Career In Art
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The artist, like the poet, is the interpreter of his people's ideals of beauty. The way in which he expresses beauty through painting or sculpture is determined as much by the place and age in which he lives as by his own nature. So it is wrong to think, as many do, that the artist is a man apart from others, that his life and work have no practical connection with those of the rest of mankind. For indeed they have; the work of an artist is, in fact, often the only thing which reaches out from one age into another which makes a long gone by time or a far distant land real and understandable to us. Perhaps when we see the original or a replica of one of the great Greek statues, we do not know what hero or god of the time is represented, but we do comprehend the grandeur and majesty of the work, and we realize from the finished artistry and consummate craftsmanship the high state of civilization of the nation which produced artists capable of such efforts.
The artist has a double function, for, besides interpreting the spirit of his people, it is his duty and privilege to guide the public taste into channels of purer aesthetic appreciation. By bringing about a keener sense of artistic values in general, the artist helps to bring about also the beautification of the ordinary things of daily life, and so renders an uplifting and lasting service.
The traditional "fine arts" are painting and sculpture. The painter's art may lead him into the field of portraiture, of landscape, still life, figure or animal painting, or into the painting of general subjects. Whatever special line he undertakes will be determined by the painter's natural preferences and abilities. If, for instance, color appeals very strongly to him, landscape or still life painting may prove to be his field; if form attracts him more, he may become a painter of animals or of the human figure. The one requisite for an artist is natural talent. The youth without some talent can never, in spite of excellent instruction, attain success in painting. And yet the man with talent may be equally unsuccessful. So much depends upon the temperament of the individual artist, upon the momentary mood of the public, and other changing factors, that it is impossible to say what steps should be followed to attain more or less certain success in art.
A good course of study can be a great help, even though many men have succeeded as artists without much formal instruction. The artist must have good powers of observation, and a sense of rhythm, harmony and perspective. His artistic education will enable him to utilize these natural qualities. His eye will be trained to distinguish subtle color differences, he will learn the laws of perspective and composition and, by an acquaintanceship with recognized masterpieces and by constant practice in his art, will attain a certain technique. Needless to say, the artist who has nothing but technique to show will hardly be great. Painting is not simply a placing of strokes upon a flat surface in such a way as to reproduce an object; there must be life and meaning in the representation. The power of infusing his work with life and meaning is something which no amount of instruction can supply to a man deficient in sensitiveness and emotion, so that the painter should be possessed of these qualities also.
Like the painter, the sculptor's chief need is talent. The sculptor does what the painter does, but in a different medium. To him, form is of the utmost interest and importance—and the modeling of forms is his true business. All artists are crafts-men, for manual work is an essential of all artistic endeavor. This is, however, especially noticeable in sculpture, where the modeling of clay and wax, the pouring of plaster and bronze, the chiseling of marble and other stones constitute a great part of the artist's work. The well-known sculptor, at work upon some large statue, the decorations of a building or the construction of a monument, often contrives to relieve himself of much of the more mechanical portion of his work, by leaving to an assistant the preparation of casts and the carrying out of minor details.
The painter or sculptor is, when he has finished his schooling, confronted with the problem of how to make a living. The young artist who has not yet made a reputation for himself knows well that, if he must depend for support upon the chance sale of an occasional picture, he will not find himself very well off. For this reason some young men temporarily enter the field of commercial art, and others become assistants to mural painters or sculptors. The pay for the latter type of work is not very large, but no young man contemplates remaining at it for long. It is his hope, as he carries on his own work separately, to produce pictures or statues which, when exhibited, will prove salable, and so be the beginning of a reputation. Some young artists find purchasers by chance; some take part in contests and thus bring themselves to the attention of the public. A portrait painter, starting with one sitter, may in time succeed in establishing a clientele of people of means who will commission him to paint their portraits. A sculptor, who may begin by submitting some design in a public contest, may end by being commissioned to execute imposing monuments.
The possibilities of art as a profession are unlimited, provided one has considerable talent, training and sufficient endurance and love for the work to stick to it during the almost inevitable "lean years." As has been said, success cannot be guaranteed even to the talented, but this is more or less true of any sort of work. Outside of the fact that the artist may, in spite of ability, be destined to remain forever poor, there are practically no other disadvantages in the profession of art. The successful artist has the opportunity of gaining wealth, fame and high. honors. Art offers, too, wonderful opportunities for cultural development, and for the expression of the personality of the artist.
