Studio: international art — 36.1906

Page: 192
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The Lay Figure



“ Would someone be so kind,” said the
Designer, “as to define what is the meaning of the
word ‘ taste ’ ? We hear so much about it in art
matters, and yet no two people seem to agree as to
what it is.”

“ Why do you want to define the indefinable ? ”
laughed the Man with the Red Tie. “ Why don’t
you ask who wrote the Letters of Junius, or who
was the Man in the Iron Mask? What is the good,
anyhow, of riddles that have no answer?”

“ Don’t laugh,” returned the Designer; “ I am
quite serious. What is taste ? Is it something purely
imaginary, or is it a quality which can be cultivated
or educated ? Are there any standards by which it
can be measured, or is it an intangible will-o’-the-
wisp that you can never hope to catch ? If you
went out to look for it, where would you expect to
find it? I am not asking these questions as a
joke; I really want to know.”

“ I perceive that you are suffering from some
kind of mental shock,” said the Art Critic. “Pray
ease your mind and tell us what is the trouble. We
may be able to comfort you and to soothe your
shattered nerves.”

“Well, I will confess,” replied the Designer. “I
have just been invited by a lady, for whom I have
the greatest respect, to give my opinion upon the
new decorations of her drawing-room. I went to
see it! It had a yellow ceiling, blue walls, and
green hangings, and it was furnished with French
gilt chairs, Turkish inlaid tables, and Dutch
marquetry cabinets, and in the middle of the room
was a Venetian copper bowl holding an enormous
palm the leaves of which brushed the ceiling. I
was struck dumb, and could only gasp in amaze-
ment, but the lady purred contentedly, and said
that she always thanked Heaven that she possessed
taste. Taste, mind you ! ”

“I can only suggest,” chuckled the Man with the
Red Tie, “ that you should choose your friends
with more discretion. I look upon taste as an
attribute of people of refinement, and as a result of
education. Your fair friend, I fear, must have been
badly brought up.”

“ That does not follow by any means,” said the
Critic. “ Education has less to do with it than you
think, unless by education you mean training in
art matters. You or I may claim to have some
special knowledge of the subject because we have
spent our lives in developing our perceptive
faculties. But this has made us incapable of

realising how sublimely indifferent most people
are to artistic subtleties, and how little even
educated men and women are offended by
decorative extravagances which set our teeth on

“ We are specialists, you mean,” broke in the
Designer, “ and the others know nothing about
our particular subjects. But can they not be
taught ? ”

“ I suppose so,” replied the Critic, “but it would
be a vast undertaking. In every class of society
this illiteracy in matters of taste is absolutely
rampant. I can give you some illustrations. I
was consulted once by a retired tradesman about
the decoration of his dining-room. I advised
brown - paper walls and a plain frieze above, so
that he might hang the room with fine prints and
drawings; but I hear he has had the walls painted
with panels of life-sized eagles perched on miniature
oak trees, against a background of blue lakes and
green mountains. I have seen in the library of a
peer’s house a ceiling divided into square flat
panels in each of which was painted a realistic
marble bust, mysteriously suspended in a niche of
painted gold mosaic. And these are only isolated
instances of aberrations of taste which could be
paralleled or surpassed by thousands of other
examples. Where are you going to begin your
system of education ? We experts are only voices
crying in a wilderness where there is no response,
not even an echo.”

“ Then is there no remedy ? ” queried the
Designer despondently.

“ I fear there is none,” replied the Critic, “ un-
less you can induce the people who are cursed with
the conviction that they ought to pose as people of
taste to put themselves into the hands of men who
have had the proper training and the right kind of
experience. When a man wants to decorate his
house let him call in an artist to do or supervise
the work, and let him accept without hesitation
what this artist prescribes. He must treat the
artist as he would a doctor, and take the dose given
him without making a wry face—in the belief that
it will do him good. He must not presume to ques-
tion the authority of the practitioner, nor attempt
to revise or modify the prescription; the treatment
will be of little use unless he goes through with it
to the end with a sincere conviction that he is
receiving the best advice. It would be a kind
of faith-healing, you see, and I really think it
would have the effect of correcting that bad
taste from which he suffers so seriously.”

The Lay Figure.
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