Studio: international art — 25.1902

Page: 154
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The Lay Figure


" You talk of realism," said the Journalist

to the Critic, " but, then, what is realism ? Is it,
like the humble art which I follow, a representation
—a truthful representation, let us say—of things
seen broadly and boldly ? "

" No," answered the Critic, " realism in art is
something more than that. In Shakespeare's
Oberon and Titania there is as much realism as
you will find in Bottom the Weaver and his
companions. To be sure, it is very different in
kind, but realism it is, for all that. The Weaver
and his comrades belong to the world we live in,
while Oberon and Titania are mythical beings that
Shakespeare enables us to accept as real in their
own way. Even in the glare of the footlights,
and in sharp physical contrast with the uncouth
artizans, we do not think it odd that they
should appear before us in corporeal shape,
and speak such exquisite poetry. Their realism
is a thing of faultless accord between the con-
ception and the representation of their enchanted

" From that point of view," said the Man with
a Clay Pipe, " there is as much realism in a
Raphael Madonna as in a village wench of
Rembrandt's genius ? "

" Certainly," replied the Critic. " It is a realism
different in grip, different in aim, in poetic signifi-
cance ; but if Raphael's Madonna were not radiant
with her motherhood, how could she win her way
into the household heart of every generation ? Her
realism is what Raphael intended it to be, and we
call it idealism only in order that we may denote the
difference between it and sterner kinds of the same
great quality."

" Yes," said the Reviewer, " but you must not
forget that of realism pure and simple there is not
a trace in the works of men of genius, for men
of genius represent themselves as well as their
subjects—give us their own greatness of spirit
within their subjects. They do not look out upon
life and the world in an impassive, unmoved
manner. They work under the guidance of strong
emotions, and their mental and temperamental
endowments are transforming agencies during the
act of representing the facts of life. This is what
young men of the realistic school forget. They
talk of their realism as though it were an exact
counterpart of something seen. Odd that they
should thus take pride in abasing themselves to the
level of a looking-glass or a camera ! "


" Well said ! " cried the Man with a Clay Pipe.
" I have often felt that all true art must be real as
well as ideal, ideal as well as real."

" You'll remember, no doubt," said the Critic,
" the quite modern dictum in which Aristotle
sums up the function of the poet, of the imagina-
tive artist ? That function, he says, is not to tell
us what actually happened, for that is the real
business of history ; it is to tell us what might
happen, and what is possible according to likelihood
and necessity."

" Likelihood and necessity ?" queried the
Journalist. " The meaning, please."

" Perhaps an illustration may bring out the
meaning," returned the other. " Think of the
mailed knight in Burne-Jones's Briar Rose, and
then ask yourself why he is a failure in art. It is
because that knight achieves something in complete
antagonism with his want of character and of man-
hood. The delicate creature is not a knight at all:
he is a dream-vision, a shade within a suit of
armour; he is not half so capable of mischief as a
thorn guarding the roses. How then can we look
upon this armoured sexless thing as a manly,
chivalrous adventurer ? "

" You exaggerate, I think," said the Man with a
Clay Pipe. " Burne-Jones acted wisely when he
kept his dramatic effect subservient to his decora
tive impression. Still, I think I catch your point.
Artists are free to people new worlds for us,
but the actions of their dramatis personal must be
in strict accordance with their delineated character
and with their physical appearance of strength or

" How else can there be illusion in works of
imagination?" the Critic asked. " It is impossible
to look at such a work from the point of view
chosen by the artist, if the work itself is at variance
with that point of view. The representation viewed
in relation to its subject must be profoundly con-
sistent, admirably probable, full of verisimilitude.
Then it matters not if the subject comes to us
from real life, or from such a visionary world as
Gulliver travels in."

" I think, then," said the Reviewer, " that
realism may be best defined as that satisfying
consistency which should always exist between the
subject chosen and every part of its representation."

" And note," remarked the Critic, " that an
artist who misses that consistency deserves to be
called eccentric. He makes so many unwarranted
calls upon our credulity that we feel inclined to
jeer at the liberties he takes both with us and with
his art." The Lay Figure.
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