THE LAY FIGURE ON IMITA-
TION AND ORIGINALITY.
"Yes, I believe that," said the Art
Historian ; " but have you ever fully realised how
dependent civilisation is on the pride which men
take in imitating good things. For instance, when
we talk about a tradition of public spirit, a tradition
of administrative science, we simply draw attention
to one organic result of the pride in question.
Each self-respecting generation of citizens tries in
ts great public affairs to repeat what was best in
the civic actions of its predecessors ; and you will
find that there is but little constitutional security
in those countries where this form of imitation is
interfered with by the impetuous character of the
" How serious we are ! " laughed the Journalist.
"Why, you seem to be proving that imitation is
the soul of progress. 'What heresy! Are we
not living in an age of strenuous and fussy
individualism ? "
" Certainly we are," replied the Art Historian,
"and hence it is an age of cranks and of mediocrities.
There is a lack of discipline, a want of co-ordina-
tion, in nearly all our national efforts, both in
peace and in war ; and we chatter so much about
our individualities that we are morbidly self-
conscious in everything but trade."
"I'm glad to hear you say that," said the Art
Critic. " Nine artists in ten are laughably anxious
lest their special brands of originality should be
parodied in imitations. To make them quite
happy, we must give them the protection of a
stringent Act of Parliament. What amusement
this bickering anxiety would have caused in the
ancient art guilds of Italy and Flanders ! "
"Yes," said the Lay Figure, "those old guilds
were not friendly to peevish egotism ; and they
proved that the discipline of traditions was invalu-
able, especially to young artists. It forced every
youngster of talent humbly to master the
traditional ways of work peculiar to his guild. By
this means he became a good craftsman, and his
originality went to enrich the language of art in
which he had learned to speak correctly as an
apprentice. To-day, on the other hand, a boy of
original genius is so petted by his teachers, and is
made so conscious of his originality, that he is
tempted to play the artist before he has learned to
employ his tools. How much better it would be if
he could be grounded in some fine tradition of
workmanship, or if he were encouraged to imitate
good masters, just as Raphael did when young ! "
"You remind me of two good lines of old
poetry," said the Art Critic. "They run thus : —
As in olde feldes come fresh and greene grewe,
So of olde books commeth our conning newe ;
and the cunning, or knowledge, of to-day, wherever
we find it, certainly springs from seed sown in the
past. Hence, originality has been described as a
singular personal charm, showing through and
modifying the influence of culture, contemporary
thought, and birthright traditions upon a fine
mind and a sensitive temperament."
" We are all at one to-day," said the Man with a
Clay Pipe. " Very few young artists have given a
moment's serious thought to the originality about
which they talk so much. How many of them
know that even Shakespeare, the most original of
men, was the product of a school ? Besides, there
is always something petty, something trivial and
self-conceited, in an artist who has never felt the
joy of being a sedulous ape."
" But there is another side to this question,"
observed the Journalist. " Why are modern artists
so afraid of being imitated ? "
"The reason, so it seems to me, is frankly com-
mercial," the Art Critic answered. " They believe
that the market value of their work is depreciated
by those who repeat its peculiarities."
" That's odd," said the Lay Figure. " I have
never yet seen an imitation of any fine work that
equalled its original, nor can I think that an artist
gains anything when he cries out against his
imitators. For how is he to avoid them ? His
art can be studied for hours in public exhibitions,
and it is easy for a good workman to reproduce
from memory the forms and qualities which he has
skill enough to imitate. This one fact should
teach a man of genius that his art, once sold or
exhibited, becomes a public influence which he
cannot control. If, therefore, contrary to the
example of the old masters, he objects to be a
model to lesser men, let him keep his productions
from the public eye, for he cannot at the same
time win fame and secure himself from imitation."
" One other point should be mentioned," said
the Art Critic. " I have noticed that the greatest
fear of imitation is shown by those who have them-
selves been influenced by some modern artist."
" That arises partly from want of self-confidence,"
said the Lay Figure. " But, whatever the cause of
it may be, this is certain : that true art was at its
best when the spirit of discipleship—another term
for imitation—was encouraged by all great men."
The Lay Figure.