IN THE ARTS
BONI AND LIVERIGHT
Publishers New York
COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY
BONI & LIVERIGHT, INC.
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The papers in this book are not intended in any way to be professional treatises. They must be viewed in the light of entertaining conversations. Their possible value lies in their directness of impulse, and not in weight of argument. I could not wish to go into the qualities of art more deeply. A reaction, to be pleasant, must be simple. This is the apology I have to offer: Reactions, then, through direct impulse, and not essays by means of stiffened analysis.
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Some of the papers included in this book have appeared in Art and Archeology, The Seven Arts, The Dial, The Nation, The New Republic, and The Touchstone. Thanks are due to the editors of these periodicals for permission to reprint.
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ADVENTURES IN THE ARTS
Perhaps the most important part of Criticism is the fact that it presents to the creator a problem which is never solved. Criticism is to him a perpetual Presence: or perhaps a ghost which he will not succeed in laying. If he could satisfy his mind that Criticism was a certain thing: a good thing or a bad, a proper presence or an irrelevant, he could psychologically dispose of it. But he can not. For Criticism is a configuration of responses and reactions so intricate, so kaleidoscopic, that it would be as simple to category Life itself.
The artist remains the artist precisely in so far as he rejects the simplifying and reducing process of the average man who at an early age puts Life away into some snug conception of his mind and race. This one turns the key. He has released his will and love from the vast Ceremonial of wonder, from the deep Poem of Being, into some particular detail of life wherein he hopes to achieve comfort or at least shun pain. Not so, the artist. In the moment when he elects to avoid by whatever makeshift the raw agony of life, he ceases to be fit to create. He must face experience forever freshly: reduce life each day anew to chaos and remould it into order. He must be always a willing virgin, given up to life and so enlacing it. Thus only may he retain and record that pure surprise whose earliest voicing is the first cry of the infant.
The unresolved expectancy of the creator toward Life should be his way toward Criticism also. He should hold it as part of his Adventure. He should understand in it, particularly when it is impertinent, stupid and cruel, the ponderable weight of Life itself, reacting upon his search for a fresh conquest over it. Though it persist unchanged in its role of purveying misinformation and absurdity to the Public, he should know it for himself a blessed dispensation.
With his maturity, the creator's work goes out into the world. And in this act, he puts the world away. For the artist's work defines: and definition means apartness: and the average man is undefined in the social body. Here is a danger for the artist within the very essence of his artistic virtue. During the years of his apprenticeship, he has struggled to create for himself an essential world out of experience. Now he begins to succeed: and he lives too fully in his own selection: he lives too simply in the effects of his effort. The gross and fumbling impact of experience is eased. The grind of ordinary intercourse is dimmed. The rawness of Family and Business is refined or removed. But now once more the world comes in to him, in the form of the Critic. Here again, in a sharp concentrated sense, the world moves on him: its complacency, its hysteria, its down-tending appetites and fond illusions, its pathetic worship of yesterdays and hatred of tomorrows, its fear-dogmas and its blood-avowals.
The artist shall leave the world only to find it, hate it only because he loves, attack it only if he serves. At that epoch of his life when the world's gross sources may grow dim, Criticism brings them back. Wherefore, the function of the Critic is a blessing and a need.
The creator's reception of this newly direct, intense, mundane intrusion is not always passive. If the artist is an intelligent man, he may respond to the intervening world on its own plane. He may turn critic himself.
When the creator turns critic, we are in the presence of a consummation: we have a complete experience: we have a sort of sacrament. For to the intrusion of the world he interposes his own body. In his art, the creator's body would be itself intrusion. The artist is too humble and too sane to break the ecstatic flow of vision with his personal form. The true artist despises the personal as an end. He makes fluid, and distils his personal form. He channels it beyond himself to a Unity which of course contains it. But Criticism is nothing which is not the sheer projection of a body. The artist turns Self into a universal Form: but the critic reduces Form to Self. Criticism is to the artist the intrusion, in a form irreducible to art, of the body of the world. What can he do but interpose his own?
This is the value of the creator's criticism. He gives to the world himself. And his self is a rich life.
It includes for instance a direct experience of art, the which no professional critic may possess. And it includes as well a direct knowledge of life, sharpened in the retrospect of that devotion to the living which is peculiarly the artist's. For what is the critic after all, but an "artistic" individual somehow impeded from satisfying his esthetic emotion and his need of esthetic form in the gross and stubborn stuff of life itself: who therefore, since he is too intelligent for substitutes, resorts to the already digested matter of the hardier creators, takes their assimilated food and does with it what the athletic artist does with the meat and lymph and bone of God himself? The artist mines from the earth and smelts with his own fire. He is higher brother to the toilers of the soil. The critic takes the products of the creator, reforges, twists them, always in the cold. For if he had the fire to melt, he would not stay with metals already worked: when the earth's womb bursts with richer.
When the creator turns critic, we are certain of a feast. We have a fare that needs no metaphysical sauce (such as must transform the product of the Critic). Here is good food. Go to it and eat. The asides of a Baudelaire, a Goethe, a Da Vinci outweight a thousand tomes of the professional critics.
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I know of no American book like this one by Marsden Hartley. I do not believe American painting heretofore capable of so vital a response and of so athletic an appraisal. Albert Ryder barricaded himself from the world's intrusion. The American world was not intelligent enough in his days to touch him to an activer response. And Ryder, partaking of its feebleness, from his devotion to the pure subjective note became too exhausted for aught else. As a world we have advanced. We have a fully functioning Criticism ... swarms and schools of makers of the sonorous complacencies of Judgment. We have an integral body of creative-minded men and women interposing itself with valiance upon the antithesis of the social resistance to social growth. Hartley is in some ways a continuance of Ryder. One stage is Ryder, the solitary who remained one. A second stage is Hartley, the solitary who stands against the more aggressive, more interested Marketplace.
You will find in this book the artist of a cultural epoch. This man has mastered the plastic messages of modern Europe: he has gone deep in the classic forms of the ancient Indian Dance. But he is, still, not very far from Ryder. He is always the child—whatever wise old worlds he contemplates—the child, wistful, poignant, trammeled, of New England.
Hartley has adventured not alone deep but wide. He steps from New Mexico to Berlin, from the salons of the Paris of Marie Laurencin to the dust and tang of the American Circus. He is eclectic. But wherever he goes he chronicles not so much these actual worlds as his own pleasure of them. They are but mirrors, many-shaped and lighted, for his own delicate, incisive humor. For Hartley is an innocent and a naif. At times he is profound. Always he is profoundly simple.
Tragedy and Comedy are adult. The child's world is Tragicomic. So Marsden Hartley's. He is not deep enough—like most of our Moderns—in the pregnant chaos to be submerged in blackness by the hot struggle of the creative will. He may weep, but he can smile next moment at a pretty song. He may be hurt, but he gets up to dance.
In this book—the autobiography of a creator—Marsden Hartley peers variously into the modern world: but it is in search of Fairies.
Lisbon, June, 1921.
INTRODUCTION BY WALDO FRANK
CONCERNING FAIRY TALES AND ME
1. THE RED MAN
2. WHITMAN AND CEZANNE
4. WINSLOW HOMER
5. AMERICAN VALUES IN PAINTING
6. MODERN ART IN AMERICA
7. OUR IMAGINATIVES
8. OUR IMPRESSIONISTS
9. ARTHUR B. DAVIES
10. REX SLINKARD
11. SOME AMERICAN WATER-COLORISTS
12. THE APPEAL OF PHOTOGRAPHY
13. SOME WOMEN ARTISTS
14. REVALUATIONS IN IMPRESSIONISM
15. ODILON REDON
16. THE VIRTUES OF AMATEUR PAINTING
17. HENRI ROUSSEAU
18. THE TWILIGHT OF THE ACROBAT
20. A CHARMING EQUESTRIENNE
21. JOHN BARRYMORE IN PETER IBBETSON
22. LA CLOSERIE DE LILAS
23. EMILY DICKINSON
24. ADELAIDE CRAPSEY
25. FRANCIS THOMPSON
26. ERNEST DOWSON
27. HENRY JAMES ON RUPERT BROOKE
28. THE DEARTH OF CRITICS
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING "DADA"
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CONCERNING FAIRY TALES AND ME
Sometimes I think myself one of the unique children among children. I never read a fairy story in my childhood. I always had the feeling as a child, that fairy stories were for grown-ups and were best understood by them, and for that reason I think it must have been that I postponed them. I found them, even at sixteen, too involved and mystifying to take them in with quite the simple gullibility that is necessary. But that was because I was left alone with the incredibly magical reality from morning until nightfall, and the nights meant nothing more remarkable to me than the days did, no more than they do now. I find moonlight merely another species of illumination by which one registers continuity of sensation. My nursery was always on the edge of the strangers' knee, wondering who they were, what they might even mean to those who were as is called "nearest" them.
