Guides to Fine Arts Like Painting, Designing, Architecture, Sculpture, Photography and More

DRAWING BY LEONARDO DA VINCI FROM THE ROYAL COLLECTION AT WINDSOR


DRAWING BY LEONARDO DA VINCI FROM THE ROYAL COLLECTION AT WINDSOR

Copyright photo, Braun & Co.

Fromentin's

"Art is the expression of the invisible by means of the visible"

expresses the same idea, and it is this that gives to art its high place among the works of man.

Beautiful things seem to put us in correspondence with a world the harmonies of which are more perfect, and bring a deeper peace than this imperfect life seems capable of yielding of itself. Our moments of peace are, I think, always associated with some form of beauty, of this spark of harmony within corresponding with some infinite source without. Like a mariner's compass, we are restless until we find repose in this one direction. In moments of beauty (for beauty is, strictly speaking, a state of mind rather than an attribute of certain objects, although certain things have the power of inducing it more than others) we seem to get a glimpse of this deeper truth behind the things of sense. And who can say but that this sense, dull enough in most of us, is not an echo of a greater harmony existing somewhere the other side of things, that we dimly feel through them, evasive though it is.

But we must tread lightly in these rarefied regions and get on to more practical concerns. By finding and emphasising in his work those elements in visual appearances that express these profounder things, the painter is enabled to stimulate the perception of them in others.

In the representation of a fine mountain, for instance, there are, besides all its rhythmic beauty of form and colour, associations touching deeper chords in our natures—associations connected with its size, age, and permanence, &c.; at any rate we have more feelings than form and colour of themselves are capable of arousing. And these things must be felt by the painter, and his picture painted under the influence of these feelings, if he is instinctively to select those elements of form and colour that convey them. Such deeper feelings are far too intimately associated even with the finer beauties of mere form and colour for the painter to be able to neglect them; no amount of technical knowledge will take the place of feeling, or direct the painter so surely in his selection of what is fine.

There are those who would say, "This is all very well, but the painter's concern is with form and colour and paint, and nothing else. If he paints the mountain faithfully from that point of view, it will suggest all these other associations to those who want them." And others who would say that the form and colour of appearances are only to be used as a language to give expression to the feelings common to all men. "Art for art's sake" and "Art for subject's sake." There are these two extreme positions to consider, and it will depend on the individual on which side his work lies. His interest will be more on the aesthetic side, in the feelings directly concerned with form and colour; or on the side of the mental associations connected with appearances, according to his temperament. But neither position can neglect the other without fatal loss. The picture of form and colour will never be able to escape the associations connected with visual things, neither will the picture all for subject be able to get away from its form and colour. And it is wrong to say "If he paints the mountain faithfully from the form and colour point of view it will suggest all those other associations to those who want them," unless, as is possible with a simple-minded painter, he be unconsciously moved by deeper feelings, and impelled to select the significant things while only conscious of his paint. But the chances are that his picture will convey the things he was thinking about, and, in consequence, instead of impressing us with the grandeur of the mountain, will say something very like "See what a clever painter I am!" Unless the artist has painted his picture under the influence of the deeper feelings the scene was capable of producing, it is not likely anybody will be so impressed when they look at his work.

And the painter deeply moved with high ideals as to subject matter, who neglects the form and colour through which he is expressing them, will find that his work has failed to be convincing. The immaterial can only be expressed through the material in art, and the painted symbols of the picture must be very perfect if subtle and elusive meanings are to be conveyed. If he cannot paint the commonplace aspect of our mountain, how can he expect to paint any expression of the deeper things in it? The fact is, both positions are incomplete. In all good art the matter expressed and the manner of its expression are so intimate as to have become one. The deeper associations connected with the mountain are only matters for art in so far as they affect its appearance and take shape as form and colour in the mind of the artist, informing the whole process of the painting, even to the brush strokes. As in a good poem, it is impossible to consider the poetic idea apart from the words that express it: they are fired together at its creation.

Now an expression by means of one of our different sense perceptions does not constitute art, or the boy shouting at the top of his voice, giving expression to his delight in life but making a horrible noise, would be an artist. If his expression is to be adequate to convey his feeling to others, there must be some arrangement. The expression must be ordered, rhythmic, or whatever word most fitly conveys the idea of those powers, conscious or unconscious, that select and arrange the sensuous material of art, so as to make the most telling impression, by bringing it into relation with our innate sense of harmony. If we can find a rough definition that will include all the arts, it will help us to see in what direction lie those things in painting that make it an art. The not uncommon idea, that painting is "the production by means of colours of more or less perfect representations of natural objects" will not do. And it is devoutly to be hoped that science will perfect a method of colour photography finally to dispel this illusion.

What, then, will serve as a working definition? There must be something about feeling, the expression of that individuality the secret of which everyone carries in himself; the expression of that ego that perceives and is moved by the phenomena of life around us. And, on the other hand, something about the ordering of its expression.

But who knows of words that can convey a just idea of such subtle matter? If one says "Art is the rhythmic expression of Life, or emotional consciousness, or feeling," all are inadequate. Perhaps the "rhythmic expression of life" would be the more perfect definition. But the word "life" is so much more associated with eating and drinking in the popular mind, than with the spirit or force or whatever you care to call it, that exists behind consciousness and is the animating factor of our whole being, that it will hardly serve a useful purpose. So that, perhaps, for a rough, practical definition that will at least point away from the mechanical performances that so often pass for art, "the Rhythmic expression of Feeling" will do: for by Rhythm is meant that ordering of the materials of art (form and colour, in the case of painting) so as to bring them into relationship with our innate sense of harmony which gives them their expressive power. Without this relationship we have no direct means of making the sensuous material of art awaken an answering echo in others. The boy shouting at the top of his voice, making a horrible noise, was not an artist because his expression was inadequate—was not related to the underlying sense of harmony that would have given it expressive power.

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