The Practice and Science of Drawing by Harold Speed - HTML preview

PLEASE NOTE: This is an HTML preview only and some elements such as links or page numbers may be incorrect.
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.

"Art is the expression of the invisible by means of the visible"

expresses the same idea, and it is this that gives to art its high place among the works of man.

Beautiful things seem to put us in correspondence with a world the harmonies of which are more perfect, and bring a deeper peace than this imperfect life seems capable of yielding of itself. Our moments of peace are, I think, always associated with some form of beauty, of this spark of harmony within corresponding with some infinite source without. Like a mariner's compass, we are restless until we find repose in this one direction. In moments of beauty (for beauty is, strictly speaking, a state of mind rather than an attribute of certain objects, although certain things have the power of inducing it more than others) we seem to get a glimpse of this deeper truth behind the things of sense. And who can say but that this sense, dull enough in most of us, is not an echo of a greater harmony existing somewhere the other side of things, that we dimly feel through them, evasive though it is.

But we must tread lightly in these rarefied regions and get on to more practical concerns. By finding and emphasising in his work those elements in visual appearances that express these profounder things, the painter is enabled to stimulate the perception of them in others.

In the representation of a fine mountain, for instance, there are, besides all its rhythmic beauty of form and colour, associations touching deeper chords in our natures—associations connected with its size, age, and permanence, &c.; at any rate we have more feelings than form and colour of themselves


are capable of arousing. And these things must be felt by the painter, and his picture painted under the influence of these feelings, if he is instinctively to select those elements of form and colour that convey them. Such deeper feelings are far too intimately associated even with the finer beauties of mere form and colour for the painter to be able to neglect them; no amount of technical knowledge will take the place of feeling, or direct the painter so surely in his selection of what is fine.

There are those who would say, "This is all very well, but the painter's concern is with form and colour and paint, and nothing else. If he paints the mountain faithfully from that point of view, it will suggest all these other associations to those who want them." And others who would say that the form and colour of appearances are only to be used as a language to give expression to the feelings common to all men. "Art for art's sake" and "Art for subject's sake." There are these two extreme positions to consider, and it will depend on the individual on which side his work lies. His interest will be more on the aesthetic side, in the feelings directly concerned with form and colour; or on the side of the mental associations connected with appearances, according to his temperament. But neither position can neglect the other without fatal loss. The picture of form and colour will never be able to escape the associations connected with visual things, neither will the picture all for subject be able to get away from its form and colour. And it is wrong to say "If he paints the mountain faithfully from the form and colour point of view it will suggest all those other associations to those who want them," unless, as is possible with a simple-minded painter, he


be unconsciously moved by deeper feelings, and impelled to select the significant things while only conscious of his paint. But the chances are that his picture will convey the things he was thinking about, and, in consequence, instead of impressing us with the grandeur of the mountain, will say something very like "See what a clever painter I am!" Unless the artist has painted his picture under the influence of the deeper feelings the scene was capable of producing, it is not likely anybody will be so impressed when they look at his work.

And the painter deeply moved with high ideals as to subject matter, who neglects the form and colour through which he is expressing them, will find that his work has failed to be convincing. The immaterial can only be expressed through the material in art, and the painted symbols of the picture must be very perfect if subtle and elusive meanings are to be conveyed. If he cannot paint the commonplace aspect of our mountain, how can he expect to paint any expression of the deeper things in it? The fact is, both positions are incomplete. In all good art the matter expressed and the manner of its expression are so intimate as to have become one. The deeper associations connected with the mountain are only matters for art in so far as they affect its appearance and take shape as form and colour in the mind of the artist, informing the whole process of the painting, even to the brush strokes. As in a good poem, it is impossible to consider the poetic idea apart from the words that express it: they are fired together at its creation.

Now an expression by means of one of our different sense perceptions does not constitute art, or


the boy shouting at the top of his voice, giving expression to his delight in life but making a horrible noise, would be an artist. If his expression is to be adequate to convey his feeling to others, there must be some arrangement. The expression must be ordered, rhythmic, or whatever word most fitly conveys the idea of those powers, conscious or unconscious, that select and arrange the sensuous material of art, so as to make the most telling impression, by bringing it into relation with our innate sense of harmony. If we can find a rough definition that will include all the arts, it will help us to see in what direction lie those things in painting that make it an art. The not uncommon idea, that painting is "the production by means of colours of more or less perfect representations of natural objects" will not do. And it is devoutly to be hoped that science will perfect a method of colour photography finally to dispel this illusion.

