Museums Of Art And Teachers Of Art
( Originally Published 1913 )
I FEEL very much flattered that so many of you should come out in such weather to hear me speak on this subject, and I feel a little embarrassed in speaking on it to such an audience, because, while I have spent a good deal of my life in teaching, and while I am profoundly convinced of the importance of the museum in connection with all teaching of art, I do not know very much about what is actually done in the way of art-teaching in the public schools, in which field I suppose many of you are specialists. Neither do I know anything of the science of pedagogy, which you have all presumably studied. So I feel a little as if I were asked to address Mr. Morgan on "The Joys of Collecting," or perhaps Mr. Bryan on "Public Speaking." I can only talk to you informally, giving my ideas for what they may be worth, and I shall stop when I have finished what I have to say, whether it be much or little, because I think you would rather hear a short talk than one pieced out with words that mean nothing.
In discussing the uses of the museum in connection with the teaching of art, the most important things to consider are, first, what we mean by "the teaching of art"; and, second, what purpose is to be subserved by such teaching. We are apt to talk of the teaching of art, it seems to me, rather loosely. Of course, there is one sense in which art cannot be taught at all. In our ordinary art schools, certainly, there is very little attempt to teach it. We can teach the trades connected with art—the handicrafts in which art expresses itself; in the arts of design, for instance, we can teach more or less drawing and painting, more or less sculpture and modelling —but we cannot teach art. The art in these things is a matter of individual creative impulse. The artist, like the poet, is born—only, he has to be "made" too; at least, he has to be trained, and we can do something toward the training of artists, though that is no part of the work of our public schools. What we can actually give in the way of teaching of art may be classed under three heads. In the first place, we can teach about art. A great deal of the teaching in our schools and colleges, a great deal that appears in books and lectures everywhere, is, I think, rather teaching about art than teaching art. It is teaching the history of art; to some extent the theory of art. It is a very useful kind of teaching in its place and for its own ends, but it is to be clearly distinguished from the other two kinds of teaching—the teaching of, or the assistance and encouragement in, the appreciation of art, which is the rarest kind of teaching, and the teaching of the use of the tools of art, which is what all teachers of drawing or of modelling are engaged in.
Now, it is obvious that in this teaching about art—this teaching of the history or the theory of art—a museum is a tool of the highest utility. It is possible, as we know too well, to teach something of art history by lectures and text-books without the use of concrete examples; but such teaching is pretty sure to degenerate into a teaching of names, or about names, instead of a teaching about things. Lecturing, for instance, on the history of painting, without the possibility of constant reference to the paintings themselves, seems to me a rather barren exercise.
It is a little pathetic to see the hunger for such teaching, to note how many people go to lectures on the history of art, or read books on that history, without ever realizing that they know nothing—really nothing—about the things of which they are hearing or reading.
But whatever you may learn of the history of art without seeing the actual objects which are the subject of that history, you can learn not at all to appreciate art without studying the objects themselves. The best that you can get outside of a good museum is a limited supply of photographs or of illustrations in books, and these are a very, very poor substitute. One really good picture of almost any school or epoch, one fragment of Greek sculpture or of Gothic carving, is an infinitely better introduction to the enjoyment of art than all of the illustrations in all of the illustrated books on art that have been printed. In the attempt to teach appreciation the museum is not merely a valuable aid, it is an absolute necessity.
In the third form of teaching—the teaching of the use of the tools of art—the museum is less obviously necessary; and as a matter of fact such teaching, whether in the professional art schools or in general schools, has made little use of the museum. I think it can be shown, however, that even in this part of the teaching of art the uses of the museum are many and its facilities should be taken advantage of.
As to the purpose of art-teaching in our schools, I imagine it to have two principal aims or ends. I imagine art to be taught in the schools, first, for the sake of general culture; and, second, for the training of eye and hand, and for the providing of a valuable tool for use in the future life of the students.
