HE LAY FIGURE ON ONE
PHASE OF THE FOREIGN
POLICY OF ART.
"Yesterday," remarked the Journalist, "a
writer spoke of the foreign policy of art. The
phrase hit me full in the eye. But what does it mean ? "
"That depends upon one's bias of'inind," the
Reviewer growled. " To me, for instance, art's
foreign policy is a curious thing, a mixture of theft
and vainglory. It is seen at first in the humility
with which some young artists in one country
plagiarise from the recognised masters of another ;
then the vanity of human nature asserts itself,
and the plagiarists disown their benefactors."
" I object to the word plagiarist," said the
Critic. "Young artists do not steal when they
go to acknowledged masters for inspiration and
technical guidance. You might as well say that
men of science plagiarise when they make use of
the knowledge amassed by their authorities."
" I detect no parallel between the cases," re-
plied the Reviewer gruffly. " Men of science are
always glad to send you to their authorities, while
artists are not, as a rule. I know a score of
English painters who would be touched on the
raw if I told them that their styles are evidently
of French origin. Such men deserve to be called
plagiarists, because they lay claim to qualities
which are not their own."
" Nonsense ! " laughed the Critic. " Surely the
woman in the manliness of artists should have a
little freedom for perverse self-deception ? In any
case, the main point concerning the foreign policy
of art is this—that it should circulate freely in all
countries the new discoveries made by persons of
genius. There should be a universal free trade
in such products, so that an enterprising spirit
may be general among artists of all kinds."
" Agreed ! " the Reviewer answered. " But that
should not stop an artist from admitting the
debts of gratitude he owes to a foreign predecessor
or contemporary. If I, for instance, after borrow-
ing largely from Corot or from Millet, were to form
a good style, ought not I to be bound by honour
to the object of my discipleship ? Should I have
the least right to listen gladly to any praise which
did not connect my work with the great man who
had taught me to express myself in paint ? "
" I think so, certainly," the Critic answered.
" A great influence in art is a thing which
falls upon many, like rain; it is certain
to fertilise, to be productive; and when it is
transformed by those upon whom it acts, I do not
feel called upon to speak of it in a written criticism.
It appeals to me then as a medium of artistic
expression that belongs to all the world. Besides,
he who tries in writing to trace a style to its
original source, runs the risk of laying too much
stress on the borrowed traits, to the injury of
the new characteristics."
" I'm plainly out of fashion," grumbled the
Reviewer. " Yet I enjoy a good oath or two
when the pedigree of a style is not insisted upon.
To keep an artist constantly in mind of the
abiding results of his master's influence is a good
antidote to the disease known as 'a swelled head.'
Only this morning I came upon a bad case of that
common disease. The sufferer was a German
gentleman, a sort of impresario for the applied
arts. At one time he did full justice to the
spirited part played by the English initiators of
the modern movement in decoration; but now
that his own countrymen have profited by their
example, he is quite sure that the English movement
was always a weakling, and that it passed into an
epitaph for the tomb of William Morris."
"Interesting banter," the Critic laughed. " Per-
haps your seriousness invited it. Yet your German
friend could not have been altogether in fun. He
must know that his own countrymen, and other
people on the Continent of Europe, show in their
adherence to the modern art-movement an earnest-
ness of purpose which we English would do well
to emulate. Our friendly rivals on the Con-
tinent strive with unbounded enthusiasm to profit
by the foreign policy of art."
"They do, indeed," said the Art Historian.
" Their earnestness, to be sure, is not always
reasonable, for it shows a tendency at times to rate
sound construction at a lower level than orna-
mental details ; but, for all that, one may describe
it boldly as a wayfaring earnestness, for its presence
is felt in the streets and workshops, and it bids fair
to become variously rational and useful. The part
it is destined to play in the international warfare of
trade and commerce must not be undervalued by
" Nor yet by British designers and master-
craftsmen," observed the Critic. " Among these
art-workers there is far too much dilettanteism.
Some live in terror of being imitated, others shiver
at the thought of being accused of self-advertise-
ment ; and all who suffer in these feeble ways are
proud of their weakness. They do not see that
their talents should be colonists in the nation's stren-
uous life, and not toys for the rich to play with."
The Lay Figure.