I had a childhood vast with terror and surprise. If it is true that one forgets what one wishes to forget, then I have reason for not remembering the major part of those days and hours that are supposed to introduce one graciously into the world and offer one a clue to the experience that is sure to follow. Not that my childhood was so bitter, unless for childhood loneliness is bitterness, and without doubt it is the worst thing that can happen to one's childhood. Mine was merely a different childhood, and in this sense an original one. I was left with myself to discover myself amid the multitudinous other and far greater mysteries. I was never the victim of fear of goblins and ghosts because I was never taught them. I was merely taught by nature to follow, as if led by a rare and tender hand, the then almost unendurable beauty that lay on every side of me. It was pain then, to follow beauty, because I didn't understand beauty; it must always, I think, be distressing to follow anything one does not understand.
I used to go, in my earliest school days, into a little strip of woodland not far from the great ominous red brick building in a small manufacturing town, on the edge of a wonderful great river in Maine, from which cool and quiet spot I could always hear the dominant clang of the bell, and there I could listen with all my very boyish simplicity to the running of the water over the stones, and watch—for it was spring, of course—the new leaves pushing up out of the mould, and see the light-hued blossoms swinging on the new breeze. I cared more for these in themselves than I did for any legendary presences sitting under them, shaking imperceptible fingers and waving invisible wands with regality in a world made only for them and for children who were taught mechanically to see them there.
I was constantly confronted with the magic of reality itself, wondering why one thing was built of exquisite curves and another of harmonic angles. It was not a scientific passion in me, it was merely my sensing of the world of visible beauty around me, pressing in on me with the vehemence of splendor, on every side.
I feel about the world now precisely as I did then, despite all the reasons that exist to encourage the change of attitude. I care for the magic of experience still, the magic that exists even in facts, though little or nothing for the objective material value.
Life as an idea engrosses me with the same ardor as in the earlier boyish days, with the difference that there is much to admire and so much less to reverence and be afraid of. I harp always on the "idea" of life as I dwell perpetually on the existence of the moment.
I might say, then, that my childhood was comparable, in its simplicity and extravagance of wonder, to the youth of Odilon Redon, that remarkable painter of the fantasy of existence, of which he speaks so delicately in letters to friends. His youth was apparently much like mine, not a youth of athleticism so much as a preoccupancy with wonder and the imminence of beauty surrounding all things.
I was preoccupied with the "being" of things. Things in themselves engrossed me more than the problem of experience. I was satisfied with the effect of things upon my senses, and cared nothing for their deeper values. The inherent magic in the appearance of the world about me, engrossed and amazed me. No cloud or blossom or bird or human ever escaped me, I think.
I was not indifferent to anything that took shape before me, though when it came to people I was less credulous of their perfection because they pressed forward their not always certain credentials upon me. I reverenced them then too much for an imagined austerity as I admire them now perhaps not enough for their charm, for it is the charm of things and people only that engages and satisfies me. I have completed my philosophical equations, and have become enamored of people as having the same propensities as all other objects of nature. One need never question appearances. One accepts them for their face value, as the camera accepts them, without recommendation or specialized qualification. They are what they become to one. The capacity for legend comes out of the capacity for experience, and it is in this fashion that I hold such high respect for geniuses like Grimm and Andersen, but as I know their qualities I find myself leaning with more readiness toward Lewis Carroll's superb "Alice in Wonderland."
I was, I suppose, born backward, physically speaking. I was confronted with the vastitude of the universe at once, without the ingratiating introduction of the fairy tale. I had early made the not so inane decision that I would not read a book until I really wanted to. One of the rarest women in the world, having listened to my remark, said she had a book she knew I would like because it was so different, and forthwith presented me with Emerson's Essays, the first book that I have any knowledge of reading, and it was in my eighteenth year. Until then I had been wholly absorbed with the terrors and the majestical inferences of the moment, the hour, and the day. I was alone with them, and they were wonderful and excessively baffling in their splendors; then, after filling my mind and soul with the legendary splendors of Friendship, and The Oversoul-Circles, and Compensation, each of these words of exciting largeness in themselves, I turned to the dramatic unrealities of Zarathustra, which, of course, was in no way to be believed because it did not exist. And then came expansion and release into the outer world again through interpretation of Plato, and of Leaves of Grass itself.
I have saved myself from the disaster of beliefs through these magical books, and am free once more as in my early childhood to indulge myself in the iridescent idea of life, as Idea.
But the fairy story is nothing after all but a means whereby we, as children, may arrive at some clue as to the significance of things around us, and it is through them the child finds his way out from incoherency toward comprehension. The universe is a vast place, as we all know who think we comprehend it in admiring it. The things we cannot know are in reality of no consequence, in comparison with the few we can know. I can know, for instance, that my morning is the new era of my existence, and that I shall never live through another like it, as I have never lived through the one I recall in my memory, which was Yesterday. Yesterday was my event in experience then, as it is my event in memory now. I am related to the world by the way I feel attached to the life of it as exemplified in the vividness of the moment. I am, by reason of my peculiar personal experience, enabled to extract the magic from the moment, discarding the material husk of it precisely as the squirrel does the shell of the nut.
I am preoccupied with the business of transmutation—which is to say, the proper evaluation of life as idea, of experience as delectable diversion. It is necessary for everyone to poetize his sensations in order to comprehend them. Weakness in the direction of philosophy creates the quality of dogmatic interrogation. A preoccupancy with religious characteristics assists those who are interested in the problem of sublimation. The romanticist is a kind of scientific person engaged in the correct assembling of chemical constituents that will produce a formula by which he can live out every one of his moments with a perfect comprehension of their charm and of their everlasting value to him. If the romanticist have the advantage of comprehension of the sense of beauty as related to art, then he may be said to be wholly equipped for the exquisite legend of life in which he takes his place, as factor in the perfected memory of existence, which becomes the real history of life, as an idea. The person of most power in life is he who becomes high magician with the engaging and elusive trick.
It is a fairy-tale in itself if you will, and everyone is entitled to his or her own private splendor, which, of course, must be invented from intelligence for oneself.
There will be no magic found away from life. It is what you do with the street-corner in your brain that shall determine your gift. It will not be found in the wilderness, and in one's toying with the magic of existence is the one gift for the management of experience.
I hope one day, when life as an "idea" permits, and that I have figured will be somewhere around my ninetieth year, to take up books that absorb the brains of the intelligent. When I read a book, it is because it will somehow expose to me the magic of existence. My fairy tales of late have been "Wuthering Heights," and the work of the Brothers James, Will and Henry. I am not so sure but that I like William best, and I assure you that is saying a great deal, but it is only because I think William is more like life as idea.
I shall hope when it comes time to sit in a garden and fold one's hands gently, listening to the birds all over again, watching the blossoms swinging with a still acuter eye, to take up the books of Grimm and Andersen, for I have a feeling they will be the books that will best corroborate my comprehension of life as an idea. I think it will be the best time to read them then, to go out with a memory softened by the warm hues and touches of legend that rise out of the air surrounding life itself.
