Universitätsbibliothek HeidelbergUniversitätsbibliothek Heidelberg

Studio: international art — 58.1913

DOI issue:
No. 241 (April 1913)
DOI article:
The lay figure: on sectarianism in criticism
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The Lay Figure


" You were complaining the other day of
the want of agreement among artists about the
rules and principles of art practice, " said the Young
Painter; " would you tell me whether you can
discover any approach to consistency among the
critics ? The conflict of opinion between them
seems to me to be quite as pronounced as it is
between the various groups of art workers."

" He has you there," laughed the Man with the
Red Tie. "There is nothing like carrying the
war into the enemy's country ! "

" Why, of course ! A bold policy is always the
best," agreed the Art Critic. "But I do not fear
my foe ; let him develop his attack."

" All right, I will," answered the Young Painter.
" You have charged artists with sectarianism ; you
say that they split up into factions and that they
waste their energies on domestic quarrels instead
of working together for the good of art as a whole.
I say that every accusation you have levelled
against the artists can be brought quite as justly
against the critics. I complain that there is as
much sectarianism in criticism as there is in the
practice of art."

" And if I say that I agree with you, I wonder
what you will think," inquired the Critic.

"Oh, that would be throwing up the sponge
before you have begun the fight," cried the Man
with the Red Tie. " Have you no spirit in you ? "

" There are principles in criticism just as there
are in the practice of art, and I am quite prepared
to defend them," returned the Critic; "but I do
not feel that I am called upon to defend the
critics who outrage these principles. The position
of the critic is, I take it, one of great responsibility,
and the men who shirk or do not understand this
responsibility are not entitled to the smallest

" The position of the critic ! " scoffed the Young
Painter. "What position does a critic occupy and
to whom is he responsible ? "

" The position he occupies is practically that of
an interpreter who translates the language of art
into terms which are intelligible to the public,"
replied the Critic; "and to do his work properly
he must have a thorough understanding of art in
all its aspects and he must be able to judge exactly
the value and meaning of each of its manifesta-
tions. He is responsible both to the artists he
criticises and to the public whose opinions he

" He has got to be a rather superhuman sort of
person, has he not?" suggested the Man with
the Red Tie.

" Not quite that," said the Critic, " but certainly
he must eliminate from his mind all tendency
towards prejudice, and he must not allow his
personal preferences to warp his judgment. All
phases of art expression must be considered by
him as equally significant, and all that are sincere
in their respect for the vital Eesthetic principles
must receive from him an equal measure of support.
He must never give an opinion hurriedly or without
proper thought, and he must never praise or blame
a piece of work until he has impartially analysed it
and has satisfied himself as to the correctness of its
claim to attention."

"And how many modern critics, may I ask,
come up to your ideal ?" inquired the Young
Painter. " How many of them adopt this calmly
judicial attitude which you regard as indispens-
able ? "

" Not many, I am afraid," returned the Critic.
" and hence that tendency towards sectarianism of
which you complain. Hence, too, my unwilling-
ness to defend the man who thinks that a vague
interest in art matters qualifies him to pose as a
critic. But remember that it is only the abuse of
criticism to which I object, not to criticism rightly

"Well, and who is to blame for this abuse of
criticism ? " queried the Man with the Red

"You can divide the blame equally between the
artists, the public, and the critics," replied the
Critic. "The artists are impatient of criticism,
the public are indifferent to it, the critics are
ignorant of its principles. Each faction of art
workers attaches to itself a kind of tame reporter
who is told to advertise its particular dogmas and
to abuse the creed of every other faction, and no
faction cares whether its pet critic is ignorant or
not so long as he is sufficiently obsequious. If he
shows any independence of mind or breadth of
judgment, he is discredited at once. He is re-
tained, in fact, as an advocate, and he must not
say anything that is not set down in his brief: he
must consider the interests of his clients, not those
of art. The public, not understanding the inner
workings of modern criticism, gives up trying to
understand it, and the critics, never having studied
the principles of their work, evade their responsi-
bilities. That is the present position briefly
summed up."

The Lay Figure.