It is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of art-teaching for the diffusion of culture. Our general school training becomes—of necessity—more and more a mat-ter of utility. The necessarily, obviously useful things that will help a student to gain a living are insisted upon; and what used to be called the "humanities" are perhaps more and more neglected. We all know how much regret has been felt and expressed at the gradual decay of the study of Greek in our institutions of learning. Now, it seems to me that in the teaching of art there is a pretty good substitute for some of the more humane studies that are being discontinued. The tendency to do away with the study of Greek is lamented by scholars, because, they say, the Greek spirit is of the utmost importance to our general culture and to our finer and higher education, and that we are in danger of losing the influence of this spirit through the dis-continuance of the study of the Greek language. But, as long as there is Greek sculpture and Greek architecture to be studied in our museums, it seems to me we need not despair of arriving at some very tolerable notion of the Greek spirit. I am not at all sure that Greek art in these forms is not even more characteristic of the Greek spirit than is Greek literature. It certainly is as much so.
I have always been interested in the story that has been told of Goethe, who when he was about to write his "Iphigenia" wished to fill himself with the Greek spirit and did it, not by reading Greek tragedies, but by taking a course of drawing from the antique. I am not sure but that in this manner he came more closely into touch with the finer spirit of the Greeks than he could have done in any other way.
The theory of art I think we can dismiss from this discussion as a thing hardly to be taught in the ordinary schools. The theory of art, or what we know as aesthetics, is a branch of metaphysics—a thing only to be understood or enjoyed by very advanced students—by mature minds. And, on the other hand, if a child or a young person in the high schools can be brought to take a natural and healthy interest in art—the concrete thing as it exists—I think he need not be troubled much about the theory of it. He can be allowed to take that for granted, leaving it as a matter for the metaphysicians and the aestheticians to discuss.
Of the history of art there is much more that is favorable to be said, but the teaching of the history of art has also its dangers. I think there is always a little danger that in studying and in teaching the history of art we shall get too much into the scientific frame of mind—shall get to thinking too much of the importance of things as specimens. Thinking scientifically, rather than artistically, we shall classify and pigeon-hole and come to treat a work of art as if it were an insect with a pin through it. If we are to make much out of the study of art, we have got to know it as something alive, not as something in a cabinet with a label on it. If it is not alive, it is of very little use to us. In studying the work of art as if it were conveniently dead we are studying, in reality, archaeology rather than art, for archaeology does not necessarily confine itself to the study of the work of extinct peoples. There is Egyptian archaeology and Greek archaeology, etc., but there is also nowadays a good deal of Renaissance archaeology. Even the study of modern art may reduce itself to what one may call a sort of premature archaeology. The archaeologist looks at a work of art for the light it throws on history or the life of man, on customs or costumes, on religion, or a thousand other things; but he sometimes forgets that the one important thing about a work of art is its beauty. We should re-member that the teaching of art history is, after all, less a branch of the teaching of art than a branch of the teaching of history. As a branch of the teaching of history it has very great uses and very great importance; but for those specifically engaged in trying to get some idea of the meaning of art into the minds of the young, and in trying to give them such benefit for general culture as is to be had from the study of art, the study of art history should, it seems to me, take a minor place.
The important thing about a work of art, then, for us is not its country or its date or the name of its author, not its authenticity or any other fact about it—the important thing is its beauty. If it have not beauty, it is use-less for our purpose, however authentic and interesting it may be as a specimen. And that is one of the things that make it necessary to use a museum with discretion, for a museum necessarily contains a good many specimens which have their interest of one or another sort but which are not beautiful. They may not be beautiful, possibly, because the whole art of a certain period or school was unbeautiful; or they may be unbeautiful be-cause they are the inferior works of a given period or the failures of a particular artist. But the things which in themselves intrinsically possess beauty are the only things which should interest us. If it have real beauty, it does not much matter when a work of art was made or where or by whom it was made its beauty is its reason for existence, and the best we can do for the young people over whom we may have an influence is to try to encourage and as far as possible to train their appreciation of the beautiful. It is, therefore, the second kind of art-teaching, the training in the appreciation of art, that is most important for our first purpose, that of the diffusion of culture.
Now, it is not an easy thing to do to train the appreciation of art. As far as it can be done at all it can be done in a museum, and hardly anywhere else. As far as the teachers of art in our schools are to perform that function of training the young to the appreciation of art, they can only perform it in this museum or in some other; and it becomes of the utmost importance, therefore, that relations between the museums and the schools should be systematic and should be kept constantly in view.
I should like not only to see regular trips to the museum at certain intervals by classes, under the direction of their teachers, but I should like to see the school-children encouraged to come to the museum of their own volition—to come in their spare hours and on their holidays. I should like to see some reason given to them to do this; some question asked them that they could come here to find an answer for. I should like to see anything done that might tend to give them the museum habit. It is a habit which is lamentably lacking in a large class of well-to-do and well-educated people, who seem neither to know what there is in the museum nor to feel any need of what is to be got from a museum.
