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The relation of the author to his public is important in his early period; even in later days he cannot dispense with it . However little he may be fitted to teach others, he wishes to share his thoughts with those whom he feels congenial, but who are scattered far and wide in the world. By this means he wishes to re-establish his relation with his old friends, to continue it with new ones, and to gain in the younger generation still others for the remainder of his life. He wishes to spare youth the circuitous paths upon which he himself went astray, and while observing and utilizing the advantages of the present, to maintain the memory of his praiseworthy earlier efforts.
With this serious view, a small society has been brought together; may cheerfulness attend our undertakings, and time may show whither we are bound.
The papers which we intend to present, though they are composed by several authors, will, it is hoped, never be contradictory in the main points, even though the methods of thought may not be the same in all. No two persons regard the world in exactly the same way, and different characters will often apply in different ways a principle which they all acknowledge. Indeed, a person is not always consistent with himself in his views and judgments: early convictions must give way to later ones. The individual opinions that a man holds and expresses may stand all tests or not; the main thing is that he continue on his way, true to himself and to others!
Much as the authors wish and hope to be in harmony with one another and with a large part of the public, they must not shut their eyes to the fact that from various quarters many a discord will ring out. They must expect this all the more since they differ from prevailing opinions in more than one point. Though far from wishing to dominate or change the way of thinking of a third person, still they will firmly express their own opinion, and, as circumstances dictate, will avoid or take up a quarrel. On the whole, however, they will adhere to one creed, and especially will they repeat again and again those conditions which seem to them indispensable in the training of an artist. Whoever takes an interest in this matter, must be ready to take sides; otherwise he does not deserve to be effective anywhere.
If, therefore, we promise to present reflections and observations concerning Nature, we must at the same time indicate that these remarks will chiefly have reference, first, to plastic art; then, to art in general; finally, to the general training of the artist.
The highest demand that is made on an artist is this: that he be true to Nature, study her, imitate her, and produce something that resembles her phenomena. How great, how enormous, this demand is, is not always kept in mind; and the true artist himself learns it by experience only, in the course of his progressive development . Nature is separated from Art by an enormous chasm, which genius itself is unable to bridge without external assistance.
All that we perceive around us is merely raw material; if it happens rarely enough that an artist, through instinct and taste, through practice and experiment, reaches the point of attaining the beautiful exterior of things, of selecting the best from the good before him, and of producing at least an agreeable appearance, it is still more rare, particularly in modern times, for an artist to penetrate into the depths of things as well as into the depths of his own soul, in order to produce in his works not only something light and superficially effective, but, as a rival of Nature, to produce something spiritually organic, and to give his work of art a content and a form through which it appears both natural and beyond Nature.
Man is the highest, the characteristic subject of plastic art; to understand him, to extricate oneself from the labyrinth of his anatomy, a general knowledge of organic nature is imperative. The artist should also acquaint himself theoretically with inorganic bodies and with the general operations of Nature, particularly if, as in the case of sound and color, they are adaptable to the purposes of art; but what a circuitous path he would be obliged to take if he wanted to seek laboriously in the schools of the anatomist, the naturalist, and the physicist, for that which serves his purposes! It is, indeed, a question whether he would find there what must be most important for him. Those men have the entirely different needs of their own pupils to satisfy, so that they cannot be expected to think of the limited and special needs of the artist . For that reason it is our intention to take a hand, and, even though we cannot see prospects of completing the necessary work ourselves, both to give a view of the whole and to begin the elaboration of details.
The human figure cannot be understood merely through observation of its surface; the interior must be laid bare, its parts must be separated, the connections perceived, the differences noted, action and reaction observed, the concealed, constant, and fundamental elements of the phenomena impressed on the mind, if one really wishes to contemplate and imitate what moves before our eyes in living waves as a beautiful, undivided whole. A glance at the surface of a living being confuses the observer; we may cite here, as in other cases, the true proverb, "One sees only what one knows." For just as a short-sighted man sees more clearly an object from which he draws back than one to which he draws near, because his intellectual vision comes to his aid, so the perfection of observation really depends on knowledge. How well an expert naturalist, who can also draw, imitates objects by recognizing and emphasizing the important and significant parts from which is derived the character of the whole!
