FREEDOM IN ART
Dictation is the death of Art.
Duty is doing what others want done. Conformity to custom is contracting and contemptible.
If a work of Art is full of character, then it is beautiful.
Art and individuality are twins, two blessings from the same breast.
The public sees the common thing, the artist sees the exceptional thing,
The physical world is seen by all, the world of art by but few.
Real artists are not men who see things that do not exist, as the painters of the Dark Ages did, but men who see reality in a thing that the public cannot readily discern.
The real artist ever keeps the torch of enlightenment burning, and always keeps alive the yearning for freedom. He dauntlessly opposes every dictation. His great goal is emancipation’s morn. He is iconoclastic. He does not like the old just because of its age. It must be either beautiful or good, and the new is generally superior in both. However poor, he acknowledges no master. He will paint the things. he sees and feels, whether it is pleasing to the multitude or not. The real artist is thrilled by the revelations of nature.
Real art must reflect personality. It must have beauty of form, but it must also have substance. The artist has the temperament; the public ought to have the taste. He must set his own standard, not accept the ones of tradition.
The public must be receptive, not dictatorial. It can accept or reject, but not direct.
If the artist paints to please himself, it is likely to be great; if he paints to please the public, it will be common.
To reproduce what others have done is to take the part of a printing machine. A machine will do it much more accurately and efficiently, and the hand reproducer can be dispensed with.
To have even the same ideas of Art is to limit Art. Difference in ideals will lead to a different Art, and that is good. By having freedom of expression, there is bound to follow a new and greater development.
The artist, George Clauson, says: “By recognizing that each response to nature has its own standard, we may get to know our own limitations, and so get on to a working basis; each of us trying to make work more perfect in its own way. For it is absurd to suppose that we should all try for the same ideals; as much so as to expect conformity in opinion on other matters.”
Art is not a social, but an individual thing. The social body may enjoy it, but it cannot produce it. The artist portrays what he sees, and he sees something that we common mortals don’t see at first. That is what makes him an artist. He has a vision that is not common to all. This distinction of vision and personality is essential to success. Without individuality, he will not discover the new; without freedom, he will not express it when discovered. Art is smothered unless the man has the freedom to release his vision.
This idea of independence has been well expressed by that great writer on Art, W. H. Judson: “Time was when the Egyptian artist painted by formula at the direction of an overfed priesthood, the basest and least progressive era of painting with which we are acquainted. In a later time painting, like everything else, fell under the sacerdotal yoke again. It became a soulless convention and relapsed into absolute imbecility. There is no surer sign of the decadence of art than the search after formulae, striving to lay down rules in imitation of the methods of the past, as if discovery were dead.
“The modern renaissance of art was simultaneous with its emancipation from tradition. Almost every rule and dogma of the old painters finds refutation in some splendid recent canvas. It is no longer safe to lay down rules of composition. Some mannerless fellow is sure to prove their futility tomorrow. The best we can do is to make some suggestions showing how others have succeeded, which will at least be helpful for a beginning. There are, in fact, men great enough to override all the theories
ever expounded, and plenty of men who seek to prove their greatness by breaking all the rules they ever heard of. Any conventional treatment of chiaroscuro should be regarded only as a temporary expedient. Every young artist will base his method on the work of some master, perhaps many masters in succession. Gradually his own individuality begins’ to emerge and he adopts a manner of his own. Every man has his own ideal or personal convention in composition by which he selects his subject fit. ”
To coerce the artist is to destroy the work. Art is largely an emotional thing, and must not be interfered with if the real vision is to be set forth.
The artist must not only paint or sing freely, but he must think and feel fearlessly. He must be unhampered both in mind and body, if he is to make fundamental discoveries and develop new modes of expression.
One of the world’s greatest leaders in art, Sir Joshua Reynolds, has stated the case in his very forceful way. He says:
“We would find new means of expression; we would find men inventing new technique that would just suit them for whatever they have to say. What would be perfect for one mode of expression would be thrown aside for another mode, and men would grow as they devised this infinite variety of power of expression. As they develop in creating technique for their special thought, they would gain in thought, for always they could express better and better what they had to say.
“Instead of becoming blabbers of past phrases, they would have fresh phrases for fresh ideas. They would borrow from every source possible, but they would borrow only to invent.”
If this opinion were held in all of the arts, the world would soon witness great advancement. The artist must search and find for himself these things. All of the discoveries in the past had this kind of individual independence. Liberty is the measure of opportunity for greatness in art as it is in other matters.
This freedom enriches the world of Art by adding to the sum total the new production of a unique temperament. If it is honest, then we know the artist for what he is. If he is under restraint we will get what he pretends to be. An artist must be himself and believe in himself if he is to accomplish big things in his chosen field.
