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ESSAYS ON ART 



BY THE SAME AUTHOR 

Shelley : The Man and the Poet 
What is the Kingdom of Heaven ? 
Thoughts on the War 
More Thoughts on the War 



ESSAYS ON ART 



A. CLUTTON-BROCK 



SECOND EDITION 



METHUEN & GO. LTD. 

36 ESSEX STREET W.C. 

LONDON 



First Published . . . November 20th igig 
Second Edition , . . igao 



PREFACE 

THESE essays, reprinted from the Times 
Literary Supplement with a few addi- 
tions and corrections, are not all entirely or 
directly concerned with art ; but even the last 
one — Waste or Creation ? — does bear on the 
question, How are we to improve the art of 
our own time ? After years of criticism I am 
more interested in this question than in any 
other that concerns the arts. Whistler said 
that we could not improve it; the best we 
could do for it was not to think about it. I 
have discussed that opinion, as also the con- 
trary opinion of Tolstoy, and the truth that 
seems to me to lie between them. If these 
essays have any unity, it is given to them by 
my belief that art, like other human activities, 
is subject to the will of man. We cannot 
cause men of artistic genius to be born ; but 
we can provide a public, namely, ourselves, for 
the artist, who will encourage him to be an 
b V 



542714 



Essays on Art 

artist, to do his best, not his worst. I believe 
that the quality of art in any age depends, not 
upon the presence or absence of individuals of 
genius, but upon the attitude of the public 
towards art. 

Because of the decline of all the arts, especi- 
ally the arts of use, which began at the end of 
the eighteenth century and has continued up 
to om- own time, we are more interested in art 
than any people of the past, with the interest 
of a sick man in health. To say that this 
interest must be futile or mischievous is to 
deny the will of man in one of the chief of 
human activities; but it often is denied by 
those who do not understand how it can be 
applied to art. We cannot make artists 
directly ; no government office can determine 
their training; still less can any critic tell 
them how they ought to practise their art. 
But we can all aim at a state of society in 
which they will be encouraged to do their best, 
and at a state of mind in which we ourselves 
shall learn to know good from bad and to 
prefer the good. At present we have neither 
the state of society nor the state of mind ; and 
we can attain to both not by connoisseurship, 
vi 



Preface 

not by an anxiety to like the right thing or at 
least to buy it, but by learning the difference 
between good and bad workmanship and de- 
sign in objects of use. Anyone can do that, 
and can resolve to pay a fair price for good 
workmanship and design ; and only so will the 
arts of use, and all the arts, revive again. For 
where the public has no sense of design in the 
arts of use, it will have none in the " fine arts." 
To aim at connoisseurship when you do not 
know a good table or chair from a bad one is 
to attempt flying before you can walk. So, I 
think, professors of art at Oxford or Cambridge 
should be chosen, not so much for their know- 
ledge of Greek sculpture, as for their success in 
furnishing their own houses. What can they 
know about Greek sculpture if their own 
drawing-rooms are hideous ? I believe that 
the notorious fallibility of many experts is 
caused by the fact that they concern them- 
selves with the fine arts before they have had 
any training in the arts of use. So, if we are 
to have a school of art at Oxford or Cambridge, 
it should put this question to every pupil : If 
you had to build and furnish a house of your 
own, how would you set about it? And it 
vii 



Essays on Art 

should train its pupils to give a rational answer 
to that question. So we might get a public 
knowing the difference between good and bad 
in objects of use, valuing the good, and ready 
to pay a fair price for it. 

At present we have no such public. A 
liberal education should teach the difference 
between good and bad in things of use, includ- 
ing buildings. Oxford and Cambridge profess 
to give a liberal education ; but you have only 
to look at their modern buildings to see that 
their teachers themselves do not know a good 
building from a bad one. They, like all the 
rest of us, think that taste in art is an 
irrational mystery; they trust in the expert 
and usually in the wrong one, as the ignorant 
and superstitious trust in the wrong priest. 
For as religion is merely mischievous unless it 
is tested in matters of conduct, so taste is mere 
pedantry or frivolity unless it is tested on 
things of use. These have their sense or non- 
sense, their righteousness or unrighteousness, 
which anyone can learn to see for himself, and, 
until he has learned, he will be at the mercy of 
charlatans. 

I have written all these essays as a member 
viii 



Preface 

of the public, as one who has to find a right 
attitude towards art so that the arts may 
flourish again. The critic is sure to be a 
charlatan or a prig, unless he is to himself not 
a pseudo-artist expounding the mysteries of art 
and telling artists how to practise them, but 
simply one of the public with a natural and 
human interest in art. But one of these 
essays is a defence of criticism, and I will not 
repeat it here. 

A. CLUTTON-BROCK 
July 30, 1919 
Farncombe, Surrey 



IX 



CONTENTS 



"The Adoration of the Magi" 
Leonardo da Vinci 
The Pompadour in Art 
An Unpopular Master 
A Defence of Criticism 
The Artist and his Audience 
Wilfulness and Wisdom 
"The Magic Flute" . 
Process or Person? . 
The Artist and the Tradesman 
Professionalism in Art 
Waste or Creation? . 



PAGK 
I 

13 

27 

37 
48 
58 
74 
86 

97 
no 
120 
132 



XI 



ESSAYS ON ART 



" The Adoration of the Magi '' ^ o 

THERE is one beauty of nature and 
another of art, and many attempts have 
been made to explain the difference between 
them. Signor Croce's theory, now much in 
favour, is that nature provides only the raw 
material for art. The beginning of the artistic 
process is the perception of beauty in nature ; 
but an artist does not see beauty as he sees a 
cow. It is his own mind that imposes on the 
chaos of nature an order, a relation, which is 
beauty. All men have the faculty, in some 
degree, of imposing this order ; the artist only 
does it more completely than other men, and 
he owes his power of execution to that. He 
can make the beauty which he has perceived 
because he has perceived it clearly; and this 
perceiving is part of the making. 

The defect of this theory is that it ends 
by denying that very difference between the 



Essays on Art 



beauty of nature arid the beauty of art which 
it sets out to explain. If the artist makes the 
beauty of nature in perceiving it, if it is pro- 
duced by the action of his own mind upon the 
chaos of reality, then it is the very same beauty 
that appears in his art; and if, to us, the 
beauty of his art seems different from the 
beauty of nature, as we perceive it, it is only 
because we have not ourselves seen the beauty 
of nature as completely as he has, we have not 
reduced chaos so thoroughly to order. It is a 
difference not of kind, but of degree ; for the 
artist himself > there is no difference even of 
degree. What he makes he sees, and what he 
sees he makes. All beauty is artistic, and to 
speak of natural beauty is to make a false 
distinction. 

Yet it is a distinction that we remain con- 
stantly aware of. In spite of Signor Croce 
and all the subtlety and partial truth of his 
theory, we do not believe that we make beauty 
when we see it, or that the artist makes it 
when he sees it. Nor do we believe that that 
beauty which he makes is of the same nature 
as that which he has perceived in reality. 
Rather he, like us, values the beauty which he 
perceives in reality because he knows that he 
has not made it. It is something, independent 
2 



" The Adoration of the Magi " 

of himself, to which his own mind makes 
answer: that answer is his art; it is the 
passionate value expressed in it which gives 
beauty to his art. If he knew that the beauty 
he perceives was a product of his own mind, he 
could not value it so ; if he held Signor Croce's 
theory, he would cease to be an artist. 

And, in fact, those who act on his theory 
do cease to be artists. Nothing kills art so 
certainly as the effort to produce a beauty of 
the same kind as that which is perceived in 
nature. In the beauty of nature, as we per- 
ceive it, there is a perfection of workmanship 
which is perfection because there is no work- 
manship. Natural things are not made, but 
born ; works of art are made. There is the 
essential difference between them and between 
their beauties. If a work of art tries to have 
the finish of a thing born, not made, if a piece 
of enamel apes the gloss of a butterfly's wing, 
it misses the peculiar beauty of art and is but 
an inadequate imitation of the beauty of nature. 
That beauty of the butterfly's wing, which the 
artist like all of us perceives, is of a different 
kind from any beauty he can make ; and if he 
is an artist he knows it and does not try to 
make it. But all the arts, even those which 
are not themselves imitative, are always being 

3 



Essays on Art 

perverted by the attempt to imitate the finish 
of nature. There is a vanity of craftsmanship 
in Louis Quinze furniture, in the later Chinese 
porcelain, in modern jewelry, no less than in 
Dutch painting, which is the death of art. All 
great works of art show an effort, a roughness, 
an inadequacy of craftsmanship, which is the 
essence of their beauty and distinguishes it 
from the beauty of nature. As soon as men 
cease to understand this and despise this effort 
and roughness and inadequacy, they demand 
from art the beauty of nature and get some- 
thing which is mostly dead nature, not living 
art. 

We can best understand the difference 
between the two kinds of beauty if we consider 
how beauty steals into language, that art which 
we all practise more or less and in which it is 
difficult, if not impossible, to imitate the finish 
of natural beauty. There is no beauty what- 
ever in sentences like "Trespassers will be 
prosecuted " or " Pass the mustard,'" because 
they say exactly and completely all that they 
have to say. There is beauty in sentences like 
" The bright day is done. And we are for the 
dark," or "After life's fitful fever he sleeps 
well," because in them, although they seem 
quite simple, the poet is trying to say a thou- 
4 



"The Adoration of the Magi" 

sand times more than he can say. It is the 
effort to do something beyond the power of 
words that brings beauty into them. That is 
the very nature of the beauty of art, which 
distinguishes it from the beauty of nature ; it 
is always produced by the effort to accomplish 
the impossible, and what the artist knows to 
be impossible. Whenever that effort ceases, 
whenever the artist sets himself a task that he 
can accomplish, a task of mere skill, then he 
ceases to be an artist, because he no longer 
experiences reality in the manner necessary to 
an artist. The great poet is aware of some 
excellence in reality so intensely that it is to 
him beauty; for all excellence when we are 
intensely aware of it is beauty to us. There 
is that truth in Croce's theory. Our percep- 
tion of beauty does depend upon the intensity 
of our perception of excellence. But that 
intensity of perception remains perception, 
and does not make what it perceives. That 
the poet and every artist knows ; and his art 
is not merely an extension of the process of 
perception, but an attempt to express his own 
value for that excellence which he has perceived 
as beauty. It is an answer to that beauty, a 
worship of it, and is itself beautiful because it 
makes no effort to compete with it. 

5 



Essays on Art 

Thus in the beauty of art there is always 
value and wonder, always a reference to another 
beauty different in kind from itself; and we 
too, if we are to see the beauty of art, must 
share the same value and wonder. To enter 
that Kingdom of Heaven we must become 
little children as the artist himself does. Art 
is the expression of a certain attitude towards 
reality, an attitude of wonder and value, a 
recognition of something greater than man ; 
and where that recognition is not, art dies. 
In a society valuing only itself, believing that 
it can make a heaven of itself out of its own 
skill and knowledge and wisdom, the difference 
between the beauty of nature and the beauty 
of art is no longer seen, and art loses all its 
own beauty. The surest sign of corruption 
and death in a society is where men and women 
see the best life as a life without wonder or 
effort or failure, where labour is hidden under- 
ground so that a few may seem to live in 
Paradise; where there is perfect finish of all 
things, human beings no less than their clothes 
and furniture and buildings and pictures; 
where the ideal is the lady so perfectly turned 
out that any activity whatever would mar her 
perfection. In such societies the artist becomes 
a slave. He too must produce work that does 
6 



"The Adoration ot the Magi'' 

not seem to be work. He must express no 
wonder or value for patrons who would be 
ashamed to feel either. What he makes must 
seem to be born and not made, so that it may 
fit a world which pretends to be a born Para- 
dise populated by cynical angels who own 
allegiance to no god. In such a world art 
means, beauty means, the concealment of effort, 
the pretence that it does not exist ; and that 
pretence is the end of art and beauty in all 
things made by man. There is a close con- 
nexion between the idea of life expressed in 
Aristotle's ideal man and the later Greek 
sculpture. The aim of that sculpture, as of 
his ideal man, was proud and effortless perfec- 
tion. Both dread the confession of failure 
above all things — and both are dull. In 
Aristotle's age art had started upon a long 
decline, which ended only when the pretence 
of perfection was killed, both in art and in life, 
by Christianity. Then the real beauty of art, 
the beauty of value and wonder, superseded 
the wearisome imitation of natural beauty ; 
and it is only lately that we have learnt again 
to prefer the real beauty to the false. 

Men must free themselves from the contempt 
of effbrt and the desire to conceal it, they must 
be content with the perpetual, passionate 
7 



Essays on Art 

failure of art, before they can see its beauty 
or demand that beauty from the artist. When 
they themselves become like little children, 
then they see that the greatest artists, in all 
their seeming triumphs, are like little children 
too. For in Michelangelo and Beethoven it 
is not the arrogant, the accomplished, the 
magnificent, that moves us. They are great 
men to us ; but they achieved beauty because 
in their effort to achieve it they were little 
children to themselves. They impose awe on 
us, but it is their own awe that they impose. 
It is not their achievement that makes beauty, 
but their effort, always confessing its own 
failure ; and in that confession is the beauty ol 
art. That is why it moves and frees us ; for it 
frees us from our pretence that we are what 
we would be, it carries us out of our own 
egotism into the wonder and value of the artist 
himself. 

Consider the beauty of a tune. Music itself 
is the best means which man has found for 
confessing that he cannot say what he would 
say ; and it is more purely and rapturously 
beauty than any other form of art. A tune is 
the very silencing of speech, and in the greatest 
tunes there is always the hush of wonder : they 
seem to tell us to be silent and listen, not to 
8 



•■' The Adoration of the Magi '* 

what the musician has to say, but to what he 
cannot say. The very beauty of a tune is in 
its reference to something beyond all expres- 
sion, and in its perfection it speaks of a perfec- 
tion not its own. Pater said that all art tries 
to attain to the condition of music. That is 
true in a sense different from what he meant. 
Art is always most completely art when it 
makes music's confession of the ineffable ; then 
it comes nearest to the beauty of music. But 
when it is no longer a forlorn hope, when it is 
able to say what it wishes to say with calm 
assurance, then it has ceased to be art and 
become a game of skill. 

Often the great artist is imperious, impatient, 
full of certainties ; but his certainty is not of 
himself; and he is impatient of the failure to 
recognize, not himself, but what he recognizes. 
Michelangelo, Beethoven, Tintoret, would snap 
a critic's head off if he did not see what they 
were trying to do. They may seem sometimes 
to be arrogant in the mere display of power, 
yet their beauty lies in the sudden change from 
arrogance to humility. The arrogance itself 
bows down and worships ; the very muscle and 
material force obey a spirit not their own. 
They are lion-tamers, and they themselves are 
the lions ; out of the strong comes forth sweet- 
9 



Essays on Art 

ness, and it is all the sweeter for the strength 
that is poured into it and subdued by it. 
What is the difference, as of different worlds, 
between Rubens at his best and Tintoret at his 
best ? This : that Rubens always seems to be 
uplifted by his own power, whereas Tintoret 
has most power when he forgets it in wonder. 
When he bows down all his turbulence in 
worship, then he is most strong. Rubens, in 
the "Descent from the Cross,"" is still the 
supreme drawing-master ; and painters flocking 
to him for lessons pay homage to him. But, 
in his " Crucifixion," it is Tintoret himself who 
pays homage, and we forget the master in the 
theme. We may say of Rubens's art, in a new 
sense, " Cest magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la 
guerre." The greatest art is not magnificent, 
but it is war, desperate and without trappings, 
a war in which victory comes through the 
confession of defeat. 

Man, if he tries to be a god in his art, makes 
a fool of himself. He becomes like God, he 
makes beauty like God, when he is too much 
aware of God to be aware of himself. Then 
only does he not set himself too easy a task, 
for then he does not make his theme so that he 
may accomplish it ; it is forced upon him by 
his awareness of God, by his wonder and value 
10 



" The Adoration of the Magi " 

for an excellence not his own. So in all the 
beauty of art there is a humility not only of 
conception, but also of execution, which is mere 
failure and ugliness to those who expect to find 
in art the beauty and finish of nature, who 
expect it to be born, not made. They are 
always disappointed by the greatest works of 
art, by their inadequacy and strain and labour. 
They look for a proof of what man can do and 
find a confession of what he cannot do ; but 
that confession, made sincerely and passion- 
ately, is beauty. There is also a serenity in 
the beauty of art, but it is the serenity of self- 
surrender, not of self-satisfaction, of the saint, 
not of the lady of fashion. And all the accom- 
plishment of great art, its infinite superiority 
in mere skill over the work of the merely 
skilful, comes from the incessant effort of the 
artist to do more than he can. By that he is 
trained ; by that his work is distinguished from 
the mere exclamation of wonder. He is not 
content to applaud ; he must also worship, and 
make his offerings in his worship ; and they 
are the best he can do. It was not only the 
shepherds who came to the birth of Christ; 
the wise men came also and brought their 
treasures with them. And the art of mankind 
is the offering of its wise men, it is the adora- 
II 



Essays on Art 

tion of the Magi, who are one with the simplest 
in their worship — 

Wise men, all ways of knowledge past, 
To the Shepherd's wonder come at last. 

But they do not lose their wisdom in their 
wonder. When it passes into wonder, when 
all the knowledge and skill and passion of 
mankind are poured into the acknowledgment 
of something greater than themselves, then 
that acknowledgment is art, and it has a 
beauty which may be envied by the natural 
beauty of God Himself. 



12 



i 



Leonardo da Vinci <^ ^ ^ ^ 

LEONARDO DA VINCI is one of the 
most famous men in history — as a man 
more famous than Michelangelo or Shakespeare 
or Mozart — because posterity has elected him 
the member for the Renaissance. Most great 
artists live in what they did, and by that we 
know them ; but what Leonardo did gets much 
of its life from what he was, or rather from 
what he is to us. Of all great men he is the 
most representative; we cannot think of him 
as a mere individual, eating and drinking, 
living and competing, on equal terms with 
other men. We see him magnified by his own 
legend from the first, with people standing 
aside to watch and whisper as he passed through 
the streets of Florence or Milan. " There he 
goes to paint the Last Supper," they said to 
each other ; and we think of it as already the 
most famous picture in the world before it was 
begun. Every one knew that he had the most 
famous picture in his brain, that he was born 

13 



Essays on Art 

to paint it, to initiate the High Renaissance ; 
from Giotto onwards all the painters had been 
preparing for that, Florence herself had been 
preparing for it. It makes no difference that 
for centuries it has been a shadow on the 
wall; it is still the most famous painting in 
the world because it is the masterpiece of 
Leonardo. There was a fate against the 
survival of his masterpieces, but he has sur- 
vived them and they are remembered because 
of him. We accept him for himself, like the 
people of his own time, who, when he said 
he could perform impossibilities, believed him. 
To them he meant the new age which could do 
anything, and still to us he means the infinite 
capacities of man. He is the Adam awakened 
whom Michelangelo only painted; and, if he 
accomplished but little, we believe in him, as 
in mankind, for his promise. If he did not 
fulfil it, neither has mankind ; but he believed 
that all things could be done and lived a great 
life in that faith. 

