Studio: international art — 17.1899

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The Lay Figure



“ The unfortunate looseness,” mused
the Lay Figure, “with which the word
‘ amateur ’ is used leads to a great deal
of confusion. Apart altogether from the wide
difference of opinion as to what constitutes an
amateur in contradistinction to an artist, when the
term is used without qualification it is impossible
to be sure what a writer or speaker intends to
convey by it.”

“ Well,” said the Art Critic, “ I used the word
the other day in writing of a painter of undoubted
distinction. He had been trained in France in
the usual way, and had received pretty well every
diploma which can fall to a painter, and had
exhibited at the national exhibitions of half-a-dozen
European countries. When I spoke of him as an
1 amateur ’ I referred not to his status as a painter,
but to his position as a lover and judge of art, and
as a discriminating writer upon it. I thought the
context made this plain, but the painter in question
imagined I was covertly attacking him as a pro-
fessional artist, and was mightily indignant with

“ And I am not surprised,” exclaimed the Man
with a Clay Pipe. “ In popular acceptance an
‘ amateur ’ means a man who plays at any art, or, in
other words, a person who has merely a superficial
knowledge of it, and pursues it as a pastime.
Consequently, the man in the street, an ordinary
person like myself, reading your article, would take
it for granted that you intended to cast a slur on
the painter in question as a man who did not
know his business.”

“ I can’t be held responsible for that,” said the Art
Critic. “ I used the word as it ought to be used to
describe a person who loves and understands an
art. At the moment I was only concerned with the
painter in that capacity.”

“ It won’t wash,” shouted the Journalist.
“And I would ask whether you acknowledge
no difference between the amateur and the con-
noisseur ? ”

“ There is a difference, though it is not a very
strongly defined one,” answered the Art Critic.
“An amateur is somewhat less of a professional
judge; his appreciation and knowledge of art are
of the abstract kind. A connoisseur is a person
who knows a good work of art and makes use of
that knowledge, either in a commercial sense by
buying and selling pictures and other art-products
for gain, or for his own gratification in the formation

of a collection. Now an amateur, as I understand
the word, is satisfied to admire solely, and to act
as a cicerone to others who lack his knowledge
and artistic instinct.”

“ That, as I take it, is substantially correct,”
assented the Lay Figure ; “ but even at that the
word is so casually used as to result in much con-
fusion, for not one in a hundred readers would
understand the distinction or appreciate it if it were
pointed out to him.”

“ It is simply a case of verbal degeneration, which
in the case of words borrowed from foreign tongues
is exceedingly common,” remarked the Art Critic,
“and for my part I hold that I was entirely justified
in using it as I did.”

“ However that may be, it is certain that the
application of the word amateur to a person who,
being a proficient in any art, pursues some other
calling as the basis of his livelihood, or to a person
who, possessing a private fortune, is not de-
pendent for his living on the art he practises,
is exceedingly mischievous,” blurted out the Art

“ I should have thought that you with your strong
socialistic and levelling tendencies would have been
the first to condemn the titled or wealthy dilettanti,
who buy their way into recognition,” retorted the
Man with a Clay Pipe.

“ In that,” exclaimed the Art Reformer with heat,
“you talk foolishly and do me, as you know very
well, an injustice. No one has a greater abhorrence
than I of the tactics you describe. But for all that I
maintain that in considering a work of art we are
not in any way concerned with the circumstances
or advantages of its creator. If it is a work of
genius it is just as much entitled to respect whether
the artist responsible for it is a peer or a pauper,
and it is absurd to call any artist an amateur
merely because he is not dependent for his bread
on the sale of his productions. Surely that is clear

“ Clear enough it maybe, but it only shows,”
said the Lay Figure, “ how hopelessly confusing the
word has become as a vehicle for expressing a fact.
No two persons understand the term in the same
sense, and, as far as I can see, they are never likely

“ It all comes,” said the Man with a Clay Pipe,
“ to an affectation on the part of superfine writers
like our friend here, who are above using words
as they are popularly understood. In English an
amateur is simply a dabbler—and that’s the long
and short of it.”

The Lay Figure.
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