes its roots deep down into human need, and draws its impulse and its sustenance from the very sources of life itself. In the wide range from the hut in the wilderness to a Gothic cathedral, from the rude scratches recorded on the cave walls of prehistoric man to the sublimities of the Sistine Chapel, there is no break in the continuity of effort and aspiration. Potentially every man is an artist. Between the artist, so-called, and the ordinary man there is no gulf fixed which cannot be passed. Such are the terms of our mechanical civilization to-day that art has become specialized and the practice of it is limited to a few; in consequence artists have become a kind of class. But essentially the possibilities of art lie within the scope of any man, given the right conditions. So too the separation of the "useful arts" from the "fine arts" is unjust to art and perversive of right appreciation. Whatever the form in which it may manifest itself, from the lowest to the highest, the art spirit is one, and it may quicken in any man who sets mind and heart to the work of his hand. That man is an artist who fashions a new thing that he may express himself in response to his need.
Art is creation. It is the combination of already existing material elements into new forms which become thus the realization of a preconceived idea. Both hut and picture rose in the imagination of their makers before they took shape as things. The material of each was given already in nature; but the form, as the maker fashioned it, was new. Commonly we think of art as the expression and communication of emotion. A picture, a statue, a symphony we recognize as the symbol of what the artist has felt in some passage of his experience and the means by which he conveys his feeling to us. Art is the expression of emotion, but all art springs out of need. The sense of need which impels expression through the medium of creation is itself an emotion. The hut which the traveler built for himself in the wilderness—shaping it according to the design which his imagination suggested, having reference to his need and to the character of his materials—was a work of creation; the need which prompted it presented itself to him as emotion. The picture which the other wayfarer painted of the storm-swept landscape, a harmony which his imagination compelled out of discords, was a work of creation; the emotion which inspired the work was attended by need, the need of expression. The material and practical utility of the hut obscures the emotional character of its origin; the emotional import of the picture outweighs consideration of its utility to the painter as the means by which his need of expression is satisfied. The satisfaction of physical needs which results in the creation of utilities and the satisfaction of spiritual needs which results in the forms of expression we commonly call works of art differ one from the other in their effect on the total man only in degree. All works of use whose conception and making have required an act of creation are art; all art—even in its supreme manifestations—embraces elements of use. The measure in which a work is art is established by the intensity and scope of its maker's emotion and by his power to body forth his feeling in harmonious forms which in turn recreate the emotion in the spirit of those whom his work reaches.
In its essence and widest compass art is the making of a new thing in response to a sense of need. The very need itself creates, working through man as its agent. This truth is illustrated vividly by the miracles of modern invention. The hand of man unaided was not able to cope with his expanding opportunities; the giant steam and the magician electricity came at his call to work their wonders. The plow and scythe of the New England colonist on his little farm were metamorphosed into the colossal steam-driven shapes, in which machinery seems transmuted into intelligence, as he moved to the conquest of the acres of the West which summoned him to dominion. First the need was felt; the contrivance was created in response. A man of business sees before him in imagination the end to be reached, and applying his ideal to practical conditions, he makes every detail converge to the result desired. All rebellious circumstances, all forces that pull the other way, he bends to his compelling will, and by the shaping power of his genius he accomplishes his aim. His business is his medium of self-expression; his success is the realization of his ideal. A painter does no more than this, though he works with a different material. The landscape which is realized ultimately upon his canvas is the landscape seen in his imagination. He draws his colors and forms from nature around; but he selects his details, adapting them to his end. All accidents and incidents are purged away. Out of the apparent confusion of life rises the evident order of art. And in the completed work the artist's idea stands forth salient and victorious.
That consciousness of need which compels creation is the origin of art. The owner of a dwelling who first felt the need of securing his door so that he alone might possess the secret and trick of access devised a lock and key, rude enough, as we can fancy. As the maker of the first lock and key he was an artist. All those who followed where he had led, repeating his device without modification, were but artisans. In the measure that any man changed the design, however, adapting it more closely to his peculiar needs and so making it anew, to that extent he was an artist also. The man who does a thing for the first time it is done is an artist; a man who does a thing better is an artist. The painter who copies his object imitatively, finding nothing, creating nothing, is an artisan, however skillful he may be. He is an artist in the degree in which he brings to his subject something of his own, and fashioning it, however crudely, to express the idea he has conceived of the object, so creates.
The difference between work which is art and work which is not art is just this element of the originating impulse and creative act. The difference, though often seemingly slight and not always immediately perceived, is all-important. It distinguishes the artist from the artisan; a free spirit from a slave; a thinking, feeling man from a soulless machine. It makes the difference between life rich and significant, and mere existence; between the mastery of fate and the passive acceptance of things as they are.
If a mind and heart are behind it to control and guide it to expression, even the machine may be an instrument in the making of a work of art. It is not the work itself, but the motive which prompted the making of it, that determines its character as art. Art is not the way a thing is done, but the reason why it is done. A chair, though turned on a lathe, may be a work of art, if the maker has truly expressed himself in his work. A picture, though "hand-painted," may be wholly mechanical in spirit. To set about "making a picture" is to begin at the wrong end. The impulse to art flows from within outwards. Art is bound up with life itself; like nature, it is organic and must grow. The form cannot be laid on from the outside; it is born and must develop in response to vital need. In so far as our acts are consciously the expression of ourselves they are prompted by the art spirit.
All our acts are reducible to one of two kinds: either they are acts of creation, effecting a new result, or they are acts of repetition. Acts of repetition tend rapidly to become habits; and they may be performed without attention or positive volition. Thus, as I am dressing in the morning I may be planning the work for the day; while my mind is given over to thought, I lose the sense of my material surroundings, my muscles work automatically, the motor-currents flowing through the well-worn grooves, and by force of habit the acts execute themselves. Obviously, acts of repetition, or habits, make up the larger part of our daily lives.
Acts of creation, on the other hand, are performed by an effort of the will in response to the consciousness of a need. To meet the new need we are obliged to make new combinations. I assume that the traveler constructed his hut for the first time, shaping it to the special new conditions; that the harmony which the painter discerned in the tumult around him he experienced for the first time, and the picture which he paints, shaped with reference to his need and fulfilling it, is a new thing. In the work produced by this act of creation, the feeling which has prompted it finds expression. In the making of the hut, in the painting of the picture, the impelling need is satisfied.
Although acts of repetition constitute the bulk of life, creation is of its very essence and determines its quality. The significance and joy of life are less in being than in becoming. Growth is expression, and in turn expression is made possible by growth. In our conscious experience the sense of becoming is one of our supreme satisfactions. Growth is the purpose and the recompense of our being here, the end for which we strive and the reward of all the effort and the struggle. In the exercise of brain or hand, to feel the work take form, develop, and become something,—that is happiness. And the joy is in the creating rather than in the thing created; the completed work is behind us, and we move forward to new creation. A painter's best picture is the blank canvas before him; an author's greatest book is the one he is just setting himself to write. The desire for change for the sake of change which we all feel at times, a vague restlessness of mind and body, is only the impulse to growth which has not found its direction. Outside of us we love to see the manifestation of growth. We tend and cherish the little plant in the window; we watch with delight the unfolding of each new leaf and the upward reach into blossom. The spring, bursting triumphant from the silent, winter-stricken earth, is nature's parable of expression, her symbol perennially renewed of the joy of growth.