What, then, will serve as a working definition? There must be something about feeling, the expression of that individuality the secret of which everyone carries in himself; the expression of that ego that perceives and is moved by the phenomena of life around us. And, on the other hand, something about the ordering of its expression.

But who knows of words that can convey a just idea of such subtle matter? If one says "Art is the rhythmic expression of Life, or emotional consciousness, or feeling," all are inadequate. Perhaps the "rhythmic expression of life" would be the more perfect definition. But the word "life" is so much more associated with eating and drinking in the popular mind, than with the spirit or force or whatever you care to call it, that exists behind consciousness


and is the animating factor of our whole being, that it will hardly serve a useful purpose. So that, perhaps, for a rough, practical definition that will at least point away from the mechanical performances that so often pass for art, "the Rhythmic expression of Feeling" will do: for by Rhythm is meant that ordering of the materials of art (form and colour, in the case of painting) so as to bring them into relationship with our innate sense of harmony which gives them their expressive power. Without this relationship we have no direct means of making the sensuous material of art awaken an answering echo in others. The boy shouting at the top of his voice, making a horrible noise, was not an artist because his expression was inadequate—was not related to the underlying sense of harmony that would have given it expressive power.


Plate III.


In red chalk on toned paper.

Let us test this definition with some simple cases. Here is a savage, shouting and flinging his arms and legs about in wild delight; he is not an artist, although he may be moved by life and feeling. But let this shouting be done on some ordered plan, to a rhythm expressive of joy and delight, and his leg and arm movements governed by it also, and he has become an artist, and singing and dancing (possibly the oldest of the arts) will result.

Or take the case of one who has been deeply moved by something he has seen, say a man killed by a wild beast, which he wishes to tell his friends. If he just explains the facts as he saw them, making no effort to order his words so as to make the most telling impression upon his hearers and convey to them something of the feelings that are stirring in him, if he merely does this, he is not an artist, although the recital of such a terrible incident may be


moving. But the moment he arranges his words so as to convey in a telling manner not only the plain facts, but the horrible feelings he experienced at the sight, he has become an artist. And if he further orders his words to a rhythmic beat, a beat in sympathy with his subject, he has become still more artistic, and a primitive form of poetry will result.

Or in building a hut, so long as a man is interested solely in the utilitarian side of the matter, as are so many builders to-day, and just puts up walls as he needs protection from wild beasts, and a roof to keep out the rain, he is not yet an artist. But the moment he begins to consider his work with some feeling, and arranges the relative sizes of his walls and roof so that they answer to some sense he has for beautiful proportion, he has become an artist, and his hut has some architectural pretensions. Now if his hut is of wood, and he paints it to protect it from the elements, nothing necessarily artistic has been done. But if he selects colours that give him pleasure in their arrangement, and if the forms his colour masses assume are designed with some personal feeling, he has invented a primitive form of decoration.

And likewise the savage who, wishing to illustrate his description of a strange animal he has seen, takes a piece of burnt wood and draws on the wall his idea of what it looked like, a sort of catalogue of its appearance in its details, he is not necessarily an artist. It is only when he draws under the influence of some feeling, of some pleasure he felt in the appearance of the animal, that he becomes an artist.

Of course in each case it is assumed that the men have the power to be moved by these things, and whether they are good or poor artists will


depend on the quality of their feeling and the fitness of its expression.


Plate IV.


The purest form of this "rhythmic expression of feeling" is music. And as Walter Pater shows us in his essay on "The School of Giorgione," "music is the type of art." The others are more artistic as they approach its conditions. Poetry, the most musical form of literature, is its most artistic form. And in the greatest pictures form, colour, and idea are united to thrill us with harmonies analogous to music.

The painter expresses his feelings through the representation of the visible world of Nature, and through the representation of those combinations of form and colour inspired in his imagination, that were all originally derived from visible nature. If he fails from lack of skill to make his representation convincing to reasonable people, no matter how sublime has been his artistic intention, he will probably have landed in the ridiculous. And yet, so great is the power of direction exercised by the emotions on the artist that it is seldom his work fails to convey something, when genuine feeling has been the motive. On the other hand, the painter with no artistic impulse who makes a laboriously commonplace picture of some ordinary or pretentious subject, has equally failed as an artist, however much the skilfulness of his representations may gain him reputation with the unthinking.

The study, therefore, of the representation of visible nature and of the powers of expression possessed by form and colour is the object of the painter's training.

