The Cult of Clumsiness

Never in the history of painting has tradition been more sorely beset than the years immediately preceding and following the great war. Now that cubism, and the subsequent depravities into which art had resolved is as dead as the proverbial doornail, the writers who supported it are still busy with attempts to preserve their several dignities. Articles on such subjects as ‘What Cubism has given to Art' frequently appear in the journals.

What these pseudo-modern schools of painting lent to art is a disregard for good technique, and a contempt for realism. There is now some little danger of the cult of clumsiness prevailing, and this is nowhere more apparent than in prints from wood. Water-colour has not been altogether immune.

To offset the technical mastery of such engravers as Nightingale, Greenwood, and Gordon Craig, there are dozens whose method of engraving seems to involve the maceration of brobdinagian blocks of wood with a pick and shovel, or dynamite. They despise the bullsticker and the lining tool, and their designs are notable for broken lines, formless voids, and clumsy approximations to natural shapes.

To the well-balanced mind such phases or art mean nothing. The true artist and the sane collector never will tolerate insincerity and impudence, but that section of the public which affects vers libre, the Moscow Theatre and jazz, affects also to recognize therein preponderant truths that escape the rest. They see in them, I suppose, a reflection of their own distorted aestheticism. Fortunately they are unwilling as a rule to back their fancy when it comes to buying art of this type, and gradually the savages who fabricate it are bing starved out.

Realism is condemned by those artists whose poverty of technique does not permit them to express it. Only a short while since an exponent of "modernism" told me that "this stuff" was easy, although her parents, her instructors, her friends, and her own common sense had told her she would never make an artist. The cult of clumsiness, however, proved to be her salvation. Her work is frequently lauded.

The hard labour that is essential to accomplishment is, of course, the bugbear to these revolutionists. Their pictorial efforts are efforts at evasion. There are students so full of conceit that they imagine, being heaven-born, that work is unnecessary for them, but no genius ever existed but was sterile without labour. "A painter who is worth his salt:, said Wayman Adams, "is working harder than a cornfield labourer, under the eye of his boss, and when he isn't working he is worrying"

Objective and Subjective Painting

"Shall painting be confined to the sordid drudgery of facsimile representation?" Blake

Throughout the ages, two oppugnant schools of painting - the realists, or more learnedly, the objectivists, and the idealists, or subjectivists - have enjoyed equal popularity. The former deal in fact, the letter in fancies. The realist considers that a literal transcript from nature is a worthy subject in itself; the idealist clothes it with his own conceits. Natural form must always be the warp and weft out of which pictures of either type are fabricated, but the one inevitably strives of exact, even tangible expression - he has a profound respect for the integrity of form, and the other regards it as only a means to an end. Jackson, the famous portrait painter, said that the whole object and difficulty of art is to unite imagination with nature.

In turner's later oil paintings, at which visitors to the Tate gallery gape uncomprehendingly, form is almost amorphous, there is little in them that may be identified. George Inness impolitely called it informal claptrap. His contemporary, Constable, was a confirmed realist. :He loved form, Turner loved light and colour te best. Cox loved the open heath, Cotman, the refinements of art. Millais was the outstanding realist among the Pre- Raphaelites, and affirmed his principles at the last, when he described his landscapes as literal transcripts. Rossetti was an idealist; yet Millais was incomparably the greater man. Velasquez was a realist too, and he is named by many the supreme painter. The fact is, paintings are judged ultimately by other standards, except in the Orient. Which accounts for the anomalous position of Hokusai, the most famous of Japanese painters, who is denied even a place in the first rank by his own countrymen.

The school of the Ukiyoye (mirror of the passing world) to which Hokusai belonged, was not estimated highly. In fact, realism was in bad repute, and its practice was held to indicate a lack of imagination and a lack of culture. Ukiyoye was the only school concerned with picturing contemporary life, and frankly objective in its aims.


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