Camera Work: A Photographic Quarterly — 1905 (Heft 9)

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Mr. John W. Beatty, Director of the Art Department of the Carnegie Institute at Pittsburg, who
has shown much interest in the development of pictorial photography, has written for us this
appreciation of the work of Mr. White. — Editors.
IT IS often difficult to define the quality in a work of art that raises
it above the commonplace and makes it notable. It is manifestly not
a particular technical method, because various and often radically opposite
technical qualities are represented in works conceded to be masterpieces of
art. Often it is color. More frequently it is form or construction, one of
the dominant qualities in plastic as well as pictorial art.
I remember asking an eminent Scotch portrait-painter, since then raised
to an exalted position by his fellow-artists, what he considered the supreme
quality in portraiture. He promptly answered, “ distinction." Distinction
as represented by the poise or action of the figure expressed primarily by
line and, secondarily, by a skilful arrangement of light and shade. That
the quality which lends distinction to a work of art is inherent in nature goes
without saying. If it were not of nature it would not be repeated in art—
“a stream never rises above its source.” To discover and, having discovered,
to size the attitude or action that is distinguished, noble, or expressive of
charming grace has always been the achievement of a master-mind. The
power to do this seems to be intuitive. It is a rare endowment bestowed
upon few. It was possessed by Van Dyck; it belongs to Sargent. It was
to a remarkable degree the heritage of Velasquez and of Memling. The
technical methods of these painters differ widely, but there is one quality
common to all their works, namely, distinction. Given the impress of this
quality, any work, no matter whether it be statue, painting, drawing, or
photograph, is raised above the dead level of mediocrity, and by virtue of
this quality alone takes rank as a work of art. It seems to me in examining
a group of Mr. White's pictures representing many subjects that they
possess much of this quality. This at least seems to be the dominant note.
To secure this quality he must, doubtless intuitively, see the distinguishing
quality of grace or dignity in nature, and, having seen, he seizes it quickly
and with precision.
Theodore Child once wrote: “The only model and the only standard
is nature, and the whole theory and practice of painting is subordinated to
the largest and the most difficult of all arts, namely, learning to see.” To
see is all important. To chisel, to paint, to carve, to develop and manipu-
late plates: these things are important, but first must be exercised the power
to discover. And with respect to seeing, the painter and the photographer
are on a level. Keen judgment touching the essential qualities, grace, dignity,
and distinction may be possessed in common by the man with the camera
and the man with the palette.
If the premise be admitted, the conclusion is inevitable. Given the
power to apprehend that in nature which is distinguished or beautiful, and if
to this be added the ability to eliminate the trivial and unimportant, there
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