Another Florentine almost equals him in 
renown. Men watched and whispered when 
Dante passed through the streets of Florence ; 
but Dante lives in his achievement, Leonardo 
in himself. Dante means to us an individual 
soul quivering through a system, a creed, in- 
14 



Leonardo da Vinci 

herited from the past. Leonardo is a spirit 
unstraitened ; not consenting to any past nor 
rebelling against it, but newborn with a new- 
bom universe around it, seeing it without 
memories or superstitions, without inherited 
fears or pieties, yet without impiety or irrever- 
ence. He is not an iconoclast, since for him 
there are no images to be broken ; whatever he 
sees is not an image but itself, to be accepted 
or rejected by himself; what he would do he 
does without the help or hindrance of tradition. 
In art and in science he means the same thing, 
not a rebirth of any past, as the word Renais- 
sance seems to imply, but freedom from all the 
past, life utterly in the present. He is con- 
cerned not with what has been thought, or 
said, or done, but with his own immediate re- 
lation to all things, with what he sees and feels 
and discovers. Authority is nothing to him, 
whether of Galen or of St. Thomas, of Greek 
or mediaeval art. In science he looks at the 
fact, in art at the object; nor will he allow 
either to be hidden from him by the achieve- 
ments of the dead. Giotto had struck the 
first blow for freedom when he allowed the 
theme to dictate the picture ; Leonardo 
allowed the object to dictate the drawing. To 
him the fact itself is sacred, and man fulfils 

15 



Essays on Art 

himself in his own immediate relation to 
fact. 

All those who react and rebel against the 
Renaissance have an easy case against its great 
representative. What did he do in thought 
compared with St. Thomas, or in art compared 
with the builders of Chartres or Bourges ? He 
filled notebooks with sketches and conjectures; 
he modelled a statue that was never cast ; he 
painted a fresco on a wall, and with a medium 
so unsuited to fresco that it was a ruin in a few 
years. Even in his own day there was a doubt 
about him ; it is expressed in the young 
Michelangelo's sudden taunt that he could not 
cast the statue he had modelled. Michelangelo 
was one of those who see in life always the 
great task to be performed and who judge a 
man by his performance; to him Leonardo 
was a dilettante, a talker; he made monu- 
ments, but Leonardo remains his own monu- 
ment, a prophecy of what man shall be when 
he comes into his kingdom. With him, we 
must confess, it is more promise than perform- 
ance ; he could paint " The Last Supper "" 
because it means the future ; he could never, in 
good faith, have painted " The Last Judgment," 
for that means a judgment on the past, and to 
him the past is nothing ; to him man, in the 
i6 



Leonardo da Vinci 

future, is the judge, master, enjoyer of his own 
fate. Compared with his, Michelangelo's mind 
was still mediaeval, his reproach the reproach 
of one who cares for doing more than for 
being, and certainly Michelangelo did a thou- 
sand times more ; but from his own day to ours 
the world has not judged Leonardo by his 
achievement. As Johnson had his Boswell so 
he has had his legend; he means to us not 
books or pictures, but himself. In his own 
day kings bid for him as if he were a work 
of art; and he died magnificently in France, 
making nothing but foretelling a race of men 
not yet fulfilled. 

Before Francis Bacon, before Velasquez or 
Manet, he prophesied not merely the new artist 
or the new man of science, but the new man 
who is to free himself from his inheritance and 
to see, feel, think, and act in all things with 
the spontaneity of God. That is why he is a 
legendary hero to us, with a legend that is not 
in the past but in the future. For his prophecy 
is still far from fulfilment ; and the very science 
that he initiated tells us how hard it is for 
man to free himself from his inheritance. It 
seems strange to us that Leonardo sang hymns 
to causation as if to God. In its will was his 
peace and his freedom. 

B 17 



Essays on Art 

marvellous necessity, thou with supreme reason 
constrainest all efforts to be the direct result of their 
causes, and by a supreme and irrevocable law every 
natural action obeys thee by the shortest possible 
process. 

Who would believe that so small a space could 
contain the images of all the universe? O mighty 
process, what talent can avail to penetrate a nature 
such as thine ? What tongue will it be that can unfold 
so great a wonder? Verily none. This it is that 
guides the human discourse to the considering of 
divine things.^ 

To Leonardo causation meant the escape 
from caprice; it meant a secure relation 
between man and all things, in which man 
would gain power by knowledge, in which 
every increase of knowledge would reveal to 
him more and more of the supreme reason. 
There was no chain for him in cause and effect, 
no unthinking of the will of man. Rather by 
knowledge man would discover his own will 
and know that it was the universal will. So 
man must never be afraid of knowledge. " The 
eye is the window of the soul." Like Whitman 
he tells us always to look with the eye, and so 
to confound the wisdom of ages. There is in 
every man's vision the power of relating himself 

1 The sayings of Leonardo quoted in this article are taken 
from Leonardo da Vinci's Notebooks, by E. M 'Curdy. 
(Duckworth, 1906.) 

18 



Leonardo da Vinci 

now and directly to reality by knowledge ; and 
in knowing other things he knows himself. By 
knowledge man changes what seemed to be a 
compulsion into a harmony ; he gives up his 
own caprice for the universal will. 

That is the religion of Leonardo, in art as 
in science. For him the artist also must relate 
himself directly to the visible world, in which 
is the only inspiration ; to accept any formula 
is to see with dead men's eyes. That has been 
said again and again by artists, but not with 
Leonardo's mystical and philosophical con- 
viction. He knew that it is vain to study 
Nature unless she is to you a goddess or a god ; 
you can learn nothing from reality unless you 
adore it, and in adoring it he found his freedom. 
How different is this doctrine from that with 
which, after centuries of scientific advance, we 
intimidate ourselves. We are threatened by 
a creed far more enslaving than that of the 
Middle Ages. If the Middle Ages turned to 
the past to learn what they were to think or 
to do, we turn to the past to learn what we 
are. They may have feared the new ; but we 
say that there is no new, nothing but some 
combination or variation of the old. Causa- 
tion is to us a chain that binds us to the past, 
but to Leonardo it was freedom; and so he 
19 



Essays on Art 

prophesies a freedom that we may attain to 
not by denying facts or making myths, but by 
discovering what he hinted — that causation 
itself is not compulsion but will, and our will 
if, by knowledge, we make it ours. 

No one before him had been so much in love 
with reality, whatever it may be. He was 
called a sceptic, but it was only that he pre- 
ferred reality itself to any tales about it ; and 
his religion, his worship, was the search for the 
very fact. This, because he was both artist 
and man of science, he carried further than any- 
one else, pursuing it with all his faculties. In 
his drawings there is the beauty not of his 
character, but of the character of what he 
draws ; he does not make a design, but finds 
it. That beauty proves him a Florentine — 
Diirer himself falls short of it — but it is the 
beauty of the thing itself, discovered and in- 
sisted upon with the passion of a lover. He 
draws animals, trees, flowers, as Correggio 
draws Antiope or lo; and it is only in his 
drawings now that he speaks clearly to us. 
The " Mona Lisa "" is well enough, but another 
hand might have executed the painting of it. 
It owes its popular fame to the smile about 
which it is so easy to write finely ; but in the 
drawings we see the experiencing passion of 
20 



Leonardo da Vinci 

Leonardo himself, we see him feeling, as in 

the notebooks we see him thinking. There is 

the eagerness of discovery at which so often he 

stopped short, turning away from a task to 

further discovery, living always in the moment, 

taking no thought either for the morrow or for 

yesterday, unable to attend to any business, 

even the business of the artist, seeing life not 

as a struggle or a duty, but as an adventure of 

all the senses and all the faculties. He is, even 

with his pencil, the greatest talker in the world, 

but without egotism, talking always of what he 

sees, satisfying himself not with the common 

appetites and passions of men, but with his one 

boipreme passion for reality. If Michelangelo 

thought him a dilettante, there must have been 

in his taunt some envy of Leonardo's freedom. 

Yet once at least Leonardo did achieve, and 

something we should never have expected from 

his drawings. "The Last Supper" is but a 

shadow on the wall, yet still we can see its 

greatness, which is the greatness of pure design, 

of Giotto, Masaccio, Piero della Francesa. 

Goethe and others have found all kinds of 

psychological subtleties in it, meanings in every 

gesture; but what we see now is only space, 

grandeur, a supreme moment expressed in the 

relation of all the forms. The pure music of 

21 



Essays on Art 

the painting remains when the drama is almost 
obliterated ; and it proves that Leonardo, when 
he chose, could withdraw himself from the 
delight of hand-to-mouth experience into a 
vision of his own, that he had the reserve and 
the creative power of the earlier masters and of 
that austere, laborious youth who taunted him. 
If it were not for " The Last Supper " we might 
doubt whether he could go further in art than 
the vivid sketch of "The Magi"; but "The 
Last Supper " tells us how great his passion for 
reality must have been, since it could distract 
him from the making of such masterpieces. 

That passion for reality itself made him cold 
to other passions. We know Michelangelo 
and Beethoven as men in some respects very 
like other men. They were anxious, fretful, 
full of affections and grievances, and much 
concerned with their relations. Leonardo is 
like Melchizedek, not only by the accident of 
birth, for he was a natural son, but by choice. 
He never married, he never had a home ; there 
is no evidence that he was ever tied to any 
man or woman by his affections ; yet it would 
be stupid to call him cold, for his one grand 
passion absorbed him. Monks suspected him, 
but in his heart he was celibate like the great 
monkish saints, celibate not by vows but by 
22 



Leonardo da Vinci 

preoccupation. It is clear that from youth to 
age life had no cumulative power over him ; 
as we should say in our prosaic language, he 
never settled down, for he let things happen to 
him and valued the very happening. He was 
always like a strange, wonderful creature from 
another planet, taking notes with unstaled 
delight but never losing his heart to any 
particular. Sex itself seems hardly to exist for 
him, or at least for his mind. Often the people 
in his drawings are of no sex. Rembrandt 
draws every one, Leonardo no one, as if he were 
his own relation. Women and youths were as 
much a subject of his impassioned curiosity 
as flowers, and no more. He is always the 
spectator, but a spectator who can exercise 
every faculty of the human mind and every 
passion in contemplation ; he is the nearest 
that any man has ever come to Aristotle"*s 
Supreme Being. 

But we must not suppose that he went 
solemnly through life living up to his own 
story, that he was mysterious in manner or in 
any respect like a charlatan. Rather, he lived 
always in the moment and overcame mankind 
by his spontaneity. He had the charm of the 
real man of genius, not the reserve of the false 
one. The famous statement of what he could 

23 



Essays on Art 

do, which he made to Ludovico Sforza, is not a 
mere boast but an expression of his eagerness 
to do it. These engines of war were splendid 
toys to him, and all his life he enjoyed making 
toys and seeing men wonder at them. His 
delight was to do things for the first time like 
a child, and then not to do them again. 
Again and again he cries out against authority 
and in favour of discovery. " Whoever in dis- 
cussion adduces authority," he says, " uses not 
intellect but rather memory " ; and, anticipat- 
ing Milton, he observes that all our knowledge 
originates in opinions. Perhaps some one had 
rebuked him for having too many opinions. 
We can be sure that he chafed against dull, 
cautious, safe men who wished for results. He 
himself cared nothing for them ; it was enough 
for him to know what might be done, without 
doing it. He was so sure of his insight that 
he did not care to put it to the test of action ; 
that was for slower men, whether artists or 
men of science. His notebooks were enough 
for him. 

In spite of the notebooks and the sketches, 
we know less about the man Leonardo than 
about the man Shakespeare. Here and there 
he makes a remark with some personal con- 
viction or experience in it. "Intellectual 
24 



Leonardo da Vinci 

passion," he says, " drives out sensuality." In 
him it had driven out or sublimated all the 
sensual part of character. We cannot touch 
or see or hear him in anything he says or 
draws. The passion is there, but it is too 
much concerned with universals to be of like 
nature with our own passions. He seems to 
be speaking to himself as if he had forgotten 
the whole audience of mankind, but in what 
he says he ignores the personal part of himself ; 
he is most passionate when most impersonal. 
" To the ambitious, whom neither the boon of 
life nor the beauty of the world suffices to 
content, it comes as a penance that life with 
them is squandered and that they possess 
neither the benefits nor the beauty of the 
world." That might be a platitude said by 
some one else ; but we know that in it Leonardo 
expresses his faith. The boon of life, the 
beauty of the world, were enough for him 
without ambition, without even further affec- 
tions. He left father and mother and wealth, 
and even achievement, to follow them ; and he 
left all those not out of coldness, or fear, or 
idleness, but because his own passion drew him 
away. No cold man could have said, " Where 
there is most power of feeling, there of martyrs 
is the greatest martyr." It is difficult for 

25 



Essays on Art 

us northerners to understand the intellectual 
passion of the South, to see even that it is 
passion ; most difficult of all for us to see that 
in men like Leonardo' the passion for beauty 
itself is intellectual. We, with our romanti- 
cism, our sense of exile, can never find that 
identity which he found between beauty and 
reality. " This benign nature so provides that 
all over the world you find something to 
imitate."" To us imitation means prose, to 
him it meant poetry; science itself meant 
poetry, and illusion was the only ugliness. 
"Nature never breaks her own law."" It 
is we who try to find freedom in lawlessness, 
which is ignorance, ugliness, illusion. " False- 
hood is so utterly vile that, though it should 
praise the great works of God, it offends 
against His divinity."*"* There is Leonardo's 
religion ; and if still it is too cold for us, it is 
because we have not his pure spiritual fire in 
ourselves. 



26 



The Pompadour in Art ^ ^ ^ 

IT is an important fact in the history of the 
arts for the last century or more that in 
England and America, if not elsewhere, the 
chief interest in all the arts, including litera- 
ture, has been taken by women rather than 
by men. In the great ages of art it was not 
so. Women, so far as we can tell, had little 
to do with the art of Greece in the fifth century 
or with the art of the Middle Ages. There 
were female patrons of art at the Renaissance, 
but they were exceptions subject to the pre- 
vailing masculine taste. Art was and remained 
a proper interest of men up to the eighteenth 
century. Women first began to control it and 
to affect its character at the mistress-ridden 
Court of Louis XV. But in the nineteenth 
century men began to think they were too busy 
to concern themselves with the arts. Men of 
power, when they were not working, needed 
to take exercise and left it to their wives to 
patronize the arts. And so the notion grew 
27 



Es&ays on Art 

that art was a feminine concern, and even 
artists were pets for women. The great man, 
especially in America, liked his wife to have 
every luxury. The exquisite life she led was 
itself a proof of his success ; and she was for 
him a living work of art, able to live so because 
of the abundance of his strength. In her, that 
strength passed into ornament and became 
beautiful ; she was a friendly, faithful Delilah 
to his Samson, a Delilah who did not shear his 
locks. And so he came to think of art itself 
as being in its nature feminine if not effeminate, 
as a luxury and ornament of life, as everything, 
in fact, except a means of expression for him- 
self and other men. 

This female control of art began, as I have 
said, at the mistress-ridden Court of Louis XV, 
and it has unfortunately kept the stamp of its 
origin. At that Court art, to suit the tastes 
of the Pompadour and the Du Barri, became 
consciously frivolous, became almost a part of 
the toilet. The artist was the slave of the 
mistress, and seems to have enjoyed his chains. 
In this slavery he did produce something 
charming; he did invest that narrow and 
artificial Heaven of the Court with some of the 
infinite beauty and music of a real Heaven. 
But out of this refined harem art there has 
28 



The Pompadour in Art 

sprung a harem art of the whole world which 
has infested the homes even of perfectly respect- 
able ladies ever since. All over Europe the 
ideals of applied art have remained the ideals 
of the Pompadour ; and only by a stern and con- 
scious effort have either women or men been able 
to escape from them. Everywhere there has 
spread a strange disease of romantic snobbery, 
the sufferers from which, in their efforts at 
aesthetic expression, always pretend to be what 
they are not. Excellent mothers of families, 
in their furniture and sometimes even in their 
clothes, pretend to be King's mistresses. Of 
course, if this pretence were put into words and 
so presented to their consciousness, they would 
be indignant. It has for them no connexion with 
conduct ; it is purely aesthetic, but art means to 
them make-believe, the make-believe that they 
live an entirely frivolous life of pleasure provided 
for them by masculine power and devotion. 

Yet these ladies know that they have not the 
revenues of the Pompadour; they must have 
their art, their make-believe, as cheap as 
possible ; and it has been one of the triumphs 
of modern industry to provide them with cheap 
imitations of the luxury of the Pompadour. 
Hence the machine-made frivolities of the most 
respectable homes, the hair-brushes with backs 
29 



Essays on Art 

of stamped silver, the scent- bottles of imitation 
cut-glass, the draperies with printed rose-buds 
on them, the general artificial-floweriness and 
flimsiness and superfluity of naughtiness of our 
domestic art. It expresses a feminine romance 
to which the male indulgently consents, as if 
he were really the voluptuous monarch whose 
mistress the female, aesthetically, pretends to 
be. In this world of esthetic make-believe 
our homes are not respectable ; they would 
scorn to be so, for to the romantic female mind, 
when it occupies itself with art, the improper 
is the artistic. 

But this needs a more precise demonstration. 
We wonder at our modern passion for super- 
fluous ornament. We shall understand it only 
if we discover its origin. The King's mistress 
liked everything about her to be ornamented, 
because it was a point of honour with her to 
advertise the King's devotion to her in the 
costliness of all her surroundings. He loved 
her so much that he had paid for all this orna- 
mentation. She, like Cleopatra, was always 
proving the potency of her charms by melting 
pearls in vinegar. Like a prize ox, she was 
hung with the trophies of her physical pre- 
eminence. In all the art which we call Louis 
Quinze there is this advertisement of the labour 
30 



The Pompadour in Art 

spent upon it. It proclaims that a vast deal 
of trouble has been taken in the making of it, 
and we can see the artist utterly subdued to 
this trouble, utterly the slave of the mistress's 
exorbitant whims. This advertisement of labour 
spent, without the reality, has been the mark 
of all popular domestic art ever since. 

The beautiful is the ornamented — namely, that 
which looks as if it had taken a great deal of 
trouble to make. The trouble now is taken by 
machinery, and so, with the cost, is minimized ; 
and what it produces is ugliness, an ugliness 
which could not be mistaken for beauty but for 
the notion that it does express a desirable state 
of being in those who possess it. And this 
desirable state is the state of the King's mistress, 
of a siren who can have whatever she desires 
because of the potency of her charms. How 
otherwise can we explain the passion for su})er- 
fiuous machine-made ornament which makes our 
respectable homes so hideous.? The machine 
simulates a trouble that has not been taken, 
and so gives proof of a voluptuous infatuation 
that does not exist. The hardworking mother 
of a family buys out of her scanty allowance 
a scent-bottle that looks as if it had been 
laboriously cut for a King's mistress, whereas 
really it has been moulded by machinery to 
31 



Essays on Art 

keep up the delusion, unconsciously cherished 
by her, that she lives in a world of irresistible 
and unscrupulous feminine charm. And her 
husband endures indulgently all this super- 
fluous ugliness because he, too, believes that 
it is the function of art to make the drawing- 
room of the mother of a family look like the 
boudoir of a siren. 

Most of this make-believe remains uncon- 
scious. We are all so used to it that we do 
not see in it the expression of the dying harem 
instinct in women. Yet it persists, even where 
the harem instinct would be passionately 
repudiated. It persists often in the dress of 
the most defiant suffragette, in outbreaks of 
incongruous frivolity, forlorn tawdry roses that 
still whisper memories of the Pompadour and 
her triumphant guilty splendour. 