There will be a richer comprehension of "once upon a time there was a princess"—who wore a great many jewelled rings on her fingers and whose eyes were like deep pools in the farthest fields of the sky—for that will be the lady who let me love in the ways I was made to forget; the lady whose hands I have touched as gently as possible and from whom I have exacted no wish save that I might always love someone or something that was so like herself as to make me think it was no other than herself. It is because I love the idea of life better than anything else that I believe most of all in the magic of existence, and in spite of much terrifying and disillusioning experience of late, I believe.
THE RED MAN
It is significant that all races, and primitive peoples especially, exhibit the wish somehow to inscribe their racial autograph before they depart. It is our redman who permits us to witness the signing of his autograph with the beautiful gesture of his body in the form of the symbolic dance which he and his forefathers have practiced through the centuries, making the name America something to be remembered among the great names of the world and of time. It is the redman who has written down our earliest known history, and it is of his symbolic and esthetic endeavors that we should be most reasonably proud. He is the one man who has shown us the significance of the poetic aspects of our original land. Without him we should still be unrepresented in the cultural development of the world. The wide discrepancies between our earliest history and our present make it an imperative issue for everyone loving the name America to cherish him while he remains among us as the only esthetic representative of our great country up to the present hour. He has indicated for all time the symbolic splendor of our plains, canyons, mountains, lakes, mesas and ravines, our forests and our native skies, with their animal inhabitants, the buffalo, the deer, the eagle and the various other living presences in their midst. He has learned throughout the centuries the nature of our soil and has symbolized for his own religious and esthetic satisfaction all the various forms that have become benefactors to him.
Americans of this time and of time to come shall know little or nothing of their spacious land until they have sought some degree of intimacy with our first artistic relative. The redman is the one truly indigenous religionist and esthete of America. He knows every form of animal and vegetable life adhering to our earth, and has made for himself a series of striking pageantries in the form of stirring dances to celebrate them, and his relation to them. Throughout the various dances of the Pueblos of the Rio Grande those of San Felipe, Santo Domingo, San Ildefonso, Taos, Tesuque, and all the other tribes of the west and the southwest, the same unified sense of beauty prevails, and in some of the dances to a most remarkable degree. For instance, in a large pueblo like Santo Domingo, you have the dance composed of nearly three hundred people, two hundred of whom form the dance contingent, the other third a chorus, probably the largest singing chorus in the entire redman population of America. In a small pueblo like Tesuque, the theme is beautifully represented by from three to a dozen individuals, all of them excellent performers in various ways. The same quality and the same character, the same sense of beauty, prevails in all of them.
It is the little pueblo of Tesuque which has just finished its series of Christmas dances—a four-day festival celebrating with all but impeccable mastery the various identities which have meant so much to them both physically and spiritually—that I would here cite as an example. It is well known that once gesture is organized, it requires but a handful of people to represent multitude; and this lonely handful of redmen in the pueblo of Tesuque, numbering at most but seventy-five or eighty individuals, lessened, as is the case with all the pueblos of the country to a tragical degree by the recent invasions of the influenza epidemic, showed the interested observer, in groups of five or a dozen dancers and soloists including drummers, through the incomparable pageantry of the buffalo, the eagle, the snowbird, and other varying types of small dances, the mastery of the redman in the art of gesture, the art of symbolized pantomimic expression. It is the buffalo, the eagle, and the deer dances that show you their essential greatness as artists. You find a species of rhythm so perfected in its relation to racial interpretation as hardly to admit of witnessing ever again the copied varieties of dancing such as we whites of the present hour are familiar with. It is nothing short of captivating artistry of first excellence, and we are familiar with nothing that equals it outside the Negro syncopation which we now know so well, and from which we have borrowed all we have of native expression.
If we had the redman sense of time in our system, we would be better able to express ourselves. We are notoriously unorganized in esthetic conception, and what we appreciate most is merely the athletic phase of bodily expression, which is of course attractive enough, but is not in itself a formal mode of expression. The redman would teach us to be ourselves in a still greater degree, as his forefathers have taught him to be himself down the centuries, despite every obstacle. It is now as the last obstacle in the way of his racial expression that we as his host and guardian are pleasing ourselves to figure. It is as inhospitable host we are quietly urging denunciation of his pagan ceremonials. It is an inhospitable host that we are, and it is amazing enough, our wanting to suppress him. You will travel over many continents to find a more beautifully synthesized artistry than our redman offers. In times of peace we go about the world seeking out every species of life foreign to ourselves for our own esthetic or intellectual diversion, and yet we neglect on our very doorstep the perhaps most remarkable realization of beauty that can be found anywhere. It is of a perfect piece with the great artistry of all time. We have to go for what we know of these types of expression to books and to fragments of stone, to monuments and to the preserved bits of pottery we now may see under glass mostly, while there is the living remnant of a culture so fine in its appreciation of the beauty of things, under our own home eye, so near that we can not even see it.
A glimpse of the buffalo dance alone will furnish proof sufficient to you of the sense of symbolic significances in the redman that is unsurpassed. The redman is a genius in his gift of masquerade alone. He is a genius in detail, and in ensemble, and the producer of today might learn far more from him than he can be aware of except by visiting his unique performances. The redman's notion of the theatric does not depend upon artificial appliances. He relies entirely upon the sun with its so clear light of the west and southwest to do his profiling and silhouetting for him, and he knows the sun will cooperate with every one of his intentions. He allows for the sense of mass and of detail with proper proportion, allows also for the interval of escape in mood, crediting the value of the pause with the ability to do its prescribed work for the eye and ear perfectly, and when he is finished he retires from the scene carefully to the beating of the drums, leaving the emotion to round itself out gradually until he disappears, and silence completes the picture for the eye and the brain. His staging is of the simplest, and therefore, the most natural. Since he is sure of his rhythms, in every other dancer as well as himself, he is certain of his ensemble, and is likewise sure there will be no dead spots either in the scenario or in the presentation. His production is not a show for the amusement of the onlooker; it is a pageant for the edification of his own soul. Each man is therefore concerned with the staging of the idea, because it is his own spiritual drama in a state of enaction, and each is in his own way manager of the scene, and of the duos, trios, and ensembles, or whatever form the dances may require. It is therefore of a piece with his conception of nature and the struggle for realism is not necessary, since he is at all times the natural actor, the natural expresser of the indications and suggestions derived from the great theme of nature which occupies his mind, and body, and soul. His acting is invented by himself for purposes of his own, and it is nature that gives him the sign and symbol for the expression of life as a synthesis. He is a genius in plastic expression, and every movement of his is sure to register in the unity of the theme, because he himself is a powerful unit of the group in which he may be performing. He is esthetically a responsible factor, since it concerns him as part of the great idea. He is leading soloist and auxiliary in one. He is the significant instrument in the orchestration of the theme at hand, and knows his body will respond to every requirement of phrasing. You will find the infants, of two and three years of age even, responding in terms of play to the exacting rhythms of the dance, just as with orientals it was the children often who wove the loveliest patterns in their rugs.
In the instance of the buffalo dance of the Tesuque Indians, contrary to what might be expected or would popularly be conceived, there is not riotry of color, but the costumes are toned rather in the sombre hues of the animal in question, and after the tone of the dark flanks of the mountains crested and avalanched with snows, looking more like buffaloes buried knee deep in white drifts than anything else one may think of. They bring you the sense of the power of the buffalo personality, the formidable beast that once stampeded the prairies around them, solemnized with austere gesturing, enveloping him with stateliness, and the silence of the winter that surrounds themselves. Three men, two of them impersonating the buffalo, the third with bow and arrow in hand, doubtless the hunter, and two women representing the mother buffalo, furnish the ensemble. Aside from an occasional note of red in girdles and minor trappings, with a softening touch of green in the pine branches in their hands, the adjustment of hue is essentially one of the black and white, one of the most difficult harmonies in esthetic scales the painter encounters in the making of a picture, the most difficult of all probably, by reason of its limited range and the economic severity of color. It calls for nothing short of the finest perception of nuance, and it is the redman of America who knows with an almost flawless eye the natural harmonies of the life that surrounds him. He has for so long decorated his body with the hues of the earth that he has grown to be a part of them. He is a living embodiment in color of various tonal characteristics of the landscape around him. He knows the harmonic value of a bark or a hide, or a bit of broken earth, and of the natural unpolluted coloring to be drawn out of various types of vegetable matter at his disposal. Even if he resorts to our present-day store ribbons and cheap trinkets for accessories, he does it with a view to creating the appearance of racial ensemble. He is one of the essential decorators of the world. A look at the totem poles and the prayer robes of the Indians of Alaska will convince you of that.
