Studio: international art — 6.1896

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The Lay Figure at Home

"The new Slade Professor at Cam-
bridge has reprinted his inaugural ad-
dress," said the Lay Figure, looking up
from a tiny quarto, bound in blue Irish linen.
" He says, ' Art production is taught in the art
academy. . . . Art enjoyment is encouraged by
means of our museums. . . . Art understanding
ought to be studied and thoroughly represented in
our universities.'"

" Very true ; but who denied it? " said the up-
to-date painter. " Yes; I read the lecture care-
fully, and the conclusion I came to was: if it takes a
Slade Professor to discover so little, what must be the
state of mind of the average person towards Art ? "

"Almost a minus quality, could you really trace
it to its pilulous smallness," said the man with a
clay pipe. " I believe that the apparent advance in
the appreciation of any art means only an increase
in the number of artists, professional and amateur,
it attracts, and a correspondingly increased echo of
their opinions by their personal friends."

" Let me pin you to a point," said the Lay
Figure; " so far as the shop-windows show the pro-
gress of the applied arts, what has 1895 done for us?"

" As I am not a 'House Beautiful' correspondent
for a lady's fashion paper, how should I know ? "
the man with the clay pipe replied. " It seems to
me that one year sees some fabric, or object, sud-
denly developing beauty—but immediately after it
has caught on, the cheap and nasty imitations
ruin its chance of survival. Just now carpets seem
improving, and cretonnes sinking to their lowest
depths. Wall-papers are also, with a few notable
exceptions, much worse than the best average of
half a dozen years ago. Table-damask, so far as
one Bond Street firm can be said to raise the level,
looks very hopeful, but designs in table-silver are
still as dull and unsatisfactory as ever. We have
some exquisite table glass; but where is the crockery
worthy to use with it ? So might one continue the
list indefinitely."

"Don't ask me," said the Lay Figure. "I
searched every china shop lately for a decent tea
service, and had to fall back on plain white."

" That sounds like a bull," said the up-to-date
artist; " yes, it is very hard to find really good stuff
in some ways. Look how good some oil-lamps are,
and how bad are most of the electric fittings one
sees. It seems as if we have only enough artistic
energy to influence a few trades at a time, and the
rest sink back directly the energy is diverted to
another channel."

"I think 1895 did good things in book-covers,
and that its printing showed a big advance," said
the man with a clay pipe. " Then it did its best to
revive lithography, to reform the poster. Besides,
all sorts of forgotten crafts are being re-studied.
Enamel is attracting many people; colour-printing,
based on the Japanese method, is the subject of
experiment; playing-cards have been taken in hand
by at least two first-rate designers."

" But do any of these raise the taste of the man
in the street?" said the Lay Figure. " He may buy
some because he thinks it good form, but is he the
less satisfied with the average atrocity ? "

" I think that is the real point to discover," the
man with the clay pipe said slowly and with intense
seriousness. " After all, it is a crusade against the
ugly that we need most. Artists will always, here
and there, make things of beauty; what we should
do is to endeavour to clear away the rank weeds
that strangle the flowers."

" All can raise the flowers now, since all have got
the seed," the Lay Figure replied. " Yes, perhaps
we are not half drastic enough in abusing the
worse than commonplace stuff which crowds every
house to-day."

" There is something in that," the up-to-date
man said ; " one has but to look at the tons upon
tons of costly useless things, known vaguely as
' presents,' to realise how hopelessly devoid of any
rational standard of taste the majority of well-to-
do folks are even now. One does not expect them
to be severely neo-Gothic, or neo-Classic, but they
might ask for serviceable articles in comely forms
—and see that they get them."

" To add a thing of genuine beauty to a room
full of miserable ornament is only to degrade it,"
the man with the clay pipe said. " It wants courage
to go round one's house and banish every vulgar
superfluity, and few married men have enough pluck
for that enterprise. Besides, you get so used to the
things amid which you live that until somebody
draws your attention to them you forget how bad
they are."

" Then you think the watchword for 1896 should
be ' Destruction ' rather than ' Creation,' " said the
Lay Figure.

" I think it would be a good thing to clear up
before a new century," said the man with a clay
pipe. " We might cast away the superfluities of all
sorts ; leave room for a few really good things in
place of a thousand at best inoffensive—at most
absolutely hideous. Before making good things it
would be wise to clear a place for them."

The Lav Figure.
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