But besides all this unconscious feminine 
influence upon art, there is the influence of 
women who care consciously for art ; and it 
also has an enervating effect on the artist. 
For the female patron of art, just because 
there are so few male patrons of it, is apt to 
take a motherly interest in the artist. To 
her he is a delightful wayward child rather 
than a real man occupied with real things, like 
her husband or her father or her brother : not 
32 



The Pompadour in Art 

one who can earn money for her and fight for 
her and protect her, but rather one who needs 
to be protected and humoured in a world which 
cares so little for art. To her, with all her 
passion for art, it is something in its nature 
irrational, and, like a child, delightful because 
irrational. It is an escape from reality rather 
than a part of it. And so she will believe 
whatever the artist tells her because he is an 
artist, not because he is a man of sense ; and 
she encourages him to be more of an artist 
than a man of sense. She encourages him to 
be extravagantly aesthetic, and enjoys all his 
extravagance as a diversion from the sound 
masculinity of her own mankind. There is 
room in her prosperous, easy world for these 
diversions from business, just as there is room 
for charity or, perhaps, religion. The world 
can afford artists as it can afford pets ; as it 
can afford beautiful, cultivated women. And 
that also is the view of her husband, if he is 
good-natured. But to him, just because art 
and artists are the proper concern of his wife, 
they are even less serious than they are to her. 
She may persuade herself that she takes them 
quite seriously, but he pretends to do so only 
out of politeness, and as he would pretend to 
take her clothes seriously. For him the type 

c 33 



Essays on Art 

of the artist is still the pianist who gives locks 
of his over-abundant hair to ladies. Even if 
the artist is a painter and cuts his hair and 
dresses like a man, he still belongs to the 
feminine world and excites himself about 
matters that do not concern men. Men can 
afford him, and so they tolerate him ; but he 
is one of the expenses they would cut down if 
it were necessary to cut down expenses. 

Well, it is necessary to cut down expenses 
now ; and yet in ages much sterner and poorer 
than our own art was the concern of men, and 
they afforded it because it was not to them 
a mere feminine luxury. They aiforded the 
towering churches of the Middle Ages because 
they expressed the religious passion of all man- 
kind ; and have we nothing to express except 
a dying harem instinct and the motherliness of 
kind women to a neglected class ? We ought 
to be grateful to this motherliness, which has 
kept art alive in an age of ignorance; but 
we should see that it is only a pis-aller, and 
women should see this as well as men. The 
female attitude towards art has been itself 
the result of a wrong relation between women 
and men, a relation half-animal, half-romantic, 
and therefore not quite real. This relation, 
even while it has ceased to exist more and 

34 



The Pompadour in Art 

more in fact, has still continued to express 
itself aesthetically ; and in art it has become a 
mere obsolete nuisance. One may care nothing 
for art and yet long to be rid of the meaning- 
less frivolities of our domestic art. One may 
wish to clear them away as so much litter and 
trash; and ^his clearance is necessary so that 
we may purge our vision and see what is beauti- 
ful. We are almost rid of the manners of the 
King's mistress, and most women no longer try 
to appeal to men by their charming unreason. 
It is not merely that the appeal fails now ; they 
themselves refuse to make it, out of self-respect. 
But they still remain irrational in their tastes ; 
or at least they have not learned that all this 
aesthetic irrationality misrepresents them, that 
it is forced upon them by tradesmen, that 
it is as inexpressive as a sentimental music- 
hall song sung by a gramophone. But now 
that men have given women the vote, and so 
proved that they take them seriously at last, 
they have the right to speak plainly on this 
matter. The feminine influence upon art has 
been bad. Let us admit that it has been the 
result of a bad masculine influence upon women, 
that it has been supreme because men have 
become philistine; but the fact remains that 
it has been bad. Art must be taken seriously 
35 



Essays on Art 

if it is to be worth anything. It must be the 
expression of what is serious and real in the 
human mind. But all this feminine art has 
expressed, and has tried to glorify, something 
false and worthless. Therefore it has been ugly, 
and we are all sick of its ugliness. We look to 
women, now that they are equalled with men 
by an act of legal justice, to deliver us from 
it They disown the Pompadour in fact ; let 
them disown her in art. 



36 



An Unpopular Master ^^ ^> o- 

NICHOLAS POUSSIN is one of the great 
painters of the world; yet it is easier 
to give reasons for disliking him than for liking 
him. After his death there was a war of 
pamphlets about him ; the one side, led by 
Lebrun, holding him up as a model for all 
painters to come, the other side, under de 
Piles, calling him a mere pedant compared with 
Rubens. Here is a passage from a poem 
against Poussin : — 

II sgavoit manier la regie et le compas, 
Parloit de la lumi^re et ne Tentendoit pas ; 
II estoit de I'antique un assez bon copiste, 
Mais sans invention, et mauvais coloriste. 
II ne pouvait marcher que sur le pas d'autruy : 
Le gdnie a manque, c'est un malheur pour luy. 

Now this is just what the criticism of yester- 
day said about him, the criticism of the eighties 
and nineties, when it was supposed that Velas- 
quez had discovered the art of seeing, and with 
37 



Essays on Art 

it the art of painting. It sounds plausible, 
but not a word of it is true. And yet it 
remains difficult to show why it is not true, to 
distinguish between the genius of Poussin and 
the pedantry of his imitators, to convince 
people that he was not a bad colourist, and 
that he did not imitate the antique. 

This difficulty is connected with the age in 
which he happened to live. Nobody calls 
Mantegna a pedant nowadays ; yet one might 
say against him most of the things that have 
been said against Poussin. But Mantegna 
lived in a century that we like, and Poussin in 
one that we dislike. The seventeenth century 
is for us a time of pictorial platitude; there 
was nothing then to discover about gesture or 
expression, and painters, even the best of them, 
used stock gestures and stock expressions with- 
out any of the eagerness of discovery. Now 
Poussin is, or appears to be, in many of his 
works a dramatic painter, and for us his 
drama is platitudinous. Take the "Plague 
of Ashdod," in the National Gallery. There 
are the gestures that we are already a little 
weary of in Raphael's cartoons. The figures 
express horror and fear with uplifted hands 
or contorted features; but their real business 
seems to be to make the picture. The drama 

38 



An Unpopular Master 

is thrust upon us, and we cannot ignore it ; yet 
we feel that it is no discovery for the artist, 
but something that he has learnt like a second- 
rate actor — that he has, in fact, a "bag of 
tricks " in common with all the Italian painters 
of his time, and that he is only pretending to 
be surprised by his subject. Now every age 
has its artistic platitudes ; but these plati- 
tudes of dramatic expression are peculiarly 
wearisome to us because they have persisted in 
European painting up to the present day, and 
because most great painters in modern times 
have struggled in one way or another to escape 
from them. We associate them with medio- 
crity and insincerity ; and we do not under- 
stand that for many of the better painters of 
the seventeenth century they were only a basis 
for discoveries of a different kind. II Greco, 
for instance, is often as dramatically platitudin- 
ous as Guido Reni, but he also was making 
discoveries in design which happen to interest 
us now, so that we overlook his platitudes. 
He was trying to express his emotions not so 
much by gesture and the play of features as by 
a rhythm really independent of those, a rhythm 
carried through everything in the picture, to 
which all his platitudes are subject. And 
because this rhythm is new to us now we 

39 



V 



Essays on Art 

hardly notice the platitudes. Poussin was 
playing the same game, but his rhythm has 
been imitated by so many dull painters that 
we are tempted to think it as platitudinous 
as his drama, and that is where we are unjust 
to him. 

Poussin had J a mind that was at once pas- 
sionate and determined to be master of its 
passions. He would not suppress them, but 
he would express them with complete com- 
posure ; and as Donne in poetry tried to attain 
to an intellectual mastery over his passions by 
means of conceits, so Poussin in painting tried 
to attain to the same mastery through the 
representation of an ideal world. Each was 
enthralled with his experience of real life ; but 
each was dissatisfied with the haphazard, tyran- 
nous nature of that experience, and especially 
with the divorce between passion and intellect, 
which in actual experience is so painful to the 
man who is both passionate and intelligent. So 
each, in his art, tried to make a new kind of 
experience, in which passion should be intelli- 
gent and intellect passionate. This, no doubt, 
is what every artist tries to do ; but the effort 
was peculiarly fierce in Donne and Poussin 
because in them there was a more than common 
discord between passion and intelligence, 
40 



An Unpopular Master 

because they were instantly critical both of 
what they desired and of their own process of 
desire. Donne, at the very height of passion, 
asked himself why he was passionate ; and he 
could not express his passion without trying to 
justify it to his intelligence. So in his poetry 
he endeavoured to experience it again with 
simultaneous intellectual justification which in 
that poetry was a part of the experience itself. 
Poussin aims not so much at an intellectual 
justification of passion as at an expression of it 
in which there shall be also complete intellec- 
tual composure. He aims in his art at an 
experience in which the intellect shall be free 
from the bewilderment of the passions and the 
passions also free from the check of the 
intellect ; and to this he attains by the repre- 
sentation of an ideal state in which the intel- 
lect can make all the forms through which the 
passion expresses itself. He is, in fact, nearer 
than most painters to the musician ; but still 
he is a painter and appeals to us through the 
representation of objects that we can recognize 
by their likeness to what we have seen our- 
selves. His intellect desires to make its forms, 
not to have them imposed upon it by mere 
ocular experience, since ocular experience for 
him is full of the tyrannous bewilderment of 
41 



Essays on Art 

actual passion. But at the same time those 
forms which his intellect makes must be recog- 
nized by their likeness to what men see in the 
world about them. So he found a link 
between his ideal forms and what men see in 
what is vaguely called the antique. 

But he did not go to the antique out of any 
artistic snobbery or because he distrusted his 
own natural taste. The antique was not for 
him an aristocratic world of art that he tried 
to enter in the hope of becoming himself an 
aristocrat. He showed that he was perfectly 
at ease in that world by the manner in which he 
painted its subjects. When, for instance, he 
paints Bacchanals, he is really much less over- 
awed by the subject than Rubens would be. 
Rubens, who was a man of culture and an 
intellectual parvenu^ tried desperately to com- 
bine his natural tastes with classical subjects. 
When he painted a Flemish cook as Venus he 
really tried to make her look like Venus ; and 
the result is a Flemish cook pretending to be 
Venus, an incongruity that betrays a like incon- 
gruity in the artist's mind. Poussin's Venus, 
far less flesh and blood, does belong entirely to 
the world in which he imagines her — indeed, 
so intensely that, if we have lost interest in 
that world, she fails to interest us. The Vene- 
42 



An Unpopular Master 

tians have done this much better, we think; 
and why, if Poussin was going to paint like 
Titian, did he not use Titian's colour ? The 
answer is. Because his mood was very far from 
Titian's, because he makes a comment that 
Titian never makes upon his Venuses and 
Bacchanals. Rubens makes no comment at all : 
his attitude towards the classical is that of 
the wondering parvenu. Titian through the 
classical expresses the Renaissance liberation 
from scruple and fear. But Poussin gives us a 
mortal comment upon this immortal careless- 
ness and delight. Whether his figures are 
tranquil or rapturous, there is in his colour an 
expression of something far from their felicity. 
Indeed, however voluptuous the forms may be, 
the colour is always ascetic. It is not that he 
seems to disapprove of those glorified pleasures 
of the senses, but that he cannot satisfy him- 
self with his own conception of them, as Titian 
could. Titian represents a world in which all 
the mind consents to delight. His figures 
are not foolish, but they are like dancers or 
dreamers to the music of their own pleasure. 
He makes us hear that music to which his 
figures dance or dream ; but, with Poussin, we 
do not hear it, we only see the figures subject 
to it as to some influence from which we 

43 



Essays on Art 

are cut off ; and that which cuts us off is the 
colour. 

Most painters, if they wished to paint a scene 
of voluptuous pleasure, would conceive it first 
in colour ; for colour is the natural expression 
of all delights of the senses. But Poussin 
never allows the delight that he paints to 
affect his colour at all. That is always an 
expression of his own permanent mind, of a 
mind that could not dance or dream to the 
music of any pleasure possible in this world. 
For him the ideal world was not merely one 
of perpetual, intensified pleasui-e, but one in 
which all the activities of the mind should 
work like gratified senses and yet keep their 
own character, in which passion should be freed 
from its bewilderment and intellect from its 
questioning. That was what he tried to 
represent ; and his colour was a comment, 
half-unconscious perhaps, upon its impossi- 
bility. For the everlasting conflict between 
colour and form does itself express that 
impossibility. Whatever he might represent, 
Poussin could not, for one moment, lose his 
interest in form or subordinate it to colour. 
His figures, whatever their raptures, must 
express his own intellectual mastery of them ; 
and it was \mpossible to combine this with a 

44 



An Unpopular Master 

colour that should express their raptures. But 
Poussin, knowing this impossibility, was not 
content with a compromise. He might have 
used a faintly agreeable colour that would not 
be incongruous with their raptures ; but he 
chose rather to express his own exasperation 
in a colour that was violently incongruous with 
them, but which at the same time heightens 
his emphasis upon form. So, though there is 
an incongruity between the subject itself and 
the mood in which it is treated, there is none 
in the treatment. Poussin himself seems to 
look, and to make us look, at a mythological 
Paradise, with the searching, mournful gaze of 
a human spectator. This glory is forbidden to 
us not merely by our circumstances but by the 
nature of our own minds. It is, indeed, one of 
our own conceptions of Heaven, but inadequate 
like all the rest ; and Poussin, by making the 
conception clear to us, reveals its inadequacy. 

He paints the subjects of the Renaissance 
like a man remembering his own youth, and 
sad, not because he has lost the pleasures of 
youth, but because he wasted himself upon 
them. Here are these deities, he seems to tell 
us, but there must be a secret in their felicity 
that we do not understand. The joy they 
seem to offer is below us, and he will not pre- 

45 



Essays on Art 

tend to have caught it from them in his art. 
For that art is always sad, not with a particu- 
lar grief nor with mere low spirits, but with 
the incongruity of the passions and the intel- 
lect ; and this noble sadness is expressed by 
Poussin as no other painter has expressed it. 
He was himself a melancholy man to whom art 
was the one happiness of life ; but he did not 
use his art to talk of his sorrows. He used it 
to create a world of clear and orderly design, 
and satisfied his intellect in the creation of it. 
In his art he could exercise the composure 
which actual experience disturbed ; he could 
remake that reality so troubled by the conflict 
of sense, emotion, and understanding; but, 
even in remaking it, he added the comment 
that it was only his in art. And that is the 
reason why his art seems so impersonal to us, 
why there is the same cold passion in all his 
pictures, whether religious or mythological. 
In all of them he expresses a sharp dissatisfac- 
tion with the very nature of his actual experi- 
ence. A painter like Rubens is entranced 
with his own actual vision of things; but 
Poussin tells us that he has never even seen 
anything as he wanted to see it. He is 
not a vague idealist dissatisfied with reality 
because of the weakness of his own senses or 

46 



An Unpopular Master 

understanding. Rather he seems to cry, like 
Poe, of everything that he draws — 

O God, can I not grasp 
Them with a tighter clasp? 

It is the very substance and matter of things 
that he tries to master ; and that so intensely 
that he never sees them flushed or dimmed by 
any mood of his own. Nor does he allow the 
passions of his figures to affect his representa- 
tion of them or of their surroundings. He is 
cold, himself, towards these passions, for to 
him they are only a part of the bewilderment 
of actual experience. But in making forms he 
escapes from that bewilderment and shows us 
matter utterly subject to mind. Yet in this 
triumph there is always implied the sadness 
that such a triumph is impossible in life, that 
the artist cannot be what he paints. The 
Renaissance had failed, and Poussin's art was a 
bitterly sincere announcement of its failure. 



47 



A Defence of Criticism ^ ^ o 

THE only kind of critic taken seriously in 
England is the art critic; and he is 
taken seriously as an expert, that is to say, as 
one who will tell us not what he has found in 
a work of art, but who produced it. His very 
judgment is valued not on a matter of art at 
all, but on a matter of business. No one 
wants to know whether a certain picture is 
good or bad. The question is. Was it painted 
by Romney.^ It might well have been and 
yet be a very bad picture ; but that is not the 
point. Experts are called to say that it is by 
Romney ; and they are proved to be wrong. 
Thereupon Sir Thomas Jackson ^vrites to the 
Times and says that if people learned to think 
for themselves the profession of art critic 
would be at an end. The art critic, for him, 
is one who tells people what to think. And 
then he proceeds — 

It is only for the public he writes ; he is of 
no use to artists. I doubt whether any man in 
any branch of art could be found who would 

48 



A Defence of Criticism 

honestly say he had ever learned anything 
from the art critic, who, after all, is only an 
amateur. The criticism we value, and that 
which really helps, is that of our brother 
artists, often sharp and unsparing, but always 
salutary and useful. And if useless to the 
artist, art criticism is harmful to the public, 
who take their opinion from it at second hand. 
Were all art criticism made penal for ten years 
lovers of art would learn to think for them- 
selves, and a truer appreciation of art than the 
commercial one would result, with the greatest 
benefit both to art and to artists. It is the 
artist and not the professional critic who 
should be the real instructor of the public 
taste. 

Here there seems to be an inconsistency ; for 
if we are to think for ourselves we do not need 
to be instructed by artists any more than by 
critics. But Sir Thomas Jackson may mean 
that the artist is to instruct the public only 
through his works. Still, the question remains, 
How is the artist to be recognized ? There is 
a riddle — When is an artist not an artist ? and 
the answer is — Nine times out of ten. Cer- 
tainly the opinions of artists about each other 
will not bring security to the public mind ; 
and does Sir T. Jackson really believe that 
artists always value the criticism of brother 
artists? Does an Academician value the 
D 49 



Essays on Art 

criticism of a Vorticist, or vice versa? The 
Academician, of course, would say that the 
Vorticist was not an artist — and vice versa. 
The artist values the opinion of the artist who 
agrees with him ; and at present there is less 
agreement among artists than among critics. 
They condemn each other more than the 
critics condemn them. 

But these are minor points. What I am 
concerned with is Sir T. Jackson's notion of 
the function of criticism. For him, as for 
most Englishmen, the critic is one who tells 
people what to think; and the value of his 
criticism depends upon his reputation ; we 
should pay no heed to art critics, because they 
are not artists. But the critic, whether of art 
or of anything else, is a writer; and he is to 
be judged not by his reputation either as artist 
or as critic, but by what he writes. Sir T. 
Jackson thinks that he is condemning the 
critic when he says that he writes only for the 
public. He might as well think that he con- 
demned the artist if he said that he worked 
only for the public. Of course the critic 
writes for the public, as the painter paints for 
the public ; and he writes as one of the public, 
not as an artist. Further, if he is a critic, he 
does not write to tell the public what to think 
50 



A Defence of Criticism 

any more than he writes to tell the painter 
how to paint. Just as the painter in his 
pictures expresses a general interest in the 
visible world, so the critic in his criticism ex- 
presses a general interest in art; and his 
justification, like that of the painter, consists 
in his power of expressing this interest. If he 
cannot express it well, it is useless to talk 
about his reputation either as artist or critic ; 
one might as well excuse a bad picture of a 
garden by saying that the painter of it was a 
good gardener and therefore a good judge of 
gardens. 

