Studio: international art — 34.1905

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The Lay Figure


" I wonder," said the Art Critic, "whether there
is really any progress in art. I mean, whether
present-day workers can claim to have made an
actual advance from the position occupied by their
predecessors in past centuries."

" Of course they have advanced," cried the Man
with the Red Tie. "How can you doubt it?
Surely no one who compares what is being done in
art to-day with the performances of the men who
are dead and gone would seriously attempt to
argue that there has not been an enormous
amount of progress."

" Oh yes, there has been progress of a sort,"
replied the Art Critic, "but what I doubt is
whether the sum total of this progress is as large
as it might have been, and whether we are after all
any better than the early strugglers, whom we are
pleased to pity as mere beginners labouring under
disadvantages from which we imagine that we are

" But you are turning your back on what you
have always professed as your dearest conviction,"
said the Man with the Red Tie. "You have often
said that the popular worship of the old masters is
nothing but a delusion, and that the art of the
moderns is the only one that is worth our

" No, I have never gone quite as far as that,"
returned the Art Critic; " you are exaggerating, as
usual. What I have said, and I say it again, is,
that the public do not discriminate, and are habit-
ually ready to assume that all the art of times past
must be better, simply because it is old, than any
art which is produced by living men. That popular
attitude is a stupid one, and deserves to be con-
demned, of course."

" Yet you seem to have adopted it," broke in
the Man with the Red Tie, " when you startle us by
saying that we have not progressed beyond the
position occupied by so-called artists whom I, for
one, look upon as painful examples of what we
ought to avoid."

" I think our friend's original remark," said the
Imaginative Painter thoughtfully, "must have an
inner meaning which we neither of us quite appre-
ciate. May we ask him to give us the key to his
little puzzle? Personally I think we have made
progress, and that there are better artists now than
there ever were before, and I was quite under the
impression that he thought so too."


"Then you have allowed your imagination to
lead you astray," laughed the Art Critic. " I have
never been guilty of saying anything so foolish, and
I think there have been masters—a few masters—
who have never been equalled or approached since.
"What I have often said is that, if you leave these
few masters out of the calculation, the lesser men
of times past compare but poorly with the more
able artists whom we can count among our con-
temporaries. The general standard of art practice
is much higher to-day than it ever has been before,
and there is more skilful achievement now by
the rank and file than at any previous period of
art history."

" But what on earth can you call that except
progress ?" interrupted the Man with the Red
Tie. " If you concede that, how can you question
the reality of the advance we have made ? Surely
you ought to be satisfied if the standard of art has
been raised and if modern practice is better than
the old. I am, if you are not."

" You are exactly illustrating my point," replied
the Art Critic. " I say there has been no real
progress, because I find artists to-day content still
to plod along in the actual footsteps of the old
men whom they despise. What I want to see,
before I can feel that we are moving in the right
direction, is a proper spirit of independence, and a
serious striving after originality. You laugh at the
artists who flourished generations ago, because you
see that they hedged themselves round with con-
ventions and followed more or less ineffectively a
rigid set of rules. You avoid their feeblest con-
ventions and do your work rather better than they
did theirs ; and you are quite pleased with the
progress you have made. But you never by any
chance perceive that you are all of you trotting one
after the other in just as narrow a round of con-
ventions. That is why I say you have made no
actual advance. You have substituted a new con-
vention for an old one, a habit of eccentricity for a
matter of custom, and you have not got appreciably
further on the road to great and inspired art. If
an artist of striking originality does chance to
appear, most of you scout him and do your best to
keep him from acquiring any authority; and the
few who do attach themselves to him discredit him
by turning into a convention his mannerisms and
his personal tricks of style: None of you take the
trouble to think for yourselves, and I believe that
for want of a little intelligence you will all go on
repeating the ancient formulas, with small variations,
to the end of the chapter. I do not call that
progress—do you ? " The Lay Figure.
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