Emotional Quality Of Vision
( Originally Published 1921 )
A CONSIDERATION that comes into the question of the content, as apart from the actual style and accent with which it is set forth, is how near it comes to the artist's own preoccupations.
His setting out of this is likely to be passionate or impersonal in exact proportion to these preoccupations, and the artistic value of his work will depend largely upon the quality of this interest.
I remember seeing a painting by a policeman of his little kitchen sitting-room, with his wife attending to the cooking-range, where there was very little knowledge of craftsmanship, but a great deal of passionate devotion to the unlovely objects. The light on the varnished tile paper, the rows of cups on the dresser, the horrible cooking-range, and all the still-life of the place were in a simple way exquisite—and a certain unity was preserved by the simplicity of vision and patient consistency with which they had been represented. His skill had broken down with the figure ; but yet, the picture had a strange quality of naiveté that a more expert craftsman might have lost ; would have lost indeed, unless he could recapture the emotional quality such as Millais as a young man was capable of imparting to his rendering of fact.
There is indeed some quality of interest that is beyond the accurate and skilful presentation of facts.
Whereas some will delight in their presentation (Meissonier, Menzel and William Small being good instances) who yet never reach beyond a matter-of-fact re-statement, there are others whose record could not be compared technically, yet which goes far beyond in some unanalysable quality of emotional intensity. If, for instance, the policeman had had a streaky marble mantel-piece in his horrible parlour, and had painted it, it is likely that his picture would have expressed an emotional value beyond Tadema. Why is this ? It is the difference between a man and a machine, between art and craft. To carry out a work of art, Virtue must go out of the artist to inform his craftsmanship, whereas virtue does not issue from a machine, or from craftsmanship alone.
Art is like the involuntary muscles, and is in spite of us—succeeds or fails independently of will—but nevertheless responds to certain stimuli. If Art or Poetry could be taught, there is not an artist nor a poet alive who would not give it up, and play spillikins.