His attitude -
The syllogism art for art's sake refers to that kind of painting which disregards, or is contrary to, public taste. Since art exists for humanity it is not unreasonable to assume that humanity has some rights in the matter. Who pays the piper calls the tune. An artist cannot be at once a rebel and a comfortable citizen. Haydon tried to force the heroic style upon unwilling patrons, and paid the penalty in poverty and neglect. The great majority of master-painters gave the public what it wanted, and were blessed in return with creature comfort. A few anticipated public taste, and were dead before they were appreciated, like Cotman, who, poor fellow, made desperate efforts to discover what exactly public taste might be.
It is the incompetent and the neglected artist who charges the public with ignorance, stupidity, and indifference. he raves loudly, but he is incomprehensible, even inarticulate, in his work. Such as he consider that popularity in their profession is synonymous with inability. While the application of this theory may be just in some cases, it is not so in all. A small section of the public - let us say the most ignorant section - will accept an artist who may be good or bad according to other standards, but the very fact of acceptance proves him to be intelligible, and shows him able to amuse, to instruct, or to move his public spiritually, though not perhaps in a manner embodying the best of technique. he is a bigger man, however than the long-haired fool who contrives to persuade some gin-drinking clique that his morbid pictorial monstrosities are true art. Schools of artists are forever trying to "educate" the public, and the process often involves the difficult necessity of being convinced of seeing that which does not exist - ghastly distortion, repulsive imperfection, screaming discord, cosmic craziness, and whatnot.
While it is discourteous to try to compel the public to buy this or that, it is the rankest rudeness to descend to vituperation when it refuese. The public is the tribunal before which all art is judged - not the critics or the academies. The public is the artist's only patron, and has certain fundamental rights. It will submit to education, and will respond to suggestion, but it will not be bullied.
If then a young painter's thoughts run plastic triangles or chromatic squares; if he perceives no relationship between nature and art, it is better that he should abandon the expression of his fancies, and escape disappointment. At the same time, it is true that no manner of expression, however crazy, is without its apologists, whose cloudy comprehension, is a mere pretence.
A good story is told of modernistic art. The incident occurred in the old Montrose gallery in New York. Royal Cortissoz, the well-known critic, called the attention of Mr. Montrose to a canvas, which, he felt, must be upside down. He revisited the gallery a few days later, and remarked that the picture had not been righted. But Mr. Montrose replied softly," I wish Royal, you wouldn't say anything about that. I sold the picture the first day."
The portrait painter accepts the situation because he must. If he insults his sitters his occupaiton is gone. Whether he paints the should instead of the features, or the latter with all its natural blemishes, he is as presumptuous as if he shouted "What a face. hide it", which would never do, although it is analogous to what landscape painters are doing every day. They paint pictures far too large to be saleable; they ar gloomy when they should be bright; they are as contrary as they know how to be. They have no reasonable ground for complaint, yet they do complain, because they say, their genius is not enthusiastically acclaimed.
At the same time, I must confess that a commission of any kind, even though I have en entirely free hand, is irksome. Like every man I like to develop may ideas without hindrance, and I do not pander consciously to public taste, but I refrain from flinging paint in the public's face.
the necessity for making a living forced Sir John Millais to modify his views as to the proper attitude of an artist towrrds his patrons. Following a rebellious youth spent in annoying the critics and the academicians, by the production of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, he settled down to prosperous portraiture, and a broader style. "A physician sugars his pills," he said to Holman hunt, "and I must do the same," Yet his development has progressed along natural lines. Later in life he described his braking away from the tenets of the school, which he himself had formulated, as the emergence from his artistic puberty.
There is actually no ground for the theory that Millais prostituted his talents for gain or glory. If his change of style was not the result of this won maturing judgment, if it was imposed by the critical opinion of others, which I doubt - whatever the case it was a change for the better.
I am advocating not a slavish but a sane consideration of public opinion. I would rather emphasize the futility of anarchy in art and the mistake of regarding every new theory flouting tradition, as authentic or doctrinal. Tradition is a prop for social security. The student's ambition should be to become a painter's painter, rather than a popular painter. The approbation of fellow artists based on sympathy and understanding is manifestly better than the fickle or fast homage of the greater public.
