Studio: international art — 51.1911

Page: 258
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The Lay Figure

The lay figure : on the

ESSENCE OF ART.

“ How difficult it is to arrive at anything
like finality in Art teaching,” said the Art Master.
“After discussing for centuries the principles of
artistic education we seem to be as far as ever
from the discovery of the perfect system of training.”
“ Do you really crave for finality in Art ? ” asked
the Man with the Red Tie. “If your wish were
granted there would be no need for any further
teaching—Art would be dead.”

“ Finality in Art! I am not asking for that,”
replied the Art Master. “ But I cannot see why
there should not be one recognised and definite
system under which all students could be trained
for the practice of Art. Of course each man would
in his after-work apply this system in the way that
his temperament might suggest, but it would, I
think, be a great- advantage to him to have been
educated in accordance with fixed principles.”

“ May I ask what would be in your view the
perfect system?” broke in the Art Critic. “On
what would you base your universal education for
the would-be artist ? ”

“The foundation certainly would be strict
copying of nature, absolute and exact realism,”
answered the Art Master, “ because this is indis-
pensable for all serious achievement. I would not
allow the student to exercise his imagination until
he knew nature by heart and could record with
complete fidelity the facts she supplies.”

“And who is to decide when he has reached the
right degree of imitative capacity ? ” scoffed the
Man with the Red Tie. “Who is to let him off
the lead when he is sufficiently trained to run
alone ? ”

“ That, of course would be the teacher’s func-
tion,” returned the Art Master. “ It would be his
business to decide when the student’s knowledge
of nature was exact enough to justify excursions
beyond the limits of the system.”

“ Does it not occur to you that such rigid
repression would kill any imaginative powers that
the average student might naturally possess ? ”
enquired the Critic. “Do you not think, too,
that you are requiring the teacher to be endowed
with super-human omniscience? How is he to
be sure that he can recognise the exact psycho-
logical moment at which to let the student loose ? ”
“ If he is an efficient teacher he will be able to
see clearly enough when the student has learned
all that is possible under the system,” retorted the
Art Master. “ After that he has naturally nothing

to do with the student, who must take his fate in
his own hands.”

“You would turn the student out then, to sink
or swim, with no better equipment than the power
to record obvious facts realistically and precisely,”
said the Critic. “ How many of them would ever
get any further? I am sure that most of them
would remain mere commonplace imitators to
the end of their days.”

“Well, even so they would be efficient,” asserted
the Art Master. “They would have learned to
see, and to set down rightly what they saw.
Surely they would be better employed in realising
nature than in making erratic excursions into
imaginative art. The duty of the artist is to follow
nature’s lead, not to attempt irresponsible abstrac-
tions.”

“ Oh ! is that so?” commented the Critic. “Now
that is where I begin to quarrel with your system
and, indeed, with your whole view of Art educa-
tion. The strict copying of nature is, by itself, not
art at all; it is only a means to an end, and one of
the essentials—a very important one, I admit—in
a complicated scheme of expression. Art cannot
do without nature, but it has an essence of its own
which must be plainly manifested in all translations
of nature into the terms of art. This essence, I
take it, is something personal and temperamental
which is introduced by the artist, who is an inter-
preter—an interpreter, mind you, not a copyist—
of nature. He has to show the value of his
personality in his work, if it is to be of any serious
account.”

“ But surely he can do that and yet keep within
the bounds of strict realism,” objected the Art
Master.

“That I am inclined to question,” returned the
Critic. “ It seems to me that if you repress his
imagination by a rigid system in his student days,
you make him for the rest of his life a dull repro-
ducer of commonplaces, or else you rouse in him
a spirit of rebellion which leads him into intem-
perate violence directly the restraints of the system
are removed. Either way he will fail to realise
that essence of art which preserves and yet trans-
mutes nature. No, drop your craving for finality
in art education, and seek instead for something
with more vitality and spontaneity, some more
adaptable method of teaching which will enable
your students to see the imaginative possibilities
of the facts you set before them.”

“And do give up that idea that you are in-
fallible,” laughed the Man with the Red Tie.”

The Lay Figure.
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