Suggestion For "graphopneumata" Designs
( Originally Published 1869 )
I will here venture to originate a proposal for a new order of artistical design, the importance of which for the furtherance of art in its higher departments, will be obvious to all who are familiar with its leading principles, and through which I hope to see enlisted in the service of art some of those minds from which have emanated ideas of a grandeur and sublimity peculiarly suitable for the endowment of works of this description.
The theory here propounded is that the conception of a grand artistical composition may be well and completely effected by one particular person gifted with powers applicable for the purpose, but who may not be possessed of the endowments which would enable him to embody his ideas upon canvas; while by another person those ideas, when they have been intelligibly expressed, may be embodied on canvas, although such latter person may not be gifted with the capacity to have originated or conceived the ideas or composition so to be em-bodied. By this contrivance, the aid of individuals of poetical genius may be availed of to contribute in the composition of pictorial works, which might be designed through a written or verbal description of them by the man of mind, and executed by the manually skilful artist ; the former supplying as it were the soul, the latter the body of the composition. In architecture this is to a certain extent already effected, the builder doing all the material work, while the architect supplies only the design.
For instance, when a man of real genius determines upon the production of a great work of art, there are, as already pointed out,* two distinct and independent processes which have to be accomplished, and in the performance of each of which men vary greatly according to the bent and quality of the particular talents with which they are endowed. 1. In the first place, ideas adequate and suitable of the representation to be achieved, are formed in the mind of the artist. 2. In the second place, the work is manually executed, according to the design effected by these ideas. Those especially of the highest genius are wont to create in their minds designs very far superior to anything that their mechanical dexterity enables them to accomplish ; while many of a lower grade of talent excel much more in manual dexterity than in mental design, and their performances in the former 'are much better than in the latter. Indeed, it not unfrequently happens even among painters, that those who have the noblest conceptions, are the least skilful in the mechanical department of the art; and that those who are the most skilful in the mechanical department of the art, are the least distinguished for noble conceptions. By the adoption of the proposal here made, the department best fitted for each, is that which each would follow. And the division thus made, is but in accordance with what has been already successfully tried in other departments of art, where the intellectual portion of the composition, the design and contrivance of the representation, is arranged by the head of one person; and the whole manual execution of the work is effected by the practical skill and dexterity and hand of another. The accomplishment of this in architectural efforts has already been alluded to. But in sculpture also, while the artist de-signs and perfects the work, the marble is shapen and carved by another person. In musical composition also, one man invents or designs the melody, while another executes the performance. In this art therefore, as in painting, the skill requisite for the two efforts engages minds of a very different order. So also in costume and gardening, while one designs, another executes what he has designed ; and for the two performances persons of qualities and acquirements altogether dissimilar are required.
To designs thus produced I propose to give the general name of Graphopneumata, or spirits or souls of pictures, which the man of intellect and imagination will originate, and describe graphically in the way I have set forth ; while the painter will in his turn supply them with bodies by depicting these forms or scenes upon canvas.
Considering what totally different talents, not only as regards their extent but their quality, are required to produce works of high intellectual merit, and those of great mechanical excellence ; the real wonder is, not that the same person should not often be adapted for both purposes, but that capacities for both efforts should ever, which is, indeed, but seldom the case, be united in the same person. And yet people, and those of experience and practical knowledge in art, seem to conclude that the possession of one power almost necessarily implies that of the other.
Another proof of the feasibility of the proposal here made may be deduced from the circumstance that a correct and faithful, and even forcible transcript of any painting may be effected by a full and accurate verbal description of it, so as to excite in the mind of the reader just and accurate and adequate ideas of the painting. And if a picture may be copied in this mode, surely an original painting may be in a corresponding manner produced from a verbal design. In other words, if a picture may be translated into a verbal description, a verbal description may, with equal efficiency, be translated into a picture.
Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, and Dante, especially excelled in their power of describing in the most vivid and graphic manner certain scenes, so as almost to convey to the mind the same ideas as those which would be afforded by a pictorial representation.
If we refer also to the writings of some of the most celebrated painters, take for instance, Northcote's ' Life of Titian,'óboth in the composition of the author, and in the extracts from the letters and other literary productions of renowned artists, we shall find several very effective and graphic descriptions of ceretain celebrated works of art, which serve at once almost to bring immediately and forcibly before the mind's eye of the reader the very pictures themselves. Indeed, I am much inclined to believe that the most advantageous course to be pursued by every artist who aspires to produce a work of a highly imaginative or intellectual character, would be first to compose it comepletely in all its details in his own mind, and then to write out fully the description of what he has conceived, after which he should proceed to translate this into a pictorial design upon paper. By this means the mind would be left entirely free to act, and to express the ideas which it conceives. Moreover, in this important stage of the proceeding, it would be unshackled by the restraints which any deficiency in pictorial skill might impose in the construction of the design, and so hinder the full force and energy of the soul, and of the efforts of the imagination, being poured into the composition, and allowed to animate it.
One of the most excellent and striking works of art in modern sculpture, Chantrey's ' Sleeping Children' in Lichfield Cathedral, was suggested and designed upon the principle here propounded. The fond mother described to the ingenious sculptor how her loved ones lay together in their sleep, locked in each other's arms ; and from this description Chantrey formed in his mind, and aided by the design of Stodhart to whom he communicated the circumstance, afterwards modelled the exquisitely beautiful sculpture* which now stands a durable monument of his skill, as well as to the memory of those to whom it was erected.
As regards the general effect and background of the picture, the ordinary directions of the designer might no doubt be quite efficient for this purpose ; and in the arrangement of drapery and costume recourse might be had to real articles of this kind for models where necessary. If any difficulty was experienced in describing the attitudes of the figures, moveable representations of the human form, such as are now in use, might be availed of. And with respect to the delineation of expression and character and passion in the various countenances, the accomplishment of this might be greatly aided by the suggestion already made in this work for a classification of the features. Thus the highest mental power and the utmost degree of manual dexterity might be united in the composition of the same performance.
The remarks here made with regard to designs for epic composition in painting, are equally applicable to designs in sculpture, and peculiarly so to architectural composition, in which latter art it is especially desirable when an important structure is to be planned, that the architect should conceive in his mind, conjure up before him in all its grand and stately proportions, the form of the edifice itself, such as his own genius, had it the power of instantaneously summoning it into existence, would have commanded to rise, unfettered by the trammels which mechanical laws impose on the reducing the design to a visible form.
Many individuals of extensive genius have exhibited a faculty for pictorial composition of the highest order, but who have never handled a pencil, or possessed any mechanical knowledge of the art. Not only, indeed, among the poets are examples in proof of this assertion numerous, but among prose writers also we have instances of the production of typographical paintings which in design and composition and expression rival the most vivid and powerful efforts of the pencil. The narrations of Sterne in force and minuteness almost equal the masterpieces of Teniers and our own Wilkie. The high-wrought and gorgeous descriptions of Burke and of Macaulay nearly approach those of the most highly gifted of the old masters in the epic and dramatic styles. Had these great writers followed the art of painting as a pursuit, it cannot be doubted that men so poetically qualified, and so mentally cultivated would have ex-celled greatly in this art, and have produced some sublime and astonishing masterpieces, independent of any deficiency in mechanical execution under which they might have laboured.