Chapter 2




By drawing is here meant the expression of form upon a plane surface.

Art probably owes more to form for its range of expression than to colour. Many of the noblest things it is capable of conveying are expressed by form more directly than by anything else. And it is interesting to notice how some of the world's greatest artists have been very restricted in their use of colour, preferring to depend on form for their chief appeal. It is reported that Apelles only used three colours, black, red, and yellow, and Rembrandt used little else. Drawing, although the first, is also the last, thing the painter usually studies. There is more in it that can be taught and that repays constant application and effort. Colour would seem to depend much more on a natural sense and to be less amenable to teaching. A well-trained eye for the appreciation of form is what every student should set himself to acquire with all the might of which he is capable.

It is not enough in artistic drawing to portray accurately and in cold blood the appearance of objects. To express form one must first be moved by it. There is in the appearance of all objects, animate and inanimate, what has been called an emotional significance, a hidden rhythm that is not 32caught by the accurate, painstaking, but cold artist. The form significance of which we speak is never found in a mechanical reproduction like a photograph. You are never moved to say when looking at one, "What fine form."

It is difficult to say in what this quality consists. The emphasis and selection that is unconsciously given in a drawing done directly under the guidance of strong feeling, are too subtle to be tabulated; they escape analysis. But it is this selection of the significant and suppression of the non-essential that often gives to a few lines drawn quickly, and having a somewhat remote relation to the complex appearance of the real object, more vitality and truth than are to be found in a highly-wrought and painstaking drawing, during the process of which the essential and vital things have been lost sight of in the labour of the work; and the non-essential, which is usually more obvious, is allowed to creep in and obscure the original impression. Of course, had the finished drawing been done with the mind centred upon the particular form significance aimed at, and every touch and detail added in tune to this idea, the comparison might have been different. But it is rarely that good drawings are done this way. Fine things seem only to be seen in flashes, and the nature that can carry over the impression of one of these moments during the labour of a highly-wrought drawing is very rare, and belongs to the few great ones of the craft alone.

It is difficult to know why one should be moved by the expression of form; but it appears to have some physical influence over us. In looking at a fine drawing, say of a strong man, we seem to identify ourselves with it and feel a thrill of its strength in 33our own bodies, prompting us to set our teeth, stiffen our frame, and exclaim "That's fine." Or, when looking at the drawing of a beautiful woman, we are softened by its charm and feel in ourselves something of its sweetness as we exclaim, "How beautiful." The measure of the feeling in either case will be the extent to which the artist has identified himself with the subject when making the drawing, and has been impelled to select the expressive elements in the forms.

Art thus enables us to experience life at second hand. The small man may enjoy somewhat of the wider experience of the bigger man, and be educated to appreciate in time a wider experience for himself. This is the true justification for public picture galleries. Not so much for the moral influence they exert, of which we have heard so much, but that people may be led through the vision of the artist to enlarge their experience of life. This enlarging of the experience is true education, and a very different thing from the memorising of facts that so often passes as such. In a way this may be said to be a moral influence, as a larger mind is less likely to harbour small meannesses. But this is not the kind of moral influence usually looked for by the many, who rather demand a moral story told by the picture; a thing not always suitable to artistic expression.

One is always profoundly impressed by the expression of a sense of bulk, vastness, or mass in form. There is a feeling of being lifted out of one's puny self to something bigger and more stable. It is this splendid feeling of bigness in Michael Angelo's figures that is so satisfying. One cannot come away from the contemplation of that wonderful ceiling of 34his in the Vatican without the sense of having experienced something of a larger life than one had known before. Never has the dignity of man reached so high an expression in paint, a height that has been the despair of all who have since tried to follow that lonely master. In landscape also this expression of largeness is fine: one likes to feel the weight and mass of the ground, the vastness of the sky and sea, the bulk of a mountain.

On the other hand one is charmed also by the expression of lightness. This may be noted in much of the work of Botticelli and the Italians of the fifteenth century. Botticelli's figures seldom have any weight; they drift about as if walking on air, giving a delightful feeling of otherworldliness. The hands of the Madonna that hold the Child might be holding flowers for any sense of support they express. It is, I think, on this sense of lightness that a great deal of the exquisite charm of Botticelli's drawing depends.

