International studio — 34.1908

Page: 262
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The Lay Figure

THE LAY FIGURE: ON SOME
VULGAR INSTINCTS.
“ I am very much afraid,” said the Plain
Man, “ that the love of luxury is becoming a
serious national danger. In recent years it has
got beyond all bounds, and I am certain that, if
something is not done to check it, our luxurious
way of living will lead to grave disaster.”
“Are you setting up as an advocate of the
simple life ? ” laughed the Man with the Red Tie;
“ or have you been converted to Socialism ? It
amuses me to see you shaking your head over the
iniquities of the modern world.”
“ It is all very well for you to laugh,” replied
the Plain Man, “ but history proves that national
extravagance is one of the first signs of decadence.
There is, if you would only see it, something
sinister in the present condition of affairs.”
“ At any rate, people are not extravagant in
their patronage of art,” returned the Man with the
Red Tie. “ That is the matter which touches me
most closely, and I wish I could see some of the
money which goes in other directions devoted to
the encouragement of artistic effort.”
“ But you are entirely wrong,” cried the Plain
Man ; “ it is one of the chief counts in my indict-
ment of modern society that so much money is
wasted on art. Look at the enormous sums which
are paid for old masters ; look at the prices which
are given for some modern works. Locking up
money like this in unproductive things is one of
the grossest and most dangerous forms of extrava-
gance. The man you call an art patron is one of
the worst products of a debased civilisation, and
his influence is most pernicious.”
“Oh, indeed!” exclaimed the Man with the
Red Tie. “ Then the artist ranks in your mind
as a sort of national danger because he seduces
sane men into extravagance by the fatal attrac-
tiveness of his work. Great heavens, what a
creed ! ”
“ That fairly represents my view,” replied the
Plain Man; “ art, of course, is a luxury, and to
spend money upon it is an extravagance. I do
not expect you to agree with me because you
are so unpractical, but I think you will find,
that my opinion is the one held by all shrewd
men who have at heart national progress and pros-
perity.”
“ Does not art contribute in any way to national
progress?” broke in the Att Critic. “You are
making very vehement assertions, my friend, about
matters which you do not understand. There is
262

in your mind a strange mixture of ignorance and
Puritanical prejudice which leads you to say stupid
things and deprives you of all sense of proportion.
Can you not see how false and unreasonable is the
view you are taking ? I fear that your narrowness
of vision is incurable.”
“ Then I belong to a large class of incurables,”
retorted the Plain Man, “ for thousands of practical
and successful men hold exactly my opinions—
men who are the backbone of the country.”
“ The backbone, so medical experts say, is the
seat of some of the worst and most incurable
forms of insanity,” laughed the Man with the Red
Tie.
“Exactly,” replied the Critic, “and the back-
bone of the country is quite as susceptible as the
human spine. These thousands of practical and
successful men are just the very people who give
way most glaringly to that love of luxury of which
our friend complains ; they waste their money on
absurdities, on vulgar display, or on providing
themselves with unnecessary bodily comforts; and
then they sneer at the patrons of art as dangerously
extravagant. What an insane perversion of com-
mon sense it is ! ”
“ Do you mean to suggest that I am luxurious
and love vulgar display ? ” asked the Plain Man.
“Yes, I do,” said the Critic. “I say that you and
your fellows with the narrow commercial mind have
not the brains to realise that money judiciously
invested in art is spent for the benefit of the whole
community, and is a most helpful contribution to
the national fund for education. If you spent in
sensible art patronage a quarter of what you
squander in things which are luxuries because they
are unnecessary and vulgarities because they are
simply advertisements of your riches, you would be
national benefactors, and you would go some way
towards saving your souls. But your vulgar instincts
lead you to worship money for its own sake, and to
make your every action an advertisement of your
successful commercial dealings so that you may
make more money still. You cannot see that
your craving to be rich is but the desire to satisfy
your rapacious instincts. You do not realise that
wealth is a means to an end, and that you can use
it best as an aid to the enlarging of your mind and
the improvement of your taste. You merely try
to create with it a surrounding in which you seem
absurdly misplaced. And then you have the im-
pudence to reprove art lovers, your superiors in
intelligence, for being sinfully luxurious. Leave
your betters alone for the future and study your
own defects.” The Lay Figure.
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