And a command over this power of representation and expression is absolutely necessary if he is to be capable of doing anything worthy of his art.


This is all in art that one can attempt to teach. The emotional side is beyond the scope of teaching. You cannot teach people how to feel. All you can do is to surround them with the conditions calculated to stimulate any natural feeling they may possess. And this is done by familiarising students with the best works of art and nature.


It is surprising how few art students have any idea of what it is that constitutes art. They are impelled, it is to be assumed, by a natural desire to express themselves by painting, and, if their intuitive ability is strong enough, it perhaps matters little whether they know or not. But to the larger number who are not so violently impelled, it is highly essential that they have some better idea of art than that it consists in setting down your canvas before nature and copying it.

Inadequate as this imperfect treatment of a profoundly interesting subject is, it may serve to give some idea of the point of view from which the following pages are written, and if it also serves to disturb the "copying theory" in the minds of any students and encourages them to make further inquiry, it will have served a useful purpose.




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


caught 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


our 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


his 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


want 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.


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


enormously 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


his 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.


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.




It is necessary to say something about Vision in the first place, if we are to have any grasp of the idea of form.

An act of vision is not so simple a matter as the student who asked her master if she should "paint nature as she saw nature" would seem to have thought. And his answer, "Yes, madam, provided you don't see nature as you paint nature," expressed the first difficulty the student of painting has to face: the difficulty of learning to see.

Let us roughly examine what we know of vision. Science tells us that all objects are made visible to us by means of light; and that white light, by which we see things in what may be called their normal aspect, is composed of all the colours of the solar spectrum, as may be seen in a rainbow; a phenomenon caused, as everybody knows, by the sun's rays being split up into their component parts.

This light travels in straight lines and, striking objects before us, is reflected in all directions. Some of these rays passing through a point situated behind the lenses of the eye, strike the retina. The multiplication of these rays on the retina produces a picture of whatever is before the eye, such as can be seen on the ground glass at the back of a


photographer's camera, or on the table of a camera obscura, both of which instruments are constructed roughly on the same principle as the human eye.

These rays of light when reflected from an object, and again when passing through the atmosphere, undergo certain modifications. Should the object be a red one, the yellow, green, and blue rays, all, in fact, except the red rays, are absorbed by the object, while the red is allowed to escape. These red rays striking the retina produce certain effects which convey to our consciousness the sensation of red, and we say "That is a red object." But there may be particles of moisture or dust in the air that will modify the red rays so that by the time they reach the eye they may be somewhat different. This modification is naturally most effective when a large amount of atmosphere has to be passed through, and in things very distant the colour of the natural object is often entirely lost, to be replaced by atmospheric colours, as we see in distant mountains when the air is not perfectly clear. But we must not stray into the fascinating province of colour.

What chiefly concerns us here is the fact that the pictures on our retinas are flat, of two dimensions, the same as the canvas on which we paint. If you examine these visual pictures without any prejudice, as one may with a camera obscura, you will see that they are composed of masses of colour in infinite variety and complexity, of different shapes and gradations, and with many varieties of edges; giving to the eye the illusion of nature with actual depths and distances, although one knows all the time that it is a flat table on which one is looking.

Seeing then that our eyes have only flat pictures containing two-dimension information about the


objective world, from whence is this knowledge of distance and the solidity of things? How do we see the third dimension, the depth and thickness, by means of flat pictures of two dimensions?

The power to judge distance is due principally to our possessing two eyes situated in slightly different positions, from which we get two views of objects, and also to the power possessed by the eyes of focussing at different distances, others being out of focus for the time being. In a picture the eyes can only focus at one distance (the distance the eye is from the plane of the picture when you are looking at it), and this is one of the chief causes of the perennial difficulty in painting backgrounds. In nature they are out of focus when one is looking at an object, but in a painting the background is necessarily on the same focal plane as the object. Numerous are the devices resorted to by painters to overcome this difficulty, but they do not concern us here.

The fact that we have two flat pictures on our two retinas to help us, and that we can focus at different planes, would not suffice to account for our knowledge of the solidity and shape of the objective world, were these senses not associated with another sense all important in ideas of form, the sense of touch.

This sense is very highly developed in us, and the earlier period of our existence is largely given over to feeling for the objective world outside ourselves. Who has not watched the little baby hands feeling for everything within reach, and without its reach, for the matter of that; for the infant has no knowledge yet of what is and what is not within its reach. Who has not offered some bright object to a


young child and watched its clumsy attempts to feel for it, almost as clumsy at first as if it were blind, as it has not yet learned to focus distances. And when he has at last got hold of it, how eagerly he feels it all over, looking intently at it all the time; thus learning early to associate the "feel of an object" with its appearance. In this way by degrees he acquires those ideas of roughness and smoothness, hardness and softness, solidity, &c., which later on he will be able to distinguish by vision alone, and without touching the object.