The impulse to expression is cosmic and eternal. But even in the homeliness and familiarity of our life from day to day the need of expression is there, whether we are entirely aware of it or not; and we are seeking the realization and fulfillment of ourselves through the utterance of what we are. A few find their expression in forms which with distinct limitation of the term we call works of art. Most men find it in their daily occupations, their profession or their business. The president of one of the great Western railroads remarked once in conversation that he would rather build a thousand miles of railroad than live in the most sumptuous palace on Fifth Avenue. Railroad building was his medium of expression; it was his art. Some express themselves in shaping their material environment, in the decoration and ordering of their houses. A young woman said, "My ambition is to keep my house well." Again, for her, housekeeping is her art. Some find the realization of themselves in the friends they draw around them. Love is but the utterance of what we essentially are; and the response to it in the loved one makes the utterance articulate and complete. Expression rises out of our deepest need, and the need impels expression.
The assertion that art is thus involved with need seems for the moment to run counter to the usual conception, which regards art as a product of leisure, a luxury, and the result not of labor but of play. Art in its higher forms becomes more and more purely the expression of emotion, the un-trammeled record of the artist's spiritual experience. It is only when physical necessities have been met or ignored that the spirit of man has free range. But the maker who adds decoration to his bowl after he has moulded it is just as truly fulfilling a need—the need of self-expression—as he fulfilled a need when he fashioned the bowl in the first instance in order that he might slake his thirst. Art is not superadded to life,—something different in kind. All through its ascent from its rudimentary forms to its highest, from hut to cathedral, art is coordinate with the development of life, continuous and without breach or sudden end; it is the expression step by step of ever fuller and ever deeper experience.
Creation, therefore, follows upon the consciousness of need, whether the need be physical, as with the traveler, or spiritual, as with the painter; from physical to spiritual we pass by a series of gradations. At their extremes they are easy to distinguish, one from the other; but along the way there is no break in the continuity. The current formula for art, that art is the utterance of man's joy in his work, is not quite accurate. In the act of creation the maker finds the expression of himself. The man who decorates a bowl in response to his own creative impulse is expressing himself. The painter who thrills to the wonder and significance of nature is impelled to expression; and his delight is not fully realized and complete until he has uttered it. Such art is love expressed, and the artist's work is his "hymn of the praise of things." But the joy for both the potter and the painter, the joy which is so bound up with art as to partake of its very essence, is the joy which attends self-expression and the satisfaction of the need.
A work of art is a work of creation brought into being as the expression of emotion. The traveler creates not the wood and stone but shelter, by means of the hut; the painter creates not the landscape but the beauty of it; the musician creates not the musical tones, but by means of a harmony of tones he creates an emotional experience. The impulse to art rises out of the earliest springs of consciousness and vibrates through all life. Art does not disdain to manifest itself in the little acts of expression of simple daily living; with all its splendid past and vital present it is ever seeking new and greater forms whose end is not yet. I spoke of the work of the traveler through the wilderness as art; the term was applied also to railroad-building and to housekeeping. The truth to be illustrated by these examples is that the primary impulse to artistic expression does not differ in essence from the impulse to creation of any kind. The nature of the thing created, as art, depends upon the emotional value of the result, the degree in which it expresses immediately the emotion of its creator, and the power it possesses to rouse the emotion in others. To show that all art is creation and that all creation tends toward art is not to obscure useful distinctions, but rather to restore art to its rightful place in the life of man.
In the big sense, then, art is bounded only by life itself. It is not a cult; it is not an activity practiced by the few and a mystery to be understood only by those who are initiated into its secrets. One difficulty in the way of the popular understanding of art is due to the fact that the term art is currently limited to its highest manifestations; we withhold the title of artist from a good carpenter or cabinet-maker who takes a pride in his work and expresses his creative desire by shaping his work to his own idea, and we bestow the name upon any juggler in paint: with the result that many people who are not painters or musicians feel themselves on that account excluded from all appreciation. If we go behind the various manifestations of art to discover just what art is in itself and to determine wherein it is able to link itself with common experience, we find that art is the response to a need. And that need may waken in any man. Every man may be an artist in his degree; and every man in his degree can appreciate art. A work of art is the expression of its maker's experience, the expression in such terms that the experience can be communicated to another. The processes of execution involved in fashioning a work, its technique, may be as incomprehensible and perplexed and difficult as its executants choose to make them. Technique is not the same as art. The only mystery of art is the mystery of all life itself. Accept life with its fundamental mysteries, with its wonders and glories, and we have the clue to art. But we miss the central fact of the whole matter if we do not perceive that art is only a means. It is by expression that we grow and so fulfill ourselves. The work itself which art calls into being is not the end. It fails of its purpose, remaining void and vain, if it does not perform its function. The hut which does not furnish shelter is labor lost. The significance of the painter's effort does not stop with the canvas and pigment which he manipulates into form and meaning. The artist sees beyond the actual material thing which he is fashioning; his purpose in creation is expression. By means of his picture he expresses himself and so finds the satisfaction of his deepest need. The beginning and the end of art is life.
But the artist's work of expression is not ultimately complete until the message is received, and expression becomes communication as his utterance calls out a response in the spirit of a fellow-man. Art exists not only for the artist's sake but for the appreciator too. As art has its origin in emotion and is the expression of it, so for the appreciator the individual work has a meaning and is art in so far as it becomes for him the expression of what he has himself felt but could not phrase; and it is art too in the measure in which it is the revelation of larger possibilities of feeling and creates in him a new emotional experience. The impulse to expression is common to all; the difference is one of degree. And the message of art is for all, according as they are attuned to the response. Art is creation. For the artist it is creation by expression; for the appreciator it is creation by evocation. These two principles complete the cycle; abstractly and very briefly they are the whole story of art.
To be responsive to the needs of life and its emotional appeal is the first condition of artistic creation. By new combinations of material elements to bring emotion to expression in concrete harmonious forms, themselves charged with emotion and communicating it, is to fashion a work of art. To feel in material, whether in the forms of nature or in works of art, a meaning for the spirit is the condition of appreciation.
THE ATTITUDE OF RESPONSE
IT is a gray afternoon in late November. The day is gone; evening is not yet come. Though too dark to read or write longer, it is not dark enough for drawn shades and the lamp. As I sit in the gathering dusk, my will hovering between work done and work to do, I surrender to the mood of the moment. The day is accomplished, but it is not yet a remembrance, for it is still too near for me to define the details that made up its hours. Consciousness, not sharp enough for thought, floats away into diffused and obscure emotion. The sense is upon me and around me that I am vaguely, unreasoningly, yet pleasantly, unhappy. Out of the dimness a trick of memory recalls to me the lines,—
"Tears! tears! tears! In the night, in solitude, tears, On the white shore dripping, dripping, suck'd in by the sand, Tears, not a star shining, all dark and desolate, Moist tears from the eyes of a muffled head; O who is that ghost? that form in the dark, with tears? What shapeless lump is that, bent, crouch'd there on the sand? Streaming tears, sobbing tears, throes, choked with wild cries; O storm, embodied, rising, careering with swift steps along the beach! O wild and dismal night storm, with wind—O belching and desperate! O shade so sedate and decorous by day, with calm countenance and regulated pace, But away at night as you fly, none looking—O then the unloosened ocean Of tears! tears! tears!"
