After the rudiments are passed, very little of our art can be taught by others - Reynolds
The modern frenzy for university courses, lectures and lessons, does not flatter the age. Whilst lecturing at an American university I met a student of eighty-seven, and hundreds of others, not so old as that, but who might have been much better employed. They demanded spoon-feeding, and had neither the independence, nor the confidence to step out and forage for themselves. It is often remarked that art schools never produce artists; that their graduates become dilettanti, whose productions tend to smother professional work. There is some truth in these statements. Only an infinitesimal number of art school students ever prevail as artists. Many good students stay at school too long. I don not mean that it is possible that they could ever learn enough, but they remain too long in a mentally dependent state. They learn how to fly but never spread their wings. eventually they despair of unaided achievement, or put off their effort to some future day which never arrives.
He who walks in the traces of another is but little likely to get before him - Michaelangelo
It has been interesting to follow the more recent revolts, or fads, in art. The impressionists went out-doors, or back to nature, as a protest against the long reign of lifeless studio painting - every ew school claims to go back to nature - but in their enthusiasm for light and colour, form was never given its due. Impressionist endures to this day, and has affected all landscape painting. It was left to the cubist to reinstate form, but they went to such extremes that they forfeited all sympathy. They affected to express volume, and to do so, they reduced natural objects to their derivative geometric shapes, mostly to a conglomeration of cubes. As a concession th rhythm the cubes were often repeated in diminishing progression. The surviving remnant of the clique at last issued a manifesto declaring that their original aim was achieved, and that they had succeeded in exciting a proper and reasonable interest if form as such. But they sadly misread the universal rule, which the ancient Greeks knew, "Nothing too much". Nothing but volume was their reading, for colour went by the board, as did ever other principle, except perhaps rhythm.
Cezanne was not an extremist to that extent, and his extraordinary feeling for volume and stability was developed along more natural lines. He was at one with the impressionists in that he was concerned with actuality of form and colour.
Van Gogh used colour definitely as a means of expression. Matisse was obsessed with colour too, and according to some authorities he is one of the most remarkable colourists of all time. But with Matisse too, other things suffer, his form is unacceptable. He never hesitates to lengthen a human limb, or to bend or break it, or shorten it, if the spaces between seem to demand such operations in consideration of other principles. The shapes left between objects are of as much importance to him, as they should be, as the shapes of objects themselves, but to some artists his methods only suggest incompetence or laziness.
It is unfortunate that the students who are
attracted by the paintings of these men, and they are as the sands
of the sea, should see in them only their negative qualities.
They industriously imitate their inaccuracies and their discords,
while the spirit which evolved them remains unperceived. The qualities
I have named are worthy of imitation - painting is essentially
an imitative art, - but not the defects. It is most unwise also,
to use only one painter as a model. In this connection it would
be profitable to read Reynold's sixth discourse.
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