Our survival depends so much on this sense of touch, that it is of the first importance to us. We must know whether the ground is hard enough for us to walk on, or whether there is a hole in front of us; and masses of colour rays striking the retina, which is what vision amounts to, will not of themselves tell us. But associated with the knowledge accumulated in our early years, by connecting touch with sight, we do know when certain combinations of colour rays strike the eye that there is a road for us to walk on, and that when certain other combinations occur there is a hole in front of us, or the edge of a precipice.

And likewise with hardness and softness, the child who strikes his head against the bed-post is forcibly reminded by nature that such things are to be avoided, and feeling that it is hard and that hardness has a certain look, it avoids that kind of thing in the future. And when it strikes its head against the pillow, it learns the nature of softness, and associating this sensation with the appearance of the pillow, knows in future that when softness is observed it need not be avoided as hardness must be.


Sight is therefore not a matter of the eye alone. A whole train of associations connected with the objective world is set going in the mind when rays of light strike the retina refracted from objects. And these associations vary enormously in quantity and value with different individuals; but the one we are here chiefly concerned with is this universal one of touch. Everybody "sees" the shape of an object, and "sees" whether it "looks" hard or soft, &c. Sees, in other words, the "feel" of it.

If you are asked to think of an object, say a cone, it will not, I think, be the visual aspect that will occur to most people. They will think of a circular base from which a continuous side slopes up to a point situated above its centre, as one would feel it. The fact that in almost every visual aspect the base line is that of an ellipse, not a circle, comes as a surprise to people unaccustomed to drawing.

But above these cruder instances, what a wealth of associations crowd in upon the mind, when a sight that moves one is observed. Put two men before a scene, one an ordinary person and the other a great poet, and ask them to describe what they see. Assuming them both to be possessed of a reasonable power honestly to express themselves, what a difference would there be in the value of their descriptions. Or take two painters both equally gifted in the power of expressing their visual perceptions, and put them before the scene to paint it. And assuming one to be a commonplace man and the other a great artist, what a difference will there be in their work. The commonplace painter will paint a commonplace picture, while the form and colour will be the means of stirring deep associations


and feelings in the mind of the other, and will move him to paint the scene so that the same splendour of associations may be conveyed to the beholder.


Plate VII.


In natural red chalk rubbed with finger; the high lights are picked out with rubber.

But to return to our infant mind. While the development of the perception of things has been going on, the purely visual side of the question, the observation of the picture on the retina for what it is as form and colour, has been neglected—neglected to such an extent that when the child comes to attempt drawing, sight is not the sense he consults. The mental idea of the objective world that has grown up in his mind is now associated more directly with touch than with sight, with the felt shape rather than the visual appearance. So that if he is asked to draw a head, he thinks of it first as an object having a continuous boundary in space. This his mind instinctively conceives as a line. Then, hair he expresses by a row of little lines coming out from the boundary, all round the top. He thinks of eyes as two points or circles, or as points in circles, and the nose either as a triangle or an L-shaped line. If you feel the nose you will see the reason of this. Down the front you have the L line, and if you feel round it you will find the two sides meeting at the top and a base joining them, suggesting the triangle. The mouth similarly is an opening with a row of teeth, which are generally shown although so seldom seen, but always apparent if the mouth is felt (see diagram A). This is, I think, a fair type of the first drawing the ordinary child makes—and judging by some ancient scribbling of the same order I remember noticing scratched on a wall at Pompeii, and by savage drawing generally, it appears to be a fairly universal


type. It is a very remarkable thing which, as far as I know, has not yet been pointed out, that in these first attempts at drawing the vision should not be consulted. A blind man would not draw differently, could he but see to draw. Were vision the first sense consulted, and were the simplest visual appearance sought after, one might expect something like diagram B, the shadows under eyes, nose, mouth, and chin, with the darker mass of the hair being the simplest thing the visual appearance can be reduced to. But despite this being quite as easy to do, it does not appeal to the ordinary child as the other type does, because it does not satisfy the


sense of touch that forms so large a part of the idea of an object in the mind. All architectural elevations and geometrical projections generally appeal to this mental idea of form. They consist of views of a building or object that could never possibly be seen by anybody, assuming as they do that the eye of the spectator is exactly in front of every part of the building at the same time, a physical impossibility. And yet so removed from the actual visual appearance is our mental idea of objects that such drawings do convey a very accurate idea of a building or object. And of course they have great advantage as working drawings in that they can be scaled.