Now I know. My mood was the mood of tears. The poet, too, has felt what I was feeling. And as a poet he has been able to bring his emotion to expression. By the magic of phrase and the mystery of image he has, out of the moving of his spirit, fashioned a concrete reality. By means of his expression, because of it, his emotion becomes realized, and so reaches its fulfillment. And for me, what before was vague has been made definite. The poet's lines have wakened in me a response; I have felt what he has phrased; and now they become my expression too. As my mood takes form, I become conscious of its meaning. I can distill its significance for the spirit, and in the emotion made definite and realizable as consciousness I feel and know that I am living. Doubly, completely, the poem is a work of art. And my response to it, the absorption of it into my own experience, is appreciation.
I appreciate the poem as I make the experience which the poet has here phrased my own, and at the instant of reading I live out in myself what he has lived and here expressed. I read the words, and intellectually I take in their signification, but the poem is not realized in me until it wakens in me the feeling which the words are framed to convey. The images which an artist employs have the power to rouse emotion in us, so that they come to stand for the emotion itself. We care for nature and it is beautiful to us as its forms become objectively the intimate expression for us of what we feel.
"O to realize space! The plenteousness of all, that there are no bounds, To emerge and be of the sky, of the sun and moon and flying clouds, as one with them."
In his contact with the external world the artist identifies himself with his object. If he is painting a tree he in a measure becomes the tree; he values it at all because it expresses for him concretely what he feels in its presence. The object and his spirit fuse; and through the fusion they together grow into a new and larger unity. What his work expresses is not the object for its own sake but this larger unity of his identity with it. To appreciate the artist's work, therefore, we must in our turn merge ourselves in his emotion, and becoming one with it, so extend our personality into larger life.
To make the artist's emotion our own, to identify ourselves with the object which he presents to us, we must pass beyond the material form in which the work is embodied, letting the spirit and meaning of it speak to our spirit. In itself an individual picture or statue or symphony is an objective, material thing, received into consciousness along the channel of the senses; but its origin and its end alike are in emotion. The material form, whether in nature or in works of art, is only the means by which the emotion is communicated. A landscape in nature is composed of meadow and hills, blue sky and tumbling clouds; these are the facts of the landscape. But they are not fixed and inert. The imagination of the beholder combines these elements into a harmony of color and mass; his spirit flows into consonance with the harmony his imagination has compelled out of nature, becoming one with it. To regard the world not as facts and things, but as everywhere the stimulus of feeling, feeling which becomes our own experience, is the condition of appreciation.
To the awakening mind of a child, life is full of wonder, and each unfolding day reveals new marvels of excitement and surprise. As yet untrammeled by any sense of the limitations of material, his quick imagination peoples his world with creatures of his fancy, which to him are more real than the things he is able actually to see and touch. For him the external world is fluid and plastic, to be moulded into forms at will in obedience to his creative desire. In the tiny bundle of rags which mother-love clasps tight to her heart, a little girl sees only the loveliest of babies; and a small boy with his stick of lath and newspaper cap and plume is a mightier than Napoleon. The cruder the toy, the greater is the pleasure in the game; for the imagination delights in the exercise of itself. A wax doll, sent from Paris, with flaxen hair and eyes that open and shut, is laid away, when the mere novelty of it is exhausted, in theatric chest, and the little girl is fondling again her first baby of rag and string. A real steel sword and tin helmet are soon cast aside, and the boy is back again among the toys of his own making. That impulse to creation which all men feel, the impulse which makes the artist, is especially active in a child; his games are his art. With a child material is not an end but a means. Things are for him but the skeleton of life, to be clothed upon by the flesh and blood reality of his own fashioning. His feeling is in excess of his knowledge. He has a faculty of perception other than the intellectual. It is imagination.
The child is the first artist. Out of the material around him he creates a world of his own. The prototypes of the forms which he devises exist in life, but it is the thing which he himself makes that interests him, not its original in nature. His play is his expression. He creates; and he is able to merge himself in the thing created. In his play he loses all consciousness of self. He and the toy become one, caught up in the larger unity of the game. According as he identifies himself with the thing outside of him, the child is the first appreciator.
Then comes a change.
"Heaven lies about us in our infancy! Shades of the prison-house begin to close Upon the growing Boy, But he beholds the light, and whence it flows, He sees it in his joy; The Youth, who daily farther from the east Must travel, still is Nature's Priest, And by the vision splendid Is on his way attended; At length the Man perceives it die away, And fade into the light of common day."
Imagination surrenders to the intellect; emotion gives place to knowledge.
Gradually the material world shuts in about us until it becomes for us a hard, inert thing, and no longer a living, changing presence, instinct with infinite possibilities of experience and feeling. Now custom lies upon us
"with a weight, Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!"
It happens, unfortunately for our enjoyment of life, that we get used to things. Little by little we come to accept them, to take them for granted, and they cease to mean anything to us. Habit, which is our most helpful ally in lending our daily life its practical efficiency, is the foe of emotion and appreciation. Habit allows us to perform without conscious effort the innumerable little acts of each day's necessity which we could not possibly accomplish if every single act required a fresh exercise of will. But just because its action is unconscious and unregarded, habit blunts the edge of our sensibilities. "Thus let but a Rising of the Sun," says Carlyle, "let but a creation of the World happen twice, and it ceases to be marvelous, to be noteworthy, or noticeable."
"Except ye become as little children!" Unless the world is new-created every day, unless we can thrill to the beauty of nature with its fair surfaces and harmonies of vibrant sounds, or quicken to the throb of human life with its occupations and its play of energies, its burdens and its joys, unless we find an answer to our needs, and gladness, in sunlight or storms, in the sunset and evening and solitude under the stars, in fields and hills or in thronging city streets, in conflict and struggle or in the face of a friend, unless each new day is a gift and new opportunity, then we cannot interpret the meaning of life nor read the riddle of art. For we cannot truly appreciate art except as we learn to appreciate life. Until then art has no message for us; it is a sealed book, and we shall not open the book nor loose the seals thereof. The meaning of life is for the spirit, and art is its minister. To share in the communion we must become as children. As a child uses the common things of life to his own ends, transfiguring them by force of his creative desire, and fashioning thus a wonderful world of his own by the exercise of his shaping imagination, a world of limitless incident and high adventure, so we must penetrate the visible and tangible actuality around us, the envelope of seemingly inert matter cast in forms of rigid definition, and we must open ourselves to the influence of nature. That influence—nature's power to inspire, quicken, and dilate—flowing through the channel of the senses, plays upon our spirit. The indwelling significance of things is apprehended by the imagination, and is won for us in the measure that we feel.
As we respond to the emotional appeal of the great universe external to ourselves we come to realize that the material world which we see and touch is not final. In the experience of us all there are moments of exaltation and quickened response, moments of illumination when—
"with an eye made quiet by the power Of harmony, and the deep power of joy, We see into the life of things."
The "life of things" is their significance for the spirit. By spirit I mean the sum of our conscious being, that complete entity within us which we recognize as the self. The material world, external, visible, tangible, may be regarded as the actual world. The real world is the world of spiritual forces and relations, apprehended by the imagination and received with feeling. Life, in the sense of our conscious experience of the world, is the moving of the spirit in emotion.
