Universitätsbibliothek HeidelbergUniversitätsbibliothek Heidelberg

Studio: international art — 58.1913

DOI issue:
No. 239 (February 1913)
DOI article:
The lay figure: on the purpose of painting
DOI Page / Citation link: 

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The Lay Figure


"To whom do you think a picture should
appeal, " asked the Art Critic ; " to artists or the
public ? "

" Of course, to artists," cried the Man with
the Red Tie. "If a picture does not come up
to the standard which artists can accept, it is
a bad picture, and, as such, it has no right to

"Not at all," declared the Plain Man. "If
it does not please the public there is no reason
why it should ever have been painted. Artists
work for the approval of the public and their first
duty is to satisfy their clients."

"There you have quite a helpful conflict of
opinion, " laughed the Critic. " Now we have got
to see whether we can reconcile such well-opposed
views on the subject."

" How can we reconcile them ?" sighed the
Man with the Red. \ Tie. "What is the use of
attempting impossibilities? When there is no
chance of agreement it is futile to argue."

" Oh, you must not be so obstinate," objected
the Critic; " argument is always useful. You
forget that there is a chance of your converting
your opponent."

" He will not convince me," scoffed the Plain
Man. " I know what I am talking about and
I am not to be shaken in what is my sincerest

" Then I shall nave to prove that you are both
right," said The Critic, "and in that way satisfy
you both."

" Did'I not say that";it was useless to attempt
impossibilities ? " asked the Man with the Red Tie.
" It is ridiculous to suggest that we can both
be right when we take up absolutely antagonistic

" Are they so absolutely antagonistic ?" ques-
tioned the Critic. "I am quite prepared to
agree that a picture, if it is to be reckoned as a good
thing, must have the qualities that artists can
accept, but at the same time I do not see why the
painter of the picture should not recognise that the
public have a certain claim to consideration. He
can give reasonable satisfaction to his clients with-
out falling below the standard that his professional
brethren have set up."

"Can he? I doubt it, " returned the Man with
the Red Tie. " If he brings his work down to the
level that the crowd expects he must sacrifice
everything that makes for great achievement. He

must be content with being popular; a place
among the masters is impossible to him."

" That I cannot admit," argued the Critic. " I
do not ask that he should abandon his artistic
ambitions or sacrifice his ideals in a foolish struggle
for popularity at all costs, but I would suggest
that he should try to make himself passably
intelligible to persons of average brain power.
His ambitions are much more likely to be recog-
nised, and his ideals are much more likely to be
accepted, if he delivers his message in a language
which people can understand."

"You mean, I suppose, that he ought to choose
subjects that the ordinary man would find reason-
ably interesting," said the Plain Man.

" Partly that, no doubt, but, of course, I do not
mean that he should waste his time on trivialities
or that he should give himself up to the common-
places which amuse the ignorant," replied the
Critic. " His appeal must always be to people of
intelligence, and they will always be ready to accept
what he puts before them if he avoids becoming
too abstruse or too professional."

" What do you mean by that ? " asked the Man
with the Red Tie. " How can a painter become
too professional ? "

" By allowing the love of technique for its own
sake to over-ride all other artistic considerations,"
explained the Critic ; " and by forgetting that
executive devices are only a means to an end and
not the end itself. The purpose of painting, I
take it, is to express an idea which has been
formed in the artist's mind, and to make this idea,
sufficiently clear for other people to be able to>
perceive what it is. If his idea is only to show
how cleverly he can spread paint on canvas, it is
not one which can be conveyed to non-professional
people, and what interest it may have is confined
only to artists who have studied paint-laying as a.
special cult. But if his idea has in it something
by which ordinary men can be persuaded, then
his technical devices must not obscure it but
must be used to give it more point and more

"Then what you call technical devices do count
in the matter," interrupted the Man with the Red
Tie." "They must be soundly studied and well
managed ? "

"Why, of course," said the Critic." That is.
obvious. The sounder they are and the more
under the artist's control the better they will
fulfil their purpose, and the more completely will
he satisfy both his fellow artists and the public for
whom he works." The Lay Figure.