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THIS TRANSITIONAL AGE
I IS OUR ART DISTINCTIVELY AMERICAN?
II THE PAINTING OF TO-DAY
III THE PAINTING OF TO-MORROW
IV THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE "MODERNS"
V THE ANCESTRY OF CUBISM
Jay Hambidge and Gove Hambidge
O department of human activity shows more definitely than artistic expression the working of those great changes which characterize this age, and no art form has yielded to new tendencies so much as painting. One of those revolutions against settled standards, the history of which is the history of art, is now in full career; and it is time that we study signs, seek to define directions, and somewhat forecast the convention that is to come. It is the purpose of these papers to make plain what so far may be determined from the visible portents.
Of these signs of change, the most conspicuous, of course, are the revolutionary extremes known as Post-Impressionism and Cubism, as, indeed, the violent or fantastic manifestations of every forward
movement are bound to be its most conspicuous features. Partaking of the nature of these extremes, but compromising with the tradition which they seek to break, are discernible many less radical revolutionary phases, approaching and, in many cases, overlapping the eventual line of progress.
To consider dispassionately all of these phases, from the conservative to the radical, is the purpose of this series of articles and its accompanying illustrations. If the attention devoted to the extreme manifestations of the change seems disproportionate, let it be remembered that it is in these extremes that the nature of the revolution is most elementally, although most fantastically, exposed to our view. THE EDITOR.
IS OUR ART DISTINCTIVELY
T is the purpose of the writer not to attempt to add anything to the existing mass of purposeless and superfluous criticism, but merely to review briefly the different phases through which our art has passed under his personal observation, mentioning names and individual work as rarely as is consistent with making himself fairly intelligible to his readers. In short, he will limit his task to summing up what, in his opinion, has so far been accomplished toward producing in this country an art that can lay claim to being distinctly American.
That we have really made progress, and substantially advanced toward producing a characteristically national art, will, he believes, have to be acknowledged by any one who is willing to take the trouble to go back with him over the record art has made for itself in this country in the last fifty years.
BY JOHN W. ALEXANDER
President of the National Academy of Design
For a long time there was very little in the United States that could be dignified by the name of art; yet even during our most arid periods we have never seemed to be totally devoid of a desire to cultivate and create it.
THE SPORADIC EFFORTS OF EARLY ART IN AMERICA
OUR early and very sporadic efforts to produce it were founded upon a miserably weak and impersonal admiration of what was then accepted as classical perfection. To realize just how far our taste has advanced, and to measure the width of the gulf which lies between the vapid ideals of the devoted pioneers of the past and the virile and personal outlook of a younger and more wisely cultivated generation, it is only necessary for us to compare the trivial work of our earlier painters and sculptors who sought inspiration in Rome during the first half of the nine
teenth century with the work that is now being produced under the same inspiring surroundings by the young fellows of the American Academy in Rome.
We find in the work of this earlier group of Americans no really intelligent appreciation of what constitutes the dignity and beauty of classical art; nothing, in fact, but a sentimental relish for its perfection of detail, which they vainly strove to imitate.
Not having mastered the great, enduring first principles upon which the ancients founded their perfection of finish, they wore out themselves and their art in futile efforts to make superficial prettiness play the part of trained knowledge, while their more highly equipped successors have succeeded in coming directly under the influence of its nobler and more vital teachings, and without resorting to slavish imitation, are translating these greater qualities into digestible food for our more modern appetites.
But if time has not indorsed either the methods or the ideals of our pioneers, we must not allow ourselves to overlook the fact that it was they who laid the corner-stone of art in the United States. Through their devoted efforts the National Academy of Design was founded and established upon an enduring footing.
THE INFLUENCE OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF DESIGN
IT is popular for the moment among a certain set to cry down and minimize its influence. Its necessarily conservative policy does not appeal to the man who asserts that the only qualification that may legitimately be demanded of an artist is sincerity, and forthwith proceeds to dub as insincere everything but the most eccentric processes.
The use of the word "conservative" in
regard to the policy of the academy may well be misconstrued, and is used only for want of something better, and so far as it stands for a policy that results from the consensus of opinion of a jury of thirty men of widely differing tastes and ideals, for the academy is constantly recruiting its membership from the ranks of the socalled liberals.
Its influence for good is limited only by its lack of suitable galleries for its exhibitions, the possession of which would enable it to show all the work accepted by its juries, and to give more prominence to sculpture, apportioning space for the exhibit of large and important works that under existing conditions cannot be shown.
Reactions against the academy's sober and restrained methods are not only inevitable, but necessary and very much to the interest of both the academy and those who, for want of a milder term, we must call rebels.
To understand the difficulties attending the organization of even an improvised exhibition is a salutary experience, and conducive to a tolerance born of the conviction that occasional mistakes are inevitable, for all such organizations happen to be human.
not entirely the fault of its exhibitors' peculiarities, but is the inevitable consequence of inexperienced imitation. To the worker who has nothing better to offer us than mere imitation of external characteristics it matters very little what he selects to imitate. For the weak there is always danger in everything experimental, and possibly the swifter the elimination of the unfit from the running, the better it is for our art and for art in general.