It is a misfortune that the word critic should 
be derived from a Greek word meaning judge. 
A critic certainly does arrive at judgments; 
but the value of his criticism, if it has any, 
consists not in the judgment, but in the 
process by which it is arrived at. This fact is 
seldom understood in England, either by the 
public or by artists. The artist cares only 
about the judgment and complains that a 
mere amateur has no right to judge him. He 
would rather be judged by himself; and, being 
himself an artist, he must be a better judge. 
But the question to be asked about the critic 
is not whether he is an amateur as an artist, 
but whether he is an amateur as a critic; 
51 



Essays on Art 

and that can be decided only by his criticism. 
The greatest artist might prove that he was 
an amateur in criticism ; and he could not dis- 
prove it by appealing to his art. Sir Joshua 
Reynolds, for instance, thinks like an amateur 
in some of his discourses ; and it is amateur 
thinking to defend him by saying that he does 
not paint like one. 

Certainly much of our criticism consists of 
mere judgments, and is therefore worthless as 
criticism. But much of our art consists also 
of mere judgments ; it tells us nothing except 
that the artist admires this or that, or believes 
that ' the public admires it ; and it also is 
worthless as art. But no critic therefore 
writes to the papers to say that, if only the 
public would learn to feel for themselves, the 
profession of artist would be at an end. We 
know that the business of an artist is not to 
tell the public what to feel about the visible 
world, or anything else, but to express his 
own interest in the visible world or whatever 
may be the subject-matter of his art. We 
do not condemn art because of its failures. 
Those who know anything at all about the 
nature of art know that it has value because it 
expresses the common interests of mankind 
better than most men can express them ; and 
52 



A Defence of Criticism ' 

for this reason it has value for mankind and 
not merely for artists. For this reason, also, 
criticism has value for mankind and not merely 
for artists or for critics. But the value of it 
does not lie in the judgment of the critic any 
more than the value of art lies in the judg- 
ment, taste, preference of the artist. The 
value in both cases lies in power of expression ; 
and by that art and criticism are to be 
judged. 

Needless to say, then, criticism is not to be 
judged by the help it gives to artists. One 
might as well suppose that philosophy was to 
be judged by the help it gives to the Deity. 
The philosopher does not tell the Deity how 
He ought to have made the universe ; nor do 
we read philosophy for the sake of the judg- 
ments at which philosophers arrive. We do 
not want to know Kant's opinion because he 
is Kant; what interests us is the process by 
which he arrives at that opinion, and it is the 
process which convinces us that his opinion is 
right, if we are convinced. So it is, or should 
be, with criticism. It ought to provoke thought 
rather than to suppress it ; and if it does not 
provoke thought it is worthless. 

But in the best criticism judgment is rather 
implied than expressed. For the proper 

53 



Essays on Art 

subject-matter of criticism is the experience of 
works of art. The best critic is he who has 
experienced a work of art so intensely that his 
criticism is the spontaneous expression of his 
experience. He tells us what has happened to 
him, as the artist tells us what has happened 
to him; and we, as we read, do not judge 
either the criticism or the art criticized, but 
share the experience. The value of art lies in 
the fact that it communicates the experience 
and the experiencing power of one man to 
many. When we hear a symphony of 
Beethoven, we are for the moment Beethoven ; 
and we ourselves are enriched for ever by the 
fact that we have for the moment been 
Beethoven. So the value of the best criticism 
lies in the fact that it communicates the ex- 
perience and the experiencing power of the 
critic to his readers and so enriches their 
experiencing power. If he is futile, so is the 
artist. If we cannot read him without danger 
to our own independence of thought, neither 
can we look at a picture without danger to our 
own independence of vision. But believe in 
the fellowship of mankind, believe that one 
mind can pour into another and enrich it with 
its own treasures, and you will know that 
neither art nor criticism is futile. They stand 

54 



A Defence of Criticism 

or fall together, and the artist who condemns 
the critic condemns himself also. 

There remains the contention, half implied 
by Sir T. Jackson, that the critic's experience of 
art is of no value because he is not an artist. 
Now if it is of no value to himself because he 
is not an artist, then art is of no value to 
anyone except the artist, and the artist who 
practises the same kind of art ; music is of 
value only to musicians, and painting to 
painters. It cannot be that mere technical 
training gives a man the mysterious power of 
experiencing works of art ; for, as we all know, 
it does not make an artist. No artist will 
admit that anyone through technical training 
can become a member of the sacred brother- 
hood of those who understand the mystery of 
art. Therefore they had all better admit that 
there is no mystery about it, or, rather, a 
mystery for us all. Either art is of value to 
us all, and our own experience of it is of value 
to us ; or art has no value whatever to anyone, 
but is the meaningless activity of a few oddities 
who would be better employed in agriculture. 

But if our own experience of art is of value 
to us, then it is possible for us to communicate 
that experience to others so that it may be of 
value to them ; as it is possible for the painter 

55 



Essays on Art 

to communicate to others his experience of the 
visible world. If he denies this, once again he 
denies himself. He shuts himself within the 
prison of his own arrogance, from which he 
can escape only by a want of logic. But, 
further, if our experience of art is of value to 
ourselves, and if it is possible for us to com- 
municate that experience to others, it is also 
possible for us to arrive at conclusions about 
that experience which may be of value both to 
ourselves and to others. Hence scientific or 
philosophic criticism, which is based not, as 
some artists seem to think, upon a fraudulent 
pretence of the critic that he himself is an 
artist, but upon that experience of art which 
is, or may be, common to all men. The philo- 
sophic critic writes not as one who knows how 
to produce that which he criticizes better than 
he who has produced it, but as one who has 
experienced art; and his own experience is 
really the subject-matter of his criticism. If 
he is a philosophic critic, he will know that his 
experience is itself necessarily imperfect. As 
some one has said : " We do not judge works 
of art ; they judge us " ; and the critic is to be 
judged by the manner in which he has experi- 
enced art, as the painter is to be judged by the 
manner in which he has experienced the visible 
56 



A Defence of Criticism 

world. All the imperfections of his experience 
will be betrayed in his criticism ; where he is 
insensitive, there he will fail, both as artist 
and as philosopher ; and of this fact he must 
be constantly aware. So if he gives himself 
the airs of a judge, if he relies on his own 
reputation to make or mar the reputation 
of a work of art, he ceases to be a critic and 
deserves all that artists in their haste have said 
about him. Still, it is a pity that artists, in 
their haste, should say these things ; for when 
they do so they, too, become critics of the 
wrong sort, critics insensitive to criticism. 
They may think that they are upholding the 
cause of art ; but they are upholding the cause 
of stupidity, that common enemy of art and of 
criticism. 



57 



The Artist and his Audience o o 

ACCORDING to Whistler art is not a 
social activity at all ; according to 
Tolstoy it is nothing else. But art is clearly 
a social activity and something more ; yet no 
one has yet reconciled the truth in Whistler's 
doctrine with the truth in Tolstoy's. Each 
leaves out an essential part of the truth, and 
they remain opposed in their mixture of eiTor 
and truth. The main point of Whistler's 
"Ten o'clock" is that art is not a social 
activity. " Listen," he cries, " there never was 
an artistic period. There never was an art- 
loving nation. In the beginning man went 
forth each day — some to battle, some to the 
chase ; others again to dig and to delve in the 
field — all that they might gain and live or lose 
and die. Until there was found among them 
one, differing from the rest, whose pursuits 
attracted him not, and so he stayed by the 
tents with the women, and traced strange 
devices with a burnt stick upon a gourd. This 
man, who took no joy in the ways of his 
58 



The Artist and his Audience 

brethren, who cared not for conquest and 
fretted in the field, this designer of quaint 
patterns, this deviser of the beautiful, who 
perceived in Nature about him curious curv- 
ings, as faces are seen in the fire — this dreamer 
apart was the first artist." 

Then, he says, the hunters and the workers 
drank from the artists'* goblets, "taking no 
note the while of the craftsman's pride, and 
understanding not his glory in his work ; drink- 
ing at the cup not from choice, not from a 
consciousness that it was beautiful, but because, 
forsooth, there was none other ! " Luxury 
grew, and the great ages of art came. " Greece 
was in its splendour, and art reigned supreme 
— by force of fact, not by election. And the 
people questioned not, and had nothing to 
say in the matter." In fact art flourished 
because mankind did not notice it. But 
"there arose a new class, who discovered 
the cheap, and foresaw fortune in the manu- 
facture of the sham." Then, according to 
Whistler, a strange thing happened. " The 
heroes filled from the jugs and drank from 
the bowls — with understanding. . . . And 
the people — this time — had much to say 
in the matter, and all were satisfied. And 
Birmingham and Manchester arose in their 
59 



Essays on Art 

might, and art was relegated to the curiosity 
shop." 

Whistler does not explain why, if no one was 
aware of the existence of art except the artist, 
those who were not artists began to imitate it. 
If no one prized art, why should sham art have 
come into existence ? According to him it was 
the sham that made men aware of the true ; 
yet the sham could not exist until men were 
aware of the true. But the account he gives 
of the decadence of art is historically untrue as 
well as unintelligible. We know little of the 
primitive artist ; but we have no proof that he 
was utterly different from other men, or that 
they did not enjoy his activities. If they had 
not enjoyed them they would probably have 
killed him. The primitive artist survived, no 
doubt, because he was an artist in his leisure ; 
and all we know of more primitive art goes to 
prove that it was, and is, practised not by a 
special class but by the ordinary primitive man 
in his leisure. Peasant art is produced by 
peasants, not by lonely artists. Some, of 
course, have more gift for it than others, but 
all enjoy it, though they do not call it art. 
Whistler saw himself in every primitive artist ; 
and seeing himself as a dreamer apart misunder- 
stood by the common herd, he saw the primi- 
60 



The Artist and his Audience 

tive artist as one living in a primitive White 
House, and producing primitive nocturnes for 
his own amusement, unnoticed, happily, by 
primitive critics. 

But his view, though refuted both by history 
and by common sense, is still held by many 
artists and amateurs. They themselves make 
much of art, but do not see that their theory 
makes little of it, makes it a mere caprice of 
the human mind, like the collecting of postage 
stamps. If art has any value or importance 
for mankind, it is because it is a social activity. 
If no one but an artist can enjoy art, it seems 
to follow that no art can be completely enjoyed 
except by him who has produced it; for in 
relation to that art he alone is an artist. All 
other artists, even, are the public ; and, accord- 
ing to Whistler, the public has nothing to do 
with art ; it flourishes best when they are not 
aware of its existence. He is very contemptu- 
ous of taste. All judgment of art must be 
based on expert knowledge, for art, he says, 
"is based upon laws as rigid and defined as 
those of the known sciences." Yet whereas 
"no polished member of society is at all 
afifected by admitting himself neither engineer, 
mathematician, nor astronomer, and therefore 
remains willingly discreet and taciturn upon 
6i 



Essays on Art 

these subjects, still he would be highly offended 
were he supposed to have no voice in what 
clearly to him is a matter of taste." So to 
Whistler art has no more to do with the life 
of the ordinary man than astronomy or mathe- 
matics. His mention of engineering is an 
unfortunate slip, for, although we are not 
engineers we all knew, when the Tay Bridge 
broke down and threw hundreds of passengers 
into the water, that it was not a good bridge. 
We are all concerned with engineering in spite 
of our ignorance of it, because we make use of 
its works. Whistler assumes that we make no 
use of works of art except as objects of use ; 
and since pictures, poems, music are not objects 
of use, we can have no concern with them what- 
ever — which is absurd. 

But here comes Tolstoy, who tells us that all 
works of art are merely objects of use and are 
to be judged therefore by the extent of their 
use. A work of art that few can enjoy fails as 
much as a railway that few can travel by. 
"Art," Tolstoy says, "is a human activity, 
consisting in this — that one man consciously, 
by means of certain external signs, hands on to 
others feelings he has lived through, and that 
other people are infected by these feelings and 
also experience them." So it is the essence of 
62 



The Artist and his Audience 

a work of art that it shall infect others with 
the feelings of the artist. Now certainly a 
work of art is a work of art to us only if it 
does so infect us, but Tolstoy is not content 
with that. The individual is not to judge the 
work of art by its infection of himself. He is 
to consider also the extent of its infection. 
" For a work to be esteemed good and to be 
approved of and diffused it will have to satisfy 
the demands, not of a few people living in 
identical and often unnatural conditions, but 
it will have to satisfy the demands of all those 
great masses of people who are situated in the 
natural conditions of laborious life." 

The two views are utterly irreconcilable. 
According to Whistler the public are not to 
judge art at all because they have no concern 
with it, and it flourishes most when they do 
not pretend to have any concern with it. 
According to Tolstoy the individual is to 
judge it, not by the effect it produces on him, 
but by the effect it produces on others, " on all 
those great masses of people who are situated 
in the natural conditions of laborious life." 

Now, if we find ourselves intimidated by one 
or other of these views, if we seem forced to 
accept one of them against our will, it is a relief 
and liberation from the tyranny of Whistler's 

63 



Essays on Art 

or Tolstoy's logic to ask ourselves simply what 
does actually happen to us in our own experi- 
ence and enjoyment of a work of art. The 
fact that we are able to enjoy and experience a 
work of art does liberate us at once from the 
tyranny of Whistler; for clearly, if we can 
experience and enjoy a work of art, we are 
concerned with it. It is vain for Whistler to 
tell us that we ought not to be, or that we do 
injury to art by our concern. The fact of our 
enjoyment and experience makes art for us a 
social activity; we know that our enjoyment 
of it is good; we know also that the artist 
likes us to enjoy it ; and we do not believe that 
either the primitive artist or the primitive man 
was different from us in this respect. There is 
now, and always has been, some kind of social 
relation between the artist and the public ; the 
only question is how far that relation is the 
essence of art. 

Tolstoy tells us that it is the essence of art, 
because the proper aim of art is to do good. 
This is implied in his doctrine that art can be 
good only if it is intelligible to most men. 
" The assertion that art may be good art and 
at the same time incomprehensible to a great 
number of people, is extremely unjust ; and its 
consequences are ruinous to art itself." The 

64 



The Artist and his Audience 

word UDJust implies the moral factor. I am 
not to enjoy a work of art if I know that 
others cannot enjoy it, because it is not fair 
that I should have a pleasure not shared by 
them. If I know that others cannot share it, 
I am to take no account of my own experience, 
but to condemn the work, however good it 
may seem to me. From this logic also I can 
liberate myself by concerning myself simply 
with my own experience. Again, if I experi- 
ence and enjoy a work of art, I know that my 
experience of it is good ; and, in my judgment 
of the work of art, I do not need to ask myself 
how many others enjoy it. I may wish them 
to enjoy it and try to make them do so, but 
that effort of mine is not aesthetic but moral. 
It does not aff'ect my judgment of the work of 
art, but is a result of that judgment. And, as 
a matter of fact, if I am to experience a work 
of art at all, I cannot be asking myself how 
many others enjoy it. Judgments of art are 
not formed in that way and cannot be ; they 
are, and must be, always formed out of our 
own experience of art. If art is to be art to 
us, we cannot think of it in terms of something 
else. There would be no public for art at all 
if we all agreed to judge it in terms of each 
other's enjoyment or understanding. Each 
E 65 



Essays on Art 

individual of " the great masses of people who 
are situated in the natural conditions of 
laborious life " would also have to ask himself 
whether the rest of the masses were enjoying 
and understanding, before he could judge; 
indeed, he would not feel aright to enjoy until 
he knew that the rest were enjoying. That is 
to say, no individual would ever enjoy art at 
all. The fact is that art is produced by the 
individual artist and experienced by the indi- 
vidual man. Tolstoy says that it is experienced 
by mankind in the mass, and not as individuals ; 
Whistler that it is not experienced at all, 
either by the mass or by the individual. Each 
is a heretic with some truth in his heresy ; 
what is the true doctrine ? 

It is clear that every artist desires an 
audience, not merely so that he may win 
pudding and praise from them, nor so that he 
may do them good ; none of these aims will 
make him an artist ; he can accomplish all of 
them without attempting to produce a work of 
art. It is also clear that his artistic success is 
not his success in winning an audience. Those 
"great masses of people who are situated in 
the natural conditions of laborious life '' are a 
figment of Tolstoy's mind. No conditions are 
natural in the sense in which he uses the word ; 
66 



The Artist and his Audience 

nor do any existing conditions make one man a 
better judge of art than another. There is no 
multitude of simple, normal, unspoilt men able 
and willing to enjoy any real art that is pre- 
sented to them. The right experience of art 
comes with effort, like right thought and right 
action ; and no Russian peasant has it because 
he works in the fields. Nor, on the other hand, 
are there any artists who are mere "sports" 
occupied with a queer game of their own self- 
expression which no one else can enjoy. There 
is a necessary relation between the work of art 
and its audience, even if no actual audience for 
it exists ; and the fact that this relation must 
be, even when there is no audience in existence, 
is the paradox and problem of art. A work of 
art claims an audience, entreats it, is indeed 
made for it ; but must have it on its own 
terms. Men are artists because they are men, 
because they have a faculty, at its height, 
which is shared by all men. In that Croce is 
right ; and his doctrine that all men are artists 
in some degree, and that the very experience of 
art is itself an aesthetic activity, contains a 
truth of great value. But his aesthetic ignores, 
or seems to ignore, the fact that art is not 
merely, as he calls it, expression, but is also a 
means of address ; in fact, that we do not 

67 



Essays on Art 

express ourselves except when we address our- 
selves to others, even though we speak to no 
particular, or even existing, audience. Yet 
this fact is obvious; for all art gets its very 
form from the fact that it is a method of 
address. A story is a story because it is told, 
and told to some one not the teller. A picture 
is a picture because it is painted to be seen. 
It has all its artistic qualities because it is 
addressed to the eye. And music is music, 
and has the form which makes it music, 
because it is addressed to the ear. Without 
this intention of address there could be no 
form in art and no distinction between art and 
day-dreaming. Day-dreaming is not expres- 
sion, is not art, because it is addressed to no 
one but is a purposeless activity of the mind. 
It becomes art only when there is the purpose 
of address in it. That purpose will give it 
form and turn it from day-dreaming into art. 
Even in an object of use which is also a work 
of art, the art is the effort of the maker to 
emphasize, that is, to point out, the beauty of 
that which he has made. It is this emphasis 
that turns building into architecture; and it 
implies that the building is made not merely 
for the builder's or for anyone else's use, but 
that its aim also is to address an audience, to 
68 



The Artist and his Audience 

speak to the eye as a picture speaks to it. Art 
is made for men as surely as boots are made for 
them. 

