Consistency With Original Impulse Essential In Art
( Originally Published 1921 )
DOUBT and hesitancy frequently crop up during the progress of a work. The more mind a man or woman has the more inclined they are to change it from time to time, and to take sides against their own point of view, as a model will rest on one foot after another, alternately. It is a salutary process, but should not be indulged in while a work of art is in progress. Art is a statement not of doubt or hesitancy, but of passion and conviction. It is dogmatic or nothing " So I saw it—so I felt—so I thought, at the moment when the impulse was upon me to do this. " The artist should, therefore, like the runner, have some notion of the distance he will have to run before the race is over, and what sort of strain will be placed upon his powers.
An elaborate composition that takes time to carry through should be carefully prepared for, and nothing left to chance, otherwise in the first heat of the impulse the work may be tackled with a fire and energy that lands the artist into difficulties or inconsistencies sometimes so great that nothing but a fresh start will save the idea. Doubts may assail him as to whether the method or style adopted is most suitable to the subject, and if it is gone on with under a spell of mistaken industry, confusion of style may result as though the work were that of two or more separate minds. A notable instance of this was to be seen in Millais' picture of " The Woodman's Daughter," an exquisite example of his Pre-Raphaelite manner. In late years he re-painted for some reason, not the whole picture, but the girl only, without being critic enough to see until too late that the method of expression he had developed in the meantime, if not even his habit of mind and vision, had changed. Happily the bulk of the picture was left untouched, but its unity was destroyed, as it would doubtless have been even if the later work had not been as inferior as it is.
This much as to unity of impulse ; as to technical unities, every artist might well write up on his easel, " One picture, one sun ; One picture, one horizon." As to the first, it is only concerned with the mainftenance of unity of lighting, and is simply a warning not to forget the main source of light, as though each member of a group of people carried their independent illuminant about with them and threw their own shadows at their own sweet will.
As for the second rule as to " One horizon," a very well-known artist, less than a week before sendingfin day for the Academy, asked me round " just to criticize his perspective for him." He had a picture of some classic subject, a mountainous landscape with probably fifty nude figures standing and lying about upon the mountain side. These figures were all beautifully studied and painted from life, but there was something the matter with the perspective of the mountain, he thought, but he couldn't make out what. Individually there was nothing to find fault with, either with the figures or the mountain ; but the picture was a collection of errors. All the figures had been studied from models posed upon the throne in the studio from the same point of view, and placed upon the mountain side above, on, or below the horizon, as though such a thing as perspective did not exist for human beings.
He realised that figures looked smaller in the distance, but not the equally simple fact that if an upright figure is below you, you can see the top of the head, and if above you, you can see the soles of the feet.
Nothing could save the picture. It was a collection of studies on a single canvas, but not a unit; and no power on earth could make it one.
An artist of complex and tremblingly balanced character, who looks both inward upon himself and outwardly upon the world, will have an interesting but troubled life in his effort to find due expression for his alternating moods. The pride of the craftsman is hardly to be his, since one half of him almost of necessity will be nagging like a wife at the other. In this quarrelsome frame of mind he may be puzzled to such a degree as to endeavour to satisfy each party alternately by throwing sops of treatment to each ; so that a drawing is treated in one manner in one place and differently in another, to such an extent sometimes as to resemble a book of specimens or an old " sample of penmanship." Both or all styles may be admirable in themselves, but the essential unity of style or vision is lost, and we have a polyglot result. An example of this occurs in an admirable drawing by M. J. Lawless, " John of Padua " ; equal skill is shown in every part of the drawing, but the discrepancy between the foreground figures and the background is so marked as to make one suspect, not so much a change of mood on the part of Lawless himself, as the employment of quite another hand. It is no uncommon thing to find this discrepancy of treatment as the result of a mistaken conscientiousness. In this case we feel that the eye has used two different focuses. The effect is worse when the defect is really less obvious, and the eye has focussed separately on all the objects in a composition. There is then no predominance and no subordination of parts, and we get a jumbled result that the eye can disentangle only with difficulty and little satisfaction. It is one of the remarkable triumphs of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood and their following that they did in general achieve unity in spite of the myriad detail introduced in full light of day without the aid of a gloomy chiaroscuro. As example take Frederick Sandys' " Morgan le Fay," where an effect of rich warm colour is arrived at, but only by a relentless and calculated pursuit, and careful proportioning of means to a foreseen end which no dashing adventurer could arrive at. This cold, grave passion is a peculiar mark of Sandys.