Diagram I.



If so early the sense of vision is neglected and relegated to be the handmaiden of other senses, it is no wonder that in the average adult it is in such a shocking state of neglect. I feel convinced that with the great majority of people vision is seldom if ever consulted for itself, but only to minister to some other sense. They look at the sky to see if it is going to be fine; at the fields to see if they are dry enough to walk on, or whether there will be a good crop of hay; at the stream not to observe the beauty of the reflections from the blue sky or green fields dancing upon its surface or the rich colouring of its shadowed depths, but to calculate how deep it is or how much power it would supply to work a mill, how many fish it contains, or some other association alien to its visual aspect. If one looks up at a fine mass of cumulus clouds above a London street, the ordinary passer-by who follows one's gaze expects to see a balloon or a flying-machine at least, and when he sees it is only clouds he is apt to wonder what one is gazing at. The beautiful


form and colour of the cloud seem to be unobserved. Clouds mean nothing to him but an accumulation of water dust that may bring rain. This accounts in some way for the number of good paintings that are incomprehensible to the majority of people. It is only those pictures that pursue the visual aspect of objects to a sufficient completion to contain the suggestion of these other associations, that they understand at all. Other pictures, they say, are not finished enough. And it is so seldom that a picture can have this petty realisation and at the same time be an expression of those larger emotional qualities that constitute good painting.

The early paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood appear to be a striking exception to this. But in their work the excessive realisation of all details was part of the expression and gave emphasis to the poetic idea at the basis of their pictures, and was therefore part of the artistic intention. In these paintings the fiery intensity with which every little detail was painted made their picture a ready medium for the expression of poetic thought, a sort of "painted poetry," every detail being selected on account of some symbolic meaning it had, bearing on the poetic idea that was the object of the picture.

But to those painters who do not attempt "painted poetry," but seek in painting a poetry of its own, a visual poetry, this excessive finish (as it is called) is irksome, as it mars the expression of those qualities in vision they wish to express. Finish in art has no connection with the amount of detail in a picture, but has reference only to the completeness with which the emotional idea the painter set out to express has been realised.


Plate VIII.


In red conté chalk and white pastel rubbed on toned paper.


The visual blindness of the majority of people is greatly to be deplored, as nature is ever offering them on their retina, even in the meanest slum, a music of colour and form that is a constant source of pleasure to those who can see it. But so many are content to use this wonderful faculty of vision for utilitarian purposes only. It is the privilege of the artist to show how wonderful and beautiful is all this music of colour and form, so that people, having been moved by it in his work, may be encouraged to see the same beauty in the things around them. This is the best argument in favour of making art a subject of general education: that it should teach people to see. Everybody does not need to draw and paint, but if everybody could get the faculty of appreciating the form and colour on their retinas as form and colour, what a wealth would always be at their disposal for enjoyment! The Japanese habit of looking at a landscape upside down between their legs is a way of seeing without the deadening influence of touch associations. Thus looking, one is surprised into seeing for once the colour and form of things with the association of touch for the moment forgotten, and is puzzled at the beauty. The odd thing is that although thus we see things upside down, the pictures on our retinas are for once the right way up; for ordinarily the visual picture is inverted on the retina, like that on the ground glass at the back of a photographic camera.

To sum up this somewhat rambling chapter, I have endeavoured to show that there are two aspects from which the objective world can be apprehended. There is the purely mental perception founded chiefly on knowledge derived from our sense


of touch associated with vision, whose primitive instinct is to put an outline round objects as representing their boundaries in space. And secondly, there is the visual perception, which is concerned with the visual aspects of objects as they appear on the retina; an arrangement of colour shapes, a sort of mosaic of colour. And these two aspects give us two different points of view from which the representation of visible things can be approached.