To prove that this conception of art is well sustained by the great artists and art critics, I will give one more quotation, this one from Robert Henri. He says:
“We need schools where individuality of thought and expression is encouraged; a school and instruction which offers to the student the utmost help in the building up of himself into a force that will be of stimulating value to the world. In the use of the school, its facilities, its instruction, the worker should know that the instructors are back of him, interested, watching, encouraging, as ready to learn from him as to teach; anxious for his evidence, recognizing in him a man, another or a new force; giving him the use of knowledge and experience, but never dictating to him what or how he shall do, rather shoving him away from too much learning; only demanding of him that he work both mind and body to the limit of his endurance to find for himself whatever there is of value; to find his truest thoughts and find a means, the simplest, straightest and most fit means, to make record of them; to be the deepest thinker, the kindest appreciator, the clearest and simplest, frankest expressor he can be today.
“For by so doing, he becomes the master of such as he has today, and that he is master today is the only dependable evidence that he will be master tomorrow. That he has dignity, worth, integrity, courage in his thought and action today means that he is today a student worthy of the name in its fullest meaning.
“It seems to me that there are three things essential to art training-the man must have the idea, he must have the freedom, he must create to express it.”
The artist must have liberty if he is to advance his art. He must not be bound by old standards. To set up a standard is to declare that discovery is dead. This was done at certain periods in the past, and real art ceased to be. Nothing but the mythical, the unreal, was to be found. The painter put on his canvas gods, angels, ghosts and devils. Out of diseased imaginations came paintings of everything that was not. The things that were went unpainted. This was at a period when the Church dictated what the artist should paint, and it was necessary to free themselves from that dictation before true art could develop. I mean by true art the painting of reality-portraying on canvas the objective world, not subjective hallucinations. It is well for the artist to give us his view of things, but if his picture does not resemble some object, we will know that he is not a painter of the natural but the unnatural. A standard forced on the artist is as degrading to art as a formula sought by the artist. If there had been conformity to rule, there would be just one kind of art, and that a crude and primitive kind.
When the State assumes the role of dictator in art, the artist paints kings, emperors, soldiers and battlefields. Such work is seldom art.
When the State enforces the ignorant majority’s ideas of art there are suppressed many forms of it, such as the nude in art; the mob will not permit the artist to paint form, he must only paint clothing. When the artist paints what the public demands, it is not art, but business. The painter to produce a work of art must be free to paint the thing he wants to paint. The public must adjust itself to art, not art to the public. To conform to public taste is to lose individuality. To paint like others is to be an imitator, a repeater. Freedom in art has given us many kinds of art, and thereby increased our pleasure.
Liberty is as necessary in dramatic art as in painting. Where the public dictates the kind of dramas the artist is to produce, the product is never of a high type. It has been a hard struggle for the creative artist in the realm of the drama, as the public has the power to make or break the dramatist. The public generally has poor taste, and is far behind the thinking part of the race, so it exercises its power to compel conformity, and the artist must be strong indeed to withstand the inducement of success on the one hand and the pressure of boycott and ostracism on the other. Fortunately for mankind, there have been great strong thinkers, who stood their ground against the mob, and produced the true picture of society, regardless of society’s protest and non-support. While there are many writers who will produce a drama to satisfy the newspaper and public clamor at any time or on any theme, the real artist will produce, because of the inner urge, the thing that is immortal.
All great dramatists were Libertarians. It was their independence that made them great. Conformity may make one rich, but it can never make one great. A true artist ignores the public.
The great literary geniuses found that they must have liberty to write what they thought, not what others wanted written. They were made to feel the hand of authority. Much of their work was suppressed. They felt the necessity for liberty, so we find the greatest of them fighting for freedom of thought and press. The freedom to speak the new truth, freedom to speak the unpleasant thing. Without such freedom, the old, the false, would live forever.
Tolstoy wrote to express himself, and was the most famous literary man of the last century. The Russian Government tried to suppress his writings. Would Tolstoy have been great if he had written as the Russian authorities dictated? No thinker believes he would, and what is true of Tolstoy is true of every other writer. Without liberty to speak the truth there can be no literary art.
LIBERTY IN MUSIC
All great composers were and are Libertarians. Authority must be ignored and liberty embraced before new forms can be discovered. If authority had its way, there could be no progress in music. The great composers saw this, and were enemies of restriction. Richard Wagner did all he could to free music. Beethoven recognized no authority, either musical, ecclesiastical or political. He refused to uncover in the presence of royalty. Out of his spirit of independence the great symphonies were given to the world. Strauss, with his versatility, could not be a conformist. He rebelled against conventional art forms, and as a result we have a new music, not repetitions, as authority would have. James Huneker, the musical critic, says that all of the great composers were revolutionists, and attributes their achievements to that fact.
This we know, that while the little composers hugged the shores of authority, the great ones were sailing the boundless seas of freedom.