Page:EB1911 - Volume 08.djvu/577

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


554
DRAWING

profile, and, though it may not be as attractive, it is perhaps more interesting because its contours are more bound up with, and dependent upon, the inner modelling; in other words, it has more depth. The draughtsman’s idea of a form in nature is not a “flat idea,” but one containing three dimensions. This idea he seeks to express either by line alone or by light and shade. If an artist has not a three-dimensional “grasp” of forms, and, like a child, confines himself to the primitive tracing of the silhouette, his compositions may be of excellent flat pattern, and equal to any of the designs of ancient carpets or early Greek vases; but in the light of the above argument, and when compared with the productions of mature draughtsmen of all ages and countries, they cannot be said to be complete drawings, any more than the early unifacial statues of the Greeks can be called true plastic, simply because in neither case has the artist yet reached the highest possible development of corporeous conception, by which truly to interpret the solid objects of nature as we know them, and as master draughtsmen see them.

An attempt should be made to explain the psycho-physiological process that must take place in the mind of the real draughtsman. When we look at an object in nature we know its length and breadth by the flat image on the retina; we see also the light and shade, which at once gives us a correct idea of the object’s depth or relief. But we do not, nor could we, have this idea from the flat image on the retina alone, i.e. from the mere perception of the light and shade: our knowledge of its depth is the result of experience, i.e. of our having from infancy remarked a certain dispensation of light and shade on, and peculiar to, every form we have touched or traversed, and so, by association and inference, being early enabled to have ideas of the depth of things by their various arrangements of lights and darks without having to touch or traverse them. Nevertheless the act (generally, but by no means always, an unconscious one) of visually touching a form must necessarily take place before we can apprehend the third dimension of a form. It is, then, by the combination of the ideas derived from pure vision and the ideas derived from touch that we know the length, breadth and depth of a solid form. We have shown that the art of drawing is not an imitation, but an expression of the artist’s ideas of form; therefore all drawing of forms that merely reproduces the image on the retina, and leaves unconsulted the ideas of touch, is incomplete and primitive, because it does not express a conception of form which is the result of an association of the two senses; in other words, it does not contain an idea of the object’s relief or solidity. And all teaching of drawing that does not impress upon the student the necessity of combining the sense of vision with that of touch is erroneous, for it is thereby limiting him to a mechanical task, viz. the tracing of the flat image on the retina, which could be equally well done by mechanical means, or by photography alone.

Britannica Drawing 4.jpg

Fig. 4.

In most of the schools of Europe and America it is true that great stress is laid upon the importance of giving life-like relief to drawings, but the method by which the students are allowed to get the relief is by employing the sense of vision only. Tracing the silhouette of the figure as minutely as possible, they then fill it out with inner-modelling, which also is done by vision alone, for the lights and darks of the original are copied down as so many flat patterns fitted together and gradated like a child’s puzzle, and are not used merely as indication by which to “feel” the depth of the object. Such a procedure is as if in drawing a brick of which three sides were visible, one were first to draw the entire contour (fig. 4, a), the subtle perspective of which he might get correct with some mechanical apparatus or by infinite mechanical pains, and then fill up the interior with its “shading” (fig. 4, b). The method would be plainly laborious, unintelligent and unedifying, and in drawing the most complicated foreshortened forms of the human body it would seem still more illogical. That this principle of instruction does not help the student to grasp the three-dimensional character properly can be proved by the twenty-minute studies of the average student who in his fourth year has won a gold medal for an astounding piece of life-like stippling. They are still unintelligent contour tracings, as if of cardboard figures, with a few irrelevant patches of dark here and there within the silhouette.

But high modelling that would make for illusion of reality is not the first aim of draughtsmanship, nor have the best draughtsmen employed it save by exception. Michelangelo, Ingres, Holbein and Rembrandt have shown us that it is possible to give sufficient relief with a mere outline drawing. Again, the desire for salience often blunts the student’s sense of the real character of the forms he is rounding out. So his elaborately modelled portrait may look very “life-like,” but when compared with the original it will generally be seen that the whole and each of the individual forms of the drawing lack the peculiar character of those of the original. It is by carefully watching for the character of each fresh variety in figure and feature that great draughtsmen have excelled, and not by “life-like” relief, or even a sophisticated exposition of anatomical details at the expense of character. Can it be seriously maintained that a masterly sudden grasp of true formal character can be developed in a student by a system in which he patiently spends many days and weeks in stippling into plastic appearance one drawing which has originally been “laid in” by a mechanical process?

It has been shown that to attempt to make an illusion of nature is neither within the power of monochrome nor has been the chief aim of draughtsmen, but that the art of drawing consists in giving a plain statement of one’s ideas, be they slight or studied, of the solid forms of nature. But the question may still be asked: Why is it that a rigorously accurate and finished drawing by a student or artist with no such ideas or conception is not good drawing, containing as it must do all that can be seen in the original, missing only its complete illusion? Why, in a word, is not a photograph a work of art?

The common explanation of the above important question is that the artist “selects and eliminates from the forms of nature.” But surely this is the principle of the caricaturist and virtuoso? A beautiful drawing, however slight, is but the precipitate of the whole in the artist’s mind. And a highly finished drawing by a master does not show even any apparent selection or elimination. The adoption of the principle of selection to differentiate art from mechanical reproduction is fundamentally vicious, and could be shown to be wholly inapplicable to the so-called formative arts. Nor could the theory of “selection” be used as a principle of teaching, for if to the first question the pupil would make, “What am I to select?” it were answered, “Only the important things,” then the next question, “What are the important things?” could be answered only by saying, “That alone the real artist knows, but cannot teach.” Certainly there are important things that can be taught the student in the initial stage of “laying-in” a figure, but when to begin selecting or eliminating no teacher could tell him, simply because he must be aware that a true draughtsman can afford to eliminate nothing when the truth of the whole is at stake. The artist’s conception and its expression may be slight or elaborate, but in neither case can selection or elimination take place, for a true conception must be founded upon the character of the whole, which is determined by the entire complex of all the parts.

To explain the essential difference between art and mechanical drawing or mechanical reproduction, a more applicable theory must be found. Compare the art of telling a story. If, to describe an incident in the street you had the entire affair reenacted on the same spot, you would have but made a mechanical reproduction of it, leaving the spectator to simplify the affair, and construct his own conception of it. You have not given your ideas of the event, and so you have not made a work of art. So, if a man draws an object detail for detail by any mechanical process, or traces over its photograph, he has but reduplicated