I should like, as I say, to see the museum made much more important and effective in its appeal to all the people; and I should like to begin with the school-children and the high-school students. But I think it might be rather dangerous to try to give too much direction at first to these young people. It seems to me that if one took a class through the rooms of this museum, carefully pointing out the best things and explaining why they should be admired and why they are the best, one might readily produce the result that a good many teachers of literature produce—the result of making the pupils hate those particular things forever. My idea would be to take the horse to water, but not at first to make any ineffectual attempt to compel drinking. Take the children to the museum. Let them range a little. See what they like.
Find out, if you can, whether they really like anything; and, when they like something, find out why. Then, it seems to me, if you can find out why any child or young person has liked a particular work of art, you can begin to point out the quality he has liked in other things, in better form and in higher degree; and you can gradually produce a very decided impression on the taste of the student.
To this end we must specially guard against the old error of thinking of art as a thing limited to pictures in gold frames and statues standing on pedestals. We must not forget the enormous number and variety of objects collected in a museum like this, and the genuinely artistic nature of almost all of these objects. One could not begin to describe, in the time at my disposal, what there is in this particular museum, and I must confess to a very partial acquaintance with its contents. But take such a thing as the collection of musical instruments, and I can imagine a sense of line being awakened for the first time by the study of these musical instruments, just as I can imagine a sense of color being awakened by the study of the deep tones and rich glazes of some piece of oriental pottery.
In the first place, many of these things, by their association or connection, are more likely to interest the young than the pictures and the statues—certainly than the statues. And, in the second place, I am not at all sure that the purely artistic sensations cannot be given more directly by some of these works of minor art than by works of painting or sculpture, because the artistic element is less confused, less entangled with the question of representation. When we look at a picture we are inevitably thinking somewhat of the subject; we are inevitably thinking of the things represented; and the color of the picture, as color, does not come to us with any-thing like the force and the clearness and simplicity of appeal that it might have coming from some oriental plaque. So with beauty of line, which it is hard to disentangle from representation, but which is entirely disconnected with representation in the fine forms of a musical instrument or of a beautiful piece of furniture. Therefore, in trying to cultivate artistic appreciation in the young, I should, especially in the beginning, allow them a wide range of choice of subject, trying, little by little, to lead them to a finer, higher appreciation of the qualities they had first shown a liking for, taking them from the line of a fiddle neck to the line of a drawing by Botticelli, and from the color of a tile to the color of a Titian.
If this could be done—if the pupils could be brought frequently to a museum, and encouraged to come oftener by themselves—if visits were held regularly once a week, or once a month even, until they became pretty familiar with the contents of a museum like this, there seems to be no real reason why, in a few years, such pupils should not have a really sounder, better-based, and more cultivated taste in the fine arts than most of the members of our highly educated classes.
The third form of the teaching of art, the teaching of the use of the tools of art, reduces itself, for our purpose, practically to the teaching of drawing. I do not think painting can be profitably taught in our public schools, and I shall not now consider the teaching of modelling, though much of what I shall say of the teaching of drawing would apply to the other study. This form of art-teaching is especially fitted to promote the second of our aims, the training of eye and hand and the providing of a useful tool for the life work of the student. Drawing as a training of eye and hand is a kind of physical culture. It sharpens the senses, broadens the powers, and stimulates the observation and the intelligence, making of the student a finer and every way more efficient being than he could become without it. Drawing is also, in many walks of life, an indispensable tool, and I can imagine no walk of life in which the power of expressing oneself with lines might not occasionally be of the utmost service. There-fore I consider the teaching of drawing a most important part of a good general education.
Now, the highest possible material for the study of drawing is undoubtedly the human figure; but I take it that very few of the pupils in our schools are at all likely to become professional artists, and I am quite certain that the amount of time which can be given to the teaching of drawing in the schools is utterly insufficient for any useful attempt at the mastery of the human figure. Therefore I should eliminate at once any attempt to draw the human figure either from life or from casts or copies. Landscape is poor material for the training of the sense of form.
