Studio: international art — 28.1903

Page: 234
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The Lay Figure

"What is the meaning of the word
'artistic'?" asked the Journalist. "The diction-
aries don't help me in the least. They say that
it applies to a person or to a thing characterised
by art, and this brings one face to face with the
interminable question, ' What is art ? ' The only
persons who seem to attach a definite meaning
to the word that troubles me are the shopkeepers
and the manufacturers, whose ' artistic' wares are
invariably showy and meretricious. Any article
for daily use that looks better than it is, or that
is not well fitted for its purpose, is deemed suffi-
ciently artistic to mislead the public. The word
has become a commercial lie, and hence, perhaps,
its popularity."

"You give one view of the matter," said the
Critic, " but you must not forget that the misuse
of the adjective in question is not confined to shop-
keepers and manufacturers. We cannot set on
foot a studio for wood-carving, or a school for
needlework and embroidery, without being vain-
glorious and absurd. It must be a studio for
' Art' wood-carving, a school for ' Art' needlework
and embroidery. If little girls worked samplers
to-day, they would be certain to use ' art' wools
and ' art' stitches, ' art' designs and ' art' needles.
A joiner in my neighbourhood makes ' art' wheel-
barrows for the suburban gardens, and has read a
paper on his work before a debating society in the
next parish."

"You seem surprised," the Reviewer said,
laughing, " yet the whole matter is simple enough
to explain. The modem world has become
morbidly self-conscious in everything that apper-
tains to art. Not only does it talk a great deal
too much about art, but it thinks vastly too little
about the subject of its endless chatter. Even
in serious criticism there is a tendency to separate
art from the general influences of life, as though
the working of the aesthetic gifts of man were
carried on in some remote dreamland under the
guidance of a Special Providence. And there
is another tendency not less foolish and not less
mischievous—I mean the tendency to believe that
the arts cannot thrive in an age of commercial
enterprise. We have been told so by " scores of
writers; and yet there can be no doubt that com-
merce has ever been a nurse to the genius of
artists. Study the times of the Old Masters, and
note how the progress of their work went hand-in-
hand with the advance of their countries in com-

mercial prosperity. When simple truths like this
one are forgotten, and when art is misunderstood
even by those who write about it as teachers, we
cannot be surprised that the same subject should
be ill treated by the general public."

"But for all that," said the Critic, "let me relate
a recent experience of my own. The other day,
being in need of a suite of furniture, I passed some
time in a great warehouse, and was directed in my
search by the owner of the business, a man of
much energy and with a fixed idea. ' Sir,' said he,
' one learns much in fifty years of careful study,
and my long experience has taught me that artistic
furniture is always uncomfortable. You may take
that as an axiom. In furniture, beyond doubt,
comfort and art do not go together.' What do
you say to that ? "

" I understand what the man meant to say,"
answered the Reviewer. " Most of the furniture
now described as artistic would certainly be a
discomfort in any home."

" I suggested as much," said the Critic, " but
the manufacturer repeated his axiom, and showed
in all his remarks that he did not understand the
first principle of good craftsmanship, i.e., that an
object must be perfectly suited to the purpose which
it has to serve. Furniture is intended to make us
comfortable in our houses; hence furniture that
produces discomfort is bad, bad in design and
uncraftly in structure. The ornamentation may be
good if looked at as a thing apart, as a separate
and detached piece of workmanship, but orna-
mentation does not give artistic value to a thing
wrongly designed and constructed. This is what
very few manufacturers understand. Their faith
in ornamentation is so great that they expect it to
reconcile us to all kinds of structural blunders."

" You've hit the mark," said the Man with the
Briar Pipe. " The use of ornament in design
is like the use of adjectives in writing—a thing to
be done sparingly and with great judgment. The
ornament that 'the trade' delights in is nothing if
not overdone; it reminds me always of that
squandering of adjectives which the newspapers
display on their screaming placards every afternoon.
It is a form of blatant advertisement. But, happily,
bad things cannot be advertised too much. The
better they are known the more likely are they to
become unpopular."

"Meantime," the Critic said, "we have a
hundred-and-one ' artistic' things that make life
miserable—things ranging from ' artistic ' fireirons
that hurt the hands, to ' artistic' lamps that a
draught might overset." The Lay Figure
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