In the buffalo dance, then, you perceive the redman's fine knowledge of color relations, of the harmonizing of buffalo skins, of white buckskins painted with most expressively simple designs symbolizing the various earth identities, and the accompanying ornamentation of strings of shells and other odd bits having a black or a grey and white lustre. You get an adjusted relation of white which traverses the complete scale of color possibility in monochrome. The two men representing the buffalo, with buffalo heads covering their heads and faces from view, down to their breasts, their bodies to the waist painted black, no sign of pencillings visible to relieve the austerity of intention, legs painted black and white, with cuffs of skunk's fur round the ankles to represent the death mask symbol, relieving the edges of the buckskin moccasins—in all this you have the notes that are necessary for the color balance of the idea of solemnity presented to the eye. You find even the white starlike splashes here and there on backs, breasts and arms coinciding splendidly with the flecks of eagles-down that quiver in the wind down their black bodies, and the long black hair of the accompanying hunter, as flecks of foam would rise from waterfalls of dark mountain streams; and the feathers that float from the tips of the buffalo horns seem like young eaglets ready to leave the eyry, to swim for the first time the far fields of air above and below them, to traverse with skill the sunlit spaces their eyes have opened to with a fierce amazement. Even the clouds of frozen breath darting from the lips of the dancers served as an essential phase of the symbolic decoration, and the girdles of tiny conchlike shells rattling round their agile thighs made a music you were glad to hear. The sunshine fell from them, too, in scales of light, danced around the spaces enveloping them along with the flecks of eagle-down that floated away from their bodies with the vigors of the dance, floating away from their dark warm bodies, and their jet-blue hair. It is the incomparable understanding of their own inventive rhythms that inspire and impress you as spectator. It is the swift comprehension of change in rhythm given them by the drummers, the speedy response of their so living pulsating bodies, the irresistible rapport with the varying themes, that thrills and invites you to remain close to the picture. They know, as perfect artists would know, the essential value of the materials at their disposal, and the eye for harmonic relationships is as keen as the impeccable gift for rhythm which is theirs. The note of skill was again accentuated when, at the close of the season's ensemble with a repetition of the beautiful eagle dance, there appeared two grotesqueries in the form of charming devil spirits in the hues of animals also, again in startling arrangements of black and white, with the single hint of color in the red lips of the masks that covered their heads completely from view, and from which long tails of white horsehair fell down their grey white backs—completing the feeling once again of stout animal spirits roaming through dark forests in search of sad faces, or, it may even be, of evil doers.
All these dances form the single spectacle surviving from a great race that no American can afford actually to miss, and certainly not to ignore. It is easy to conceive with what furore of amazement these spectacles would be received if they were brought for a single performance to our metropolitan stage. But they will never be seen away from the soil on which they have been conceived and perpetuated. It is with a simple cordiality the redman permits you to witness the esthetic survivals of his great race. It is the artist and the poet for whom they seem to be almost especially created, since these are probably nearest to understanding them from the point of view of finely organized expression; for it is by the artist and the poet of the first order that they have been invented and perfected. We as Americans of today would profit by assisting as much as possible in the continuance of these beautiful spectacles, rather than to assist in the calm dismissal and destruction of them. It is the gesture of a slowly but surely passing race which they themselves can not live without; just as we, if we but knew the ineffable beauty of them, would want at least to avail ourselves of a feast for the eye which no other country in existence can offer us, and which any other nation in the world would be only too proud to cherish and foster.
We are not, I think, more than vaguely conscious of what we possess in these redman festivities, by way of esthetic prize. It is with pain that one hears rumors of official disapproval of these rare and invaluable ceremonials. Those familiar with human psychology understand perfectly that the one necessary element for individual growth is freedom to act according to personal needs. Once an opposition of any sort is interposed, you get a blocked aspect of evolution, you get a withered branch, and it may even be a dead root. All sorts of complexes and complexities occur. You get deformity, if not complete helplessness and annihilation. I can not imagine what would happen to the redman if his one racial gesture were denied him, if he were forbidden to perform his symbolic dances from season to season. It is a survival that is as spiritually imperative to him as it is physically and emotionally necessary. I can see a whole flood of exquisite inhibitions heaped up for burial and dry rot within the caverns and the interstices of his soul. He is a rapidly disappearing splendor, despite the possible encouragement of statistics. He needs the dance to make his body live out its natural existence, precisely as he needs the air for his lungs and blood for his veins. He needs to dance as we need to laugh to save ourselves from fixed stages of morbidity and disintegration. It is the laughter of his body that he insists upon, as well as depends upon. A redman deprived of his racial gesture is unthinkable. You would have him soon the bleached carcass in the desert out of which death moans, and from which the lizard crawls. It would be in the nature of direct race suicide. He needs protection therefore rather than disapproval. It is as if you clipped the wing of the eagle, and then asked him to soar to the sun, to cut a curve on the sky with the instrument dislodged; or as if you asked the deer to roam the wood with its cloven hoofs removed. You can not cut the main artery of the body and expect it to continue functioning. Depriving the redman of his one enviable gesture would be cutting the artery of racial instinct, emptying the beautiful chamber of his soul of its enduring consciousness. The window would be opened and the bird flown to a dead sky. It is simply unthinkable. The redman is essentially a thankful and a religious being. He needs to celebrate the gifts his heaven pours upon him. Without them he would in short perish, and perish rapidly, having no breath to breathe, and no further need for survival. He is already in process of disappearance from our midst, with the attempts toward assimilation.
Inasmuch as we have the evidence of a fine aristocracy among us still, it would seem as if it behooved us as a respectable host to let the redman guest entertain himself as he will, as he sublimely does, since as guardians of such exceptional charges we can not seem to entertain them. There is no logical reason why they should accept an inferior hospitality, other than with the idea of not inflicting themselves upon a strange host more than is necessary. The redman in the aggregate is an example of the peaceable and unobtrusive citizen; we would not presume to interfere with the play of children in the sunlight. They are among the beautiful children of the world in their harmlessness. They are among the aristocracy of the world in the matters of ethics, morals, and etiquette. We forget they are vastly older, and in symbolic ways infinitely more experienced than ourselves. They do not share in tailor-made customs. They do not need imposed culture, which is essentially inferior to their own. Soon we shall see them written on tablets of stone, along with the Egyptians and the others among the races that have perished. The esthetics of the redman have been too particular to permit of universal understanding, and of universal adaptation. It is the same with all primitives, who invent regimes and modes of expression for themselves according to their own specific psychological needs. We encourage every other sign and indication of beauty toward the progress of perfection. Why should not we encourage a race that is beautiful by the proof of centuries to remain the unoffensive guest of the sun and the moon and the stars while they may? As the infant prodigy among races, there is much that we could inherit from these people if we could prove ourselves more worthy and less egotistic.