The whole tendency of the study of landscape is necessarily toward the perception of color, of light and shade, and of effect, and toward the neglect of the precise study of form. Whatever may be proper for the education of the artist, I am quite certain that for the education of the artisan and for the general training of eye and hand, which is good for every one, any impressionistic work, any work that attempts "effect," any work that at-tempts the subtleties and intricacies of light, is work in a mistaken direction. Therefore, as far as the teaching of drawing in the public schools is concerned, and the connection of the museum with that teaching, I should say at once, don't try to connect this teaching of drawing with the paintings in the museum, nor even to any great extent with the figure sculpture. What you want for the kind of study of drawing that is necessary to the training of eye and hand, and to the forming of a useful tool, is something precise, definite, and simple in its forms. There can be nothing better for the purposes in view than the study of ornament, and of the minor and decorative arts—the arts of pottery and furniture and the like and there is a splendid mass of material for that kind of study in this museum. For the future use of the pupil he has no need of effect, of mystery, of all that impressionism deals with. What he wants is a tool that will lend itself to the mastery of concrete facts. He wants to be able to see what the shapes of things and the makes of things are; for his general training it is even more important that he should learn to see the facts of form and construction before thinking of effect. If I could direct the training of our painters, I should, even for them, lay a great deal more stress on the acquisition in the beginning of a clear style of draughtsmanship than is usually placed upon it, and should, for a long time, rather discourage anything more than clear outline-drawing, with a minimum of light and shade, making the attainment of exact proportion and construction the principal aim.
It is to be remembered also that many of the pupils in the public schools are likely to practise one or another trade or handicraft in which not only will drawing be useful to them, but in which a knowledge of what has been done in the past in the way of artistic handicraft will also be of inestimable advantage. Now, that knowledge cannot be acquired in any useful degree by mere looking. Such things, for instance, as the beautiful furniture and mural decorations of the eighteenth century, of which we have admirable examples here in the museum, can only be really understood by drawing them; and for the general cultivation of the pupils, for providing them with that power to draw which will be a useful tool for them, and for the incidental gaining of some real understanding of the various styles of historic ornament and of some appreciation of the beauty of workmanship to be found in work in the minor and decorative arts of past times, I should wish that all classes in drawing, connected with our public schools, should have a certain regular allotment of time for work in the museum, where instead of drawing from in-significant objects or from copies of one sort or another, they should be able to draw from really fine specimens of decorative art.
One thing more as to the methods of such study and I shall have done. I think in al-most all modern training in art there is a lamentable neglect of the training of the memory. I have frequently been astonished to find that artists of great ability have apparently no visual memory and are unable to do anything without the immediate presence of the model. This seems to me to be a patent evidence of a lack of the right sort of education. But perhaps even more than to the artist is it essential to the artisan that he have a trained memory. Certainly a stone-cutter should be able to carve an acanthus-leaf "out of his head," and not have to go and look it up somewhere, and a wood-carver should surely "know by heart" the most of the ornamental forms he is in the habit of employing. I should feel that half the value of a sound training in drawing was lost if it were not made to include a training of the memory as well as of the eye and hand. Therefore, in working with a class of pupils in drawing in a museum, my idea would be to set them to drawing selected objects in the museum, and then to ask them to reproduce these drawings from memory when away from the objects. That of itself would be an admirable training; but I should not stop there. As the pupils became more used to the work and more able to analyze and to remember the forms of things, I should set the more advanced among them to study the objects in the museum without drawing at all—simply making mental notes and deciding upon the height and width and construction of the thing, on its form and on its ornament; and then I should ask them to make their drawing in the absence of the model, at school or at home, returning as often as necessary to the museum to correct their impressions, but never touching the drawing in the presence of the object. In working either from memory of a previous drawing or from direct memory of the object itself the student should, of course, have the aid of the instructor in comparing his work with the original in the museum, and should be shown where his drawing is wrong, and what is the nature and the importance of his mistakes.
I do not believe that every one can learn to draw. I think there are people without eye as there are people without ear. There are people who will never draw, just as there are people who will never be able to play an air by ear or from memory. But such a course of training the eye and the hand by drawing from objects of decorative art, and of training the memory by constant practice of the sort here recommended—all this done definitely and decisively, without sketching and scrawling, or impressionistic treatment of light and shade, but with a constant insistence upon clear statement of form—such a course should put into the hands of some considerable part of the class a fundamentally better and more generally available knowledge of drawing than is possessed by many a well-known artist today.