Immediate success is another matter, depending upon other qualities than genius, prudence, or skill. Take the case of Thomas Proctor. Born in Yorkshire in 1753, he obtained with great difficulty an education to fit him for the life he desired. He was apprenticed in his youth to a tobacconist in Manchester. After a few months he fled to London, and engaged himself as a clerk in a counting house. In 1784 he contrived to enter the Royal Academy schools as a pupil, but just how he managed it is not recorded. It is a fact, however, that he was awarded the gold medal for his picture "The Tempest" and that enthusiastic fellow-students carried him round the quadrangle of Somerset house, shoulder-high shouting "Proctor, Proctor."
He turned his attention to sculpture, and his "Ixion", was so highly praised by the president, that it found a purchaser. Thus encouraged, Proctor commenced a larger work, "Diomedes devoured by his Horses". This group was exhibited in 1786 at the Royal Academy, and gained great applause. It represented twelve months arduous labour, and it swallowed his previous earnings and the balance of his patrimony. But it remained unsold. He could not pay for a place in which to store the group, after the exhibition. he therefore hammered it to fragments, and, in a fit of despondency, determined to abandon sculpture. By 1794 he had produced a series of paintings which he then exhibited, and which earned for him a scholarship, that would enable him to study in Rome. President West, with kindly sympathy, wanted to carry the news himself, but he could find no one who where Proctor lived. Persistent enquiries finally established the fact that hid lodgings were in Clare Market, where for some time he had subsisted upon a penny roll a day, washed down with water from the neighbouring pump. When West repaired to Clare Marked it was too late. Unable to pay for his attic, Proctor had wandered until his health was gone, and, helped to bed by the friends who sought him, there had died.
Then there was his contemporary John Opie, the Cornish Wonder, who took London by storm in his youth, and enjoyed a tremendous reputation for a while, which vanished, however, as capriciously as it had come, and was regained deservedly in later life, after a long period of hard work.
Many a painter has live in affluence, in high esteem, who lacked the divine spark, and who is utterly forgotten to-day. The psychology of success is the same in all walks of life. The deserving are not always blest. Theat peculiar attribute known as personality is as potent a factor as genius.
Constable considered Thomas Barker his most serious rival, for as steadily as he accumulated unsold canvases, Barker amassed wealth. Few painters were more popular in their day than he, yet who hears of the fortunate and happy Barker of Bath do-day?
The suave Barker received five hundred guineas for "The Woodsman", but Richard Wilson, that difficult and unhappy genius, had a hard job to get sixty of the same for George the Third, for a landscape. He told the king's agent, Lord Bute, to say that he might pay for it in instalments. Wilson was the landscape painter whose poverty and destitution so affected Matthew William Peters, also a fine painter, that he tool holy orders rather than risk such a life.
The attitude of the intolerant artist who, confident of his own worth, dubs the unappreciative layman a fool, is fundamentally wrong. His salvation lies in the wisdom of the biblical injunction to suffer fools gladly.
Art as a profession -
Perhaps the ideal life is that of the week-end artist, who preserves the integrity of his own aesthetic ideals because of his economic independence. He may teach or practice another profession; he may rely upon commerce for a livelihood. hi is in a position to reciprocate the snarls of the critic, to ignore the larger public, and ride his hobby with an easy mind. If his daily grind is hateful he has his weekly solace in art. Altdorfer was a town-architect, Seymour Haden a doctor. Many teach, and an increasing number turn to commercial art. I knew an etcher who was a brewer's traveller, not because he had a passion for breweries, but because the public has ever evidenced a decided preference gor beer over art, considered either as a financial investment or a spiritual stimulus.
As I have pointed out the rewards of art are not always commensurate with its quality. It affords a precarious living.
Mr Brigden and Mr. Carmichael, whose work is
considered here, devote the week to commercial art. To such men
art means more than a selected profession their short hours of
practice are hours of bliss, mitigated only by the fact that art
is an exacting mistress, and permits only a momentary sense of
satisfied accomplishment in her pursuit. "A day, an hour,
of virtuous liberty is worth a whole eternity of bondage,"
They escape the fate that obliges others to produce innumerable
pot-boilers; they accept commissions only when it is impossible
to avoid them; and what they paint is done for love, and expresses
their intimate ideals without proviso, modification, or the interpolation
of undigested theories form other sources. It is not surprising
that the week-end artist gives us much of what is best in modern