THE LAY FIGURE: ON THE
VALUE OF FINISH.
"You have told me recently that I must
accept a picture as properly finished if it is right
in general effect. and really expresses the artist's
intention," said the Plain Man; "I do not wish
in any way to dispute your ruling, but I would
very much like to i know whether there is not
another possible interpretation of the word finish.",
".What do you mean?" asked the Art Critic.
" If an artist has got his work right and has done
what he meant to do, is there anything else you
could ask of him ? "
"That is just the point.on which I am seeking
information," replied the Plain Man. " You seem
to regard finish as simply the realisation of a sort
of assthetic sentiment; now, I have always been
under the impression that a finished picture was
one which had necessarily to reach a certain stan-
dard of technical perfection. I thought that the
careless, loose brushmarks that one sees in a sketch
were not permitted in a picture seriously carried
" You think that a painting cannot be finished
unless it is smooth and tidy and looks as if the
artist had given to it many months of hard labour,"
broke in the Man with the Red Tie. " Well, you
ought to know better."
"I am sorry," sighed the Plain Man; "I cannot
help having been badly brought up, but I can
assure you that most of the people I know take
the same view that I do. They like a thing to
look as if the artist had taken some trouble over
it and not as if he had slapped it in anyhow."
" Slapped it in anyhow !" cried the Man with
the Red Tie. " Is that the way you talk of work
which has been carefully thought out and set down
with splendid decision ? Why, the very thing that
every artist worthy of the name spends his life in
trying to avoid is that laboured smoothness which
you imagine to be finish."
"And it is a defect that many artists struggle
all their lives to escape from, only to be forced
back into it time after time by the people who
demand that a work of art should bear the plainest
evidence of painful struggle," agreed the Critic.
"That is what makes the relation between the
worker and the men who call themselves his
patrons often so harmful. The painter with fine
capacities is driven by the wage-earning necessity
into denial of his better judgment because he
has to satisfy a false taste and work to a wrong
" Because he has to please a patron who appraises
the value of a work of art only by the time it has
taken to carry out and who judges the merit of a
painting simply by the appearance it has of having
been produced by long, heart-breaking labour,"
added the Man with the Red Tie.
" But do you say that elaboration is a fault ?"
asked the Plain Man. " Do you contend that
what I call finish takes away the finer qualities of
a picture? Is there no value in care and delibera-
. " Care and deliberation ! Why they are among
the most vital essentials in the artist's equipment,"
returned the Critic. " But care expended in licking
the paint surface into mechanical smoothness is
hopelessly misapplied and deliberation exercised
in seeking to make trivialities obvious is utterly
wasted. There are better things than that to be
attained by the artist who is careful and deliberate
—spontaneity, for instance, and freshness, the note
of vitality in his work, the touch of inspiration,
and the charm of individuality. How can he hope
to show all these in his picture if he is condemned
to toil for months finishing what is already com
plete ? "
" Of course all that is best in him must be
destroyed if you compel him to do what he
knows to be unnecessary," said the Man with the
Red Tie. " Can you not see that when he has
expressed his idea in the form that satisfies him
there is no need for superficial finish or for mechani-
cal polishing up ? "
" Yes, I am afraid my idea of the importance of
finishing touches must be wrong,"- admitted the
Plain Man; "at any rate, it is not the same as
yours. But I have always been under the impres-
sion that what I call finish, and what you call
mechanical polishing up, was a good quality in a
"Then I hope that you will disabuse yourself of
any such idea for the future," laughed the Critic.
" Finishing touches are necessary in every work of
art, but their object is to bring it rightly together
and not to smooth away or modify details of
handling which are expressive despite, or because
of, what you regard as their untidiness. To the
artist these finishing touches are often the most
troublesome part of his production. He knows
their value as aids to the full expression of his
intention, but he knows also how in applying them
he risks the loss of the freshness and freedom of
his work. So please do not add to his perplexities
by worrying him to accept your standard of laborious
technical perfection," The Lay Figure.