The measure of life for the individual, therefore, is the degree of intensity with which he feels. Experience is not meted out by weeks and months; it is to be sounded by the depth and poignancy of instant emotion. Variety and multitude of incident may crowd through insentient years and leave no record of their progress along the waste places of their march. Or a day may be a lifetime. In such moments of intensest experience time and space fall away and are not. The outermost bounds of things recede; they vanish altogether: and we are made free of the universe. At such moments we are truly living; then we really are.
As the meaning of art is not the material thing which it calls into form, but what the work expresses of life, so in order to appreciate art it is necessary to appreciate life, which is the inspiration of art and its fulfillment. To appreciate life is to send out our being into experience and to feel,—to realize in terms of emotion our identity with the great universe outside of us, this world of color and form and sound and movement, this web of illimitable activities and energies, shot through with currents of endlessly varied and modulated feeling. "My son," says the father in Hindu lore, pointing to an animal, a tree, a rock, "my son, thou art that!" The universe is one. Of it we are each an essential part, distinct as individuals, yet fusing with it in our sense of our vital kinship with all other parts and with the whole. I am sauntering through the Public Garden on a fragrant hushed evening in June; touched by the lingering afterglow, the twilight has not yet deepened into night. Grouped about a bench, children are moving softly in the last flicker of play, while the mother nods above them. On the next bench a wanderer is stretched at full length, his face hidden in his crooked-up arm. I note a couple seated, silent, with shoulder touching shoulder. I meet a young man and woman walking hand in hand; they do not see me as I pass. Beyond, other figures are soundless shadows, gathering out of the enveloping dusk. It is all so intimate and friendly. The air, the flowers, the bit of water through the trees reflecting the lights of the little bridge, are a caress. And it is all for me! I am a child at his tired play, I am the sleeping tramp, I am the young fellow with his girl. It is not the sentiment of the thing, received intellectually, that makes it mine. My being goes out into these other lives and becomes one with them. I feel them in myself. It is not thought that constitutes appreciation; it is emotion.
Another glimpse, caught this time through a car window. Now it is a winter twilight. The flurry of snow has passed. The earth is penetrated with blue light, suffused by it, merged in it, ever blue. Vague forms, still and shadowy, of hills and trees, soppy with light, are blue within the blue. The brief expanse of bay is deeply luminous and within the pervasive tempering light resolves itself into the cool and solemn reaches of the sky which bends down and touches it. Once more my spirit meets and mingles with the spirit of the landscape. By the harmony of nature's forms and twilight tones I am brought into a larger harmony within myself and with the world around.
All experience offers to us at any moment just such possibilities of living. The infinite and ever-changing expressiveness of nature at every instant of day and night is ours to read if we will but look upon it with the inner vision. The works of men in cities and cultivated fields, if we will see beyond the actual material, may quicken our emotions until we enact in ourselves their story of struggle, of hopes and ambitions partly realized, of defeat or final triumph. The faces seen in a passing crowd bear each the record of life lived, of lives like ours of joys or disappointments, lives of great aims or no aims at all, of unwritten heroisms, of hidden tragedies bravely borne, lives sordid and mean or generous and bright. The panorama of the world unrolls itself for us. It is ours to experience and live out in our own being according as we are able to feel. Just as the impulse to expression is common to all men, and all are artists potentially, differing in the depth of their insight into life and in the degree of emotion they have to express, so appreciation lies within the scope of all, and the measure of it to us as individuals is determined by our individual capability of response.
Life means to each one of us what we are able to receive of it in "wise passiveness," and then are able by the constructive force of our individuality to shape into coherence and completeness. As the landscape which an artist paints is the landscape visioned in imagination, though composed of forms given in nature, so life furnishes us the elements of experience, and out of these elements we construct a meaning, each for himself. To one man an object or incident is commonplace and blank; to another it may be charged with significance and big with possibilities of fuller living. "In every object." says Carlyle, "there is inexhaustible meaning; the eye sees in it what it brings means of seeing." To see is not merely to receive an image upon the retina. The stimulation of the visual organ becomes sight properly only as the record is conveyed to the consciousness. When I am reading a description of a sunset, there is an image upon my retina of a white page and black marks of different forms grouped in various combinations. But what I see is the sunset. Momentarily to rest the eye upon a landscape is not really to see it, for our mind may be quite otherwhere. We see the landscape only as it becomes part of our conscious experience. The beauty of it is in us. A novelist conceives certain characters and assembles them in action and reaction, but it is we who in effect create the story as we read. We take up a novel, perhaps, which we read five years ago; we find in it now new significances and appeals. The book is the same; it is we who have changed. We bring to it the added power of feeling of those five years of living. Art works not by information but by evocation. Appreciation is not reception but response. The artist must compel us to feel what he has felt,—not something else. But the scope of his message, with its overtones and subtler implications, is limited by the rate of vibration to which we are attuned.
"All architecture is what you do to it when you look upon it, (Did you think it was in the white or gray stone? or the lines of the arches and cornices?) All music is what awakes from you when you are reminded by the instruments."
And again Whitman says, "A great poem is no finish to a man or woman, but rather a beginning." The final significance of both life and art is not won by the exercise of the intellect, but unfolds itself to us in the measure that we feel.
To illustrate the nature of appreciation and the power from which appreciation derives, the power to project ourselves into the world external to us, I spoke of the joy of living peculiar to the child and to the childlike in heart. But that is not quite the whole of the story. A child by force of his imagination and capacity of feeling is able to pass beyond the limits of material, and he lives in a world of exhaustless play and happiness; for him objects are but means and not an end. To transcend thus the bounds of matter imposed by the senses and to live by the power of emotion is the first condition of appreciation. The second condition of appreciation is to feel and know it, to become conscious of ourselves in our relation to the object. To live is the purpose of life; to be aware that we are living is its fulfillment and the reward of appreciation.
Experience has a double value. There is the instant of experience itself, and then the reaction on it. A child is unconscious in his play; he is able to forget himself in it completely. At that moment he is most happy. The instant of supreme joy is the instant of ecstasy, when we lose all consciousness of ourselves as separate and distinct individualities. We are one with the whole. But experience does not yield us its fullest and permanent significance until, having abandoned ourselves to the moment, we then react upon it and become aware of what the moment means. A group of children are at play. Without thought of themselves they are projected into their sport; with their whole being merged in it, they are intensely living. A passer on the street stands and watches them. For the moment, in spirit he becomes a child with them. In himself he feels the absorption and vivid reality to them of what they are doing. But he feels also what they do not feel, and that is, what it means to be a child. Where they are unconscious he is conscious; and therefore he is able, as they are not, to distill the significance of their play. This recognition makes possible the extension of his own life; for the man adds to himself the child. The reproach is sometimes brought against Walt Whitman that the very people he writes about do not read him. The explanation is simple and illustrates the difference between the unconscious and the conscious reception of life. The "average man" who is the hero of Whitman's chants is not aware of himself as such. He goes about his business, content to do his work; and that makes up his experience. It is not the average man himself, but the poet standing outside and looking on with imaginative sympathy, who feels what it means to be an average man. It is the poet who must "teach the average man the glory of his daily walk and trade." It is not enough to be happy as children are happy,—unconsciously. We must be happy and know it too.