The artist and the poet of perception come forward with heartiest approval and it is the supplication of the poet and the artist which the redman needs most of all. Science looks upon him as a phenomenon; esthetics looks upon him as a giant of masterful expression in our midst. The redman is poet and artist of the very first order among the geniuses of time. We have nothing more native at our disposal than the beautiful creations of this people. It is singular enough that the as yet remote black man contributes the only native representation of rhythm and melody we possess. As an intelligent race, we are not even sure we want to welcome him as completely as we might, if his color were just a shade warmer, a shade nearer our own. We have no qualms about yellow and white and the oriental intermediate hues. We may therefore accept the redman without any of the prejudices peculiar to other types of skin, and we may accept his contribution to our culture as a most significant and important one. We haven't even begun to make use of the beautiful hints in music alone which he has given to us. We need, and abjectly so I may say, an esthetic concept of our own. Other nations of the world have long since accepted Congo originality. The world has yet to learn of the originality of the redman, and we who have him as our guest, knowing little or nothing of his powers and the beauty he confers on us by his remarkable esthetic propensities, should be the first to welcome and to foster him. It is not enough to admit of archaeological curiosity. We need to admit, and speedily, the rare and excellent esthetics in our midst, a part of our own intimate scene. The redman is a spiritual expresser of very vital issues. If his pottery and his blankets offer the majority but little, his ceremonials do contribute to the comparative few who can perceive a spectacle we shall not see the equal of in history again. It would help at least a little toward proving to the world around us that we are not so young a country as we might seem, nor yet as diffident as our national attitude would seem to indicate. The smile alone of the redman is the light of our rivers, plains, canyons, and mountains. He has the calm of all our native earth. It is from the earth all things arise. It is our geography that makes us Americans of the present, children. We are the product of a day. The redman is the product of withered ages. He has written and is still writing a very impressive autograph on the waste places of history. It would seem to me to be a sign of modernism in us to preserve the living esthetic splendors in our midst. Every other nation has preserved its inheritances. We need likewise to do the same. It is not enough to put the redman as a specimen under glass along with the auk and the dinosaur. He is still alive and longing to live. We have lost the buffalo and the beaver and we are losing the redman, also, and all these are fine symbols of our own native richness and austerity. The redman will perpetuate himself only by the survival of his own customs for he will never be able to accept customs that are as foreign to him as ours are and must always be; he will never be able to accept a culture which is inferior to his own.
In the esthetic sense alone, then, we have the redman as a gift. As Americans we should accept the one American genius we possess, with genuine alacrity. We have upon our own soil something to show the world as our own, while it lives. To restrict the redman now would send him to an unrighteous oblivion. He has at least two contributions to confer, a very aristocratic notion of religion, and a superb gift for stylistic expression. He is the living artist in our midst, and we need not think of him as merely the anthropological variation or as an archaeological diversion merely. He proves the importance of synthetic registration in peoples. He has created his system for himself, from substance on, through outline down to every convincing detail. We are in a position always of selecting details in the hope of constructing something usable for ourselves. It is the superficial approach. We are imitators because we have by nature or force of circumstance to follow, and improve upon, if we can. We merely "impose" something. We can not improve upon what the redman offers us in his own way. To "impose" something—that is the modern culture. The interval of imposition is our imaginary interval of creation. The primitives created a complete cosmos for themselves, an entire principle. I want merely, then, esthetic recognition in full of the contribution of the redman as artist, as one of the finest artists of time; the poetic redman ceremonialist, celebrant of the universe as he sees it, and master among masters of the art of symbolic gesture. It is pitiable to dismiss him from our midst. He needs rather royal invitation to remain and to persist, and he can persist only by expressing himself in his own natural and distinguished way, as is the case with all peoples, and all individuals, indeed.
WHITMAN AND CEZANNE
It is interesting to observe that in two fields of expression, those of painting and poetry, the two most notable innovators, Whitman and Cezanne bear a definite relationship in point of similarity of ideals and in their attitudes toward esthetic principles. Both of these men were so true to their respective ideals that they are worth considering at the same time in connection with each other: Cezanne with his desire to join the best that existed in the impressionistic principle with the classical arts of other times, or as he called it, to create an art like the Louvre out of impressionism. We shall find him striving always toward actualities, toward the realization of beauty as it is seen to exist in the real, in the object itself, whether it be mountain or apple or human, the entire series of living things in relation to one another.
It is consistent that Cezanne, like all pioneers, was without prescribed means, that he had to spend his life inventing for himself those terms and methods which would best express his feelings about nature. It is natural that he admired the precision of Bouguereau, it is also quite natural that he should have worshipped in turn, Delacroix, Courbet, and without doubt, the mastery of Ingres, and it is indicative too that he felt the frank force of Manet. It was his special distinction to strive toward a simple presentation of simple things, to want to paint "that which existed between himself and the object," and to strive to solidify the impressionistic conception with a greater realization of form in space, the which they had so much ignored. That he achieved this in a satisfying manner may be observed in the best of his landscapes and still-lifes, and in some of the figure studies also. The endeavor to eliminate all aspects of extraneous conception by dismissing the quality of literature, of poetry and romance from painting, was the exact characteristic which made him what he is for us today, the pioneer in the field of modern art. It was significant enough when he once said to Renoir, that it took him twenty years to find out that painting was not sculpture. Those earlier and heavy impasto studies of his are the evidence of this worthy deduction. It was significant, too, when he said that Gaugin was but "a flea on his back," and that "he does nothing but paint Chinese images."
The phrase that brings these two strikingly original personages in art together is the one of Cezanne: "I remain the primitive of the way I have discovered"; and that of Whitman, which comes if I am not mistaken from Democratic Vistas, though it may be from elsewhere in Whitman's prose, running chiefly: "I only wish to indicate the way for the innumerable poets that are to come after me," etc., and "I warn you this is not a book, this is a man." These two geniuses are both of one piece as to their esthetic intention, despite the great gulf that lies between their concepts of, and their attitudes toward life. For the one, life was a something to stay close to always, for the other, it was something to be afraid of to an almost abnormal degree; Whitman and his door never closed, Cezanne and his door seldom or never opened, indeed, were heavily padlocked against the intrusion of the imaginary outsider. These are the geniuses who have done most for these two arts of the present time, it is Whitman and Cezanne who have clarified the sleeping eye and withheld it from being totally blinded, from the onslaughts of jaded tradition.
There were in Cezanne the requisite gifts for selection, and for discarding all useless encumbrances, there was in him the great desire for purification, or of seeing the superb fact in terms of itself, majestically; and if not always serenely, serenity was nevertheless his passionate longing. He saw what there was for him in those old and accepted masters who meant most to him, and he saw also what there was for him in that newest of old masters, which was also in its way the assumed discovery of our time, he saw the relativity of Greco's beautiful art to the art of his own making. He saw that here was a possible and applicable architectonic suited to the objects of his newly conceived principles, he felt in Greco the magnetic tendency of one thing toward another in nature, that trees and hills and valleys and people were not something sitting still for his special delectation, but that they were constantly aspiring to fruition, either physical, mental, or let us say, spiritual, even when the word is applied to the so-termed inanimate objects. He felt the "palpitancy," the breathing of all things, the urge outward of all life toward the light which helps it create and recreate itself. He felt this "movement" in and about things, and this it is that gives his pictures that sensitive life quality which lifts them beyond the aspect of picture-making or even mere representation. They are not cold studies of inanimate things, they are pulsing realizations of living substances striving toward each other, lending each other their individual activities until his canvases become, as one might name them, ensembles of animation, orchestrated life. We shall, I think, find this is what Greco did for Cezanne, and it is Cezanne who was among the first of moderns, if not the first, to appreciate that particular aspirational quality in the splendid pictures of Greco. They "move" toward their design, they were lifted by the quality of their organization into spaces in which they were free to carry on the fine illusion of life.
Whitman has certainly aspired equally, but being more things in one than Cezanne, his task has been in some ways greater, more difficult, and may we say for humanistic reasons, loftier. Whitman's inclusiveness was at one and the same time his virtue and his defect. For mystical reasons, it was imperative for him to include all things in himself, and so he set about enumerating all those elements which were in him, and of which he was so devoted and affectionate a part. That he could leave nothing out was, it may be said, his strongest esthetical defect, for it is by esthetical judgment that we choose and bring together those elements as we conceive it. It is the mark of good taste to reject that which is unessential, and the "tact of omission," well exemplified in Cezanne, has been found excellently axiomatic. So that it is the tendency in Whitman to catalogue in detail the entire obvious universe that makes many of his pages a strain on the mind as well as on the senses, and the eye especially. The absolute enforcement of this gift of omission in painting makes it easier for the artist, in that his mind is perforce engrossed with the idea of simplification, directness, and an easy relationship of the elements selected for presentation to each other.
