HE LAY FIGURE : SUBJECT
"Yes,"continued the Critic, "theproblem
of art as a bread-winning profession is easy to state
and very difficult to solve. The public—and in
speaking of the public I include the great majority
of picture buyers—the public, I say, sees only the
surface of art, and is therefore firm in the belief
that the chief function of art is to find subjects
that give immediate pleasure to casual frequenters
of the exhibitions. The public not only wishes to
be amused, but insists that the amusement be un-
accompanied by any strong appeal to the mind and
the imagination. And this, I think, is quite reason-
able, for art is nothing more than a relaxation to
the public—an interlude of light pleasure in the
gathering agitations of life. But when a man gives
the whole of his time to art, thinks of it constantly
and makes it his profession, he is apt to talk of the
public with a contempt which is not justified,
believing that the object of all his study should
attract a more serious general recognition than it
receives at the present time. Yet somehow, for
his own part, he is seldom interested at all in the
life-callings of other people. He not only stays in
his own garden and cultivates it, but expects too
much sympathy and encouragement whilst he is
thus engaged. Indeed, he is often outraged in his
feelings because his neighbours are so much occu-
pied in their own gardens that they scarcely notice
the different and rare flowers which he grows in
his patch of ground."
"You mean, I suppose," said the Journalist, "that
art is a profession in which men are isolated by
temperament and by training ; and hence they
must work for their profession without losing heart
if they earn few home comforts ? "
" I mean that and something more," replied the
Critic. " Every one of us, it is clear, does what he
can in the general scramble for existence, and must
accept the rewards which his talents win for him.
He may grumble, but grumbling does not better
his lot, and is therefore a waste of energy. In this
respect artists are not isolated from the rank and
file of stragglers in other callings and professions.
Nor do I think that the)- could feel their isolation
in other respects if they accepted as inevitable the
difference between their views in art and those
which the public has. But they are told by their
admirers that their gifts are misunderstood and
slighted, and this flattery is seasoned with some
well-worn jibes at the ignorance of the public and
the mean ambitions of a commercial time. Infinite
harm is done in this way, for its tendency is to
make an artist feel ill-used and at variance with his
age and generation."
" Good !" cried the Man with the Briar Pipe.
" But, my friend, common-sense seems to be a rare
thing among the writers on artistic subjects. I
read what the good fellows have to say, and I
gather from them that it is something of a crime
not to be a connoisseur. If I confess that I know
nothing of medicine, nothing of surgery, nothing
of law, nothing of many forms of business and
commerce, I still keep my poor reputation as a
man of quite ordinary intelligence; but if I admit
that many kinds of art leave me cold, being beyond
my understanding, the critics raise their brows and
treat me as a fool. Several have quarrelled with
me because I told them that Birket Foster, whether
little or great in his profession, managed to paint
his way into the hearts of the English people.
They became very indignant with me, and angrily
drew my attention to the mere prettiness of Foster's
subjects and the triviality of his stippled technique.
But criticisms do not get rid of facts. The English
people love Foster ; and surely there is room in art
for work of all kinds ! "
" No doubt," said the Reviewer ; " yet I have a
great sympathy for those who are intolerant in their
views on art. I recognise, you see, that such in-
tolerance is a form of determination backed by
strong convictions. But for it the arts in the nine-
teenth century would not have extended their range
of subject in such an astonishing manner. When
I think of the immense provinces won to art by
the path-finders of the last century—won, remember,
in the face of immense opposition—I cannot but
believe that the nineteenth century will be looked
upon in ages to come as among the most remark-
able in the art history of the world. Many an artist
died in defence of his chosen subjects, and such
courage as that must be accompanied by intoler-
ance. A man must pit his judgment and his faith
against all-comers, and triumph at last through
sheer force of egotism assisted by great ability.
Of that we may be sure. And we may be certain
also that subject in art, the cause of all the heroic
self-assertion, is not to be separated from colour,
technique, design and style, for these things form
part of a man's conception of his subject-matter ;
they express it, they complete it, they lift it into art."
"The public can't be expected to understand
that," remarked the Critic, "for nothing but a long
education in art enables a man to appreciate the
technique and the 1 bones ' apart."
The Lay Figure.