Universitätsbibliothek HeidelbergUniversitätsbibliothek Heidelberg

Studio: international art — 16.1899

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The Lay Figure

" My complaint is," said the Lay
Figure languidly, turning to the Land-
scape Painter—who, if report could be
trusted, had received some votes at a recent R. A.
election—" that as soon as you fellows are elected,
or are in a fair way to being elected, you forget all
about that zeal for reform which consumed you
when you were quite outside the pale; while in a
few years you are ready to declare that the Aca-
demy is the best of all possible institutions."

" Of course they do. Do you suppose any of
them care about the abstract justice of the matter ? "
remarked the Man with a Clay Pipe.

" Unless an outsider should tacitly pledge him-
self not to become troublesome by suggesting
reforms; unless he should agree to be clubbable,
to live in amity and concord with his fellow mem-
bers, he is not elected." The Journalist spoke, and
as he did so he looked hard at the New Associate,
who took up the challenge.

"What can one do among so many?" he
feebly adventured. " Besides, it is decidedly bad
form for a man who has just been paid a compliment
by his fellow-artists to make himself a fire-brand
the moment he is admitted to their company."

"Form! It's little enough of form you cared
about in the old Bohemian days," ejaculated the Art
Reformer warmly. " But it's not one man in par-
ticular. In recent years almost every fresh member
incurs the reproach of moral desertion. How about
the cause? Look at the recommendations of 1836
and 1863. In the latter case, of the seventy artists
who petitioned for the Commission, a dozen or so
afterwards became R. A.'s. And yet not one of these
recommendations has been carried out to this day."

" They were moderate enough, in all conscience,"
exclaimed the Art Craftsman. " If the whole of
them had been adopted the institution would still
fall short of being a democratic, catholic, or national
body. It is not only the snubbing of water-colour,
the exclusion of engravers, the right enjoyed by
Academicians and Associates to exhibit eight works,

practically in the best places, the-"

"As to the last," broke in the New Associate, "I
am betraying, I think, no secrets in saying that we

have been considering--"

" I think," interrupted the R.A., " you had better
think twice before you betray our confidences."

" That's just it," said the Art Reformer hotly.
" It's the Star Chamber business—all secrecy. We
want all the arts to have a show, to have national
encouragement and recognition. Take metal-work,

wood-work, furniture generally. It is notorious that
the decay in these was, roughly speaking, contem-
poraneous with the foundation of the Academy.
Attention has been diverted from the applied arts
to that branch of art, picture-painting, which could
fitly be left to the last. Progress would have been
ten times as rapid if it had been fostered by the
Academy, which has the site and has the funds, and
has the prestige too, necessary to give proper
stimulus to the movement."

"But, my dear man," said the Art Craftsman, " you
must excuse me for writing you down an ass if you
suppose the Academy, which comprises the aris-
tocracy of artists—the picture-painters—will ever
admit to equality the small fry, the common work-
men, whose humble province is the applied arts.
That is too simple. Do you suppose for one
moment they are going to put the knife to their
own throats ? Modern pictures are already a drug
in the market, and the cry is that the rich folk will
only buy old masters. If beautiful things fashioned
in wood and metal are to compete with modern
pictures, as objects to be acquired and cherished by
men of taste, where would your painters be ? "

"It comes to this," said the Lay Figure im-
patiently, "it is useless to look for substantial
reform from within. If the Academy is to be
reformed it must be from without."

" How is that to be," said the Art Reformer,
" when the Academy persists in treating the Royal
Commissions with contempt ? "

" Until," continued the Lay Figure, "the people
are aroused to regard art seriously, nothing can be
done. At present art is something apart from the
ordinary and important business of life—a pleasing
but superfluous excrescence, instead of being
acknowledged for what it is, the very salt of life,
keeping it sweet and wholesome. It's no good
blaming the Academy ; you must blame the people."

" But I do blame the Academy," growled the
Art Reformer. " Where it should have educated
and led the people, it has obscured their vision and
caused their feet to stumble. The Academy is the
fons et origo of popular ignorance."

" I can only suggest," said the Lay Figure, " that
you continue to address your appeal to the people,
and pray with all your might that their darkness may
be lightened. The R. A. has a good fat thing, and
it will fight, for all it is worth, to keep it. Keep it
it will, until forced to relinquish it. And there is only
one way of applying force—the voice of the people
as expressed in Parliament. You've got an up-hill
task before you, and I wish you joy of it. Mean-
while the Academy can sleep quietly and secure,"