The attitude of appreciation is the attitude of response,—the projection of ourselves into new and fuller ranges of feeling, with the resultant extension of our personality and a larger grasp on life. We do not need to go far afield for experience; it is here and now. To-day is the only day, and every day is the best day. "The readiness is all." But mere contact with the surface of life is not enough. Living does not consist in barely meeting the necessities of our material existence; to live is to feel vibrantly throughout our being the inner significance of things, their appeal and welcome to the spirit. This fair world of color and form and texture is but a show world, after all,—this world which looms so near that we can see it, touch it, which comes to us out of the abysms of time and recedes into infinitudes of space whither the imagination cannot follow it. The true and vital meaning of it resides within and discovers itself to us finally as emotion. Some of this meaning art reveals to us, and in that measure it helps us to find ourselves. But art is only the means. The starting-point of the appreciation of art, and its goal, is the appreciation of life. The reward of living is the added ability to live. And life yields its fullest opportunities, its deepest tragedies, its highest joys, all its infinite scope of feeling, to those who enter by the gate of appreciation.
TECHNIQUE AND THE LAYMAN
A PEASANT is striding across a field in the twilight shadow of a hill. Beyond, where the fold of the hill dips down into the field, another peasant is driving a team of oxen at a plow. The distant figures are aglow with golden mellow light, the last light of day, which deepens the gloom of the shadowing hillside. The sower's cap is pulled tight about his head, hiding under its shade the unseeing eyes. The mouth is brutal and grim. The heavy jaw flows down into the thick, resistive neck. The right arm swings powerfully out, scattering the grain. The left is pressed to his body; the big, stubborn hand clutches close the pouch of seed. Action heroic, elemental; the dumb bearing of the universal burden. In the flex of the shoulder, the crook of the outstretched arm, the conquering onward stride, is expressed all the force of that word of the Lord to the first toiler, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread."
Three men are standing before Millet's canvas.
One recognizes the subject of the picture. With the pleasure of recognition he notes what the artist has here represented, and he is interested in the situation. This is a peasant, and he is sowing his grain. So the onlooker stands and watches the peasant in his movement, and he thinks about the sower, recalling any sower he may have read of or seen or known, his own sower rather than the one that Millet has seen and would show to him. This man's pleasure in the picture has its place.
The second of the three men is attracted by the qualities of execution which the work displays, and he is delighted by what he calls the "actual beauty" of the painting. With eyes close to the canvas he notes the way Millet has handled his materials, his drawing, his color, his surfaces and edges, all the knack of the brush-work, recognizing in his examination of the workmanship of the picture that though Millet was a very great artist, he was not a great painter, that the reach of his ideas was not equaled by his technical skill. Then as the beholder stands back from the canvas to take in the ensemble, his eye is pleased by the color-harmony, it rests lovingly upon the balance of the composition, and follows with satisfaction the rhythmic flow of line. His enjoyment is both intellectual and sensuous. And that too has its place.
The third spectator, with no thought of the facts around which the picture is built, not observing the technical execution as such, unconscious at the moment also of its merely sensuous charm, feels within himself, "I am that peasant!" In his own spirit is enacted the agelong world-drama of toil. He sees beyond the bare subject of the picture; the medium with all its power of sensuous appeal and satisfaction becomes transparent. The beholder enters into the very being of the laborer; and as he identifies himself with this other life outside of him, becoming one with it in spirit and feeling, he adds just so much to his own experience. In his reception of the meaning of Millet's painting of the "Sower" he lives more deeply and abundantly.
It is the last of these three men who stands in the attitude of full and true appreciation. The first of the three uses the picture simply as a point of departure; his thought travels away from the canvas, and he builds up the entire experience out of his own knowledge and store of associations. The second man comes a little nearer to appreciation, but even he falls short of full realization, for he stops at the actual material work itself. His interest in the technical execution and his pleasure in the sensuous qualities of the medium do not carry him through the canvas and into the emotion which it was the artist's purpose to convey. Only he truly appreciates the painting of the "Sower" who feels something of what Millet felt, partaking of the artist's experience as expressed by means of the picture, and making it vitally his own.
But before the appreciator can have brought himself to the point of perception where he is able to respond directly to the significance of art and to make the artist's emotion a part of his own emotional experience, he must needs have traveled a long and rather devious way. Appreciation is not limited to the exercise of the intellect, as in the recognition of the subject of a work of art and in the interest which the technically minded spectator takes in the artist's skill. It does not end with the gratification of the senses, as with the delight in harmonious color and rhythmic line and ordered mass. Yet the intellect and the senses, though they are finally but the channel through which the artist's meaning flows to reach and rouse the feelings, nevertheless play their part in appreciation. Between the spirit of the artist and the spirit of the appreciator stands the individual work of art as the means of expression and communication. In the work itself emotion is embodied in material form. The material which art employs for expression constitutes its language. Certain principles govern the composition of the work, certain processes are involved in the making of it, and the result possesses certain qualities and powers. The processes which enter into the actual fashioning of the work are both intellectual and physical, requiring the exercise of the artist's mind in the planning of the work and in the directing of his hand; so far as the appreciator concerns himself with them, they address themselves to his intellect. The finished work in its material aspect possesses qualities which are perceived by the senses and which have a power of sensuous delight. Upon these processes and these qualities depends in part the total character of a work of art, and they must be reckoned with in appreciation.
In his approach to any work of art, therefore, the layman is confronted first of all with the problem of the language which the work employs. Architecture uses as its language the structural capabilities of its material, as wood or stone, bringing all together into coherent and serviceable form. Poetry is phrased in words. Painting employs as its medium color and line and mass. At the outset, in the case of any art, we have some knowledge of the signification of its terms. Here is a painting of a sower. Out of previous experience of the world we easily recognize the subject of the picture. But whence comes the majesty of this rude peasant, the dignity august of this rough and toil-burdened laborer, his power to move us? In addition to the common signification of its terms, then, language seems to have a further expressiveness, a new meaning imparted to it by the way in which the artist uses it. In a poem we know the meaning of the words, but the poetry of it, which we feel rather than know, is the creation of the poet, wrought out of the familiar words by his cunning manipulation of them.
"The grey sea and the long black land; And the yellow half-moon large and low; And the startled little waves that leap In fiery ringlets from their sleep, As I gain the cove with pushing prow, And quench its speed i' the slushy sand.
"Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach; Three fields to cross till a farm appears; A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch And blue spurt of a lighted match, And a voice less loud, thro' its joys and fears, Than the two hearts beating each to each!"
A drama in twelve lines. These are words of common daily usage, every one,—for the most part aggressively so. But the romance which they effuse, the glamour which envelops the commonplace incident as with an aura, is due to the poet's strategic selection of his terms, the one right word out of many words that offered, and his subtle combination of his terms into melody and rhythm. The wonder of the poet's craft is like the musician's,—
"That out of three sounds he frame, not a fourth sound, but a star."
A building rises before us; we recognize it as a building, and again easily we infer the purpose which it serves, that it is a temple or a dwelling. And then the beauty of it, a power to affect us beyond the mere feet that it is a building, lays hold upon us, an influence emanating from it which we do not altogether explain to ourselves. Simply in its presence we feel that we are pleased. The fact, the material which the artist uses, exists out there in nature. But the beauty of the building, the majesty and power of the picture, the charm of the poem,—this is the art of the artist; and he wins his effects by the way in which he handles his materials, by his technique. Some knowledge of technique, therefore,—not the artist's knowledge of it, but the ability to read the language of art as the artist intends it to be read,—is necessary to appreciation.
