Modernism is an inclusive name applied to the many forms of rebellion against the accepted and the tra- ditional. A modernist likes to be thought a rebel—sometimes he is and will starve for his principles, sometimes he is not, but only a self-advertiser. Modernism has had the good effect of arousing the anger of the “complacent exponents of the thing that is.” When modernist art is shown, old man know-it-all denounces these “fakirs”, “freaks” aud “queerists,” with their “crazy-quilt” art. He calls this tin* cult of “crudity and ugliness” and their can- vases “color puddles” of “delirious dyers.” The rebels strike back, taunting academists with stand-patism, and asserting that “art critics are useless and harmful.” “Imagination shall not be chained,” they say. An adherent of the old school entered a well-known Fifth avenue gaUery where were modernist works. “This is not art.” he shouted to the owner of the gallery, “and I know something about art.” The calm reply was “your education is finished, mine has just lK*gun.”Order now
Unfortunately modernism has been used to advertise a certain coterie who have their press agents and art-talkers. It is true also that the new forms of expression have given opportunity to fakirs and practical jokers. I have heard that eight Van Goghs were manufactured by a painter in l’arls and later on shown in New York, that a New York art student, impatient with his elav model, whacked it out of shape and ex- hibited it at a much talked of show. No wonder that the public is mystified by all this. It will be some time before the public so appreciates the spirit of the serious modem work as to Ik? able to detect the false and the superficial.
The public has not been accustomed to think, but now it will be forced to do so in self-protcction. The English modernists in 1914 hired a huge skating rink, divided it into sections by screens and iuvited everybody to exhibit who would pay for space and hang his own pictures. There was no jury, no academy or art-writer to set the standard, hence the visitor was really obliged to think, for once. There ought to he a few such shows in our American cities to stimulate the public to make a serious study of art, instead of relying upon doctrinaires and academics.
There would be a better understanding of modernists’ work had they set forth in plain English some of their aims and purposes. So far they have failed to do it, yet it seems fair to expect thu» of men who paint pictures or carve figures and invite the public to view them. Of course it is not necessary to explain the subject or the method, but only to give a general statement of what they are driving at. For example, if they are seeking for the unknown harmonies, as I believe the serious ones are, why not say so? Then we should approach the works without prejudice and try to appreciate their spirit. Open minded people, kwking for enlightenment are puzzled and repelled by such phrases as these: “From a reciprocity of concessions arise those mixed images which we hasten to confront with artistic creations in order to compute what they contain of tlie objective; that is, of the purely conventional.” “Inborn complimentarum is an absolute necessity in painting.” “Universal dynamism must be rendered in painting as a dynamic sensation.”
When Douglass Jerrold first heard one of Browning’s poems lie exclaimed. “0 God. I am an idiot!” Doubtless llie philosophers understand these obscure dissertations found in books on cubism and in manifestoes and catalogs, but the ordinary man sincerely desirous of appreciating art, is baffled and discouraged. Here is an opportunity for some modernist artist who can write plain, concise everyday English (or any other language for that matter).
I shall not attempt to name or discuss all phases of modern art, nor even pretend to explain them. I confess to sympathy with all who reject traditional academism in art. I often regret the years spent in the Academie Julian where we were taught by professors whom wc revered, to make maps of human figures. I regret still moreI shall not attempt to name or discuss all phases of modern art, nor even pretend to explain them. I confess to sympathy with all who reject traditional academism in art. I often regret the years spent in the Academie Julian where we were taught by professors whom wc revered, to make maps of human figures. I regret still morethe persistence of this academism in America and sincerely hope that this association will not permit it to have full sway over proposed new college courses. Japanese art has done much toward breaking the hold of this tyranny, the incoming Chinese art will do more, but it. may remain for modernist art to set us free.
We aim to place art on a better footing in our universities. We shall make a fatal mistake if we brush aside the newer forms of art and advocate the traditional in order to please the conservative element. Conservative people like to read such art criticism as this in the daily press: “In art ‘meaning’ and ‘life’ do not exist until theartist has mastered those technical processes by which he may or may not have the genius to call them into being. This is not an opinion. It is a statement of fact.”
