Studio: international art — 23.1901

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The Lay Figure


" I hear a great deal of confusing talk about the
British movement in domestic architecture and
decoration," said the Journalist. " Can anyone
explain to me what that movement really is ?"

"To get a complete answer to your ques-
tion," replied the Critic, sententiously, "you must
study the movement in other countries bes'des
Great Britain. Then you will see that it is
becoming a world-wide influence, and that its
tendency everywhere is at variance with any kind
of art-work that is swaddled in old-fashioned
conventions. The thorough-going believer in
precedent is of opinion that his highest aim in
art is to simulate feelings according to an accepted
old standard, his modesty assuring him that it is
better to do this than to use his own mind without
excessive fear of authority. He is enslaved by the
intelligence with which men laboured long years
ago, and is content to earn his bread out of that
legacy of brain. This complete abnegation of self
was so endemic among architects during the
greater part of Victoria's reign that domestic
architecture and decoration owed most of their
changing fashions to a variety of plagiarisms. The
jerry-builders alone dared to be frankly modern.
They, at least, knew their own minds, and they
stamped a million houses with the trade mark of a
slipshod industrialism. Meantime, most architects
were confounding art with theft."

"I understand, then," said the Journalist, "that
the movement to which I referred is nothing more
than a revolt against plagiarism on the one hand,
and cheap, bad workmanship, on the other ?"

" It is little else but that," assented the Critic.
" It is an illustration of the fact that untrammelled
thought is as necessary in architecture and decora-
tion as it is in science, in business, and in litera-
ture. All forms of human industry would stagnate
in conventions, were it not that genuine talent is
invariably a pioneer."

"Viewed from this standpoint," said the Art
Historian, " the movement in question may be
described as a sort of Darwinism in the art and
science of domestic architecture and decoration."

" That sounds much too fine for me," the
Journalist said, with a laugh; " but my mind is
clearer than it was on the question of this move-
ment. Since the Academicians opened their doors


this year, after rejecting much good work by well-
known handicraftsmen, I have been mudd'ed by
listening to extravagant chatter. Ardent friends
of the movement have described it to me as a
miracle of originality, while its equally ardent
foes have implored me to gape at it as a monstrous
white elephant in art, produced by impudent
eccentricities. I now learn that this movement is
simply a varied expression of a new style."

" Not so fast," said the Reviewer. " The matter
is not so simple as you think. No one flies into
superlatives merely because certain men of talent
are producing a new and various style. The
superlatives, whether of praise or blame, are not to
be taken as bad criticisms; they are battle-cries ;
for the movement now under discussion is really
the beginning of a war between the painters of
easel pictures and the other mere utilitarian art-
workers. To this fact the painters are keenly alive,
and if the Royal Academy fights with them and for
them, can anyone be astonished ? "

"For my part," said the Critic, "I hope sincerely
that the Academy will fight for its palette hand, for
the movement in architecture and the handicrafts
will gain strength by being strenuously opposed.
Encouragement is so apt to degenerate into
coddling that every believer in progress should
believe also in opposition."

" You think, then," said the Journalist, " that the
Academy can make itself into a national institution
by the simple act of asserting a strong feeling of
hostility to the most national British movement
in art ? "

" Certainly," the Critic answered. " This year the
Academicians have fought their battle with plenty
of spirit, giving knock-out blows to eight or nine
artist-craftsmen of known name. Many think that
this punishment is a case of hitting below the belt;
but there are many ways of fighting, and all those
craftsmen are eager for another round. They have
been put upon their mettle, and they realise that
they cannot have it all their own way. This is
salutary, and I hope the fight will go on."

" But who will win in the long run, the painters
or the architects and craftsmen?" the Journalist
asked, with a sort of betting enthusiasm.

"Neither and yet both will win," replied the
Critic. "It is my belief that each party in the
contest will gain by finding out its just worth and
its proper place in the art world. And I hope that
both parties will learn that a nation's different arts
ought to be interdependent and harmonious, like
the instruments of a first rate orchestra."

The Lay Figure.
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