The hut which the traveler through a wild country put together to provide himself shelter against storm and the night was in essence a work of art. The purpose of his effort was not the hut itself but shelter, to accomplish which he used the hut as his means. The emotion of which the work was the expression, in this case the traveler's consciousness of his need, embodied itself in a concrete form and made use of material. The hut which he conceived in response to his need became for him the subject or motive of his work. For the actual expression of his design he took advantage of the qualities of his material, its capabilities to combine thus and so; these inherent qualities were his medium. The material wood and stone which he employed were the vehicle of his design. The way in which he handled his vehicle toward the construction of the hut, availing himself of the qualities and capabilities of his material, might be called his technique.
The sight of some landscape wakens in the beholder a vivid and definite emotion; he is moved by it to some form of expression. If he is a painter he will express his emotion by means of a picture, which involves in the making of it certain elements and certain processes. The picture will present selected facts in the landscape; the landscape, then, as constructed according to the design the painter has conceived of it, becomes the motive or subject of his picture. The particular aspects of the landscape which the picture records are its color and its form. These qualities of color and form are the painter's medium. An etching of the scene would use not color but line to express the artist's emotion in its presence; so line is the medium of etching. But "qualities" of objects are an abstraction unless they are embodied in material. In order, therefore, to give his medium actual embodiment the painter uses pigment, as oil-color or water-color or tempera, laid upon a surface, as canvas, wood, paper, plaster; this material pigment is his vehicle. The etcher employs inked scratches upon his plate of zinc or copper, bitten by acid or scratched directly by the needle; these marks of ink are the vehicle of etching. To the way in which the artist uses his medium for practical expression and to his methods in the actual handling of his vehicle is applied the term technique. The general conception of his picture, its total design, the choice of motive, the selection of details, the main scheme of composition,—these belong to the great strategy of his art. The application of these principles in practice and their material working out upon his canvas are an affair of tactics and fall within the province of technique.
The ultimate significance of a work of art is its content of emotion, the essential controlling idea, which inspires the work and gives it concrete form. In its actual embodiment, the expressive power of the work resides in the medium. The medium of any art, then, as color and mass in painting, line in drawing and etching, form in sculpture, sound in music, is its means of expression and constitutes its language. Now the signification of language derives from convention. Line, for example, which may be so sensitive and so expressive, is only an abstraction and does not exist in nature. What the draughtsman renders as line is objectively in fact the boundary of forms. A head, with all its subtleties of color and light and shade, may be represented by a pencil or charcoal drawing, black upon a white surface. It is not the head which is black and white, but the drawing. Our acceptance of the drawing as an adequate representation of the head rests upon convention. Writing is an elementary kind of drawing; the letters of the alphabet were originally pictures or symbols. So to-day written or printed letters are arbitrary symbols of sounds, and grouped together in arbitrary combinations they form words, which are symbols of ideas. The word sum stood to the old Romans for the idea "I am;" to English-speaking people the word signifies a "total" and also a problem in arithmetic. A painting of a landscape does not attempt to imitate the scene; it uses colors and forms as symbols which serve for expression. The meaning attaching to these symbols derives from common acceptance and usage, Japanese painting, rendering the abstract spirit of movement of a wave, for example, rather than the concrete details of its surface appearance, differs fundamentally from the painting of the western world; it is none the less pregnant with meaning for those who know the convention. To understand language, therefore, we must understand the convention and accept its terms. The value of language as a means of expression and communication depends upon the knowledge, common to the user and to the person addressed, of the signification of its terms. Its effectiveness is determined by the way in which it is employed, involving the choice of terms, as the true line for the false or meaningless one, the right value or note of color out of many that would almost do, the exact and specific word rather than the vague and feeble; involving also the combination of terms into articulate forms. These ways and methods in the use of language are the concern of technique. Technique, therefore, plays an important part in the creation and the ultimate fortunes of the artist's work.
Just here arises a problem for the layman in his approach to art. The man who says, "I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like," is a familiar figure in our midst; of such, for the most part, the "public" of art is constituted. What he really means is, "I don't know anything about technique, but art interests me. I read books, I go to concerts and the theatre, I look at pictures; and in a way they have something for me." If we make this distinction between art and technique, the matter becomes simplified. The layman does not himself paint pictures or write books or compose music; his contact with art is with the purpose of appreciation. Life holds some meaning for him, as he is engaged in living, and there his chief interest lies. So art too has a message addressed to him, for art starts with life and in the end comes back to it. If art is not the expression of vital feeling, in its turn communicating the feeling to the appreciator so that he makes it a real part of his experience of life, then the thing called art is only an exercise in dexterity for the maker and a pastime for the receiver; it is not art. But art is not quite the same as life at first hand; it is rather the distillment of it. In order to render the significance of life as he has perceived and felt it, the artist selects and modifies his facts; and his work depends for its expressiveness upon the material form in which the emotion is embodied. The handling of material to the end of making it expressive is an affair of technique. The layman may ask himself, then, To what extent is a knowledge of technique necessary for appreciation? And how may he win that knowledge?
On his road to appreciation the layman is beset with difficulties. Most of the talk about art which he hears is either the translation of picture or sonata into terms of literary sentiment or it is a discussion of the way the thing is done. He knows at least that painting is not the same as literature and that music has its own province; he recognizes that the meaning of pictures is not literary but pictorial, the meaning of music is musical. But the emphasis laid upon the manner of execution confuses and disturbs him. At the outset he frankly admits that he has no knowledge of technical processes as such. Yet each art must be read in its own language, and each has its special technical problems. He realizes that to master the technique of any single art is a career. And yet there are many arts, all of which may have some message for him in their own kind. If he must be able to paint in order to enjoy pictures rightly, if he cannot listen intelligently at a concert without being able himself to compose or at least to perform, his case for the appreciation of art seems hopeless.
If the layman turns to his artist friends for enlightenment and a little sympathy, it is possible he may encounter a rebuff. Artists sometimes speak contemptuously of the public. "A painter," they say, "paints for painters, not for the people; outsiders know nothing about painting." True, outsiders know nothing about painting, but perhaps they know a little about life. If art is more than intellectual subtlety and manual skill, if art is the expression of something the artist has felt and lived, then the outsider has after all some standard for his estimate of art and a basis for his enjoyment. He is able to determine the value of the work to himself according as it expresses what he already knows about life or reveals to him fuller possibilities of experience which he can make his own. He does not pretend to judge painting; but he feels that he has some right to appreciate art. In reducing all art to a matter of technique artists themselves are not quite consistent. My friends Jones, a painter, and Smith, a composer, do not withhold their opinion of this or that novel and poem and play, and they discourse easily on the performances of Mr. James and Mr. Swinburne and Mr. Shaw; but I have no right to talk about the meaning to me of Jones's picture or Smith's sonata, for my business is with words, and therefore I cannot have any concern with painting or with music. To be sure, literature uses as its vehicle the means of communication of daily life, namely, words. But the art in literature, the interpretation of life which it gives us, as distinct from mere entertainment, is no more generally appreciated than the art in painting. A man's technical accomplishment may be best understood and valued by his fellow-workmen in the same craft; and often the estimate set by artists on their own work is referred to the qualities of its technical execution. As a classic instance, Raphael sent some of his drawings to Albert Duerer to "show him his hand." So a painter paints for the painters. But the artist gives back a new fullness and meaning to life and addresses all who live. That man is fortunate who does not allow his progress toward appreciation to be impeded by this confusion of technique with art.
