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Standards Of Art Criticism

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

As a result of having or acknowledging no standard, about all that criticism can attempt is to observe a poem, a painting, or a building, and praise it, in case it resembles some other product of a like kind—say by a Tennyson, a Corot, or some Greek or Gothic builder—which has been previously praised by some other critic. Judgments formed according to this method either exalt imitation in production into artistic excellence, as well as imitation in opinion into critical acumen; or else, because there seems some defect in such conceptions, they confound in their search for the opposite of imitation the indications of mere eccentricity with those of genuine originality. Meantime, the art either imitative or eccentric that is developed by such conceptions continues to prove satisfactory to men so long only as the temporary fashion that occasions it continues in vogue. There is not a library, or picture gallery, or street, or campus of any size in this country, that is not filled almost to overflowing with modem compositions which were extravagantly praised by the foremost authorities of a few years ago, but which to-day are acknowledged to be well-nigh worthless as specimens of art; and the sorriest feature of the condition is that this race toward worthlessness is still going on between many upon whose works enormous sums of money, to say nothing of undeserved and misguiding laudations, are now being lavishly expended. Proportion and Harmony of Line and Color, XXVI'.

So long as the author of this series of volumes, upon the principle of "Live and let live," refrains, as he has always consistently done, from personal attacks upon artists and critics and patrons of art, to some of whom, in his own conceptions, he is now very definitely referring, he cannot be rightly accused of being willing to attain notoriety in that easiest way possible in our own age,-at the expense of others; even if he cannot expect to be recognized as one who, in all that he has written, has been mainly anxious to be helpful to them. But whatever they may think, he is certain that he will prove helpful in reality, in case he succeeds in doing no more than directing attention to the fact that the conditions of art that have just been described must always continue so long as opinion or performance is based upon the conception that there can be no approximately definite standards. And if this be so, it is not being theoretical but practical, to maintain that in art, as in all other departments of life, these standards can be discovered.

We can find that upon which everything else on the earth's surface rests, if only we can get down deep enough. We can find the basic method of art, if only we can do the same. To find this, has been the object of these volumes. Nor is it assuming too much to hope that the physiological as well as the psychical investigations of the present day have been carried so far that no further discoveries, much as they may add by way of confirmation to the theories here unfolded, will necessitate any material change in their general trend.—Idem, XXVI.


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