THE INDEPENDENTS OF 1913 THE Independent Exhibition of 1913, despite its having offered us a few wholly indefensible sensations, proved conclusively to any one possessed of the slightest liberality of judgment that our native talent is in no wise inferior to that which is imported, and went far toward establishing the certainty that at least we have a substantial beginning of an art that is national. And it is interesting to be able to draw attention to the fact that a number of the strongest exhibitors in the Independent Exhibition were members and associate members of the academy, and that their appearance on the walls of the Twenty-seventh Street armory, and their support of this interesting experiment, in no wise affected their standing in the older institution. This fact may possibly be allowed to stand as a proof of the academy's liberality.
That the influence of this exhibition's more eccentric offerings upon the work of our students has not invariably provided a substantial prop for their immaturity is
But there is one aspect of this ultramodern experiment that is really a menace even to the strong, and that is the affectation on the part of some of its followers to belittle real achievement. Now, the belittling of the achievement of contemporaries is one of the things that we have to accept, and is confined to the followers of no one school; but to cry down the achievement of the great men of the past, and to fill the ears of all too credulous students with the assertion that there is nothing to be learned from the masters of old, is to cut off the students from any possible chance of progress.
It would be difficult to persuade me that any such notions are held by the really able exponents of this modern movement. Not one of them, however eccentric his technic or lurid and iconoclastic his color, but gives evidence of the impossibility of wholly escaping from great influences.
THE FOUNDING OF THE SOCIETY OF AMERICAN ARTISTS
IN the estimation of the men who collected and selected this interesting exhibition, it will perhaps seem a very far cry to turn from its up-to-date eccentricities to the founding of the Society of American Artists; but the creation of this society did for its day very much the same service that the Independent Exhibition has done for ours, and the freshness of the note it struck was quite as much an innovation and a breaking-away from accepted convention.
The revelation that New York received from the work of Sargent, for instance, was quite as sensational in its time as the revelation it received from any of the Cubists and Futurists. The society's public was limited, of course, by the fact that the New York of that time was a
smaller and very much more conservative city; but among those who believed themselves competent to express opinions about art, Sargent's art excited the same acrimonious discussion that the Cubists excite to-day. The discussion did not confine itself to the layman and critic, but was rabid in the profession, and fiercely squabbled over by contending schools. In those days we did not have so large a contingent of foreign-trained talent, and Sargent's amazing technical fluency, which we now take for granted, though some of our more advanced painters now profess to consider it valueless, was then believed to be recklessly unconventional.
In view of past experience, it seems quite possible that some of us may live to see the day when the much-discussed "Nude Descending a Staircase" may come to be regarded by those who keep really up to date as too commonplace for serious artistic consideration.
THE COMING OF FOREIGN INFLUENCES
THE founding of the Society of American Artists enabled the younger men who had studied abroad under modern foreign methods, and who had broken finally with the classical traditions of their predecessors at home, to find an audience for their new message. By organizing it, they brought themselves into public notice; they revolutionized the methods of teaching in our art schools, and made every student in these schools consider a European training as a necessity, not a luxury.
Having done its work of regeneration, and done it well, the Society of American Artists was absorbed by the National Academy of Design, which in its day had been founded to meet the existing requirements of our infant arts, but which gradually lapsed into a superannuated classicism, from which it was rescued by the new ideas and ideals of its one-time rival. The impetus given to the production of a distinctively American art that began with the society's exhibitions was carried on and intensified by the collection of work by the French Impressionists shown. in the early eighties in the American Art Galleries on Twenty-third Street.
This large exhibition, which included
much that would to-day be classified as Impressionism, opened novel fields of effort. Into them our students proceeded to break with an energy and enthusiasm that contributed largely toward the maturing and mellowing of what seems to the writer to be the phase of our art that is most distinctly American in character.
Great foreign landscapists most certainly exist, but not in such large aggregations of men whose average is so varied in nature, or who so thoroughly interpret the country they depict as do our American landscape-painters. And, above all, it is not only their subjects, but their manner, that is American.
It is not so long ago that we recollect being struck by the originality of a criticism upon the work of a well-known marine-painter. His picture showed a long, curved coast-line, with a placid sea breaking gently on a sandy shore. His critic complained bitterly of its lack of local color, and deplored the fact that this picture of water might be water anywhere, and that the artist had not seen fit to introduce some feature distinctively American, such as a North River ferry-boat in the offing. The notion that a national note can be struck by such trivial means as this has long since passed from the minds of conservative critics.
THE STABILITY OF AMERICAN ART PERHAPS one of the best evidences of the progress we are making toward the producing of a distinctively American art is our great advance in public taste. A positive proof of this is that some years ago, before it was offered to the Luxembourg, the portrait of Whistler's mother, which is now conceded to be one of the two or three very great modern works, was exhibited in New York, offered for sale, and found no purchaser. This could not possibly occur to-day. Public and private collectors would be battling for its possession not only because it is a great and beautiful picture, but because, as the masterpiece of an American painter, it stands as an enduring evidence of the influence of American art on the art of its day; for no more active influence than Whistler's has impressed itself upon modern art.