It is the quality of "living-ness" in Cezanne that sends his art to the heights of universality, which is another way of naming the classical vision, or the masterly conception, and brings him together with Whitman as much of the same piece. You get all this in all the great masters of painting and literature, Goethe, Shakespeare, Rubens, and the Greeks. It is the reaching out and the very mastering of life which makes all art great, and all artists into geniuses. It is the specializing on ideas which shuts the stream of its flow. I have felt the same gift for life in a still-life or a landscape of Cezanne's that I have felt in any of Whitman's best pieces. The element in common with these two exceptional creators is liberation. They have done more, these modern pioneers, for the liberation of the artist, and for the "freeing" of painting and poetry than any other men of modern time. Through them, painting and poetry have become literally free, and through them it is that the young painters and poets have sought new fields for self deliverance. Discipleship does not hold out long with the truly understanding. Those who really know what originality is are not long the slave of the power of imitation: it is the gifted assimilator that suffers most under the spell of mastery. Legitimate influence is a quality which all earnest creators learn to handle at once. Both poetry and painting are, or so it seems to me, revealing well the gift of understanding, and as a result we have a better variety of painting and of poetry than at the first outbreak of this so called modern esthetic epidemic.
The real younger creators are learning the difference between surface and depth, between exterior semblances, and the underlying substances. Both Whitman and Cezanne stand together in the name of one common purpose, freedom from characteristics not one's own. They have taught the creators of this time to know what classicism really is, that it is the outline of all things that endure. They have both shown that it is not idiosyncrasy alone which creates originality, that idiosyncrasy is but the husk of personal penetration, that it is in no way the constituent essential for genius. For genius is nothing but the name for higher perception, the greater degree of understanding. Cezanne's fine landscapes and still-lifes, and Whitman's majestic line with its gripping imagery are one and the same thing, for it reaches the same height in the mind. They walk together out of a vivid past, these two geniuses, opening the corridors to a possibly vivid future for the artists of now, and to come. They are the gateway for our modern esthetic development, the prophets of the new time. They are most of all, the primitives of the way they have begun, they have voiced most of all the imperative need of essential personalism, of direct expression out of direct experience, with an eye to nothing but quality and proportion as conceived by them. Their dogmas were both simple in the extreme, and of immense worth to us in their respective spheres. We may think of them as the giants of the beginning of the twentieth century, with the same burning desire to enlarge the general scope of vision, and the finer capacity for individual experience.
ALBERT P. RYDER
Albert P. Ryder possessed in a high degree that strict passivity of mental vision which calls into being the elusive yet fixed element the mystic Blake so ardently refers to and makes a principle of, that element outside the mind's jurisdiction. His work is of the essence of poetry; it is alien to the realm of esthetics pure, for it has very special spiritual histories to relate. His landscapes are somewhat akin to those of Michel and of Courbet. They suggest Michel's wide wastes of prodigal sky and duneland with their winding roads that have no end, his ever-shadowy stretches of cloud upon ever-shadowy stretches of land that go their austere way to the edges of some vacant sea. They suggest, too, those less remote but perhaps even more aloof spaces of solitude which were ever Courbet's theme in his deeper hours, that haunting sense of subtle habitation, that acute invasion of either wind or soft fleck of light or bright presence in a breadth of shadow, as if a breath of living essences always somehow pervaded those mystic woodland or still lowland scenes. But highly populate as these pictures of Courbet's are with the spirit of ever-passing feet that hover and hold converse in the remote wood, the remoter plain, they never quite surrender to that ghostliness which possesses the pictures of our Ryder. At all times in his work one has the feeling of there having lately passed, if ever so fleetly, some bodily shape seeking a solitude of its own. I recall no other landscapes impressed with a more terrific austerity save Greco's incredible "Toledo," to my thinking a finality in landscape creation.
There is quietude, solace, if you will, in Michel, in Courbet, but there is never a rest for the eye or the mind or the spirit in those most awesome of pictures which Ryder has presented to us, few as they are; for the Ryder legend is akin to the legend of Giorgione. There is always splendor in them but it is the splendor of the dream given over to a genius more powerful than the vision which has conjured them forth. It is distinctly a land of Luthany in which they have their being; he has inscribed for us that utter homelessness of the spirit in the far tracts that exist in the realm of the imagination; there is suffering in his pictures, that fainting of the spirit, that breathlessness which overtakes the soul in search of the consummation of beauty.
Ryder is akin to Coleridge, too, for there is a direct visional analogy between "The Flying Dutchman" and the excessively pictorial stanzas of "The Ancient Mariner." Ryder has typified himself in this excellent portrayal of sea disaster, this profound spectacle of the soul's despair in conflict with wind and wave. Could any picture contain more of that remoteness of the world of our real heart as well as our real eye, the artist's eye which visits that world in no official sense but only as a guest or a courtly spectator? No artist, I ought to say, was ever more master of his ideas and less master of the medium of painting than Ryder; there is in some of his finest canvases a most pitiable display of ignorance which will undoubtedly shorten their life by many years.
I still retain the vivid impression that afflicted me when I saw my first Ryder, a marine of rarest grandeur and sublimity, incredibly small in size, incredibly large in its emotion—just a sky and a single vessel in sail across a conquering sea. Ryder is, I think, the special messenger of the sea's beauty, the confidant of its majesties, its hauteurs, its supremacies; for he was born within range of the sea and all its legends have hovered with him continually. Since that time I have seen a number of other pictures either in the artist's possession or elsewhere: "Death on the Racetrack," "Pegasus," canvases from The Tempest and Macbeth in that strange little world of chaos that was his home, his hermitage, so distraught with debris of the world for which he could seem to find no other place; I have spent some of the rare and lovelier moments of my experience with this gentlest and sweetest of other-world citizens; I have felt with ever-living delight the excessive loveliness of his glance and of his smile and heard that music of some far-away world which was his laughter; I have known that wisdom which is once and for all wisdom for the artist, that confidence and trust that for the real artist there is but one agency for the expression of self in terms of beauty, the eye of the imagination, that mystical third somewhere in the mind which transposes all that is legitimate to expression. To Ryder the imagination was the man; he was a poet painter, living ever outside the realm of theory.
He was fond of Corot, and at moments I have thought of him as the heir and successor to some of Corot's haunting graces; but there was all the difference between them that there is between lyric pure and tragic pure. Ryder has for once transcribed all outer semblances by means of a personality unrelated to anything other than itself, an imagination belonging strictly to our soil and specifically to our Eastern geography. In his autographic quality he is certainly our finest genius, the most creative, the most racial. For our genius, at its best, is the genius of the evasive; we are born lovers of the secret element, the mystery in things.
How many of our American painters have given real attention to Ryder? I find him so much the legend among professional artists, this master of arabesque, this first and foremost of our designers, this real creator of pattern, this first of all creators of tragic landscape, whose pictures are sacred to those that revere distinction and power in art. He had in him that finer kind of reverence for the element of beauty which finds all things somehow lovely. He understood best of all the meaning of the grandiose, of everything that is powerful; none of his associates in point of time rose to just that sublimated experience; not Fuller, not Martin, not Blakelock, though each of these was touched to a special expression. They are more derivative than Ryder, more the children of Barbizon.
Ryder gave us first and last an incomparable sense of pattern and austerity of mood. He saw with an all too pitiless and pitiful eye the element of helplessness in things, the complete succumbing of things in nature to those elements greater than they that wield a fatal power. Ryder was the last of the romantics, the last of that great school of impressive artistry, as he was the first of our real painters and the greatest in vision. He was a still companion of Blake in that realm of the beyond, the first citizen of the land of Luthany. He knew the fine distinction between drama and tragedy, the tragedy which nature prevails upon the sensitive to accept. He was the painter poet of the immanent in things.
