The lay figure : on finish-
ing A PICTURE.
“ I have just been looking at a set of
sketches which a young friend of mine has brought
back from the country,” said the Plain Man, “ and
I feel a little bewildered. He says they really
represent the places he has seen, but to me they
are meaningless daubs.”
“ As I have not seen your friend’s sketches,”
laughed the Art Critic, “ I would not presume to
offer any opinion on them. But it is possible, is
it not, that they are meaningless only to you?
Other people may be able to understand them.”
“ You mean that I am not educated up to the
proper high art pitch,” answered the Plain Man.
“Perhaps not; but I do not go about the world
with my eyes shut, and I do know what things
look like. I prefer a picture which reminds me
of something I have seen.”
“And you have never seen anything like these
sketches,” broke in the man with the Red Tie.
“ Well, that does not prove that they are not all
right. I daresay that your friend does not look
at nature in the same way that you do.”
“ But surely there is only one way of looking at
nature,” argued the Plain Man; “ and surely it is
the duty of an artist to paint what he sees. His
work cannot be like nature if he does not.”
“ Certainly an artist should paint what he
sees,” replied the Critic, “ but it is by no means
his duty to paint what you see. So far from
there being only one way of looking at nature
I should say that every really observant person
sees her differently.”
“ Yes, and every observant artist paints her
differently,” added the Man with the Red Tie.
“ It is the essence of art that it should allow scope
for individuality both of vision and expression.”
“ I may be a very dull person,” sighed the
Plain Man, “ but still I do want a picture to be
intelligible. These sketches are simply daubs and
blots, splashes of colour without any shape in
them. Of course, being sketches, I did not expect
them to be finished, but my friend seemed to be
surprised when I said I did not know what they
were supposed to represent.”
“ If they had been finished, as you call it, do
you think you would have understood them any
better?” enquired the Man with the Red Tie.
“Why, of course!” cried the Plain Man. “A
finished picture has all kinds of details in it which
help to tell its story and to explain what it is about.
You can see what they are meant to be, and you
have not to strain your eyes to discover whether a
splotch of colour is intended for a cow in the
foreground or a house in the distance.”
“ Did your friend consider that his paintings
were finished, or did he tell you that they were
only notes ? ” asked the Critic.
“ Oh, dear me, yes; he thought they were
finished,” replied the Plain Man. “ He declared
that they represented fully the impression made
upon him by his subject in each case, and he
was not a little hurt because I asked him what
they would look like when he had really worked
“ You seem to have been making yourself
unpopular,” chuckled the Man with the Red Tie.
“ I call it very indiscreet of you to ask such
questions when you did not know whether your
friend was showing you sketches or finished
“ But how can a picture be finished when there
is no detail in it at all ? ” demanded the Plain
Man. “ My idea of finish is completeness, the
putting in of the things which are there in nature.
I do not want suggestions that only an artist
can understand; I want reality, and facts plainly
stated. I do not want all the details left out.”
“ Then you want a great deal more than you
are entitled to expect,” said the Critic. “ By all
means let us insist that there should be put into
a picture the things that are in nature—that is
vitally important. But for Heaven’s sake do not
ask that all the things in nature should be crowded
into one small canvas, and do not suggest that
finish comes from profligacy of detail. Nature is
so complex, so infinite, so full of detail, that art
cannot realise a tenth part of her. All it can do
is to record faithfully and sincerely one or other
of her endless phases. The phase the artist
chooses may be one which demands detail, or it
may be one which can only be expressed by the
broadest of generalisations; but both records
have an equal right to be accepted as finished
pictures. It is not the quantity of detail but the
rightness of the general effect that constitutes
finish in a work of art. Your friend’s sketches,
unintelligible as they are to you, may be ex-
quisitely finished if he has achieved in them this
“ And how am I to know whether he is right ? ”
asked the Plain Man.
“If you cannot judge for yourself, you will
have to take his word for it, I am afraid,” laughed
the Man with the Red Tie.
The Lay Figure.