The emphasis which workers in any art place upon their powers of execution is for themselves a false valuation of technique, and it tends to obscure the layman's vision of essentials. Technique is not, as it would seem, the whole of art, but only a necessary part. A work of art in its creation involves two elements,—the idea and the execution. The idea is the emotional content of the work; the execution is the practical expressing of the idea by means of the medium and the vehicle. The idea of Millet's "Sower" is the emotion attending his conception of the laborer rendered in visual terms; the execution of the picture is exhibited in the composition, the color, the drawing, and the actual brush-work. So, too, the artist himself is constituted by two qualifications, which must exist together: first, the power of the subject over the artist; and second, the artist's power over his subject. The first of these without the second results simply in emotion which does not come to expression as art. The second without the first produces sham art; the semblance of art may be fashioned by technical skill, but the life which inspires art is wanting. The artist, then, may be regarded in a dual aspect. He is first a temperament and a mind, capable of feeling intensely and able to integrate his emotions into unified coherent form; in this aspect he is essentially the artist. Secondly, for the expression of his idea he brings to bear on the execution of his work his command of the medium, his intellectual adroitness and his manual skill; in this aspect he is the technician. Every artist has a special kind of means with which he works, requiring knowledge and dexterity; but it may be assumed that in addition to his ability to express himself he has something to say. We may test a man's merit as a painter by his ability to paint. As an artist his greatness is to be judged with reference to the greatness of his ideas; and in his capacity as artist his technical skill derives its value from the measure in which it is adequate to their expression. In the case of an accomplished pianist or violinist we take his proficiency of technique for granted, and we ask, What, with all this power of expression at his command, has he to say? In his rendering of the composer's work what has he of his own to contribute by way of interpretation? Conceding at once to Mr. Sargent his supreme competence as a painter, his consummate mastery of all his means, we ask, What has he seen in this man or this woman before him worthy of the exercise of such skill? In terms of the personality he is interpreting, what has he to tell us of the beauty and scope of life and to communicate to us of larger emotional experience? The worth of technique is determined, not by its excellence as such, but by its efficiency for expression.
It is difficult for an outsider to understand why painters, writers, sculptors, and the rest, who are called artists in distinction from the ordinary workman, should make so much of their skill. Any man who works freely and with joy takes pride in his performance. And instinctively we have a great respect for a good workman. Skill is not confined to those who are engaged in what is conventionally regarded as art. Indeed, the distinction implied in favor of "art" is unjust to the wide range of activities of familiar daily life into which the true art spirit may enter. A bootblack who polishes his shoes as well as he can, not merely because he is to be paid for it, though too he has a right to his pay, but because that is his work, his means of expression, even he works in the spirit of an artist. Extraordinary skill is often developed by those who are quite outside the pale of art. In a circus or music-hall entertainment we may see a man throw himself from a trapeze swinging high in air, and after executing a double somersault varied by complex lateral gyrations, catch the extended arms of his partner, who is hanging by his knees on another flying bar. Or a man leaning backwards over a chair shoots at a distance of fifty paces a lump of sugar from between the foreheads of two devoted assistants. Such skill presupposes intelligence. Of the years of training and practice, of the sacrifice and the power of will, that have gone to the accomplishment of this result, the looker-on can form but little conception. These men are not considered artists. Yet a painter who uses his picture to exhibit a skill no more wonderful than theirs would be grieved to be accounted an acrobat or a juggler. Only such skill as is employed in the service of expression is to be reckoned with as an element in art; and in art it is of value not for its own sake but as it serves its purpose. The true artist subordinates his technique to expression, justly making it a means and not the end. He cares for the significance of his idea more than for his sleight of hand; he effaces his skill for his art.
A recognition of the skill exhibited in the fashioning of a work of art, however, if seen in its right relation to the total scope of the work, is a legitimate source of pleasure. Knowledge of any subject brings its satisfactions. To understand with discerning insight the workings of any process, whether it be the operation of natural laws, as in astronomy or chemistry, whether it be the construction of a locomotive, the playing of a game of foot-ball, or the painting of a picture, to see the "wheels go round" and know the how and the wherefore,—undeniably this is a source of pleasure. In the understanding of technical processes, too, there is a further occasion of enjoyment, differing somewhat from the satisfaction which follows in the train of knowledge.
"There is a pleasure in poetic pains Which only poets know,"
says the poet Cowper. There is a pleasure in the sense of difficulties overcome known only to those who have tried to overcome them. But such enjoyment—the pleasure which comes with enlightened recognition and the pleasure of mastery and triumph—derives from an intellectual exercise and is not to be confounded with the full appreciation of art. Art, finally, is not the "how" but the "what" in terms of its emotional significance. Our pleasure in the result, in the design itself, is not the same as our pleasure in the skill that produced the work. The design, with the message that it carries, not the making of it, is the end of art.
Too great preoccupation with technique conflicts with full appreciation. To fix the attention upon the manner of expression is to lose the meaning. A style which attracts notice to itself is in so far forth bad style, because it defeats its own end, which is expression; but beyond this, our interest in technical execution is purely intellectual, whereas art reaches the emotions. At the theatre a critic sits unmoved; dispassionately he looks upon the personages of the drama, as they advance, retreat, and countermarch, little by little yielding up their secret, disclosing all the subtle interplay of human motives. From the heights of his knowledge the critic surveys the spectacle; with an insight born of his learning, he penetrates the mysteries of the playwright's craft. He knows what thought and skill have gone into this result; he knows the weary hours of toil, the difficulties of invention and selection, the heroic rejections, the intricacies of construction, the final triumph. He sees it all from the point of view of the master-workman, and sympathetically he applauds his success; his recognition of what has been accomplished is his pleasure. But all the while he has remained on the outside. Not for a moment has he become a party to the play. He brings to it nothing of his own feeling and power of response. There has been no union of his spirit with the artist's spirit,—that union in which a work of art achieves its consummation. The man at his side, with no knowledge or thought of how the effect has been won, surrenders himself to the illusion. These people on the stage are more intensely and vividly real to him than in life itself; the artist has distilled the significance of the situation and communicates it to him as emotion. The man's reaction is not limited to the exercise of his intellect,—he gives himself. In the experience which the dramatist conveys to him beautifully, shaping discords into harmony and disclosing their meaning for the spirit, he lives.
A true artist employs his medium as an instrument of expression; and he values his own technical skill in the handling of it according to the measure that he is enabled thereby to express himself more effectively. On the layman's part so much knowledge of technique is necessary as makes it possible for him to understand the artist's language and the added expressiveness wrought out of language by the artist's cunning use of it. And such knowledge is not beyond his reach.
In order to understand the meaning of any language we must first understand the signification of its terms, and then we must know something of the ways in which they may be combined into articulate forms of expression. The terms of speech are words; in order to speak coherently and articulately we must group words into sentences according to the laws of the tongue to which they belong. Similarly, every art has its terms, or "parts of speech," and its grammar, or the ways in which the terms are combined. The terms of painting are color and form, the terms of music are tones. Colors and forms are brought together into harmony and balance that by their juxtaposition they may be made expressive and beautiful. Tones are woven into a pattern according to principles of harmony, melody, and rhythm, and they become music. When technique is turned to such uses, not for the vainglory of a virtuoso, but for the service of the artist in his earnest work of expression, then it identifies itself with art.
