International studio — 32.1907

Page: 254
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The Lay Figure

THE LAY FIGURE: ON
CHOOSING A SUBJECT.

“ I would much like to give some of
you artists a little advice about your choice of
subjects,” said the Philistine. “So many of you
seem to have no earthly idea of painting anything
that is of the remotest interest to sensible people,
that I cannot help thinking there must be some-
thing radically wrong with the artistic intelligence.
Don’t you ever think; or do you just put down
the first thing, whether it has any meaning or not,
that comes into your heads ? ”

“ Fools rush in where angels fear to tread! ”
commented the Man with the Red Tie. “You
are over-bold, my friend, to offer advice to your
betters. What are your qualifications for the part
you want to play ? Do you know anything about
art?”

“ Do I know anything about art ? ” laughed the
Philistine. “ Of course I do. I know a good
picture when I see one, and I flatter myself that I
could pick out in a few minutes all the best pictures
in any gallery that you could take me to. I am
never in any doubt about the things I like.”

“What a gift!” sighed the Art Critic. “You
make up your mind at once, without hesitation ?
You decide off-hand what is good or bad, and it
all comes quite easy to you ? ”

“ Perfectly,” replied the Philistine; “I can never
see that there is anything to hesitate about. The
good points of a picture are so evident that any
intelligent man can see them in a moment. What
puzzles me is that such a lot of artists should be so
incapable of grasping what is to me a simple matter
of course.”

“ Would you be so kind as to explain,” said the
man with the Red Tie, “what are the good points
which are so evident in the pictures you admire ?
What is it that appeals to your infallible judgment
and satisfies your taste with such electrical sudden-
ness ? ”

“You are ready to seek my advice, after all,”
chuckled the Philistine. “ I will tell you what I
think. A good picture is, first of all, one that
has a meaning and tells an interesting story;
one that has a good subject, in fact. Secondly,
it is one that is well painted and properly finished,
not a mere mass of daubs and streaks of paint.
Thirdly-”

“Oh, never mind about your thirdly,” inter-
rupted the Critic. “Your first point is quite
enough to go on with. A picture, you say, should
have a good subject, and so far I am quite with
254

you, for I hold that artists should exercise the
utmost care in their choice of subject. But you
also say that the picture should tell an interesting
story. What do you mean by that ? ”

“ I mean that it should illustrate some incident
from life,” replied the Philistine; “some historical
event or some present-day occurrence worth making
a note of. The people painted ought to be doing
something serious or amusing; I hate to see them
simply lolling about trying to look pretty.”

“In other words, you want something of the
snapshot type,” said the man with the Red Tie;
“a mere commonplace record of a bit of every-day
life.”

“Well, why not?” returned the Philistine. “I
am sure I have seen many snapshots which were
much more interesting than half the pictures you
men paint.”

“Interesting to you, no doubt,” said the Critic,
“ because your vision is so limited that you cannot
see anything that is not absolutely commonplace
and ordinary. You have no idea whatever of any
art that is not simply literal and unimaginative.”

“ But I tell you I have studied pictures very
closely,” cried the Philistine, “and I have really
high ideals about them.”

“ Perhaps; but you have looked at them from
only one point of view,” answered the Critic. “You
have narrowed everything down to the one notion
that a good subject is merely one that reminds you
of something you have seen; and you are so un-
observant that you have seen nothing save those
things which are not worth looking at. Therefore
your complaint that artists do not paint what appeals
to the sensible man means only that the subjects
they choose are outside the range of your limited
intelligence. The varieties of the good subject are
infinite. An effect of light and shade, or of
colour, an arrangement of lines and masses in a
landscape, a subtle harmony of tones, all these
may be subjects of the most notable importance
and may be much more worthy of pictorial treat-
ment than those scenes from real life, realistically
set down, which you in your folly think so attrac-
tive. But because such subtleties are beyond you,
you presume to lay down the law about matters
which you have no right to discuss. You have in
your mind a kind of picture pattern, a stupid con-
vention to which you hold all art ought to conform.
Ignorance, not sense, intolerance, not good taste,
are the foundations of your argument, and you
deserve no mercy for being so foolish. Go home,
and try to realise how very little you do know.”

The Lay Figure.
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