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Painting And Art

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


(Recapitulation:) In the volume entitled "Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture as Representative Arts," first through an analysis of the elements of visible representation, it is shown that large size or deep shading in certain features, when connected with the opposite in other features, suggests, whether in landscapes, figures, or buildings, either conceptions or surroundings characterized by such traits as heaviness, strength, immobility, influence, or nearness ; and, again, that outlines formed by the continuity of curves, and also those manifesting irregularity, suggest the normal and natural in landscapes, and the free and unconstrained in figures, whereas straightness, angularity, and regularity suggest the abnormal and artificial, as in effects of volcanic action in nature, of self-conscious and constrained action in men, and of rectangularity in buildings and in most other human constructions. In unfolding this subject, the principles shown to underlie other forms of visible representation are applied to a complete system of expressing thoughts and emotions through the shapes, postures, gestures, and facial movements of the human body. Following this, comes a discussion of the representative significance of the different colors.

The concluding part of the book treats of the representation of mental conceptions and also of material surroundings in compositions as wholes; first, in landscape, portrait, genre, historic, allegoric, and symbolic painting and sculpture, and, after this, in architecture. In discussing this latter art, it is shown that the constructive conception, as well as the plan, can be represented in the interior and exterior of a building; and, in a series of illustrations presenting various huts and tents as constructed by the natural man side by side with columns, pediments, entablatures, arches, roofs, and spires of perfected art, it is shown that the latter are developed from the former through a picturesque and statuesque and, in this sense, representative motive. Proportion and Harmony of Line and Color, XXVI.


We may be sure that any theory true as applied to one art is in analogy to that which is true of every other art of the same class; and I, for one, refuse to take from the art of painting its right to be classed among the other higher arts. Why does it rank with the humanities, and not with the merely decorative arts ?—why, but because its products so distinctively give expression to human thought,—in other words, so unmistakably suggest significance?—Essay on Art and Education.


When we recall what an inartistic impression is frequently conveyed by the reproducing in a picture of a highly cultivated park, or of a gentleman's homestead, the house architecturally correct, and the avenues leading to it as clearly drawn as the lines of a geometric figure,—then we may understand with some definiteness what is meant by confounding the conceptions to be expressed in landscape-gardening and in painting. Both ought to represent, as all art should, the effects of nature at first hand; but, in the case of pictures such as those just mentioned, there is danger that the main impression conveyed will be of the effects upon nature of some man, of some landscape-artist. And reflection will convince us that this is the reason—certainly a sufficient one—why such pictures often appear inartistic. They manifest, to too great an extent, the influence of a method of representation appropriate to another art.—The Representative Significance of Form, XXVII.


The difference in painting between high and ordinary art is revealed in the contrast between the picture and nature. In passing through the mediumship of the man, that which came from nature has been changed. Each change has been wrought by an idea, and all the changes together indicate a contrast between what nature really is and the artist's idea of what it might be. Here, at the very beginning of the mental tendency that is represented in painting, we have a beginning of that principle of contrast that enters so largely into the painter's success when using, in a merely technical way, the elements of light and shade and color. While poetry, as in . . . picturesque language . . . uses comparison with only occasional contrast, painting uses both in very nearly like proportions. This more extensive use in painting of contrast might be considered of merely theoretic importance, were it not for that which necessarily accompanies it. This is the fact that the natural appearances treated in painting are, as a rule, perceived outside the mind, whereas those referred to in poetry have been already stored inside the mind. Painters and sculptors reproduce scenes or figures perceived in the external world and they do this through using an external medium like canvas or marble. Poets recall what they have heard of events or of men, like a battle or a Wellington, and repro-duce this through using words. Words contain not what is external to the mind, but what is in it. The bearing of these facts is extremely important when considered in relation to the conceptions appropriate for treatment in the different arts. As applied to poetry, the facts seem to rule out of its domain any descriptive details other than those of such prominence that a man observing them might reasonably be supposed to have been able to retain them in memory, other than details—to state it differently —which have been stored in the mind, and are brought to consciousness because, apparently, the most important factors entering into the general mental effect. In accordance with this principle, it was shown in Chapter XXII. of the author's " Poetry as a Representative Art" that the descriptions of Homer are all mental, fragmentary, specific, and typical. As contrasted with poetry, painting and sculpture represent not that which is inside the mind, and may be recalled in the order of time, but that which is outside the mind, and may be perceived in the arrangements of space. Poetry, though it should not directly represent space, yet may indirectly suggest it. Painting and sculpture may suggest, though they should not directly represent, time.—Essentials of Aesthetics, X.


Painting and sculpture reveal much more plainly than either music or poetry that the mind has been moved by some outward form which they imitate. But they necessitate, and, in a sense not true of either of the arts of sound, they show that they necessitate, great conscious effort on the part of the intellect in arranging outlines, in coloring canvases, or in shaping marbles, so as to make the forms which are imitated embody the mind's ideas. If the influence be strong enough, musical melodies and poetic passages seem to spring to the lips instinctively. However strong it be, pictures and statues do not fall into shape except as a result of thoughtful work, which is due to the mind and not to that which affects it from without; work, in other words, in connection with which the ideas within the mind emphasize their own separate existence.—Art in Theory, XVII.