Five years from now such criticism will not be tolerated. I will take the liberty of saying that I was long ago convinced of the error of that doctrine and have fought it for the last twenty years. To quote again from a New York newspaper: “Non- visual experiences are impossible of repre- sentation.” Are they? Read Bercnson on “Sassetta the Sienese painter of the Franciscan legend” and give some serious study to Buddhist painting iu China! There must be a new art criticism to gowith the new education. College men and women should not be subjected to such academism* as these: “Art is a luxury” (Congress believes that); “art is an added quality” (how this would surprise Giotto!); “art reveals the whole history of an epoch” (what would Pere Corot say to that!) “the realism of Masaccio and Donatello broughtlife to Italian art” (tra# it their realism that did that?); “Greek sculpture attained its excellence through study of the bodies of athletes” (is Greek sculpture a mass of isolated portraits of bodies of athletes, or is it magnificent design with human bodies as motives?) “the return to nature made the Barbizon school what it was.” ” Gothicsculpture reached its height through study of nature.” These ideas arc left over from the academism of the eighteenth century in Europe. They are old-time interpretations which will not stand up before modernism. Such criticism ignores the whole history of Oriental art and the work of independent artists for the lastforty years.
Dr. Charles W. Eliot would have art a foremost subject in the curriculum of the secondary school. He uses the word “drawing” but I am sure he will permit us to interpret that as “art” including both practice and appreciation. If art finds its place in the secondary school it will surely enter the college as an essential, not as anelective as now. The new college urt will not be, I take it, merely courses in history of art, and object drawing.
Lectures and books upon the history of art are too often what the Japanese call “Literary man’s talk about painting” by people more experienced in literature than in visual art. They give over-much at- tention to Raphael, to the story and senti- ment of the picture or statue, to historical sequences and styles, mixing art up withmorality and nine times out of ten attributing excellence to realism. I am speaking now of the ordinary lecturer and writer upon art. No matter how learned a man may be in archaeology, history and literature, I do not believe he can discuss fine arts effectively unless he has had some experience in creating art-fornis. Thisexperience might Ik* given in simple ways in the elementary and secondary schools, and in the college through higher creative work.
As to the drawing of type solids and still life required for admission to some colleges, I should not regard that as art at all, but only experiments in science, possibly useful in art If we are convinced that modernism has something of value to us in formulating new college art courses. let us look for a momentat its history, then consider its good and bad points.
Revolutions in art arc nothing new. They are the natural result of creative power in man. Restlessness is always a sign of life in art. Efforts of the state or of any ruling body whatsoever to control art or to produce it have always proved failures. The creative artist will not be controlled. He may be excluded from exhibitions, ridiculed and repressed but he itiU be free. If we under- took to talk of revolutions we should find them in every art and every age back to Ikhnaton in Egypt and beyond. The modernist revolution is not as new as some would have us believe. It is traced by ouc writer to Byron who rebelled against the academic in literature and who is said to have influenced Delacroix. In the days of that painter Davidism was, as you well know, supreme in art, and singularly enough Louis David was himself a rebel, against the traditions of the eighteenth century. Even Delacroix regarded David as the father of the modern school of painting and sculpture.
But David reduced art to a system and liis followers and the public accepted it for thirty years. Against this came the fiery spirit of Delacroix, smashing the accepted canons and opening the way for new expression in painting. It would be a waste of breath to speak to this audience of Manet and the Impressionists or to attempt a classification of all the modernist schools. The American public is acquainted with but a few phases of this kind of art and is being led by the ready talkers into the belief that the ultra radical work seen in recent years is the invention of Americans.
If our reading public could file through the galleries in Paris. Berlin, Munich and Amsterdam, its eyes would be opened. There are little known paintings there produced forty years ago which would pass in America for futurism.
We need an exhibition of colored re- productions of these obscure pictures, together with facsimiles of Byzantine and early Italian painting, and examples of Persian, Indian and Chinese art. 1 venture to say that it would do much to calm the troubled seas of criticism and give the public solid information. The extreme phases of modernism are. when honest and serious, the outgrowth of many influences coming from rebellious spirits of long ago.