The feathery lightness of clouds and of draperies blown by the wind is always pleasing, and Botticelli nearly always has a light wind passing through his draperies to give them this sense.

As will be explained later, in connection with academic drawing, it is eminently necessary for the student to train his eye accurately to observe the forms of things by the most painstaking of drawings. In these school studies feeling need not be considered, but only a cold accuracy. In the same way a singer trains himself to sing scales, giving every note exactly the same weight and preserving a most mechanical time throughout, so that every note of his voice may be accurately under his control and be equal to the subtlest variations he may afterwards 35want to infuse into it at the dictates of feeling. For how can the draughtsman, who does not know how to draw accurately the cold, commonplace view of an object, hope to give expression to the subtle differences presented by the same thing seen under the excitement of strong feeling?

Plate V. FROM A STUDY BY BOTTICELLI In the Print Room at the British Museum.

Plate V.


In the Print Room at the British Museum.

These academic drawings, too, should be as highly finished as hard application can make them, so that the habit of minute visual expression may be acquired. It will be needed later, when drawing of a finer kind is attempted, and when in the heat of an emotional stimulus the artist has no time to consider the smaller subtleties of drawing, which by then should have become almost instinctive with him, leaving his mind free to dwell on the bigger qualities.

Drawing, then, to be worthy of the name, must be more than what is called accurate. It must present the form of things in a more vivid manner than we ordinarily see them in nature. Every new draughtsman in the history of art has discovered a new significance in the form of common things, and given the world a new experience. He has represented these qualities under the stimulus of the feeling they inspired in him, hot and underlined, as it were, adding to the great book of sight the world possesses in its art, a book by no means completed yet.

So that to say of a drawing, as is so often said, that it is not true because it does not present the commonplace appearance of an object accurately, may be foolish. Its accuracy depends on the completeness with which it conveys the particular emotional significance that is the object of the drawing. What this significance is will vary 36enormously with the individual artist, but it is only by this standard that the accuracy of the drawing can be judged.

It is this difference between scientific accuracy and artistic accuracy that puzzles so many people. Science demands that phenomena be observed with the unemotional accuracy of a weighing machine, while artistic accuracy demands that things be observed by a sentient individual recording the sensations produced in him by the phenomena of life. And people with the scientific habit that is now so common among us, seeing a picture or drawing in which what are called facts have been expressed emotionally, are puzzled, if they are modest, or laugh at what they consider a glaring mistake in drawing if they are not, when all the time it may be their mistaken point of view that is at fault.

But while there is no absolute artistic standard by which accuracy of drawing can be judged, as such standard must necessarily vary with the artistic intention of each individual artist, this fact must not be taken as an excuse for any obviously faulty drawing that incompetence may produce, as is often done by students who when corrected say that they "saw it so." For there undoubtedly exists a rough physical standard of rightness in drawing, any violent deviations from which, even at the dictates of emotional expression, is productive of the grotesque. This physical standard of accuracy in his work it is the business of the student to acquire in his academic training; and every aid that science can give by such studies as Perspective, Anatomy, and, in the case of Landscape, even Geology and Botany, should be used to increase the accuracy of 37his representations. For the strength of appeal in artistic work will depend much on the power the artist possesses of expressing himself through representations that arrest everyone by their truth and naturalness. And although, when truth and naturalness exist without any artistic expression, the result is of little account as art, on the other hand, when truly artistic expression is clothed in representations that offend our ideas of physical truth, it is only the few who can forgive the offence for the sake of the genuine feeling they perceive behind it.

Plate VI. STUDY IN NATURAL RED CHALK BY ALFRED STEPHENS From the collection of Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon

Plate VI.


From the collection of Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon

How far the necessities of expression may be allowed to override the dictates of truth to physical structure in the appearance of objects will always be a much debated point. In the best drawing the departures from mechanical accuracy are so subtle that I have no doubt many will deny the existence of such a thing altogether. Good artists of strong natural inspiration and simple minds are often quite unconscious of doing anything when painting, but are all the same as mechanically accurate as possible.

Yet however much it may be advisable to let yourself go in artistic work, during your academic training let your aim be a searching accuracy.