But not as Tolstoy thinks, for any particular 
class of men or even for the whole mass of 
existing mankind. The artist will not and 
cannot judge his work by its effects on any 
actual men, any more than we can or will 
judge it by its effects on anyone except our- 
selves. As we, in our experience of it, must 
be completely individual; so must he in his 
production of it. He is not a public servant, 
but a man speaking for himself, and with no 
thought of effects, to anyone who will hear. 
His audience consists only of those who will 
hear, of those individuals who can understand 
his individual expression which is also com- 
munication. In his art he seeks the individual 
who will hear. He has something to say ; but 
he can say it only to others, not to himself; it 
is what it is because he says it to others. Yet 
he says it also for its own sake and not for 
theirs. The particular likes and dislikes, 
stupidities, limitations, demands, of individual 
men or classes are nothing to him. The con- 
dition of his art is this alone, that he does 
address it to an audience. So the relation 
between the artist and his audience is the most 

69 



Essays on Art 

important fact' of his art, even if he has no 
actual audience. It is his attitude towards 
the audience that makes him do his best or his 
worst, makes him a good artist or a bad one, 
that sets him free to express all he has to say 
or hampers him wdth inhibitions. His business 
is not to find an audience, but to find the right 
attitude towards one, the attitude which is 
that of the artist and not of the tradesman, or 
■ peacock, or philanthropist. And it is plain 
that in his effort to find this right attitude he 
may be helped or hindered much by his actual 
fellow-men. The artist is also a man and sub- 
ject to all the temptations of men. Whistler, 
when he said that art happens, ignored this 
fact, ignored the whole social relation of man- 
kind and the whole history of the arts ; while 
Tolstoy ignored no less the mind of the artist, 
and the minds of all those who do actually 
experience art. To Whistler the artist is a 
CMmcera homhinans in vacuo ; to Tolstoy he is 
a philanthropist. For Whistler the public has 
no function whatever in relation to art ; for 
Tolstoy the artist himself has no function 
whatever except a moral one. In fact he 
denies the existence of the artist, as Whistler 
denies the existence of the public. Whistler's 
truth is that the public must not tell the artist 
70 



The Artist ami his Audience 

what he is to do ; Tolstoy's, that a public with 
a right relation to the artist will help the artist 
to have a right relation to the public. 

Artists are not " sports," but men ; and men 
engaged in one of the most difficult of human 
activities. They are subject to aesthetic 
temptation and sin, as all men are subject to 
temptation and sin of all kinds. Their public 
may tempt them to think more of themselves 
than of what they have to express, either by 
perverse admiration or by ignorant contempt. 
An actual audience may be an obstruction 
between them and the ideal audience to which 
every artist should address himself. Every 
artist must desire that his ideal audience should 
exist, and may mistake an actual audience for 
it. In the ideal relation between an artist and 
his audience, it is the universal in him that 
speaks to the universal in them, and yet this 
universal finds an intensely personal expression. 
Art, which is personal expression, tells, not of 
what the artist wants, but of what he values. 
But if his ego is provoked by the ego in a 
particular audience, then he begins to tell of 
what he wants or of what they want. The 
audience may demand of him that he shall 
please them by indulging their particular 
vanities, appetites, sentimental desires, that he 

71 



Essays on Art 

shall present life to them as they wish it to be ; 
and if he yields to that demand it is because of 
the demands of his own particular ego. There 
is a transaction between him and that audience, 
in its essence commercial. His art is the 
particular supplying some kind of goods to the 
particular, not the universal pouring itself out 
to the universal. 

The function of the audience is not to 
demand but to receive. It should not allow 
its own expectations to hinder its receptiveness ; 
to that extent Whistler is right. Art happens 
as the beauty of the universe happens ; and it 
is the business of the audience to experience it, 
not to dictate how it shall happen. It has 
been said : It is not we who judge works of 
art ; they judge us. The artist speaks and we 
listen ; but still he speaks to us and by listen- 
ing wisely we help him to speak his best, for 
man is a social being ; and all life, in so far as 
it is what it wishes to be, is a fellowship. 
Never is it so completely a fellowship as in the 
relation between an artist and his audience. 
There Tolstoy is right, but the fellowship has 
to be achieved by both the artist and the 
audience. There is no body of simple peasants, 
any more than there are rich or cultured 
people, to whom he must address himself or 
72 



The Artist and his Audience 

whose demands he must satisfy. Art that 
tries to satisfy any particular demand is of use 
neither to the flesh nor to the spirit. It is 
neither meat nor music. But where all is well 
with it, the spirit in the artist speaks to the 
spirit in his audience. There is a common 
quality in both, with which he speaks and they 
listen ; and where this common quality is found 
art thrives. 



73 



Wilfulness and Wisdom -^ ^ ^o 

THERE are people to whom the war was 
merely the running amuck of a criminal 
lunatic ; and they get what pleasure they can 
from calling that lunatic all the names they 
can think of. To them the Germans are 
different in kind from all other peoples, utterly 
separated from the rest of us by their crimes. 
We could learn nothing from them except how 
to crush them ; and, having done so, we shall 
need to learn nothing except how to keep 
them down. But such minds never learn any- 
thing from experience, because they believe 
that there is nothing to be learnt. They con- 
sume all their mental energy in anger and the 
expression of it ; and in doing so they grow 
more and more like those with whom they are 
angry. Wisdom always goes contrary to what 
our passions tell us, especially when they take 
the form of righteous indignation. The creative 
power of the mind begins with refusal of all 
those tempting fierce delights which the passions 
offer to it. Wisdom must be cold before it can 

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Wilfulness and Wisdom 

become warm ; it must suppress the comforting 
heat of the flesh before it can kindle with the 
pure fire of the spirit. Above all, when we 
say that we are not as other men, as the 
Germans, for instance, it must insist that we 
are, and that we shall avoid the German crime 
only by recognizing our likeness to those who 
have committed it. 

The Germans have committed the great 
crime ; but they have been born and nurtured 
in an atmosphere which made that crime pos- 
sible; and we live in the same atmosphere. 
Their error, though they carried it to an 
extreme in theory and in practice with the 
native extravagance of their race, is the error 
of the whole Western world ; and we shall not 
understand what it is unless we are aware of it 
in ourselves as well as in them. For it is a 
world-error and one against which men have 
been warned for ages ; but in their pride they 
will not listen to the warning. Many of the 
old warnings, in the Gospels and elsewhere, 
sound like platitudes to us ; we expect the 
clergyman to repeat them in church ; but we 
should never think of applying them to this 
great, successful, progressive Western world of 
ours. If we are not happy ; if we do not even 
see the way to happiness; if all our power 

75 



Essays on Art 

merely helps us to destroy each other, or to 
make the rich more vulgarly rich and the poor 
more squalidly poor; if the great energy of 
Germany has hurried her to her own ruin ; 
still we do not ask whether we may not have 
made some fundamental mistake about our 
own nature and the nature of the universe, and 
whether Germany has not merely made it more 
systematically and more philosophically than 
the rest of us. 

But the German, because he is systematic 
and philosophical, may reveal to us what that 
error is in us as well as in himself. We do not 
state it as if it were a splendid truth ; we 
merely act upon it. He stated it for us with 
such histrionic and towering absurdity that we 
can laugh at his statement of it ; but we must 
not laugh at him without learning to laugh at 
ourselves. All this talk about the iron will, 
about set teeth and ruthlessness, what does it 
mean except that the German chose to glorify 
openly and to carry to a logical extreme the 
peculiar error of the whole Western world — 
the belief that the highest function of man is 
to work his will upon people and things out- 
side him, that he can change the world without 
changing himself? 

The Christian doctrine, preached so long in 

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Wilfulness and Wisdom 

vain and now almost forgotten, is the opposite 
of this. It insists that man is by nature a 
passive, an experiencing creature, and that he 
can do nothing well in action unless he has 
first learned a right passivity. Only by that 
passivity can he enrich himself; and when he 
has enriched himself he will act rightly. Man 
has a will ; but he must apply it at the right 
point, or it will seem to him merely a blind 
impulse. He must apply it to the manner in 
which he experiences things ; he must free him- 
self from his "will to live"" or his "will to 
power," and see all men and things not as they 
are of material use to him, but with the object 
of loving whatever there is of beauty or virtue 
in them. His will, in fact, must be the will to 
love, which is the will to experience in a certain 
way ; and out of that will to love right action 
will naturally ensue. Is this a platitude ? If 
it is, it is flatly contradicted by the German 
doctrine of wilfulness. For the Germanic hero 
exercises his will always upon other men and 
things, not upon himself; and we all admire 
this Germanic hero, when he is not an obvious 
danger to us all, and when he is not made 
ridiculous by the German presentment of him. 
We all believe that the will is to be exercised 
first of all in action, that it is the function of 
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Essays on Art 

the great man to change the world, not 
to change himself. To us the great man is 
one who does work a change upon the world, 
no matter what that change may be. He may 
change it only as an explosion changes things, 
and at the end he may be left among the ruins 
he has made ; but still we admire him. We 
compare him to the forces of nature, we say 
that there is "something elemental ""' in him, 
even though he has been merely an elemental 
nuisance. We value force in itself, and do not 
ask what it can find to value in itself when it 
has exhausted itself upon the world. But out 
of this worship of wilfulness there comes, sooner 
or later, a profound scepticism and discourage- 
ment. For while these wilful heroes do pro- 
duce some violent effect, it is not the effect 
they aimed at. Something happens; some- 
thing has happened to Germany as the result 
of Bismarck's wilfulness ; but it is not what he 
willed. The wilful hero is a cause in that he 
acts; but the effect is not what he designed, 
and so he seems to himself, and to the world, 
only a link in an unending chain of cause and 
effect ; and as for his sense of will, it is nothing 
but the illusion that he is all cause and not at 
all effect. 

Quem Deus vult perdere dementat prius. 

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Wilfulness and Wisdom 

That old tag puts a truth wrongly. God does 
not interfere to afflict the wilful man with 
madness, but he has never thrown himself open 
to the wisdom of God. His mind is like a 
machine that acts with increasing speed and 
fury because there is less and less material for 
it to act upon. One act leads to another in a 
blind chain of cause and effect; he does this 
merely because he has done that, and seems to 
be driven by fate on and on to his own ruin. 
So it was with Napoleon in his later years. 
He had lost the sense of any reality whatever 
except his own action ; he saw the world as a 
passive object to be acted upon by himself. 
And that is how the Germans saw it two years 
ago. They could not understand that it was 
possible for the world to react against them. 
It was merely something that they were going 
to remake, to work their will upon. The war, 
at its beginning, was not to them a conflict 
between human beings; it was a process by 
which they would make of things what they 
willed. There was no reality except in them- 
selves and their own will; for, in their worship 
of action, they had lost the sense of external 
reality, they had come to believe that there 
was nothing to learn from it except what a 
craftsman learns from his material by working 

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Essays on Art 

in it. It is by making that he learns; and 
they thought that there was no learning except 
by making. 

But that is the mistake of the whole Western 
world, though we have none of us carried it so 
far as Germany. Other men are to us still 
men, they still have some reality to us ; but 
we see external reality as a material for us to 
work in ; we are to ourselves entirely active 
and not at all passive beings. Even among all 
the evil and sorrow of the war we still took a 
pride in the enormous power of our instruments 
of destruction, as if we were children playing 
with big, dangerous toys. But these toys 
are themselves the product of a society that 
must always be making and never thinking or 
feeling. They express the will for action that 
has ousted the will to experience ; and all the 
changes which we work on the face of the 
earth express that will too. We could not 
live in the cities we have made for ourselves if 
we thought that we had anything to learn 
from the beauty of the earth. They are for us 
merely places in which we learn to act, in 
which no one could learn to think or feel. 
Passive experience is impossible in them and 
they do not consider the possibility of it. 
So they express in every building, in every 
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Wilfulness and Wisdom 

object, in the very clothes of their inhabit- 
ants, an utter poverty of passive experience. 
In what we make we give out no stored 
riches of the mind ; we make only so that we 
may act, never so that we may express our- 
selves; and we have little art because our 
making is entirely wilful. Our attempts at 
art are themselves entirely wilful. We will 
have art, we say ; and so we plaster our utilities 
with the ornaments of the past, as if we could 
get the richness of experience secondhand from 
our ancestors. And in the same way we are 
always finding for our blind activities moral 
motives, those motives which are real only 
when they spring out of right experience. We 
rationalize all that we do, but the rationalizing 
is secondhand ornament to blind impulse; it 
is an attempt to persuade ourselves that our 
actions spring out of the experience which we 
lack. There is among us an incessant activity 
both of thought and of art ; but much of it is 
entirely wilful. The thinker makes theories to 
justify what is done; he, too, sees all life in 
terms of action, he is the parasite of action. 
For a German professor the whole process of 
history was but a prelude to the wilfulness of 
Germany ; he could not experience the past 
except in terms of what Germany willed to do ; 
F 8i 



Essays on Art 

and the aim of his theorizing was to remove 
all scrupulous impediments to the action of 
Germany which she may have inherited from 
the past. Think so that you may be stronger 
to do what you wish to do ; that is the modern 
notion of thought, and that is the reason why 
we throw up theories so easily ; for thinking of 
this kind needs no experience, it needs merely 
an activity of the mind, the activity which 
collects facts and does with them what it will. 
And these theories are eagerly accepted so 
long as the impulse lasts which they justify. 
When that is spent they are forgotten, and 
new theories take their place to justify fresh 
impulses. And so it is with the incessant new 
movements in art. Art now is conceived 
entirely as action. The artist is as wilful as 
the Germanic hero ; the will to make excludes 
in him the will to experience. The painter 
cannot look at the visible world without con- 
sidering at once what kind of picture he will 
make of it. It is to him mere passive material 
for his artistic will, not an independent reality 
to enrich his mind so that it will give out its 
riches in the form of art. And as he is always 
willing to make pictures so he must will the 
kind of pictures he will make, as the Germans 
willed the kind of world they would make. 
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Wilfulness and Wisdom 

But this willing of his is a kind of theorizing 
to justify his own action ; and it changes in- 
cessantly because he never can be satisfied with 
his own poverty of experience. But still he 
will do anything rather than try to enrich that 
poverty. 

And that is the secret of all our restless- 
ness, the restlessness that forced the Germans 
into the folly and crime of war. We are 
always dissatisfied with our poverty of experi- 
ence ; and we try to get rid of our dissatisfac- 
tion in more blind activity, throwing up new 
theories all the while as reasons why we should 
act. We fidget about the earth as if we were 
children, that could not read, left in a library ; 
and, like them, we do mischief. And that is 
just what we are : children that have not learnt 
to read let loose upon the library of the uni- 
verse; and all that we can do is to pull the 
books about and play games with them and 
scribble on their pages. Everywhere the earth 
is defaced with our meaningless scribbling, and 
we tell ourselves that it means something 
because we want to scribble. Or sometimes we 
tell ourselves that there is no meaning in any- 
thing, no more in the books than in our 
scribble. 

The only remedy is that we should learn to 

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Essays on Art 

read; and for this we need above all things 
humility ; not merely the personal humility of 
a man who knows that other men excel him, 
but a generic humility which acknowledges 
in the universe a greater wisdom, power, 
righteousness than his own. That is formally 
acknowledged by our religion, but it is not 
practically acknowledged in our way of life, in 
bur conduct or our thought. We think and 
feel and behave as if we were the best and 
wisest creatures in the universe, as if it existed 
only for us to make use of it ; and in so far as 
we learn from it at all, we learn only to make 
use of it. That is our idea of knowledge and 
wisdom ; more and more it is our idea of 
science ; and as for philosophy, we pay no heed 
to it because, in its nature, it is not concerned 
with making use of things. In every way we 
betray the fact that we cannot listen humbly, 
because we do not believe there is anything to 
listen to. For a few of the devout God spoke 
long ago, but He is not speaking now. " The 
kings of modern thought are dumb," said 
Matthew Arnold ; but that is because every- 
thing outside the mind of man is dumb; all 
must be dumb to those who will not listen. 
If we assume that there is no intelligence any- 
where but in ourselves, we shall find none any- 

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Wilfulness and Wisdom 

where else. There will be no meaning for us 
in anything but our own actions; and they 
will become more and more meaningless to us as 
they become more and more wilful, until at last 
we shall be to ourselves like squirrels in a cage, 
or prisoners on a universal treadmill. Years 
ago the war must have seemed a meaningless 
treadmill to the Germans, but they cannot 
escape from its consequences ; they have done 
and they must suffer. But will they learn from 
their sufferings, shall we all learn, that doing 
is not everything? Are we humbled enough 
to listen to the wisdom of the ages, which tells 
us that we can be wise only if we listen for a 
wisdom that is not ours ? 



85 



"The Magic Flute" ^ ^ ^ ^ 

WHEN The Magic Flute was produced 
by the already dying Mozart it had 
little success. At the first performance, it is 
said, when the applause was faint, the leader 
of the orchestra stole up to Mozart, who was 
conducting, and kissed his hand ; and Mozart 
stroked him on the head. We may guess that 
the leader knew what the music meant and 
that Mozart knew that he knew. Neither 
could put it into words and it is not put into 
words in the libretto. But the libretto need 
not be an obstruction to the meaning of the 
music if only the audience will not ask them- 
selves what the libretto means. After Mozart's 
death the opera was successful, no doubt because 
the audience had given up asking what the 
libretto meant and had learnt something of the 
meaning of the music. 

There are worse librettos — librettos which 
have some clear unmusical meaning of their 
own beyond which the audience cannot pene- 
trate to the meaning of the music, if it has 
86 



"The Magic Flute" 

any. This libretto, apart from the music, is 
so nearly meaningless, it has so little coherence, 
that one can easily pass through it to the 
music. The author, Schickaneder, was Mozarfs 
friend, and he had wit enough to understand 
the mood of Mozart. That mood does express 
itself in the plot and the incidents of the 
libretto, although in them it is empty of value 
or passion. Schickaneder, in fact, constructed 
a mere diagram to which Mozart gave life. 
The life is all in the music, but the diagram 
has its use, in that it supplies a shape, which 
we recognize, to the life of the music. The 
characters live in the music, but in the words 
they tell us something about themselves which 
enables us to understand their musical speech 
better. Papageno tells us that he is a bird- 
catcher and a child of nature. The words are 
labels, but through them we pass more quickly 
to an understanding of his song. Only we 
shall miss that understanding if we try to reach 
it through the words, if we look for the story 
of the opera in them. In the words the events 
of the opera have no connexion with each other. 
There is no reason why one should follow 
another. The logic of it is all in the music, 
for the music creates a world in which events 
happen naturally, in which one tune springs 

87 



Essays on Art 

out of another, or conflicts with it, like the 
forces of nature or the thoughts and actions of 
man. This world is the universe as Mozart 
sees it ; and the whole opera is an expression 
of his peculiar faith. It is therefore a religious 
work, though free from that meaningless and 
timid solemnity which we associate with re- 
ligion. Mozart, in this world, was like an 
angel who could not but laugh, though without 
any malice, at all the bitter earnestness of man- 
kind. Even the wicked were only absurd to 
him ; they were naughty children whom, if one 
had the spell, one could enchant into goodness. 
And in The Magic Flute the spell works. It 
works in the flute itself and in Papageno's lyre 
when the wicked negro Monostatos threatens 
him and Tamino with his ugly attendants. 
Papageno has only to play a beautiful childish 
tune on his lyre and the attendants all march 
backwards to an absurd goose-step in time with 
it. They are played off" the stage; and the 
music convinces one that they must yield to it. 
So, we feel if we had had the music, we could 
have made the Prussians march their goose-step 
back to Potsdam ; so we could play all solemn 
perversity off* the stage of life. If we had the 
music — but there is solemn perversity in us too ; 
by reason of which we can hardly listen to the 
88 



''The Magic Flute" 

music, much less play it, hardly listen to it or 
understand it even when Mozart makes it for 
us. For he had the secret of it; he was a 
philosopher who spoke in music and so simply 
that the world missed his wisdom and thought 
that he was just a beggar playing tunes in the 
street. A generation ago he was commonly 
said to be too tuney, as you might say that a 
flower was too flowery. People would no more 
consider him than they would consider the 
lilies of the field. They preferred Wagner in 
all his glory. 