Now for some of the good points that may help us: Eliminating the copyists, the ex- ploiters of foreign galleries, and the fakirs, there is a body of serious artists willing to suffer and starve for the cause who are giving new aims to art production and art education. There are also leaders who are trying to give the unspoiled mind and the free spirit a chance for expression. In Paris M. Poiret has been exploring the minds of children to sec what form their expression will take, He gathered a class of twenty young girls about twelve years of age. gave them sketch books and colors, aud told them to draw and paint whatever they liked. Once a week he inspected the class work, giving a prize for the piece he liked best. These children had received no art training whatsoever.
The results were surprising, enabling M. Poiret to develop a new type of pattern to which he gave the name of his little daughter Martinc. I do not thiuk that M. Poiret could or would claim that these children were not being taught. They were quick to sec what he liked. However, here was free expression. Its art-use had to be determined by M. Poiret who is a master of line and color. In London. Roger Fry began a similar experiment with adults, establishing the “Omega Workshops” for the production of printed fabrics, craft work and designs for house decoration. He rejects all the time-honored canons, asserting that anyone can design if freed from fear—fear of the schools and the professional artists. The results have one good effect in shaking us out of complacent acceptance of “musts” and “must-nots.” Having attained free- dom, doubtless Mr. Fry and bis followers will either introduce a new form of art or will find that the experience of the ages can- not be entirely set aside.
These two experiments are tyjies of the many explorations now being conducted by artists, by craftsmen and by teachers. Some of them have been going on for years unnoticed by the academies and eminently respectable adherents of the “accepted.” Taken together there is a great amount of force which if unified would break down the barriers and capture the world.
The names of the different art-“isms” are too many to repeat but as far as I can see these are the things generally desired by modernists:
1. Freedom from the restraint of juries, critics or any law making art-body. involving
2. The rejection of most of the traditional ideas of art, even to the denial that beauty is worth seeking. As this seems opposed to the principle of evolution, and is only negative, I do not see how it can be maintained.
3. Interest in the expression of each in- dividual. whether it conforms to a school or not. whether it be agreeable or the reverse.
4. Less attention to subject, more to form. Line, mass and color have pure aesthetic value whether they represent anything or not. Ceasing to make representation a standard but comparing the visual arts with music. Finding a common basis for all the visual arts.
5. Convincing us that there arc limitless fields yet unrevealed by art. C. Lewis Hind says that “Matisse Hashes upon canvas the unexplored three-fourths of life.”
6. New expression by color, not by the colors of things, or color in historic art. Seeking hitherto unexpressed relations of color.
7. Approaching, through non-applied design and in other methods the creation of new types of design, decoration and craft work.
These are the good points. I feel sure that we are willing to accept, even to welcome most of these, even though we cannot approve of all the results so far shown. Against these I should say, rather as a warning:
That some of these things have been long ago attained. It is useless to claim them as new. Matisse says. “I condense the significance of the body by looking for its essential lines.” The Japanese found all their drawing on that. The sketch books of Keisai Yeiscn arc full of such work. The brush strokes of the great Sesshu have more condensed power in them than Matisse ever dreamed of.
Two years ago I saw in Germany and France great numbers of priuts of brush- work by modernists, mostly in big wide black lines. Only D’Espagnat and two or three others approached the expressiveness of the Japanese. Kandinsky does not equal Keisai Yeiscn. And the difference between the new work and the Oriental is that there is always in the Oriental a hidden rhythm or something more than the visible line. Clive Bell says that the Post Impression- ist regards an object as an end in itself.
That their work is intended neither to please, to flatter, nor to shock, but to ex- press great emotions. Did not the Dutch accomplish this very thing? Roger Fry says tluit the modernists do not seek to imitate form but to create form—a purely abstract language—a visible music. I believe that is absolutely right, but exhibition of ancient Chinese painting, say of the works of Ma Yuan would show that these aims were realized a thousand years ago. With that put the “watchers at the gates” of Chartres Cathedral.
Let us build «m the experience of the post, not waste time trying to do clumsily what has been done iu perfection. The Chinese, the Gothic, the school of Siena, the Dutch, Besnard, Rodin have explored for us— let us get light and power from them an«! move on to new finds.
Unprejudiced study of mcxlern expression will soon enable us to sift the chaff from the wheat.