Just as the artist is greatly helped by an exact knowledge of the separate parts of the human figure, which he must in the end regard again as a whole, so a general view, a side glance at related objects, is highly advantageous, provided the artist is capable of rising to ideas and of grasping the close relationship of things apparently remote. Comparative anatomy has prepared a general conception of organic creatures; it leads us from form to form, and by observing organisms closely or distantly related, we rise above them all to see their characteristics in an ideal picture. If we keep this picture in mind, we find that in observing objects our attention takes a definite direction, that scattered facts can be learned and retained more easily by comparison, that in the practice of art we can finally vie with Nature only when we have learned from her, at least to some extent, her method of procedure in the creation of her works.
Furthermore, we would encourage the artist to gain knowledge also of the inorganic world; this can be done all the more easily since now we can conveniently and quickly acquire knowledge of the mineral kingdom. The painter needs some knowledge of stones in order to imitate their characteristics; the sculptor and architect, in order to utilize them; the cutter of precious stones cannot be without a knowledge of their nature; the connoisseur and amateur, too, will strive for such information.
Now that we have advised the artist to gain a conception of the general operations of Nature, in order to become acquainted with those which particularly interest him, partly to develop himself in more directions, partly to understand better that which concerns him; we shall add a few further remarks on this significant point.
Up to the present the painter has been able merely to wonder at the physicist's theory of colors, without gaining any advantage from it. The natural feeling of the artist, however, constant training, and a practical necessity led him into a way of his own. He felt the vivid contrasts out of the union of which harmony of color arises, he designated certain characteristics through approximate sensations, he had warm and cold colors, colors which express proximity, others which express distance, and what not; and thus in his own way he brought these phenomena closer to the most general laws of Nature. Perhaps the supposition is confirmed that the operations of Nature in colors, as well as magnetic, electric, and other operations, depend upon a mutual relation, a polarity, or whatever else we might call the twofold or manifold aspects of a distinct unity.
We shall make it our duty to present this matter in detail and in a form comprehensible to the artist; and we can be the more hopeful of doing something welcome to him, since we shall be concerned only with explaining and tracing to fundamental principles things which he has hitherto done by instinct.
So much for what we hope to impart in regard to Nature; now for what is most necessary in regard to Art .
Since the arrangement of this work proposes the presentation of single treatises, some of these only in part, and since it is not our desire to dissect a whole, but rather to build up a whole from many parts, it will be necessary to present, as soon as possible and in a general summary, those things which the reader will gradually find unfolded in our detailed elaborations. We shall, therefore, be occupied first with an essay on plastic art, in which the familiar rubrics will be presented according to our interpretation and method. Here it will be our main concern to emphasize the importance of every branch of Art, and to show that the artist must not neglect a single one, as has unfortunately often happened, and still happens.
Hitherto we have regarded Nature as the treasure chamber of material in general; now, however, we reach the important point where it is shown how Art prepares its materials for itself.
When the artist takes any object of Nature, the object no longer belongs to Nature; indeed, we can say that the artist creates the object in that moment, by extracting from it all that is significant, characteristic, interesting, or rather by putting into it a higher value. In this way finer proportions, nobler forms, higher characteristics are, as it were, forced upon the human figure; the circle of regularity, perfection, signification, and completeness is drawn, in which Nature gladly places her best possessions even though elsewhere in her vast extent she easily degenerates into ugliness and loses herself in indifference.
The same is true of composite works of art, of their subject and content, whether the theme be fable or history. Happy the artist who makes no mistake in undertaking the work, who knows how to choose, or rather to determine what is suitable for art! He who wanders uneasily among scattered myths and far-stretching history in search of a theme, he, who wishes to be significantly scholarly or allegorically interesting, will often' be checked in the midst of his work by unexpected obstacles, or will miss his finest aim after the completion of the work. He who does not speak clearly to the senses, will not address himself clearly to the mind; and we regard this point as so important, that we insert at the very outset a more extended discussion of it.
A theme having been happily found or invented, it is subjected to treatment which we would divide into the spiritual,