Even now you can enjoy The Magic Flute as 
a more than usually absurd musical comedy 
with easy, old-fashioned tunes. You can enjoy 
it anyway, if you are not solemn about it, as 
you can enjoy Hamlet for a bloody melodrama. 
But, like Hamlet, it has depths and depths of 
meaning beyond our full comprehension. Papa- 
geno is a pantomime figure, but he is also one 
of the greatest figures in the drama of the 
world. He is everyman, like Hamlet, if only 
we had the wit to recognize ourselves in him. 
Or rather he is that element in us which we all 
like and despise in others, but which we will 
never for one moment confess to in ourselves — 
the coward, the boaster, the liar, but the child 
of nature. He, because he knows himself for 

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Essays on Art 

all of these, can find his home in Sarostro's 
paradise. He does not want Sarostro's high 
wisdom ; what he does want is a Papagena, an 
Eve, a child of nature like himself ; and she is 
given' to him. He has the wit to recognize 
his mate, almost a bird like himself, and to 
them Mozart gives their bird-duet, so that, 
when they sing it, we feel that we might all 
sing it together. It is not above our capacity 
of understanding or delight. The angel has 
learnt our earthly tongue, but transformed it 
so that he makes a heaven of the earth, a 
heaven that is not too high or difficult for us, 
a wild-wood heaven, half-absurd, in which we 
can laugh as well as sing, and in which the 
angels will laugh at us and with us, laugh our 
silly sorrows into joy. 

There is Mozart himself in Papageno, the 
faun domesticated and sweetened by centuries 
of Christian experience, yet still a faun and 
always ready to play a trick on human 
solemnity ; and in this paradise which Mozart 
makes for us the faun has his place and a 
beauty not incongruous with it, like the imps 
and gargoyles of a Gothic church. At any 
moment the music will turn from sublimity 
into fun, and in a moment it can turn back to 
sublimity ; and always the change seems natural. 
90 



"The Magic Flute" 

It is like a great cathedral with High Mass 
and children playing hide-and-seek behind the 
pillars; and the Mass would not be itself 
without the children. That is the mind of 
Mozart which people have called frivolous, just 
because in his heaven there is room for every- 
thing except the vulgar glory of Solomon and 
cruelty and stupidity and ugliness. There 
never was anything in art more profound or 
beautiful than Sarostro's initiation music, but 
it is not, like the solemnities of the half-serious, 
incongruous with the twitterings of Papageno. 
Mozart's religion is so real that it seems to be 
not religion, but merely beauty, as real saints 
seem to be not good, but merely charming. 
And there are people to whom his beauty does 
not seem to be art, because it is just beauty; 
they think that he had the trick of it and 
could turn it on as he chose ; they prefer the 
creaking of effort and egotism. His gifts are 
so purely gifts and so lavish that they seem to 
be cheap ; and The Magic Flute is an absurdity 
which he wrote in a hurry to please the crowd. 
We can hardly expect to see a satisfying per- 
formance of it on the stage of to-day, but we 
must be grateful for any performance, for the 
life of the music is in it. One can see from it 
what The Magic Flute might be. The music 

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Essays on Art 

is so sung, so played that it does transfigure 
the peculiar theatrical hideousness of our time. 
Tamino and Panina may look like figures out 
of an Academy picture, as heroes and heroines 
of opera always do. They may wear clothes 
that belong to no world of reality or art, 
clothes that suggest the posed and dressed-up 
model. But the music mitigates even these, 
and it helps every one to act, or rather to 
forget what they have learnt about acting. It 
evidently brings happiness and concord to those 
who sing it, so that they seem to be taking 
part in a religious act rather than in an act of 
the theatre. One feels this most in the con- 
certed music, when the same wind from paradise 
seems to be blowing through all the singers 
and they move to it like flowers, in spite of 
their absurd clothes. 

But what is needed for a satisfying per- 
formance is a world congruous to the eye as 
well as to the ear ; and for this we need a 
break with all our theatrical conventions. 
Sarostro, for instance, lives among Egyptian 
scenery — very likely the architecture of his 
temple was Egyptian at the first performance 
— but, for all that, this Egyptian world does 
not suit the music, and to us it suggests the 
miracles of the Egyptian Hall. But there is 
92 



"The Magic Flute" 

one world which would perfectly suit the music, 
a world in which it could pass naturally from 
absurdity to beauty, and in which all the figures 
could be harmonious and yet distinct, and that 
is the Chinese world as we know it in Chinese 
art. For in that there is something fantastic 
yet spiritual, something comic but beautiful, a 
mixture of the childish and the sacred, which 
might say to the eye what Mozart's music says 
to the ear. Only in Chinese art could Papageno 
be a saint; only in that world, which ranges 
from the willow-pattern plate to the Rishi in 
his mystical ecstasy in the wilderness, could the 
soul of Mozart, with its laughter and its wisdom, 
be at home. That too is the world in which 
flowers and all animals are of equal import with 
mankind ; it is the world of dragons in which 
the serpent of the first act would not seem to 
be made of pasteboard, and in which all the 
magic would not seem to be mere conjuring. 
In that world one might have beautiful land- 
scapes and beautiful figures to suit them. 
There Sarostro would not be a stage magician, 
but a priest ; from Papageno and the lovers to 
him would be only the change from Ming to 
Sung, which would seem no change at all. 
Chinese art, in fact, is the world of the magic 
flute, the world where silver bells hang on 

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Essays on Art 

every flowering tree and the thickets are full 
of enchanted nightingales. It is the world of 
imps and monsters, and yet of impassioned 
contemplation, where the sage sits in a moonlit 
pavilion and smiles like a lover, and where the 
lovers smile like sages ; where everything is to 
the eye what the music of Mozart is to the ear. 
In the Chinese world we could be rid of all 
the drawling erotics of the modern theatre, 
we could give up the orchid for the lotus and 
the heavy egotism of Europe for the self- 
forgetful gaiety of the East. It may be only 
an ideal world, empty of the horrors of reality, 
but it is one which the art of China makes 
real to us and with which we are familiar in 
that art ; and there is a smiling wisdom in it, 
there is a gaiety which comes from conquest 
rather than refusal of reality, just like the 
gaiety and wisdom of Mozarfs music. He 
knew sorrow well, but would not luxuriate in 
it ; he took the beauty of the universe more 
seriously than himself. To him wickedness 
was a matter of imps and monsters rather than 
of villains, and of imps and monsters that 
could be exorcized by music. He was the 
Orpheus of the world who might tame the 
beast in all of us if we would listen to him, t^ie 
wandering minstrel whom the world left to 

94 



"The Magic Flute" 

play out ill the street. And yet his ultimate 
seriousness and the last secret of his beauty is 
pity, not for himself and his own little troubles, 
but for the whole bitter earnestness of mortal 
children. And in this pity he seems not to 
weep for us, still less for himself, but to tell us 
to dry our tears and be good, and listen to his 
magic flute. That is what he would have told 
the Prussians, after he had set them marching 
the goose-step backwards. Even they would 
not be the villains of a tragedy for him, but 
only beasts to be tamed with his music until 
they should be fit to sing their own bass part 
in the last chorus of reconciliation. And this 
pity of his sounds all through The Magic Flute 
and gives to its beauty a thrill and a wonder 
far beyond what any fleshly passion can give. 
Sarostro is a priest, not a magician, because there 
is in him the lovely wisdom of pity, because he 
has a place in his paradise for Papageno, the 
child of nature, where he shall be made happy 
with his mate Papagena. There is a moment 
when Papageno is about to hang himself 
because there is no one to love him ; he will 
hang himself in Sarostro's lonely paradise. 
But there is a sly laughter in the music which 
tells us that he will be interrupted with the 
rope round his neck. And so he is, and 

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Essays on Art 

Papagena is given to him, and the paradise is 
no longer lonely ; and the two sing their part 
in the chorus of reconciliation at the end. 
And we are sure that the Queen of Night, 
and the ugly negro and all his goose-stepping 
attendants, are not punished. They have been 
naughty for no reason that anyone can discover, 
just like Prussians and other human beings ; 
and now the magic flute triumphs over their 
naughtiness, and the silver bells ring from 
every tree and the enchanted nightingales sing 
in all the thickets, and the sages and the 
lovers smile like children; and the laughter 
passes naturally into the divine beauty of 
Mozart's religion, which is solemn because 
laughter and pity are reconciled in it, not 
rejected as profane. 



96 



Process or Person? ^ o^ ^ ^ 

NEARLY all war pictures in the past 
have been merely pictures that hap- 
pened to represent war. Paolo Uccello's battle 
scenes are but pretexts for his peculiar ver- 
sion of the visible world. They might as 
well be still life for all the effect the subject 
has had upon his treatment of it. Leonardo, 
in his lost battle picture, was no doubt 
dramatic, and expressed in it his infinite 
curiosity ; he has left notes about the manner 
in which fighting men and horses ought to be 
represented, but he had this detached curi- 
osity about all things. Michelangelo's battle 
picture, also lost, expressed his interest in the 
nude in violent action, like his picture of the 
" Last Judgment." Titian's " Battle of Cadore," 
which we know from the copy of a frag- 
ment of it, was a landscape with figures in 
violent action. Tintoret's battle scenes are 
parade pictures. Those of Rubens are like his 
hunting scenes or his Bacchanals, expressions 
of his own overweening energy. In none of 
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Essays on Art 

these, except perhaps in Leonardo's, was there 
implied any criticism of war, or any sense that 
it is an abnormal activity of man. The men 
who take part in it are just men fighting ; 
they are not men seen differently because they 
are fighting, or in any way robbed of their 
humanity because of their inhuman business. 
As for Meissonier, he paints a battle scene just 
as if he were a second-rate Dutchman painting 
a genre picture ; and most other modern 
military painters make merely a patriotic 
appeal. War to them also is a normal occu- 
pation ; and they paint battle pictures as they 
might paint sporting pictures, because there is 
a public that likes them. 

In Mr. Nevinson's war pictures there is 
expressed a modern sense of war as an 
abnormal occupation ; and this sense shows 
itself in the very method of the artist. He 
was something of a Cubist before the war ; but 
in these pictures he has found a new reason for 
being one ; for his cubist method does express, 
in the most direct way, his sense that in war 
man behaves like a machine or part of a 
machine, that war is a process in which man 
is not treated as a human being but as an 
item in a great instrument of destruction, in 
which he ceases to be a person and is lost in a 

98 



Process or Person ? 

process. The cubist method, with its repeti- 
tion and sharp distinction of planes, expresses 
this sense of mechanical process better than 
any other way of representation. Perhaps it 
came into being to express the modern sense of 
process as the ultimate reality of aU things, 
even of life and growth. This is the age of 
mechanism ; and machines have affected even our 
view of the universe ; we are overawed by our 
own knowledge and inventions. Samuel Butler 
imagined a future in which machines would 
come to life and make us their slaves ; but it 
is not so much that machines have come to life 
as that we ourselves have lost the pride and 
sweetness of our humanity; not that the 
machines seem more and more like us, but that 
we seem more and more like the machines. 
Everywhere we see processes to which we are 
subject and of which our humanity is the 
result, though in the past we have harboured 
the delusion that our humanity was in some 
way independent of processes. Now that de- 
lusion is fading away from us ; and it fades 
away most of all in war, where all humanity 
is evidently dominated by the struggle for life, 
and is but a part of it, as raindrops are part of 
a storm. 

It is this sense of tyrannous process that Mr. 
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Essays on Art 

Nevinson expresses in his battle pictures, with, 
we suspect, a bitter feeling of resentment 
against it. His pictures look like a visible 
reductio ad absurdum of it all. That is how 
men look, he seems to say, when they are fight- 
ing in modern war; and, being men, they 
ought not to look so. That, at least, is the 
effect the pictures produce on us. They are a 
bitter satire on all the modern power of man 
and the uses to which he has put it. He has 
allowed it to make him its slave and to set him 
to a business which has no purpose whatever, 
which is as blind as the process of the universe 
seems to one who has no faith. This struggle 
for life might just as well be called a struggle 
for death. It is, in fact, merely a struggle 
between two machines intent on wrecking each 
other ; and part of the machines are the bodies 
of men, which behave as if there were no souls 
in them, as if there were not even life, but 
merely energy ; so that they collide and destroy 
each other like masses of matter in space. 
Nothing can be said of them except that they 
obey certain laws; we call their obedience 
discipline, but it is only the discipline of things 
subject to a process. 

Now it is the sense of process, as the ulti- 
mate reality in the universe, which has pro- 
100 



Process or f^ersorl .? ': i ' *- - ' -'^ • * 

duced war against the conscience of mankind, 
and even of many Germans. Conscience was 
powerless to prevent it because conscience had 
ceased to believe in its own power, had come 
to think of itself as a vain and inexplicable 
rebellion against the nature of things. This 
rebellion we call sentimentality, meaning 
thereby that it is really not even moral ; for 
true morality would recognize the process to 
which the nature of man is subject, of which 
that nature is itself a part ; and would cure 
man of his futile rebellions so that he should 
not suffer needlessly from them. It would 
cure man of pity, because it is through pity 
that he suffers. He is a machine, and, if he is 
a conscious machine, he should be conscious of 
the fact that he is one. Such is the belief that 
has been growing upon us for fifty years or 
more with many strange effects. It has not 
destroyed our sense of pity, but has confused 
and exasperated it. We pity and love still, 
but with desperation, not like Christians 
assured that these things are according to the 
order of the universe, but fearing that they are 
wilful exceptions to that order, costly luxuries 
that we indulge in at our own peril. We 
seem to ourselves lonely in our pity and 
love; the supreme process knows nothing 
lOl 



Uil 



Essays on Art 



of them ; the God, who is love, does not 
exist. 

In the past wars have happened with the 
consent of mankind; but this war did not 
happen so. Even in Germany there was 
something hysterical in the praise of war, as if 
it were the worship of an idol both hated and 
feared. We must praise war, the German 
worshippers of force seem to say, so that we 
may survive. We must forgo the past hopes 
of man so that we may find something real to 
hope for. We must habituate ourselves to 
the universe as it is, and break ourselves and 
all mankind in to the bitter truth. They 
praised war as we used in England to praise 
industry. Labour, we believed, when all the 
labour of the poor had been made joyless by 
the industrial revolution, was the result of the 
curse laid upon man by God. Therefore, man 
must labour without joy and never dream of 
happy work. And so now the very worshippers 
of war believe that it is a curse laid upon man 
by the nature of things. They may not believe 
in the fall of man, but they do believe that he 
can never rise, since he is himself part of a 
process which is always war ; and, if he tries to 
escape from it, he will become extinct. So 
they exhort us to consent to that process even 
I02 



I 



Process or Person ? 

with our conscience ; the more completely we 
consent to it, the more we shall succeed in it. 
But all the while they are doing violence to our 
natures and to their own. They try to think 
like machines, like the slaves of a process ; but 
thought itself is inconsistent with their effort ; 
their very praises of the heroism of their 
victims are inconsistent with it. There is 
a gaping incongruity between the obsolete 
German romanticism and the new German 
atheism which exploited it, between their talk 
about Siegfried and their talk about the 
struggle for life. And there is the same 
incongruity between the cubist effort to see the 
visible world as a mechanical process and art 
itself The cubist seems to force himself with 
a savage irony into this caricature of nature ; 
we have emptied reality of its content in our 
thought and he will empty it of its content to 
our eyes ; that is not how we really see things, 
but it is how we ought to see them if what 
we believe about the nature of things is true. 
This irony we find in Mr. Nevinson's pictures 
of the war, whether it be a despairing irony or 
the rebellion of an unshaken faith. He has 
emptied man of his content, just as the 
Prussian drill sergeant would empty him of his 
content for the purposes of war; and only a 
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Essays on Art 

Prussian drill sergeant could consent to this 
version of man with any joy. 

That, perhaps, is how we shall all come to 
see everything if we continue for some centuries 
to believe that process and not person is the 
ultimate reality. Emptying ourselves of all 
our content in thought, we shall at last empty 
ourselves of all content in reality ; we shall 
become what now we fear we are, and our very 
senses will be obedient to our unfaith. For 
unfaith is the belief in process ; and faith is the 
belief in person. It is the belief in process 
that makes men sacrifice other men in 
thousands to some idol; it is the belief in 
person that makes them refuse to sacrifice 
anyone but themselves; and they are afraid 
when they sacrifice others, but confident when 
they sacrifice themselves. Ultimately process 
has no value and can have no value for us. It 
is merely what exists or what we believe to 
exist, and our effort to value it is only the 
obsequiousness of the slave to the power that 
he fears. All our values come from the sense 
of person as more real than process. We will 
not do wrong to a man because he is a man ; 
if he is to us only part of a process, we cannot 
value him and we can do what we will to him 
without any sense of wrong. All the old 
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Process or Person ? 

cruelties and iniquities of the world arose out 
of a belief in process and a fear of it. It is 
not a modern scientific discovery, but the 
oldest and darkest superstition that has 
oppressed the mind of man. To all religious 
persecutors salvation was a process, like that 
struggle for life which is the modern form of 
the struggle for salvation to the superstitious. 
And because salvation was a process human 
beings were sacrificed to it. It did not matter 
how they were tortured, provided this abstract 
process was maintained. So it does not matter 
now how they are slaughtered, provided the 
abstract process of the struggle for life is main- 
tained. To the German this war was part of a 
process, the historical process of the triumph of 
Germany, and it did not matter how many 
Germans were killed in furthering it. If they 
were all killed Germany would still have 
asserted her faithless faith in process and 
would have reduced it to a glorious absurdity. 
So, if we fought for anything beyond our- 
selves, we fought for the belief in person as 
against the belief in process. Indeed, it is the 
chief glory of England, among her many follies 
and crimes, that she has always believed in 
person rather than in process; and that is 
what we mean when we say that we refuse to 
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Essays on Art 

sacrifice facts to theories. Men themselves are 
to us facts, and we distrust theories that 
empty them of content. If we act Hke brutes, 
we would rather do so because the brute has 
mastered us for the moment than because we 
believe that humanity is inconsistent with the 
process that dominates the world. We our- 
selves had rather be inconsistent than empty 
ourselves of all reality for the sake of a theory. 
And there is an intellectual as well as a moral 
basis to this inconsistency of ours. For if you 
believe that person, not process, is the ulti- 
mate reality, you must offer some defiance to 
the material facts of life. There is evidently 
a conflict between person and process ; and in 
that conflict the process, which you perceive 
with your intelligence, will be less real to you 
than the person of whom you are aware with 
all your faculties. So you will trust in this 
union of all the faculties rather than in the 
exercise of the pure intelligence; for to you 
the pure intelligence will be part of the person 
and will share in the person's universal imper- 
fection. In fact it will not be pure intelligence 
at all, but rather a faculty that may be 
obsequious to all the lower passions. Nothing 
will free you from them, except the respect for 
persons, except, in fact, loving your neighbour 
lo6 



Process or Person ? ^ 

as yourself. There is no way to consistency 
but through that, and no way to the exercise of 
the pure intelligence. Never sacrifice a person 
to a process and you will never sacrifice a 
person to your own lower passions. But, if you 
believe in process rather than in person, you 
will see your passions as part of the process and 
glorify them when you think you are glorifying 
the nature of the universe. 

