Studio: international art — 60.1914

Page: 334
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The Lay Figure

The lay figure : on the


“ Must a picture always tell a story ? ”
asked the Man with the Red Tie.

“ Certainly not,” returned the Young Painter.
“ Story-telling is not by any means the mission of

“But surely a picture ought to have a subject,”
objected the Art Critic. “ It would scarcely be
entitled to count as a work of art if it had not
some motive.”

“ Of course a picture must have a motive,” cried
the Young Painter ; “ but motive is not the same as
subject; let us make the right distinction between

“ A distinction without a difference ! ” laughed
the Critic. “ The motive by which the picture is
inspired is its subject, call it what you like; and
the picture which has no subject is not a picture at

“ We will grant that,” agreed the Man with the
Red Tie ; “ but is it necessary that this subject
should be a record of something the painter has
seen ? ”

“ Certainly it is necessary,” replied the Critic,
“ a picture is a record of the impression made upon
the mind of the painter through his vision, and
therefore it is a record of something he has seen.
The way in which he presents his subject depends
upon the way in which he sees it, but unless he has
seen it first he cannot present it with any sort of

“ You are leaving out entirely the intellectual
side of art,” protested the Young Painter. “ Can-
not a painter think his motive—invent it, I mean.
Must it always be suggested to him ? ”

“ I thought you objected to story-telling,” said
the Man with the Red Tie. “ If a man invents his
subject what is he doing except telling a story, an
amusing little tale which he has made up in his
own mind ? ”

“ He is doing nothing of the sort! ” exclaimed the
Young Painter. “ He is expressing an emotion-
something that he feels. It seems to me to be
a much greater thing to do that than merely
to reproduce a visual impression. The man who
paints what he sees is simply setting down a
commonplace, something that every one else can
see ; but the man who paints his emotions gives us
a revelation of his own mind and his own tempera-

“And he gives us more often than not a picture
that is intelligible to no one but himself,” laughed

the Critic. “ He tells a story that seems to us to
have no point because we do not know whether or
not he has anything in his mind. What is the use
of a work of art which is so intimate a piece of self-
revelation that only the artist can explain what it
means ? ”

“ At any rate it is more personal and tempera-
mental than any other kind of art work could ever
be,” declared the Young Painter.

“You can have too much even of a good thing,”
ieered the Man with the Red Tie.

“ Oh yes, and too much temperament is almost
worse than too little,” agreed the Critic. “ The
artist who is unintelligible is a wasted force ; he
may be a Heaven-sent genius, but if no one can
understand him he is useless to mankind. Now
the man who can see what every one else could see
if they knew how to look for it is, through the
medium of his art, an educator of vast possibilities.
He teaches people not only what to see but how to
see it.”

“ Must art, then, always be imitative, always
second-hand in inspiration, always concerned with
a visual motive?” asked the Young Painter.

“ Art has always been imitative ever since art
existed,” returned the Critic; “and a tradition
sanctified by the observance of thousands of years
is not likely to be superseded now. It is an
instinct of the human race to demand that the
motive of a picture should be in one way or
another the representation of nature; it is the
instinct of the artist to demand that this repre-
sentation should be as perfect and expressive
as possible—in other words that it should reflect
in the most definite way his temperamental attitude
towards nature. The subject comes from nature :
the way in which it is treated is the outcome of
the artist’s personality.”

“ Then every picture does tell a story,” said the
Man with the Red Tie.

“ Undeniably it does, in the sense that it tells
us how some aspect of nature has impressed the
artist and how his temperament has guided him in
the choice and handling of his subject,” declared
the Critic. “ In the choice of the subject he shows
what is the degree of his taste, in his treatment of it
what is the extent of his capacity, in the feeling
with which he has invested it what sort of emotion
it has aroused in him. The picture, in fact, be-
comes a wrork of reference from which we can learn
all that we want to know about him. The story has
a vivid interest when the motive is a worthy one and
the artist has turned to the right account the oppor-
tunities it offers him.” The Lay Figure.
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