Poetry represents phases of consciousness moving, one after another, in time. So its medium of representation is in words which also move. These are peculiarly fitted to present the various consecutive thoughts suggested, as well as the events detailed, in a story. Painting, on the other hand, represents an influence of fixedness such as appeals to the eye. A painter's first impulse is always to represent shapes as he sees them, and hence in space. A child with a pencil in hand, so far as he can draw at all, thinks of nothing but shapes. But once present his mind with the details, whether appealing to the mind or to the eye, of that which forms the substance of a story, and he is tempted to represent them also with brush or pencil.—The Representative Significance of Form, XXVII.

It need not be inferred that painters can never draw their subjects from poetry, or poets from painting. It need merely be inferred that there should be a difference in the ways in which the two arts treat the same subject.—Idem, XXVII.


Painting, is better fitted to suggest time than is sculpture. This is so because painting, as a rule, can represent a larger space than sculpture,—a space filled with more objects and figures and indicating, therefore, more interchange between them of cause and effect. . . We seldom see in a picture a figure that stands out from all surrounding figures, asserting such claims to preeminent and exclusive attention as is common in groups of statuary. Continuing this line of thought, we shall soon recall how superlatively we have enjoyed certain statues, for the very reason, apparently, that they were placed so that one could view them apart from anything else, statues that stand in rows, or in alcoves by themselves. Essentials of Aesthetics, X.


The difference between that which is appropriately represented in painting and in sculpture is very truthfully suggested, though not entirely indicated, by the difference, which all recognize, between the meaning of the terms picturesque and statuesque. The picturesque, as defined on page 28o, involves a conception of much and minute variety. And this is just what painting involves. The color that is used in it, and not in sculpture, is never well applied unless it imitates the influences of light and shade in nature to such a degree as to cause slight differences at almost every perceptible point. Besides this, color enables the artist to separate, one from another, and thus to represent clearly, a very large number of small details most of which would be indistinguishable if an attempt were made to indicate them in sculpture. On the other hand, the statuesque involves the conception of something that stands out by itself,—something that, because it has bulk or body, can be looked at from every side. Even when the term applies to the sculpture of mere relief, the solidity of the medium that is used in it, and not in painting, tends to separate every contour from every other by emphatically defined outlines. These outlines, too, must be comparatively few in number and the objects which they delineate comparatively large in size. Thus the limitations of the material used in each of the arts deter-mine the limitations of the subjects which it and it alone can appropriately embody. On account of the minute representative possibilities of color, one can make a painting of a landscape, and can crowd into a small compass a large number of figures and faces, appearing almost immediately beside or behind one another. In sculpture, landscape is wellnigh impossible, and so is any extensive grouping of figures. Even such figures as can be brought together must, owing to the uniformity of color, be very distinctly separated, and, as artistic effects produced through variety of hues are impossible, compensating artistic effects through the use of outlines become imperative. Hence parallelism, continuity, balance, symmetry, and kindred methods of aesthetically accenting the requirements of contour become more prominent.—The Representative Significance of Form, XXVII.

A picture and a statue may both imitate the same model. When we look at the former, we instinctively think of the model. When we look at the latter, we often think only of the effects that human nature in general has had upon form in the abstract. While painting may represent only a person, sculpture is more likely to represent a personage.—Art in Theory, XIX.

Painting that depicts leaves, flowers, fruit, and children, or grown people as doing very trifling things, may rank high, because manifesting a high degree of skill in drawing and coloring. The more minute the factors with which both of these deal, the more difficult, often, is it to attain success. Besides this, almost any scene which painting depicts includes a very large number of different objects; and these to an extent may compensate in quantity for what the general subject lacks in quality. But in sculpture the conditions are different. There is almost no comparison between carving the wreath of a column's capital and the contour of a human body; and, if the latter have to be carved at all, the difficulty of the work, the permanence of the material, and the fact that the body, when completed, is to be the sole object of attention, all combine to make it seem especially inappropriate to have it represent a trivial subject. It ought to be a dignified subject, or, in lieu of that, at least a subject treated in a dignified way. As for the dignity of the subject, notice that, in a sense not true of painting, it is appropriate that the figure delineated should be represented in a form greatly exaggerated. Very large pictures . . . sometimes offend us by their very size; and it is almost impossible to conceive of an attractive picture with figures of heroic proportions. But the "Moses" of Angelo or the "Liberty Enlightening the World" in New York do not offend us. On the contrary, very small pictures, as in miniatures, are often extremely pleasing and valuable. But most of us cannot avoid feeling, when we see the bronze doors of the Capitol at Washington, that the small size of the figures makes the work expended upon them hardly worth while, because such subjects could have been represented so much more satisfactorily in pictures.—The Representative Significance of Form, XXVII.

An art is always fulfilling its best possibilities when it is doing that which it and it alone can do. What painting can do and sculpture cannot, is to produce effects through the use of pigments. What sculpture can do and painting can-not, is to produce effects through the use of bulk, including outlines representing length, breadth, and thickness.—Idem, XXVII.


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