When the representation from either point of view is carried far enough, the result is very similar. Work built up on outline drawing to which has been added light and shade, colour, aerial perspective, &c., may eventually approximate to the perfect visual appearance. And inversely, representations approached from the point of view of pure vision, the mosaic of colour on the retina, if pushed far enough, may satisfy the mental perception of form with its touch associations. And of course the two points of view are intimately connected. You cannot put an accurate outline round an object without observing the shape it occupies in the field of vision. And it is difficult to consider the "mosaic of colour forms" without being very conscious of the objective significance of the colour masses portrayed. But they present two entirely different and opposite points of view from which the representation of objects can be approached. In considering the subject of drawing I think it necessary to make this division of the subject, and both methods of form expression should be studied by the student. Let us call the first method Line Drawing and the second Mass Drawing. Most modern drawing is a mixture of both these points of view, but they should be studied separately if confusion is to be avoided. If


the student neglects line drawing, his work will lack the expressive significance of form that only a feeling for lines seems to have the secret of conveying; while, if he neglects mass drawing, he will be poorly equipped when he comes to express form with a brush full of paint to work with.




Most of the earliest forms of drawing known to us in history, like those of the child we were discussing in the last chapter, are largely in the nature of outline drawings. This is a remarkable fact considering the somewhat remote relation lines have to the complete phenomena of vision. Outlines can only be said to exist in appearances as the boundaries of masses. But even here a line seems a poor thing from the visual point of view; as the boundaries are not always clearly defined, but are continually merging into the surrounding mass and losing themselves to be caught up again later on and defined once more. Its relationship with visual appearances is not sufficient to justify the instinct for line drawing. It comes, I think, as has already been said, from the sense of touch. When an object is felt there is no merging in the surrounding mass, but a firm definition of its boundary, which the mind instinctively conceives as a line.

There is a more direct appeal to the imagination in line drawing than in possibly anything else in pictorial art. The emotional stimulus given by fine design is due largely to line work. The power a line possesses of instinctively directing the eye along its course is of the utmost value also, enabling the artist to concentrate the attention of the beholder


where he wishes. Then there is a harmonic sense in lines and their relationships, a music of line that is found at the basis of all good art. But this subject will be treated later on when talking of line rhythm.

Most artists whose work makes a large appeal to the imagination are strong on the value of line. Blake, whose visual knowledge was such a negligible quantity, but whose mental perceptions were so magnificent, was always insisting on its value. And his designs are splendid examples of its powerful appeal to the imagination.

On this basis of line drawing the development of art proceeded. The early Egyptian wall paintings were outlines tinted, and the earliest wall sculpture was an incised outline. After these incised lines some man of genius thought of cutting away the surface of the wall between the outlines and modelling it in low relief. The appearance of this may have suggested to the man painting his outline on the wall the idea of shading between his outlines.

At any rate the next development was the introduction of a little shading to relieve the flatness of the line-work and suggest modelling. And this was as far as things had gone in the direction of the representation of form, until well on in the Italian Renaissance. Botticelli used nothing else than an outline lightly shaded to indicate form. Light and shade were not seriously perceived until Leonardo da Vinci. And a wonderful discovery it was thought to be, and was, indeed, although it seems difficult to understand where men's eyes had been for so long with the phenomena of light and shade before them all the time. But this is only another proof of


what cannot be too often insisted on, namely that the eye only sees what it is on the look-out for, and it may even be there are things just as wonderful yet to be discovered in vision.

But it was still the touch association of an object that was the dominant one; it was within the outline demanded by this sense that the light and shade were to be introduced as something as it were put on the object. It was the "solids in space" idea that art was still appealing to.

"The first object of a painter is to make a simple flat surface appear like a relievo, and some of its parts detached from the ground; he who excels all others in that part of the art deserves the greatest praise,"[1] wrote Leonardo da Vinci, and the insistence on this "standing out" quality, with its appeal to the touch sense as something great in art, sounds very strange in these days. But it must be remembered that the means of creating this illusion were new to all and greatly wondered at.

[1] Leonardo da Vinci, Treatise on Painting, paragraph 178.

And again, in paragraph 176 of his treatise, Leonardo writes: "The knowledge of the outline is of most consequence, and yet may be acquired to great certainty by dint of study; as the outlines of the human figure, particularly those which do not bend, are invariably the same. But the knowledge of the situation, quality and quantity of shadows, being infinite, requires the most extensive study."

The outlines of the human figure are "invariably the same"? What does this mean? From the visual point of view we know that the space occupied by figures in the field of our vision is by no means "invariably the same," but of great variety. So it cannot be the visual appearance he is speaking about.


It can only refer to the mental idea of the shape of the members of the human figure. The remark "particularly those that do not bend" shows this also, for when the body is bent up even the mental idea of its form must be altered. There is no hint yet of vision being exploited for itself, but only in so far as it yielded material to stimulate this mental idea of the exterior world.