In Winslow Homer we have yankeeism of the first order, turned to a creditable artistic account. With a fierce feeling for truth, a mania, almost, for actualities, there must have been somewhere in his make-up a gentleness, a tenderness and refinement which explain his fine appreciation of the genius of the place he had in mind to represent. There is not an atom of legend in Homer, it is always and always narrative of the obvious world. There is at once the essential dramatic import ruling the scene. With him it is nothing but dramatic relationship, the actionary tendency of the facts themselves, in nature. You are held by him constantly to the bold and naked theme, and you are left to wander in the imagination only among the essentials of simple and common realism.
Narrative then, first and last with Homer, and the only creative aspect of his pictures is concealed in the technique. The only touch of invention in them is the desire to improve the language they speak. Dramatic always, I do not call them theatric excepting in the case of one picture that I know, called "Morro Castle" I think, now in the Metropolitan Museum, reminding me much of the commonplace, "Chateau de Chillon" of Courbet's, neither of these pictures being of any value in the careers of their authors. But once you sat on the rocks of Maine, and watched the climbing of the surf up the morning sky after a heavy storm at sea, you realize the force of Homer's gift for the realities. His pictures are yankee in their indications, as a work of art could be, flinty and unyielding, resolute as is the yankee nature itself, or rather to say, the original yankee, which was pioneer then in a so rough yet resourceful country. It is the quality of Thoreau, but without the genius of Thoreau for the poetry of things.
Homer's pictures give you nothing but the bare fact told in the better class terms of illustration, for he was illustrator, first of all. While the others were trying to make a little American Barbizon of their own, there were Homer, Ryder, Fuller, Martin, working alone for such vastly opposite ideas, and yet, of these men, four of them were expressing such highly imaginative ideas, and Homer was the unflinching realist among them. I do not know where Homer started, but I believe it was the sea at Prout's Neck that taught him most. I think that William Morris Hunt and Washington Allston must have seemed like infant Michelangelos then, for there is still about them a sturdiness which we see little of in the American art of that time, or even now for that matter. They had a certain massive substance, proving the force of mind and personality which was theirs, and while these men were proving the abundance and warmth of themselves, Homer was the frozen one among them. Nature was nature to him, and that alone he realized, and yet it was not precisely slavish imitation that impelled him.
There was in him a very creditable sense of selection,—as will be seen especially in the water colours, so original with him, so gifted in their power of treatment—one of the few great masters of the medium the world has known. He knew the meaning of wash as few since have known it, he knew that it has scale and limitation of its own, and for all that, infinite suggestibility. Not Turner or Whistler have excelled him, and I do not know of anyone who has equalled him in understanding of this medium outside of Dodge Macknight and John Marin. It is in these so expressive paintings on paper that you feel the real esthetic longing as well as a certain contribution in Homer, the desire to realize himself and to release himself from too slavish imitation of nature and the too rigid consideration of truth. He was finer in technique than perhaps any that I have mentioned, though the two modern men have seconded him very closely, and in point of vision have, I am certain, surpassed him. Homer arrived because of his power to express what he wished to say, though his reach was far less lofty than theirs. He was essentially on the ground, and wanted to paint the very grip of his own feet on the rocks. He wanted the inevitability put down in recognizable form. He had not feeling for the hint or the suggestion until he came to the water-color, which is of course most essentially that sort of medium. He knew its scope and its limitations and never stepped out of its boundaries, and he achieved a fine mastery in it. His imitators will never arrive at his severity because they are not flint yankee. They have not the hard head and snappy tongue. It was yankee crabbedness that gave Homer his grip on the idea he had in mind. Florida lent a softer tone to what Maine rocks could not give him. He is American from skin to skeleton, and a leader among yankee as well as American geniuses. He probably hated as much as Thoreau, and in his steely way admired as much. It was fire from the flintlock in them both, though nature had a far softer and loftier persuasion with the Concord philosopher and naturalist.
Homer remains a figure in our American culture through his feeling for reality. He has learned through slavery to detail to put down the essential fact, however abundantly or however sparsely. He has a little of Courbet's sense of the real, and none whatever of his sense of the imaginative. It was enough for him to classicize the realistic incident. He impels me to praise through his yankee insistence upon integrity. Story is story with Homer and he leaves legend to itself. It is the narrative of the Whittier type, homely, genuine, and typical. He never stepped outside of his yankee determination. Homer has sent the art of water colour painting to a very high place in world consideration. He cannot be ignored as a master in this field. His paintings must be taken as they are, solid renderings of fact, dramatically considered. He offers nothing else. Once you have seen these realistic sea pictures, you may want to remember and you may want to forget, but they call for consideration. They are true in their living appreciation of reality.
He knew the sea like the old salts that were his neighbors, and from accounts he was as full of the tang of the sea as they. He was a foe to compromise and a despiser of imposition. The best and most impersonal of him is in his work, for he never ventured to express philosophies, ethics, or morals in terms of picture-painting. That is to his credit at least. He was concerned with illustration first and last, as he was illustrator and nothing else. He taught the proceeding school of illustrators much in the significance of verity, and in the ways and means of expressing verity in terms of pigment. What the stiff pen and ink drawings and the cold engravings of his time taught him, he conferred upon the later men in terms of freedom of technique. And at the same time he rose a place, as painter and artist of no mean order, by a certain distinction inherent in him. He had little feeling for synthesis outside of the water-colours, and here it was necessary by virtue of the limitations of the medium.
Winslow Homer will not stimulate for all time only because his mind was too local. There is nothing of universal appeal in him. His realism will never reach the height even of the sea-pieces of Courbet, and I shall include Ryder as well. Courbet was a fine artist, and so was Ryder, and both had the advantage of exceptional imagination. Homer and Ryder are natives of the same coast and typify excellently the two poles in the New England temper, both in art and in life. Homer as realist, had the one idea in mind only, to illustrate realism as best he could in the most distinguished terms at the disposal of his personality. He succeeded admirably.
Homer typifies a certain sturdiness in the American temper at least, and sends the lighter men away with his roughness, as doubtless he sent the curious away from his cliffs with the acidity of truth he poured upon them. He had lived so much in the close association of the roughest elements in existence, rocks and the madly swinging sea that glides over and above them defiantly, that he had without doubt taken on the character of them. The portrait of Homer gives him as one would expect him to look, and he looks like his pictures. His visage bore a ferocity that had to be met with a rocky certainty. It is evident there was no fooling him. He was filled with yankee tenacity and yankee courage. Homer is what you would expect to find if you were told to hunt up the natives of "Prout's Neck" or "Perkins Cove," or any of the inlets of the Maine coast. These sea people live so much with the roughness of the sea, that if they are at all inclined to acidity, and the old fashioned yankee was sure to be, they take on the hard edges of a man's temper in accordance with the jaggedness of the shores on which they live. The man around the rocks looks so very like the profiles one sees in the rocks themselves. They have absorbed the energy of the dramatic elements they cope with, and you may be sure that life around the sea in New England is no easy existence; and they give out the same salty equivalent in human association.
If you have lived by the sea, you have learned the significance of the bravery of sea people, and you learn to understand and excuse the sharpness of them which is given them from battle with the elemental facts they are confronted with at all times. That is the character of Homer, that is the quality of his painting. That is what makes him original in the American sense, and so recognizable in the New England sense. He is one of New England's strongest spokesmen, and takes his place by the side of Ryder, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Fuller, Whittier, and such representative temperaments, and it is this quality that distinguishes him from men like Inness, Wyant, and the less typical painters. It is obvious, too, that he never painted any other coast, excepting of course Florida, in the water colours.
It was Florida that produced the chef d'oeuvre in him. It was Maine that taught him the force of the southern aspect. Romancer among the realistic facts of nature, he might be called, for he did not merely copy nature. He did invest things with their own suggestive reality, and he surmounted his earlier gifts for exact illustration by this other finer gift for romantic appreciation. Homer was an excellent narrator, as will be seen in the "Gulf Stream" picture in the Metropolitan Museum. It has the powers of Jack London and of Conrad in it. Homer was intense, vigorous, and masculine. If he was harsh in his characteristics, he was one who knew the worth of economy in emotion. He was one with his idea and his metier, and that is sufficient.