A knowledge of the signification of the terms of art the layman may win for himself by a recognition of the expressive power of all material and by sensitiveness to it. The beholder will not respond to the appeal of a painting of a landscape unless he has himself felt something of the charm or glory of landscape in nature; he will not quicken and expand to the dignity or force caught in rigid marble triumphantly made fluent in statue or relief until he has realized for himself the significance of form and movement which exhales from every natural object. Gesture is a universal language. The mighty burden of meaning in Millet's picture of the "Sower" is carried by the gesture of the laborer as he swings across the background of field and hill, whose forms also are expressive; here, too, the elemental dignity of form and movement is reinforced by the solemnity of the color. Gesture is but one of nature's characters wherewith she inscribes upon the vivid, shifting surface of the world her message to the spirit of man. A clue to the understanding of the terms of art, therefore, is found in the layman's own appreciation of the emotional value of all objects of sense and their multitudinous power of utterance,—the sensitive decision of line, the might or delicacy of form, the splendor and subtlety of color, the magic of sound, the satisfying virtue of harmony in whatever embodiment, all the beauty of nature, all the significance of human life. And this appreciation is to be won largely by the very experience of it. The more we feel, the greater becomes our power for deeper feeling. Every emotion to which we thrill is the entrance into larger capacity of emotion. We may allow for growth and trust to the inevitable working of its laws. In the appreciation of both life and art the individual may be his own teacher by experience.
The qualities of objects with their inherent emotional values constitute the raw material of art, to be woven by the artist into a fabric of expressive form and texture. Equipped with a knowledge of the terms of any art, the layman has yet to understand something of the ways in which the terms may be combined. Every artist has his idiom or characteristic style. Rembrandt on the flat surface of his canvas secures the illusion of form in the round by a system of light and shade; modeling is indicated by painting the parts in greater relief in light and the parts in less relief in shadow. Manet renders the relief of form by a system of "values," or planes of more and less light. The local color of objects is affected by the amount of light they receive and the distance an object or part of an object is from the eye of the spectator. Manet paints with degrees of light, and he wins his effects, not by contrasts of color, but by subtle modulations within a given hue. Landscape painters before the middle of the nineteenth century, working with color in masses, secured a total harmony by bringing all their colors, mixed upon the palette, into the same key. The "Luminarists," like Claude Monet, work with little spots or points of color laid separately upon the canvas; the fusion of these separate points into the dominant tone is made by the eye of the beholder. The characteristic effect of a work of art is determined by the way in which the means are employed. Some knowledge, therefore, of the artist's aims as indicated in his method of working is necessary to a full understanding of what he wants to say.
In his effort to understand for his own purposes of appreciation what the artist has accomplished by his technique, the layman may first of all distinguish between processes and results. A landscape in nature is beautiful to the beholder because he perceives in it some harmony of color and form which through the eye appeals to the emotions. His vision does not transmit every fact in the landscape; instinctively his eye in its sweep over meadow and trees and hill selects those details that compose. By this act of integration he is for himself in so far forth an artist. If he were a painter he would know what elements in the landscape to put upon his canvas. But he has no skill in the actual practice of drawing and of handling the brush, no knowledge of mixing colors and matching tones; he understands nothing of perspective and "values" and the relations of light and shade. He knows only what he sees, that the landscape as he sees it is beautiful; and equally he recognizes as beautiful the presentment of it upon canvas. He is ignorant of the technical problems with which the painter in practice has had to contend in order to reach this result; it is the result only that is of concern to him in so far as it is or is not what he desires. The painter's color is significant to him, not because he knows how to mix the color for himself, but because that color in nature has spoken to him unutterable things and he has responded to it. The layman cannot make a sunset and he cannot paint a picture; but he can enjoy both. So he cares, then, rather for what the painter has done than for how he has done it, because the processes do not enter into his own experience. The picture has a meaning for him in the measure that it expresses what he perceives and feels, and that is the beauty of the landscape.
Any knowledge of technical processes which the layman may happen to possess may be a source of intellectual pleasure. But for appreciation, only so much understanding of technique is necessary as enables him to receive the message of a given work in the degree of expressiveness which the artist by his use of his medium has attained. A clue to this understanding may come to him by intuition, by virtue of his own native insight and intelligence. He may gain it by reading or by instruction. He may go out and win it by intrepid questioning of those who know; and it is to be hoped that such will be very patient with him, for after all even a layman has the right to live. Once started on the path, then, in the mysteries of art as in the whole complex infinite business of living, he becomes his own tutor by observation and experience; and he may develop into a fuller knowledge in obedience to the law of growth. Each partial clue to understanding brings him a step farther on his road; each new glimmer of insight beckons him to ultimate illumination. Though baffled at the outset, yet patient under disappointment, undauntedly he pushes on in spite of obstacles, until he wins his way at last to true appreciation.
If the layman seeks a standard by which to test the value of any technical method, he finds it in the success of the work itself. Every method is to be judged in and for itself on its own merits, and not as better or worse than some other method. Individually we may prefer Velasquez to Frans Hals; Whistler may minister to our personal satisfaction in larger measure than Mr. Sargent; we may enjoy Mr. James better than Stevenson; Richard Strauss may stir us more deeply than Brahms. We do not affirm thereby that impressionism is inherently better than realism, or that subtlety is more to be desired than strength; the psychological novel is not necessarily greater than romance; because of our preference "programme music" is not therefore more significant than "absolute music." The greatness of an artist is established by the greatness of his ideas, adequately expressed. And the value of any technical method is determined by its own effectiveness for expression.
There is, then, no invariable standard external to the work itself by which to judge technique. For no art is final. A single work is the manifestation of beauty as the individual artist has conceived or felt it. The perception of what is beautiful varies from age to age and with each person. So, too, standards of beauty in art change with each generation; commonly they are deduced from the practice of preceding artists. Classicism formulates rules from works that have come to be recognized as beautiful, and it requires of the artist conformity to these rules. By this standard, which it regards as absolute, it tries a new work, and it pretends to adjudge the work good or bad according as it meets the requirements. Then a Titan emerges who defies the canons, wrecks the old order, and in his own way, to the despair or scorn of his contemporaries, creates a work which the generation that follows comes to see is beautiful. "Every author," says Wordsworth, "as far as he is great and at the same time original, has had the task of creating the taste by which he is to be enjoyed." Wordsworth in his own generation was ridiculed; Millet, when he ceased painting nudes for art-dealers' windows and ventured to express himself, faced starvation. Every artist is in some measure an innovator; for his own age he is a romanticist. But the romanticist of one age becomes a classic for the next; and his performance in its turn gives laws to his successors. Richard Strauss, deriving in some sense from Wagner, makes the older man seem a classic and conservative. Then a new mind again is raised up, a new temperament, with new needs; and these shape their own adequate new expression. "The cleanest expression," says Whitman, "is that which finds no sphere worthy of itself and makes one." As all life is growth, as there are no bounds to the possibilities of human experience, so the workings of the art-impulse cannot be compressed within the terms of a hard and narrow definition, and any abstract formula for beauty is in the very nature of things foredoomed to failure. No limit can be set to the forms in which beauty may be made manifest.