Cubism and all those new methods of art 
which subject facts to the tyranny of a process 
may be good satire, but they will never, I 
think, produce an independent beauty of their 
own. Like all satire, they are parasitic upon 
past art, negative and rebellious. They tell 
us what the universe may look like to us if 
we lose all faith in ourselves and each other ; 
and, when they are the result of a desperate 
effort to see the universe so, they are uncon- 
scious satire. The complete, convinced cubist 
reduces his own method, his own beliefs, his 
own state of mind, to an absurdity. The more 
sincere he is, the more complete is the reduction. 
For he, rejecting all that has been the subject- 
matter of painting in the past, all the human 
values and the complexes of association which 
have invested the visible world with beauty for 
men, proves to us in his tortured diagrams 
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Essays on Art 

that he has found nothing to take their place, 
He gives us a Chirnwra homhinans in vacuo, that 
vacuum which the universe is to the human 
spirit when it denies itself. He tries to make 
art, having cut himself off from all the experi- 
ence and belief that produce art. For art 
springs always out of a supreme value for the 
personal and is an expression of that value. It 
is an effort, no matter in what medium, to 
find the personal in all things, to see trees as 
men walking ; and the new abstract methods 
in painting reverse this process, they empty 
all things, even men, of personality and subject 
them to a process invented by the artist, which 
expresses, if it expresses anything, his own loss 
of personal values and nothing else. The 
result may be ingenious, it may still have a 
kind of beauty remembered from the great 
design of past art ; but it will lead nowhere, 
since it is cut off" from the very experience, the 
passionate personal interest in people and 
things, which gave design to the great art of 
the past. It is at best satirical, at worst 
parasitic, using up all devices of design and 
turning from one to another in a restless ennui 
which of itself .can give no enrichment. It 
may have its uses, since it insists upon the 
supreme importance of design and provides a 
io8 



Process or Person ? 

new method for the expression of three dimen- 
sions ; but this method will be barren unless 
those who practise it enrich it with their own 
observation and delight. Already some of them 
seem to be weary of the barrenness of pure 
abstraction ; they see that any fool can hide 
his own commonplace in cubism as an ostrich 
hides its head in the sand ; but we would 
rather have honest chocolate-box ladies than 
the kaleidoscopic but betraying chocolate-box 
fragments of the futurist. 



109 



The Artist and the Tradesman o ^ 

THE Exhibition of the Arts and Crafts 
at Burlington House was an acknow- 
ledgment of the fact that there are other arts 
besides those of painting, sculpture, and archi- 
tecture, or rather perhaps that the arts sub- 
sidiary to architecture are arts and not merely 
commercial activities. Burlington House 
would protest, of course, that it is not a shop ; 
but now at last objects are to be shown in it 
which the great mass of the public expects to 
see only in shops and expects to be produced 
merely to sell. We remember how Lord 
Grimthorpe called Morris a poetic upholsterer. 
He meant there was something incongruous in 
the combination of an upholsterer and a poet ; 
he would have seen nothing incongruous in 
the combination of a poet and a painter, 
because he would have called a painter an 
artist ; but an upholsterer was to him merely 
a tradesman, and tradesmen are not expected 
to write poetry. Their business is to sell 
things and to make objects for sale. 

IIQ 



The Artist and the Tradesman 

In that respect he thought like the mass of 
the public now. For them the painter has 
some prestige, because he is supposed not to be 
a tradesman, not to paint his pictures merely 
so that he may sell them. He has to live by 
his art, of course, but he practises it also 
because he enjoys it ; and, if he is an artist, he 
will not paint bad pictures merely because 
they are what the public wants. But it is the 
business of those who make furniture and such 
things to produce what the public wants. No 
one would blame them for producing what 
they do not like themselves, any more than 
one would blame a pill-maker for producing 
pills that he would not swallow himself. The 
pill-maker and the furniture-maker are both 
tradesmen producing objects in answer to a 
demand. They have no prestige and no con- 
science is expected of them. 

Now in Italy in the fifteenth century this 
distinction between the artist and the trades- 
man did not exist. The painter was a trades- 
man ; he kept a shop and he had none of that 
peculiar prestige which he possesses now. But 
of the tradesman more was expected than is 
expected now; for instance, good workman- 
ship and material were expected of him and 
also good design. He did not produce articles 
II I 



Essays on Art 

merely to sell, whether they were pictures or 
wedding-chests or jewelry or pots and pans. 
He made all these other things just as he 
made pictures, with some pleasure and con- 
science in his own work ; and it was the best 
craftsman who became a painter or sculptor, 
merely because those were the most difficult 
crafts. Now it is the gentleman with artistic 
faculty who becomes a painter ; the poor man, 
however much of that faculty he possesses, 
remains a workman without any artistic 
prestige and without any temptation to con- 
sider the quality of his work or to take any 
pleasure in it. This is a commonplace, no 
doubt; but it remains a fact, however often 
it may have been repeated, and a social fact 
with a constant evil effect upon all the arts. 
Because the painter is supposed to be an artist 
and nothing else and the craftsman a trades- 
man and nothing else, we do not expect the 
virtues of the craftsman from the painter nor 
the virtues of the artist from the craftsman. 
For us there is nothing but mystery in the 
work of the artist and no mystery at all in 
the work of the craftsman. The painter can 
be as silly as he likes, and we do not laugh at 
him, if we are persons of culture, because his 
art is a sacred mystery. But, as for the crafts - 

I 12 



The Artist and the Tradesman 

man, there is nothing sacred about his work. 
It is sold in a shop and made to be sold ; and 
all we expect of it is that it shall be in the 
fashion, which means that it shall be what the 
commercial traveller thinks he can sell. There 
are, of course, a few craftsman who are thought 
of as artists, and their work at once becomes a 
sacred mystery, like pictures. They too have 
a right to be as silly as they like ; and some 
people will buy their work, however silly it 
may be, as they would buy pictures — that is 
to say, for the good of their souls and not 
because they like it. 

How are we to get rid of this distinction 
we have made between the artist and the 
tradesman? How are we to recover for the 
artist the virtues of the craftsman and for the 
craftsman the virtues of the artist? At 
present we get from neither what we really 
like. Art remains to us a painful mystery ; 
most of us would define it, if we were honest, 
as that which human beings buy because they 
do not like it. While, as for objects of use, 
they are bought mainly because they are sold ; 
they are forced upon us as a conjurer forces 
a card. We think we like them while they 
remain the fashion ; but soon they are like 
women's clothes of two years ago, if they last 
H 113 



Essays on Art 

long enough to be outmoded. It is vain for us 
to reproach either the artist or the tradesman. 
The fault is in ourselves ; we have as a whole 
society yielded to the most subtle temptation 
of Satan. We have lost the power of know- 
ing what we like — that is to say, the power 
of loving. We value nothing for itself, but 
everything for its associations. The man of 
culture buys a picture, not because he likes it, 
but because he thinks it is art ; at most what 
he enjoys is not the picture itself but the 
thought that he is cultured enough to enjoy it. 
That thought comes between him and the 
picture, and makes it impossible for him to ex- 
perience the picture at all. And so he is 
ready to accept anything that the painter 
chooses to give him, if only he believes the 
painter to be a real artist. This is bad for the 
painter, who has every temptation to become 
a charlatan, and to think of his art as a sacred 
mystery which no one can understand but 
himself and a few other painters of his own 
sect. But in this matter the man of culture 
is just like the vulgar herd, as he would call 
them. Their attitude to the arts of use is the 
same as his attitude to pictures. They do not 
buy furniture or china because they like them, 
but because the shopman persuades them that 
114 



The Artist and the Tradesman 

what they buy is the fashion. Or perhaps 
they recognize it themselves as the fashion and 
therefore instantly believe that they like it. 
In both cases the buyer is hypnotized ; he has 
lost the faculty of finding out for himself what 
he really likes, and his mind, being empty of 
real affection, is open to the seven devils of 
suggestion. He cannot enjoy directly any 
beautiful thing, all he can enjoy is the belief 
that he is enjoying it; and he can harbour 
this belief about any nonsense or trash. 

It is a very curious disease that has become 
endemic in the whole of Europe. People 
impute it to machinery, but unjustly. There 
are objects made by machinery, such as motor- 
cars, which have real beauty of design ; and 
people do genuinely and unconsciously enjoy 
this beauty, just because they never think of it 
as beauty. They like the look of a car because 
they can see that it is well made for its purpose. 
If only they would like the look of any object 
of use for the same reason, the arts of use 
would once again begin to flourish among us. 
But when once we ask ourselves whether any 
thing is beautiful, we become incapable of 
knowing our real feelings about it. Any 
tradesman or artist can persuade us that we 
think it beautiful when we do nothing of the 



Essays on Art 

kind. We are all like the crowd who admired 
the Emperor's clothes; and there is no child 
to tell us that the Emperor has no clothes on 
at all. We are not so with human beings; 
we cannot be persuaded that we like a man 
when really we dislike him; if we could, our 
whole society would soon dissolve in a moral 
anarchy. But with regard to the works of 
man, or that part of them which is supposed 
to aim at beauty, we are in a state of aesthetic 
anarchy, because there is a whole vast con- 
spiracy, itself unconscious for the most part, to 
persuade us that we like what no human being 
out of a madhouse could like. 

So the real problem for us is to discover, 
not merely in pictures, but in all things that 
are supposed to have beauty, what we really 
do like. And we can best do that, perhaps, if 
we dismiss the notions of art and beauty for a 
time from our minds ; not because art and 
beauty do not exist, but because our notions 
of them are wrong and misleading. The very 
words intimidate us, as people used to be 
intimidated by the jargon of pietistic religion, 
so that they would believe that a very un- 
pleasant person was a saint. When once we 
look for beauty in anything, we look no longer 
for good design, good workmanship, or good 
Ii6 



The Artist and the Tradesman 

material. It is because we do not look for 
beauty in motor-cars that we enjoy the ex- 
cellence of their design, workmanship, and 
material, which is beauty, if only we knew it. 
Beauty, in fact, is a symptom of success in 
things made by man, not of success in selling, 
but of success in making. If an object made 
by man gives us pleasure in itself, then it has 
beauty ; if we got pleasure only from the belief 
that in it we are enjoying what we ought to 
enjoy, then very likely it is as naked of beauty 
as the Emperor was of clothes. The great 
mass of people now have a belief that orna- 
ment is necessarily beauty, that, without it, 
nothing can be beautiful. But ornament is 
often only added ugliness, like a wen on a 
man's face. It is always added ugliness when 
it is machine-made, and when it is put on to 
hide cheapness of material and faults of design 
and workmanship. Unfortunately, it does hide 
these things from us ; we accept ornament as 
a substitute for that beauty which can only 
come of good design, material, and workman- 
ship ; and we do not recognize these things 
when we see them, except in objects like 
motor-cars, which we prefer plain because we 
do unconsciously enjoy their real beauty. 

So, in the matter of ornament, we need to 
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Essays on Art 

make a self-denying ordinance; not because 
ornament is necessarily bad — it is the natural 
expression of the artist's superfluous energy 
and delight — but because we ourselves cannot 
be trusted with ornament, as a drunkard cannot 
be trusted with strong drink. We must learn 
to see things plain before we can see them at 
all, or enjoy them for their own real qualities 
and not for what we think we see in them. A 
man whose taste is for bad poetry can only 
improve it by reading good, plain prose. He 
must become rational before he can enjoy the 
real beauties of literature. And so we need 
to become rational before we can enjoy art, 
whether in pictures or in objects of use. The 
unreason of our painting has the same cause 
as the unreason of our objects of use ; and the 
cause is in us, not in the artist. We think of 
taste as something in its nature irrational. It 
is no more so than conscience is. Indeed, there 
is conscience in all good taste as in all the 
good workmanship that pleases it. But where 
the public has not this conscience, the artist 
will not possess it either. At best he will have 
only what he calls his artistic conscience — that 
is to say, a determination to follow his own 
whims rather than the taste of the public. 
But where the public knows what it likes, and 
Ii8 



The Artist and the Tradesman 

the artist makes what he likes, there is more 
than a chance that both will like the same 
thing, as they have in the great ages of art. 
For a real liking must be a liking for some- 
thing good. It is Satan who persuades us 
that we like what is bad by filling our mind 
wjth sham likings, which are always really the 
expression of our egotism disguised. 



119 



Professionalism in Art ^ o ^> 

PROFESSIONALISM is a dull, ugly word; 
but it means dull, ugly things, a perver- 
sion of the higher activities of man, of art, 
literature, religion, philosophy ; and a perver- 
sion to which we are all apt to be blind. We 
know that in these activities specialization is 
a condition of excellence. As Keats said to 
Shelley, in art it is necessary to serve both God 
and Mammon ; and as Samuel Butler said, 
" That is not easy, but then nothing that is 
really worth doing ever is easy." The poet 
may be born, not made ; but no man can start 
writing poetry as if it had never been written 
before. In every art there is a medium, and 
the poet, like all other artists, leams from the 
poets of the past how to use his medium. 
Often he does this unconsciously by reading 
them for delight. He first becomes a poet 
because he loves the poetry of others. And 
the painter becomes a painter because he loves 
the pictures of others. Each of them is apt to 
begin — 

As if his whole vocation 
Were endless imitation. 

I20 



Professionalism in Art 

So the artist insists to himself upon the value 
of hard work. He is impatient of all the talk 
about inspiration ; for he knows that, though 
nothing can be done without it, it comes only 
with command of the medium. And this com- 
mand, like all craftsmanship, is traditional, 
handed down from one generation to another. 
Any kind of expression in this imperfect world 
is as difficult as virtue itself. For expression, 
like virtue, is a kind of transcendence. In it 
the natural man rises above his animal functions, 
above living so that he may continue to live ; 
he triumphs over those animal functions which 
hold him down to the earth as incessantly as 
the attraction of gravity itself. But, like the 
airman, he can triumph only by material means, 
and by means gradually perfected in the practice 
of others. Yet there is always this difference, 
that in mechanics anyone can learn to make use 
of an invention ; but in the higher activities, 
invention, if it becomes mechanical, destroys the 
activity itself, even in the original inventor. 
The medium is always a medium, not merely a 
material ; and if it becomes merely a material 
to be manipulated, it ceases to be a medium. 

Now professionalism is the result of a false 
analogy between mechanical invention and the 
higher activities. It happens whenever the 

121 



Essays on Art 

medium is regarded merely as material to be 
manipulated, when the artist thinks that he 
can learn to fly by mastering some other artist's 
machine, when his art is to him a matter of 
invention gradually perfected and necessarily 
progressing through the advance of knowledge 
and skill. One often finds this false analogy 
in books about the history of the arts, especi- 
ally of painting and music. It is assumed, 
for instance, that Italian painting progressed 
mechanically from Giotto to Titian, that 
Titian had a greater power of expression than 
Giotto because he had command of a number 
of inventions in anatomy and perspective and 
the like that were unknown to Giotto. So we 
have histories of the development of the sym- 
phony, in which Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven 
are treated as if they were mechanical inventors 
each profiting by the discoveries of his pre- 
decessors. Beethoven was the greatest of the 
three because he had the luck to be born last, 
and Beethoven's earliest symphonies are neces- 
sarily better than Mozart's latest because they 
were composed later. But in such histories 
there always comes a point at which artists 
cease to profit by the inventions of their 
predecessors. After Michelangelo, perhaps 
after Beethoven, is the decadence. Then sud- 
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Professionalism in Art 

denly there is talk of inspiration, or the lack 
of it. Mere imitators appear, and the historian 
who reviles them does not see that they have 
only practised, and refuted, his theory of art. 
They also have had the luck to be born later ; 
but it has been bad luck, not good, for 
them, because to them their art has been all 
a matter of mechanical invention, of pro- 
fessionalism. 

The worst of it is that the greatest artists 
are apt themselves to fall in love with their 
own inventions, not to see that they are 
mechanical inventions because they them- 
selves have discovered them. Michelangelo 
in his " Last Judgment '' is very professional ; 
Titian was professional through all his middle 
age ; Tintoret was professional whenever he 
was bored with his work, which happened 
often ; Shakespeare, whenever he was lazy, 
which was not seldom. Beethoven, we now be- 
gin to see, could be very earnestly professional ; 
and as for Milton — consider this end of the 
last speech of Manoah, in Samson Agonistes, 
where we expect a simple cadence : — 

The virgins also shall on feastful days 
Visit his tomb with flowers, only bewailing 
His lot unfortunate in nuptial choice, 
From whence captivity and loss of eyes. 

123 



Essays on Art 

Milton was tempted into the jargon of these last 
two lines, which are like a bad translation of a 
Greek play, by professionalism He was trying 
to make his poetry as much unlike ordinary 
speech as he could ; he was for the moment a 
slave to a tradition, and none the less a slave 
because it was the tradition of his own past. 

Professionalism is a device for making ex- 
pression easy ; and it is one used by the 
greatest artists sometimes because their business 
is to be always expressing themselves, and even 
they have not always something to express. 
But expression is so difficult, even for those 
who have something to express, that they 
must be always practising it if they are ever 
to succeed in it. Wordsworth, for instance, 
was a professed enemy of professionalism in 
poetry ; yet he, too, was for ever writing verses. 
It was a hobby with him as well as an art ; and 
his professionalism was merely less accomplished 
than that of Milton or Spenser : — 

Fair Ellen Irwin, when she sate 
Upon the Braes of Kirtle, 
Was lovely as a Grecian maid 
Adorned with wreaths of myrtle. 

Why adorned with wreaths of myrtle ? Words- 
worth himself tells us. His subject had already 
been treated in Scotch poems " in simple ballad 
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Professionalism in Art 

strain," so, he says, " at the outset I threw out 
a classical image to prepare the reader for the 
style in which I meant to treat the story, and 
so to preclude all comparison." No one, whose 
object was just to tell the story, would compare 
Ellen with a Grecian maid and her wreaths of 
myrtle ; but Wordsworth must do so to show 
us how he means to tell it, and, as he forgets 
to mention, so that he may rhyme with Kirtle. 
That is all professionalism, all a device for 
making expression easy, practised by a great 
poet because at the moment he had nothing to 
express. But art is always difficult and cannot 
be made easy by this means. We need not 
take a malicious pleasure in such lapses of the 
great poet ; but it is well to know when Homer 
nods, even though he uses all his craft to pre- 
tend that he is wide awake. Criticism may 
have a negative as well as a positive value. It 
may set us on our guard against professional- 
ism even in the greatest artists, and most of 
all in them. For it is they who begin profes- 
sionalism and, with the mere momentum of 
their vitality, make it attractive. Because 
they are great men and really accomplished, 
they can say nothing with a grand air; and 
these grand nothings of theirs allure us just 
because they are nothings and make no 
125 



Essays on Art 

demands upon our intelligence. That is art 
indeed, we cry ; and we intoxicate ourselves with 
it because it is merely art. "The quality of 
mercy is not strained" is far more popular 
than Lear's speech, " No, no, no ! Come, lefs 
away to prison,"" because it is professional 
rhetoric; it is what Shakespeare could write 
at any moment, whereas the speech of Lear is 
what Lear said at one particular moment. The 
contrast between the two is the contrast well 
put in the epigram about Barry and Garrick 
in their renderings of King Lear : — 

A king, aye, every inch a king, such Barry doth 

appear. 
But Garrick's quite another thing ; he's every inch 

King Lear. 