AMERICAN VALUES IN PAINTING
There are certain painters who join themselves together in a kind of grouping, which, whether they wish to think of themselves in this light or not, have become in the matter of American values in painting, a fixed associative aspect of painting in America. When we speak of American painting, the choice is small, but definite as to the number of artists, and the type of art they wished themselves to be considered for. From the Hudson River grouping, which up to Inness is not more marked than as a set of men copying nature with scrupulous fidelity to detail, rather than conveying any special feeling or notion of what a picture of, or the landscape itself, may convey; and leaving aside the American pupils of the Academy in Paris and Rome, most of whom returned with a rich sense of rhetorical conventionalities in art—men like William Morris Hunt and Washington Allston—we may turn to that other group of men as being far more typical of our soil and temper. I mean artists such as Homer Martin, Albert P. Ryder, George Fuller, and the later Winslow Homer who certainly did receive more recognition than any of them prior to his death.
Martin, Ryder, and Fuller could not have enjoyed much in the way of appreciation outside of a few artists of their time, and even now they may be said to be the artists for artists. It is reasonable to hope that they were not successful, since that which was a la mode in the expression of their time was essentially of the dry Academy. One would hardly think of Homer Martin's "Border of the Seine" landscape in the Metropolitan Museum, hardly more then than now, and it leaves many a painter flat in appreciation of its great dignity, austerity, reserve, and for the distinguished quality of its stylism. What Martin may have gotten, during his stay in Europe, which is called impressionism is, it must be said, a more aristocratic type of impressionism than issued from the Monet followers. Martin must then have been knowing something of the more dignified intellectualism of Pissarro and of Sisley, those men who have been the last to reach the degrees of appreciation due them in the proper exactitude.
We cannot think of Martin as ever having carried off academic medals during his period. We cannot think of Martin as President of the Academy, which position was occupied by a far inferior artist who was likewise carried away by impressionism, namely Alden Weir. The actual attachment in characteristic of introspective temper in Alden Weir is not so removed from Martin, Fuller and Ryder as might be imagined; he is more like Martin perhaps though far less profound in his sense of mystery; Fuller being more the romanticist and Ryder in my estimation the greatest romanticist, and artist as well, of all of these men. But Alden Weir failed to carry off any honor as to distinctive qualities and invention. A genial aristocrat if you will, but having for me no marked power outside of a Barbizonian interest in nature with a kind of mystical detachedness.
But in the consideration of painters like Martin, Fuller and Ryder we are thinking chiefly of their relation to their time as well as their relation to what is to come in America. America has had as much painting considering its youth as could be expected of it and the best of it has been essentially native and indigenous. But in and out of the various influences and traditional tendencies, these several artists with fine imaginations, typical American imaginations, were proceeding with their own peculiarly original and significantly personal expressions. They represent up to their arrival, and long after as well, all there is of real originality in American painting, and they remain for all time as fine examples of artists with purely native imaginations, working out at great cost their own private salvations for public discovery at a later time.
All these men were poor men with highly distinguished aristocratic natures and powerful physiques, as to appearances, with mentalities much beyond the average. When an exhibition of modern American painting is given, as it surely will and must be, these men and not the Barbizonian echoes as represented by Inness, Wyant & Co., will represent for us the really great beginning of art in America. There will follow naturally artists like Twachtman and Robinson, as likewise Kenneth Hayes Miller and Arthur B. Davies for reasons that I think are rather obvious: both Hayes Miller and Arthur B. Davies having skipped over the direct influence of impressionism by reason of their attachment to Renaissance ideas; having joined themselves by conviction in perhaps slight degrees to aspects of modern painting. Miller is, one might say, too intellectually deliberate to allow for spontaneities which mere enthusiasms encourage. Miller is emotionally thrilled by Renoir but he is never quite swept. His essential conservatism hinders such violence. It would be happier for him possibly if the leaning were still more pronounced.
The jump to modernism in Arthur B. Davies results in the same sort of way as admixture of influence though it is more directly appreciable in him. Davies is more willing, by reason of his elastic temper and intellectual vivacity, to stray into the field of new ideas with a simple though firm belief, that they are good while they last, no matter how long they last. Davies is almost a propagandist in his feeling for and admiration of the ultra-modern movement. Miller is a questioner and ponders long upon every point of consequence or inconsequence. He is a metaphysical analyst which is perhaps the extraneous element in his painting. In his etching, that is, the newest of it, one feels the sense of the classical and the modern joined together and by the classical I mean the quality of Ingres, Conjoined with modern as in Renoir, relieved of the influence of Italian Renaissance.
But I do not wish to lose sight of these several forerunners in American art, Martin, Ryder and Fuller who, in their painting, may be linked not without relativity to our artists in literary imagination, Hawthorne and Poe. Fuller is conspicuously like Hawthorne, not by his appreciation of witchcraft merely, but by his feeling for those eery presences which determine the fates of men and women in their time. Martin is the purer artist for me since he seldom or never resorted to the literary emotion in the sense of drama or narrative, whereas in the instances of Ryder or Fuller they built up expression entirely from literary experience. Albert Ryder achieves most by reason of his vaster poetic sensibility—his Homeric instincts for the drama and by a very original power for arabesque. He is alone among the Americans in his unique gift for pattern. We can claim Albert Ryder as our most original painter as Poe takes his place as our most original poet who had of course one of the greatest and most perfect imaginations of his time and possibly of all time.
But it is these several painters I speak of, Martin, Ryder, and Fuller, who figure for us as the originators of American indigenous painting. They will not be copied for they further nothing beyond themselves. No influence of these painters has been notable, excepting for a time in the early experience of one of the younger modernists who, by reason of definite associations of birthright and relativity of environment, essayed to claim Albert Ryder as a very definite influence; just as Courbet and Corot must in their ways have been powerful influences upon Ryder himself. Albert Ryder is too much of a figure to dismiss here with group-relationship, he must be treated of separately. So far then, there is no marked evidence that the influence of Fuller or Martin was powerful enough to carry beyond themselves. They had no tenets or theories other than those of personal clarification. All three remained the hermit radicals of life, as they remain isolated examples in American art; and all of them essentially of New England, in that they were conspicuously introspective, and shut in upon their own exclusive experience.
But for all these variances, we shall find Homer Martin, George Fuller, and Albert Ryder forming the first nucleus for a definite value in strictly American painting. They were conscious of nothing really outside of native associations and native deductions. The temper of them is as essentially American as the quality of them is essentially Eastern in flavor. They seldom ventured beyond more than a home-spun richness of color, though in Ryder's case Monticelli had assisted very definitely in his notion of the volume of tone. We find here then despite the impress of artists like William Morris Hunt, Washington Allston, and the later Inness with the still later Winslow Homer, that gripping and relentless realist who took hold of the newer school of painter-illustrators, that the artists treated of here may be considered as the most important phase of American painting in the larger sense of the term. If I were to assist in the arrangement of an all American exhibition to show the trend toward individualism I should begin with Martin, Fuller and Ryder. I should then proceed to Winslow Homer, John H. Twachtman, Theodore Robinson, Hayes Miller, Arthur B. Davies, Rockwell Kent, then to those who come under the eighteen-ninety tendency in painting, namely the Whistler-Goya-Velasquez influence.
From this it will be found that an entirely new development had taken place among a fairly large group of younger men who came, and very earnestly, under the Cezannesque influence. It may be said that the choice of these men is a wise one for it is conspicuous among artists of today that since Cezanne art will never, cannot ever be the same, just as with Delacroix and Courbet a French art could never have remained the same. Impressionism will be found to have had a far greater value as a suggestive influence than as a creative one. It brought light in as a scientific aspect into modern painting and that is its valuable contribution. So it is that with Cezanne the world is conscious of a new power that will never be effectually shaken off, since the principles that are involved in the intention of Cezanne are of too vital importance to be treated with lightness of judgment. Such valuable ideas as Cezanne contributes must be accepted almost as dogma, albeit valuable dogma. Influence is a conscious and necessary factor in the development of all serious minded artists, as we have seen in the instances of all important ones.