Studio: international art — 36.1906

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The Lay Figure



“ Could anyone tell me,” began the Man
with the Red Tie, “ whether there is any kind of
standard by which the merit of a picture can be
measured ? I mean, is there anyone who can
really and truly claim to know whether a picture
is good or bad ? ”

“ I think there are a great many people who
know,” replied the Successful Painter; “ I have
been doing what I believe to be good work for
some years, and I have no reason to complain of
want of appreciation.”

“Just so,” returned the Man with the Red Tie;
“you provide me with an illustration of my query.
You think your work is good, and because quite a
lot of people buy the things you paint, you are
quite ready to believe that the general public know
all about art. You have absolute faith in the
sufficiency of your own standard and you have
deluded others into accepting it. Now, to be quite
candid,|,I hate your pictures, and I would not hang
one of them up in my house if you gave it to me.”
“ Don’t excite yourself,” laughed the Successful
Painter, “ I have none to give away, and, if I had,
I would not offer them to you. I keep them for
the people who can understand them, and I never
have to keep them long.”

“ That proves nothing,” broke in the Art Critic.
“ Popularity is not necessarily the reward of merit.
It often comes to the men who deserve it least,
and sometimes it is almost an insult because it
is so undiscriminating and so capricious. I know
an instance of a painter whose imaginative pictures
were great enough to have given him a place among
the masters, but who lived for years in semi-
starvation because no one would buy his work.
One day, as a joke, he painted a comic little
study of ducks quarrelling over a frog; some
one saw it, paid him quite a good price, and
for the rest of his life he was universally popular
as a poultry-yard humorist. He made a fortune
out of ducks and chickens, and his portraits of frogs
and toads ^became famous all over the world, but
he considered himself disgraced, and died a soured
and disappointed man.”

“ But he made money,” cried the Successful
Painter ; “ because he discovered what the public
wanted. What earthly use was he when he was
painting pictures that no one would look at ? The
artist’s mission is to please the public and to profit
by their enjoyment of his work ; if he does not do
so he is a failure, and he deserves to be.”


“ In other words,” said the Man with the Red
Tie, “the only standard by which art can be
measured is that set up by a public which knows
nothing about it. Our opinions and our taste, our
knowledge as experts, go for nothing. Our serious
aspirations do not count. The public are our
masters, and all our days we are to grin through a
horse-collar to amuse them.”

“ May I say a word on the subject ? ” asked the
Collector. “ I can, I suppose, be considered a
member of that public on whom you are so severe,
and so, perhaps, my views may have some bearing
on this discussion. It seems to me that you artists
are apt to be unreasonable. You paint things that
no sensible man could possibly admire, and then
grumble because they will not sell—is there any
sense in that ? Now I know what I like, and I am
always ready to buy what pleases me. I cannot
get any pleasure out of splotches of paint and spots
and streaks of colour, but a pretty subject grace-
fully and daintily painted I can thoroughly enjoy,
and I have no objection to a clever piece of
humour. No painter who can tell a good story
would find me an unwilling patron, but if he brings
me an unaccountable daub without a subject or
with some carefully hidden meaning that only he
can understand he cannot blame me if I refuse to
do business with him.”

“ There, my friend with the Red Tie,” laughed
the Critic, “ is the answer to your question. You
hear the opinion of the Collector, the man who
really knows, on the doings of yourself and your
kind. You paint things that no sensible man
could possibly admire, and you have the conceit
and the presumption to think they are good art.
Yet, do you know, I am with you for once. I
protest against the setting up of a standard which
is simply an assertion of the ignorance of men to
whom all art that is not illustrative, episodical,
topical, humorous, or something else equally con-
temptible, seems merely splotches of paint or
streaks of colour. A standard in art must always
be chiefly a matter of opinion, but the opinion of
the true artist who has given his life to sincere
study of his subject from inside must be more
authoritative than that of the man who has
looked at it superficially and simply knows what
he likes. It is not art at all that such a man
likes ; he sees nothing but the peg upon which
the art is hung, and he does not care whether
the art is good or bad so long as the peg is
sufficiently visible. But you cannot set up a peg
as a standard.”

The Lay Figure.
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