There are numerous good art schools where the student can receive his training. Usually these schools do not demand of the student any certain degree of previous academic education but, as the artist works with head as well as with hands, he will find a good general education useful. Thorough art courses are given also in the Departments of Fine Arts of large universities and by private teachers. The student may take regular day courses, or may study during the evening, and his studies may cost him but the price of his materials if he attends free classes, or, if he studies and travels abroad, thousands of dollars. Very instructive also are lectures and exhibitions in museums and galleries, to which students are in most cases admitted free of charge. Many scholarships for study, here and abroad, are annually awarded to the winners of contests arrangea by art schools and societies.
Painting and sculpture are what are usually considered the higher forms of art, but there is, too, art which serves more commercialized purposes. For the artist of imagination and dramatic sense, illustration offers a splendid field. The illustrator depicts events or scenes narrated and described in books, magazines and other publications. Above everything else, his drawings should have character. should immediately impress the prospective reader with their meaning, even if the technique is not faultless. Illustration makes use of talents of various kinds. Beginners in the field of art can often find employment as illustrators, and men of established reputation frequently con-sent to illustrate some book for a substantial consideration.
The illustrator has some difficulties to meet which the painter has no occasion to know. He must, for instance, realize the difficulty of reproducing his work by photomechanical processes, as will have to be done in the case of book and magazine illustrations. The limitations in these processes, causing some-times distortion of the picture through its reduction in scale, through hasty engraving and printing and faulty ink, should be kept always in mind. The artist must remember that a certain special technique, less subtle and complicated than that which he might employ for an easel picture, should be used in illustration. A further difficulty lies in the fact that the artist is often required to produce suitable illustrations within a very limited time.
For the work of illustration, the artist should have a good general art education and a vivid imagination. A man may receive from $30 to $400 for one canvas, and his financial success will depend upon the demand he succeeds in creating for his work. Drawing for the newspapers is also a profitable field. The cartoonist or caricaturist should have obtained a general knowledge of the fundamentals of draftsmanship, and should be a person of many and original ideas. Probably the best way for the would-be newspaper artist to secure a start is by obtaining some kind of position on a large daily paper, preferably in the art department. The chief difficulty in drawing for the' newspapers is the short time at the artist's disposal. A topic may be of vital interest one day, and stale the next, and the cartoonist must, for this reason, be a fast worker. Naturally, he should be a person of intelligence, capable of keen analysis and of effectively employing satire, his best aid. He should regard his work very seriously, for public opinion is to a surprising extent molded by the newspaper cartoon. The average newspaper artist makes from $2,500 to $7,500 a year. The extraordinarily successful man, who can increase his profits by selling one cartoon to numerous newspapers (syndicating), may earn as much as $40,000 or $50,000 annually.
The commercial designer is a type of artist in great demand. He may be a "free lance" or may be employed by some business firm, in a salaried position. His work lies partly in the field of advertising, for it is his duty to make, for newspapers, magazines, catalogs and other advertising media, drawings which will attract prospective purchasers. This work requires artistic training, and very often some training in advertising principles also. The artist must be familiar with the general psychology of advertising, and should be skilful enough to turn out work which will appeal to the particular class his employer wishes to reach. The salaries in this field are generally good, and in some cases are extremely high. As in illustration, the effectiveness of the work, and the reputation of the artist are the bases of his remuneration.
Some people imagine that only "art for art's sake" is worthy of the name. Commercial art, however, conceived and executed in a sincere spirit, can be just as fine and uplifting a factor in the lives of ordinary people, who have not yet learned to frequent exhibitions, as the works displayed there. There is room for, and purpose in, a good poster or cartoon as well as a master-piece of painting or sculpture.
CORY, J. CAMPBELL: "The Cartoonist's Art," The Tumbo Co., Chicago, 1912.
Low, WILL H.: "A Painter's Progress," Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1910.
SEITZ, DON CARLOS: "Training for the Newspaper Trade," J. B. Lippincott Co., Philadelphia, 1916.
STANSFIELD, HERBER H.: "Sculpture and the Sculptor's Art," T. C. & E. C. Jack, Ltd., London, 1918.
WHITING, JOHN D.: "Practical Illustration," Harper & Bros., New York, 1920.
American Magazine of Art, American Federation of Arts, New York. Art and Archaeology, Archaeological Institute of America, Washington, D.C.
Arts and Decoration, Hewitt Publishing Co., New York.
Fine Arts Journal, F. J. Campbell, Chicago.
International Studio, John Lane Co., New York.
The Touchstone and the American Art Student Magazine, Mary Fanton Roberts, Inc., New York.