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

THE PRACTICE AND SCIENCE OF DRAWING

INTRODUCTION

The best things in an artist's work are so much a matter of intuition, that there is much to be said for the point of view that would altogether discourage intellectual inquiry into artistic phenomena on the part of the artist. Intuitions are shy things and apt to disappear if looked into too closely. And there is undoubtedly a danger that too much knowledge and training may supplant the natural intuitive feeling of a student, leaving only a cold knowledge of the means of expression in its place. For the artist, if he has the right stuff in him, has a consciousness, in doing his best work, of something, as Ruskin has said, "not in him but through him." He has been, as it were, but the agent through which it has found expression.

Talent can be described as "that which we have," and Genius as "that which has us." Now, although we may have little control over this power that "has us," and although it may be as well to abandon oneself unreservedly to its influence, there can be little doubt as to its being the business of the artist to see to it that his talent be so developed, that he 18may prove a fit instrument for the expression of whatever it may be given him to express; while it must be left to his individual temperament to decide how far it is advisable to pursue any intellectual analysis of the elusive things that are the true matter of art.

Provided the student realises this, and that art training can only deal with the perfecting of a means of expression and that the real matter of art lies above this and is beyond the scope of teaching, he cannot have too much of it. For although he must ever be a child before the influence that moves him, if it is not with the knowledge of the grown man that he takes off his coat and approaches the craft of painting or drawing, he will be poorly equipped to make them a means of conveying to others in adequate form the things he may wish to express. Great things are only done in art when the creative instinct of the artist has a well-organised executive faculty at its disposal.

Of the two divisions into which the technical study of painting can be divided, namely Form and Colour, we are concerned in this book with Form alone. But before proceeding to our immediate subject something should be said as to the nature of art generally, not with the ambition of arriving at any final result in a short chapter, but merely in order to give an idea of the point of view from which the following pages are written, so that misunderstandings may be avoided.

The variety of definitions that exist justifies some inquiry. The following are a few that come to mind:

"Art is nature expressed through a personality."

19But what of architecture? Or music? Then there is Morris's

"Art is the expression of pleasure in work."

But this does not apply to music and poetry. Andrew Lang's

"Everything which we distinguish from nature"

seems too broad to catch hold of, while Tolstoy's

"An action by means of which one man, having experienced a feeling, intentionally transmits it to others"

is nearer the truth, and covers all the arts, but seems, from its omitting any mention of rhythm, very inadequate.

Now the facts of life are conveyed by our senses to the consciousness within us, and stimulate the world of thought and feeling that constitutes our real life. Thought and feeling are very intimately connected, few of our mental perceptions, particularly when they first dawn upon us, being unaccompanied by some feeling. But there is this general division to be made, on one extreme of which is what we call pure intellect, and on the other pure feeling or emotion. The arts, I take it, are a means of giving expression to the emotional side of this mental activity, intimately related as it often is to the more purely intellectual side. The more sensual side of this feeling is perhaps its lowest, while the feelings associated with the intelligence, the little sensitivenesses of perception that escape pure intellect, are possibly its noblest experiences.

Pure intellect seeks to construct from the facts brought to our consciousness by the senses, an accurately 20measured world of phenomena, uncoloured by the human equation in each of us. It seeks to create a point of view outside the human standpoint, one more stable and accurate, unaffected by the ever-changing current of human life. It therefore invents mechanical instruments to do the measuring of our sense perceptions, as their records are more accurate than human observation unaided.

But while in science observation is made much more effective by the use of mechanical instruments in registering facts, the facts with which art deals, being those of feeling, can only be recorded by the feeling instrument—man, and are entirely missed by any mechanically devised substitutes.

The artistic intelligence is not interested in things from this standpoint of mechanical accuracy, but in the effect of observation on the living consciousness—the sentient individual in each of us. The same fact accurately portrayed by a number of artistic intelligences should be different in each case, whereas the same fact accurately expressed by a number of scientific intelligences should be the same.

But besides the feelings connected with a wide range of experience, each art has certain emotions belonging to the particular sense perceptions connected with it. That is to say, there are some that only music can convey: those connected with sound; others that only painting, sculpture, or architecture can convey: those connected with the form and colour that they severally deal with.

In abstract form and colour—that is, form and colour unconnected with natural appearances—there is an emotional power, such as there is in music, the sounds of which have no direct connection with 21anything in nature, but only with that mysterious sense we have, the sense of Harmony, Beauty, or Rhythm (all three but different aspects of the same thing).

This inner sense is a very remarkable fact, and will be found to some extent in all, certainly all civilised, races. And when the art of a remote people like the Chinese and Japanese is understood, our senses of harmony are found to be wonderfully in agreement. Despite the fact that their art has developed on lines widely different from our own, none the less, when the surprise at its newness has worn off and we begin to understand it, we find it conforms to very much the same sense of harmony.

But apart from the feelings connected directly with the means of expression, there appears to be much in common between all the arts in their most profound expression; there seems to be a common centre in our inner life that they all appeal to. Possibly at this centre are the great primitive emotions common to all men. The religious group, the deep awe and reverence men feel when contemplating the great mystery of the Universe and their own littleness in the face of its vastness—the desire to correspond and develop relationship with the something outside themselves that is felt to be behind and through all things. Then there are those connected with the joy of life, the throbbing of the great life spirit, the gladness of being, the desire of the sexes; and also those connected with the sadness and mystery of death and decay, &c.

The technical side of an art is, however, not concerned with these deeper motives but with the 22things of sense through which they find expression; in the case of painting, the visible universe.

The artist is capable of being stimulated to artistic expression by all things seen, no matter what; to him nothing comes amiss. Great pictures have been made of beautiful people in beautiful clothes and of squalid people in ugly clothes, of beautiful architectural buildings and the ugly hovels of the poor. And the same painter who painted the Alps painted the Great Western Railway.

The visible world is to the artist, as it were, a wonderful garment, at times revealing to him the Beyond, the Inner Truth there is in all things. He has a consciousness of some correspondence with something the other side of visible things and dimly felt through them, a "still, small voice" which he is impelled to interpret to man. It is the expression of this all-pervading inner significance that I think we recognise as beauty, and that prompted Keats to say:

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty."

And hence it is that the love of truth and the love of beauty can exist together in the work of the artist. The search for this inner truth is the search for beauty. People whose vision does not penetrate beyond the narrow limits of the commonplace, and to whom a cabbage is but a vulgar vegetable, are surprised if they see a beautiful picture painted of one, and say that the artist has idealised it, meaning that he has consciously altered its appearance on some idealistic formula; whereas he has probably only honestly given expression to a truer, deeper vision than they had been aware of. The commonplace is not the true, but only the shallow, view of things.

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