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“ARS LONGA, VITA BREVIS”
The years are fading fast,
So let us just keep still,
Playing at life and art,
Though Art be long, yet we
Still when the leaves fall sere,
E. B. G.
I PUBLISHED last year an essay on the “Subjective View of Landscape Painting.” As the edition has been distributed and there is a demand for more copies, I decided, considering the importance of the subject and the interest it has for anyone who seriously takes it up, to enlarge the scope of the pamphlet and to issue it in book form.
The question “What is a picture?” one would at first think an easy one to answer, but the more it is looked into, the more it is seen to be complex. A picture may be defined as a representation on canvas, or other material, by the use of colour and form, of the vision that forms itself in the artist's mind when he looks on the landscape, or on the people and the scene he is painting, or when he recalls it in his memory. This vision in pictures painted by great men changes as it passes through their imagination, and is affected by their personality. Of course there
must be accurate resemblance, as nature furnishes the symbols the artist uses to express his ideas, and these must be painted so as to be understood; and the technical skill necessary to adequately produce the effect desired must also be part of his equipment. But it is the vision, realistic or imaginative according to the man's temperament, that is always painted; not the thing as it is in itself, but as it appears to the mind. “I dream my picture, later on I will paint my dream,” said Corot.
The same scene might be painted by Ruysdael and Hobbema, by Constable and Turner, by Daubigny and Rousseau, and each picture would take on the spirit of the individual artist, and give the observer very different ideas of identical views. For if it is not the actual scene before him that is painted, but his idea of it, it is evident that the personality of the artist counts for a very great deal in pictures; and so it is the subjective view of art that is the all-important one.
Those who are already lovers of art know the pleasure that is to be obtained from its study, and would like to interest others in their favourite pursuit. It is my hope that this book will prove useful in drawing attention to a source of pleasure open to all, and that it will help to encourage a taste for it by trying to show what should be looked for and what should be found in pictures. In support of the views expressed I have given a number of opinions of the best writers and authorities. Those who are beginning to study paintings are often deterred by the difficulties they meet with or anticipate. As in all other matters worth knowing about, it certainly does take time and much seeking for it, to gain knowledge in this. But it must be remembered that as we look at pictures we learn, and that all through life we are learning. Yet the study is pleasant and helps to pass many an hour happily. And the more we get to know, the more grows our admiration for the artist and his work, and the greater becomes our pleasure in being able to appreciate them.