We admire the great artist when he is every 
inch a king more than when he has lost his 
kingship in his passion. 

He no doubt knows the difference well 
enough. But he wishes to do everything well, 
he has a natural human delight in his own 
accomplishment ; and a job to finish. Shake- 
speare, Michelangelo, Beethoven were not 
slaves to their own professionalism ; no doubt 
they could laugh at it themselves. But there 
is always a danger that we shall be enslaved by 
it ; and it is the business of criticism to free us 
126 



Professionalism in Art 

from that slavery, to make us aware of this last 
infirmity of great artists. We are on our guard 
easily enough against a professionalism that is 
out of fashion. The Wagnerian of a genera- 
tion ago could sneer at the professionalism of 
Mozart ; but the professionalism of Wagner 
seemed to him to be inspiration made constant 
and certain by a new musical invention. We 
know now only too well, from Wagner's imita- 
tors, that he did not invent a new method of 
tapping inspiration ; we ought to know that no 
one can do that. The more complete the 
method the more tiresome it becomes, even as 
practised by the inventor. 

Decadence in art is always caused by pro- 
fessionalism, which makes the technique of art 
too difficult, and so destroys the artist's energy 
and joy in his practice of it. Teachers of the 
arts are always inclined to insist on their diffi- 
culty and to set hard tasks to their pupils for 
the sake of their hardness ; and often the pupil 
stays too long learning until he thinks that 
anything which is difficult to do must therefore 
be worth doing. This notion also overawes 
the general public so that they value what 
looks to them difficult ; but in art that which 
seems difficult to us fails with us, we are aware 
of the difficulty, not of the art. The greater 
127 



Essays on Art 

the work of art the easier it seems to us. |We 
feel that we could have clone it ourselves if only 
we had had the luck to hit upon that way of 
doing it ; indeed, where our aesthetic experience 
of it is complete, we feel as if we were doing it 
ourselves; our minds jump with the artist's 
mind ; we are for the moment the artist him- 
self in his very act of creation. But we are 
always apt to undervalue this true and complete 
aesthetic experience, because it seems so easy 
and simple, and we mistake for it a painful 
sense of the artist's skill, of his professional 
accomplishment. So we demand of artists 
that they shall impress us with their accomplish- 
ment ; we have not had our money's worth 
unless we feel that we could not possibly do 
ourselves what they have done. No doubt, 
when the Songs of Innocence were first pub- 
lished, anyone who did happen to read them 
thought them doggerel. Blake in a moment 
had freed himself from all the professionalism 
of the followers of Pope, and even now they 
make poetry seem an easy art to us, until we 
try to write songs of innocence ourselves : — 

When the voices of children are heard on the green, 
And laughing is heard on the hill, 

My heart is at rest within my breast. 
And everything else is still. 
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Professionalism in Art 

"Then come home, my children, the sun is gone 
down, 

And the dews of night arise ; 
Come, come, leave off play, and let us away. 

Till the morning appears in the skies." 

We call it artless, with still a hint of deprecia- 
tion in the word, or at least of wonder that we 
should be so moved by such simple means. 
It is a kind of cottage-poetry, and has that 
beauty which in a cottage moves us more than 
all the art of palaces. But we never learn 
the lesson of that beauty because it seems to 
us so easily won ; and so our arts are always 
threatened by the decadence of professionalism. 
But poetry in England has been a living art 
so long because it has had the power of freeing 
itself from professionalism and choosing the 
better path with Mary and with Ruth. The 
value of the Romantic movement lay, not in 
its escape to the wonders of the past, but in its 
escape from professionalism and all its self- 
imposed and easy difficulties. For it is much 
easier to write professional verses in any style 
than to write songs of innocence ; and that is 
why professionalism in all the arts tempts all 
kinds of artists. Anyone can achieve it who 
has the mind. It is a substitute for expression, 
as mere duty is a substitute for virtue. But, as 
I 129 



Essays on Art 

a forbidding sense of duty makes virtue itself 
seem unattractive, so professionalism destroys 
men's natural delight in the arts. Like 
the artist himself, his public becomes anxious, 
perverse, exacting ; afraid lest it shall admire 
the wrong thing, because it has lost the im- 
mediate sense of the right thing. Just as it 
expects art to be difficult, so it expects its own 
pleasure in art to be difficult; and thus we 
have attained to our present notion about art 
which is like the Puritan notion about virtue, 
that it is what no human being could possibly 
enjoy by nature. And if we do enjoy it, "like a 
meadow gale in spring," it cannot be good art. 
But in painting as in poetry, all the new 
movements of value are escapes from pro- 
fessionalism ; and they begin by shocking the 
public because they seem to make the art too 
easy. Dickens was horrified by an early work 
of Millais ; Ruskin was enraged by a nocturne 
of Whistler. He said it was cockney impudence 
because it lacked the professionalism he expected. 
Artists and critics alike are always binding 
burdens on the arts; and they are always 
angry with the artist who cuts the burden off 
his back. They think he is merely shirking 
difficulties. But the difficulty of expression is 
so much greater than the self-imposed diffi- 
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Professionalism in Art 

culties of mere professionalism that any man 
who is afraid of difficulties will try to be a pro- 
fessional rather than an artist. 

In art there is always humility, in profes- 
sionalism pride. And it is this pride that 
makes art more ugly and tiresome than any 
other work of man. Nothing is stranger in 
human nature than the tyranny of boredom 
it will endure in the pursuit of art; and the 
more bored men are, the more they are convinced 
of artistic salvation. Our museums are cum- 
bered with monstrous monuments of past pro- 
fessionalism ; our bookshelves groan with them. 
Always we are trying to like things because 
they seem to us very well done ; never do we 
dare to say to ourselves : It may be well done, 
but it were better if it were not done at all ; 
and the artist is still to us a dog walking on his 
hind legs, a performer whose merit lies in the 
unnatural difficulty of his performance. 



I^I 



Waste or Creation? >^ ^ ^ o 

THE William Morris Celebration was not 
so irrelevant to these times as it may 
seem. Morris was always foretelling a catas- 
trophe to our society, and it has come. That 
commercial system of ours, which seems to so 
many part of the order of Nature, was to him 
as evil and unnatural as slavery. His quarrel 
with it was not political, but human ; it was 
the quarrel not of the oppressed, for he was 
not the man to be oppressed in any society, but 
of the workman. He was sure that a society 
which encouraged bad work and discouraged 
good must in some way or other come to a bad 
end ; and he would have seen in this war the 
end that he predicted. Whatever its result, 
there must be a change in the order of our 
society, whether it sinks through incessant 
wars, national and commercial, into barbarism 
or is shocked into an effort to attain to civiliza- 
tion. There were particular sayings of Morris''s 
to which no one at the time paid much heed. 
They seemed mere grumblings against what 
must be. He was, for instance, always crying 
132 



Waste or Creation ? 

out against our waste of labour. If only all 
men did work that was worth doing — 

Think what a change that would make in 
the world ! I tell you I feel dazed at the 
thought of the immensity of the work which 
is undergone for the making of useless things. 
It would be an instructive day's work, for any 
one of us who is strong enough, to walk 
through two or three of the principal streets 
of London on a weekday, and take accurate 
note of everything in the shop windows which 
is embarrassing or superfluous to the daily life 
of a serious man. Nay, the most of these 
things no one, serious or unserious, wants at 
all; only a foolish habit makes even the 
lightest-minded of us suppose that he wants 
them ; and to many people, even of those who 
buy them, they are obvious encumbrances to 
real work, thought, and pleasure. 

At the time most people said that this waste 
of labour was all a matter of demand and 
supply, and thought no more about it; some 
said that it was good for trade. Very few saw, 
with Morris, that demand for such things is 
something willed and something that ought 
not to be willed. 

But then it was generally believed that we 
could afford this waste of labour; and so it 
went on until, after a year or two of war, we 
found that we could not afford it. Then even 
the most ignorant and thoughtless learned, 

133 



Essays on Art 

from facts, not from books, certain lessons of 
political economy. They learned that, in war- 
time at least, a nation that wastes its labour 
will be overcome by one that does not. At 
once the common will was set against the waste 
of labour ; and, what would have seemed 
strangest of all forty years ago, the Govern- 
ment, with the consent of the people, set to 
work to stop the waste of labour, and did to 
a great extent succeed in stopping it. When 
people thought in terms of munitions, instead 
of in terms of general well-being, they saw that 
the waste of labour must be, and could be, 
stopped. They talked no longer about the 
laws of supply and demand, but about muni- 
tions. Those who had made trash must be 
set to make munitions, or to fight, or in some 
way to second the Army. Those who still 
were ready to waste labour on trash for them- 
selves were no longer obeying the laws of 
supply and demand; they were diverting 
labour from its proper task ; they were un- 
patriotic, they were helping the Germans. 
Money, in fact, had no longer the right to 
an absolute command over labour. A man, 
before he spent a sovereign, must ask himself 
whether he was spending it for the good of the 
nation ; and if he did not ask himself that, the 
Government would ask it for him. 

134 



Waste or Creation ? 

So much the war taught us, for purposes of 
war. But Morris many years ago tried to 
teach it for purposes of peace. When he 
wrote those words which we have quoted, he 
was not talking poHtics but ordinary common 
sense. He was not even talking art, but rather 
economics; and he was talking it not to any 
vague abstraction called the community, but 
to each individual human being. At that time 
every one thought of economics as something 
which concerned society or the universe. It 
was, so to speak, a natural science ; it observed 
phenomena as if they were in the heavens ; and 
stated laws about them, laws not human but 
natural. Perhaps it was the greatest achieve- 
ment of Morris in the way of thought that he 
saw economics, even more clearly than Ruskin, 
as a matter not of natural laws, but of con- 
science and duty. He did not talk about 
economics at all, but about the waste of labour, 
just as we talk about it now. The only differ- 
ence is that he saw it to be one of the chief 
causes of poverty in time of peace, whereas we 
see it as a hindrance to victory in time of war. 
We have, for war purposes, acquired the con- 
science that he wished us to acquire for all 
purposes. The question is whether we shall 
keep it in peace. 

Upon that depends the question how soon 

135 



Essays on Art 

we shall recover from the war. For there is 
no doubt that we shall not be able to afford 
our former waste of labour ; and, if we persist 
in it, we shall be bankrupt as a society. It 
may be said that we shall not have the money, 
the power, to waste labour. But we shall cer- 
tainly have some superfluous energy, more and 
more, it is to be hoped, as time goes on ; and 
our future recovery will depend upon the use 
we make of this superfluous energy. We can 
waste it, as we wasted it before the war ; or we 
can keep the conscience we have acquired in 
war and ask ourselves in peace, with every 
penny we spend, whether we are wasting 
labour. It is true that what may be waste to 
one will not be waste to another ; but in that 
matter every one must obey his own conscience. 
The important thing is that every one should 
have a conscience and obey it. There will be 
plenty of people to tell us that no one can 
define waste of labour. No one can define sin ; 
but each man has his own conscience on that 
point and lives well or ill as he obeys it or dis- 
obeys it. Besides, there are many things, all 
the trash that Morris speaks about in the shop 
windows, that every one knows to be waste. 
We need not trouble ourselves about the fact 
that art will seem waste to the philistine and 
not to the artist. We must allow for differ- 
136 



Waste or Creation ? 

ences on that point as on most others. Some 
things that might have been waste to Samuel 
Smiles would have been to Morris a symptom 
of well-being. But he knew, and often said, 
that we cannot have the beauty which was to 
him a symptom of well-being unless we end the 
waste of labour on trash. Of luxury he said : — 

By those who know of nothing better it has 
even been taken for art, the divine solace of 
human labour, the romance of each day's hard 
practice of the difficult art of living. But I 
say, art cannot live beside it nor self-respect in 
any class of life. Effeminacy and brutality are 
its companions on the right hand and the left. 

There is, we have all discovered now, only a 
certain amount of labour in the country, in the 
world. Even the most ignorant are aware at 
last that money does not create labour but 
only commands it, and may command it to do 
what will or will not benefit us all. We were, 
for the purposes of the war, much more of a 
fellowship than we had ever been before. We 
acknowledged a duty to each other, the duty 
of commanding labour ^to the common good. 
We asked with every sovereign we spent 
whether it would help or hinder us in the war. 
Morris would have us ask also whether it will 
help or hinder us in the advance towards a 
general happiness. 

137 



Essays on Art 

And he put a further question, which in 
time of war unfortunately we could not put, a 
question not only about the work but about 
the workman. Are we, with our money, forc- 
ing him to work that is for him worth doing ; 
are we, to use an old phrase, considering the 
good of his soul ? Morris insisted on our duty 
to the workman more even than on our duty 
to society. He saw that where great masses 
of men do work that they know to be futile 
there must be a low standard of work and 
incessant discontent. The workman may not 
even know the cause of his discontent. He 
may think he is angry with the rich because 
they are rich ; but the real source of his anger 
is the work that they set him to do with their 
riches. And no class war, no redistribution of 
wealth, will end that discontent if the same 
waste of labour continues. Double the wages 
of every workman in the country, and if he 
spends the increase on trash no one will be any 
better off in mind or body. There will still be 
poverty and still discontent, with the work if 
not with the wages, it 

The problem for us, for every modern society 
now, is not so much to redistribute wealth ; 
that at best can be only a means to an end ; 
but to use our superfluous energy to the best 
purpose, no longer to waste it piecemeal. That 
138 



Waste or Creation ? 

problem we solved, to a great extent, in war. 
We have to solve it also in peace if the peace 
is to be worth having and is not to lead to 
further wars at home or abroad. The war 
itself has given us a great opportunity. It has 
opened our eyes, if only we do not shut them 
again. It has taught every one in the country 
the most important of all lessons in political 
economy which the books often seem to con- 
ceal. And, better still, it has taught us that 
in economics we can exercise our own wills, 
that they concern each individual man and 
woman as much as morals ; that they are 
morals, and not abstract mathematics; that 
we have the same duty towards the country, 
towards mankind, that we have to our own 
families. The proverb, Waste not, want 
not, does not apply merely to each private 
income. We have accounts to settle not only 
with our bankers, but with the community. 
It will thrive or not according as we are thrifty 
or thriftless ; and our thrift depends upon how 
we spend our income, not merely on how much 
we spend of it. For all that part of it which we 
do not spend on necessaries is the superfluous 
energy of mankind, and we determine how it 
shall be exercised ; each individual determines 
that, not an abstraction called society. 

One may present the thrift of labour as a 
139 



Essays on Art 

matter of duty to society. But Morris saw 
that it was more than that ; and he lit it with 
the sunlight of the warmer virtues. It is not 
merely society that we have to consider, or the 
direction of its superfluous energy. It is also 
the happiness, the life, of actual men and 
women. We shall not cease to waste work 
until we think always of the worker behind it, 
until we see that it is our duty, if with our ■■ 
money we have command over him, to set him 
to work worth doing. Capital now is to most 
of those who own it a means of earning interest. 
We should think of it as creative, as the power 
which may make the wilderness blossom like 
the rose and change the slum into a home for 
men and women ; and, better still, as the power 
that may train and set men to do work that 
will satisfy their souls, so that they shall work 
for the work's sake and not only for the wages. 
Until capital becomes so creative in the hands 
of those who own it there will always be a 
struggle for the possession of it ; and to those 
who do possess it it will bring merely super- 
fluities and not happiness. If it becomes 
creative, no one will mind much who possesses 
it. The class war will be ended by a league of 
classes, their aim not merely peace, but those 
things which make men resolve not to spoil 
peace with war. 

140 



Waste or Creation ? 

We shall be told that this is a dream, as we 
are always told that the ending of war is a 
dream. " So long as human nature is what it 
is there will always be war."" Those who talk 
thus think of human nature as something not 
ourselves making for unrighteousness. It is 
not their own nature. They know that they 
themselves do not wish for war ; but, looking 
at mankind in the mass and leaving themselves 
out of that mass, they see it governed by some 
force that is not really human nature, but 
merely nature "red in tooth and claw," a 
process become a malignant goddess, who forces 
mankind to act contrary to their own desires, 
contrary even to their own interests. She has 
taken the place for us of the old original sin ; 
and the belief in her is far more primitive than 
the belief in original sin. She is in fact but a 
modern name fbr all the malignant idols that 
savages have worshipped with sacrifices of blood 
and tears that they did not wish to make. It 
is strange that, priding ourselves as we do on 
our modern scepticism which has taught us to 
disbelieve in the miracle of the Gadarene swine, 
we yet have not dared to affirm the plain fact 
that this nature, this human nature, does not 
exist. There is no force, no process, whether 
within us or outside us, that compels us to 
act contrary to our desires and our interests. 
141 



Essays on Art 

There is nothing but fear; and fear can be 
conquered, as by individuals, so by the collec- 
tive will of man. It is fear that produces war, 
the fear that other men are not like ourselves, 
that they are hostile animals governed utterly 
by the instinct of self-preservation. 

So it is fear that produces the class war and 
the belief that it must always continue. It is 
our own fears that cut us off from happiness 
by making us despair of it. The man who has 
capital sees it as a means of protecting himself 
and his children from poverty ; it is to him a 
negative, defensive thing, at best the safeguard 
of a negative, defensive happiness. So others 
see it as something which he has and they have 
not, something they would like to snatch from 
him if they could. But if he saw capital as a 
creative thing, like the powers of the mind, 
like the genius of the artist, then it would be 
to him a means of positive happiness both for 
himself and for others. He would say to him- 
self, not How can I protect myself with this 
against the tyranny of the struggle for life.? 
not How can I invest this ? but What can I do 
with this.? He would see it as Michelangelo 
saw the marble when he looked for the shape 
within it. And then he would rise above the 
conception of mere duty as something we do 
against our own wills, or of virtue as a luxury 
142 



Waste or Creation ? 

of the spirit to which we escape in our little 
leisure from the struggle for life. Virtue, duty, 
would be for him life itself; in creation he 
would attain to that harmony of duty and 
pleasure which is happiness. 

If only we could see that the superfluous 
energy of mankind is something out of which 
to make the happiness of mankind we should 
find our own happiness in the making of it. 
There is still for us a gulf between doing good 
to others and the delight of the artist, the 
craftsman, in his work. The artist is one kind 
of man and the philanthropist another; the 
artist is a selfish person whom we like, and the 
philanthropist an unselfish person whom we do 
not like. What we need is to fuse them in our 
use of capital, in our exercise of the superfluous 
energy of mankind. There are single powerful 
capitalists who know this joy of creation, who 
are benevolent despots, and yet are suspect to 
the poor because of their great power. But it 
never enters the head of the smaller investor 
that he, too, might create instead of merely 
investing ; that, instead of being a shareholder 
in a limited liability company, he might be one 
of a creative fellowship, not merely earning 
dividends but transforming cities, exalting 
things of use into things of beauty, giving to 
himself and to mankind work worth doing for 
143 



Essays on Art 

its own sake, work in which all the obsolete 
conflicts of rich and poor could be forgotten in 
a commonwealth. That is the vision of peace 
which our sacrifices in the war may earn for us. 
We have learned sacrifice and the joy of it; 
but, so far, only so that we may overcome an 
enemy of our own kind. There remains to be 
overcome, by a sacrifice more joyful and with 
far greater rewards, this other old enemy not 
of our own kind, the enemy we call nature or 
human nature, the enemy that is so powerful 
merely because we dare not believe that she 
does not exist. 



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