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Studio: international art — 36.1906

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The Lay



“I often wonder,” said the Designer,

“ whether the art of this country would not gain,
rather than lose, if the whole of our Government
art-schools were closed and art teaching became
once more a matter of private enterprise.”

“ What an anarchical idea ! ” laughed the Man
with the Red Tie. “ If I had made such a sugges-
tion you would have accused me of seeking to upset
the very foundations of society. I thought you
were quite satisfied with things as they are.”

“You misrepresent me,” replied the Designer ;

“ I am quite prepared to accept the present
system of art education if its results are at all in
proportion to the outlay of money and trouble
which it involves. But if these results are bad, or
even insufficient, am I not justified in speculating
whether we should not be better off if we had no
Government schools ? Of course, if these schools
disappeared, art education would not come to an
end, but it would be carried on in another way.”

“ You mean it would be more personal and less
mechanical in character,” broke in the Art Critic,

“ and that there would be more individual teach-
ing substituted for a set and formal system. I
presume your pessimistic reflections have been
induced by a visit to the National Art Competition
show. I have seen it myself and can sympathise.

I found much in it that was depressing.”

“There is always something depressing in mis-
directed effort,” answered the Designer. “ I went
to the exhibition to see what signs I could discover
of progress, and what promise of great achievement
the younger generation could give. All I found
were things done well enough mechanically, I
admit, but without originality or enthusiasm. It
seemed to be the same collection of dry school-
studies that I have seen for a quarter of a century.
Who is to blame for it ? Have we lost all fresh-
ness of idea, or is the training wrong ? ”

“Both, I believe,” cried the Man with the Red
Tie. “ Freshness of idea must disappear when
every attempt to break away from tradition is
treated as almost a criminal offence, and the
training must be wrong if it is based upon nothing
but tradition. The true leaders of art education
are the men who are ready to change their methods
as circumstances demand. A hard-and-fast system
can produce nothing but stereotyped efforts.”

“That I am quite prepared to admit,” said the
Critic ; “ but, at the same time, I think that it would
be better to amend than to abolish the Govern-


ment schools. That the system under which they
are conducted is very imperfect scarcely admits
of contradiction, because the imperfections are
annually made evident by the National Competi-
tion exhibition. But even if you regard the schools
as nothing better than co-operative studios, where
the young art-worker can get opportunities of add-
ing to his experience and can find out how to use
his materials, they certainly serve a useful purpose.
The pity is that when he enters one of these schools
he has to do exactly what the system prescribes.
If he has any aspirations after individuality they are
crushed out of him by his teachers, who cannot, or
may not, recognise that he ought to be trained in a
manner not allowed for in the rules and regulations
laid down at headquarters.”

“You imply that he must be satisfied with medio-
crity because his companions in art are mediocre,”
returned the Designer. “ That would account for
the terrible monotony of all these shows. In every
one of them there is the same atmosphere, the same
useless repetition of a few stock ideas, and the same
smug completeness of technical practice which
means nothing because it leads nowhere. I would
rather see a few rampant eccentricities with a germ
of intelligence in them than this endless procession
of neatly-finished failures.”

“ So would I,” replied the Critic ; “ I am utterly
tired of a system which keeps every one who falls
into its clutches from doing anything new. But I
am quite certain that, even with the present organi-
sation, there would be more satisfactory results if
the teachers were given a freer hand. They ought
to be helped to develop the capacities of those
students who are likely to become properly efficient,
and they ought to be allowed to weed out of their
schools those who plainly cannot rise above medio-
crity. They should, too, be told to lay more stress
upon the practical character of the work done by
the men they are training. In design, for instance,
the highest rewards should be given for the realisa-
tion of the designer’s idea in the proper materials,
rather than for mechanically perfect drawings,
which more often than not are purely unpractical
productions. Originality on the part of the teachers,
as well as on that of the students, should be officially
supported, if it is really sincere; and no one who
has any workable suggestions to make should be
ignored. There are even now a few masters who
have had the courage to break the leading strings
which tied them to the system; and the schools
which these masters control are doing hopeful and
valuable work. I want to see more like them.”

The Lay Figure.
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