Mural Painting 5

Should you ever be fascinated by what appears
over-strange," first ask and assure yourself that what is there is technically sound and workmanlike. There may be to you no ordinary criterion by which to judge it. It may be none the worse for that. But in its way is it decorative ? Has no one of its qualities been bought at the expense of any other essential quality ? If it deal with humanity, does its humanity tally with the experiences of observant human beings ? Then, however strange the work may seem to you, it deserves serious consideration. A narrow judgment is a right-of-way with fields, blooming and rich with prejudices on either side, and there is no limit to their acreage if the judgment be only narrow enough.
This brings one to the question at which I hinted in discussing the Correggio pictures the proclivity to apply to modern work a standard of criticism or appreciation totally different from that applied to the works of the older masters.
With a man of catholic judgment who is not a propagandist for his own or any particular school, all is equally considered. His knowledge of the "tory of art, of the spirit of the ages, of the influences of environment, is naturally bound up in his criticisms ; but even these adjuncts are little needed, except in the case of works that mark the developing of artistic effort. All others stand or fall by reason of their merit or want of it, irrespective of extrinsic reflections. Even the respectful awe that bids us be reticent before the works of the greatest, cannot prevent a feeling of preference for one or other among several products of a master's hand, for no man's works are all equal in merit. One is more happily conceived, better drawn or handled, more harmonious in colour, and so on ; and, as the French say, Le mieux est l'ennemi du biers, the greater excellency of the one points to the relative weaknesses in the others. And with the craftsman this selecting need not, as with the " man in the street" or the inexperienced, be due to bias or mood, but to a grasp of the varied attainments that go to the making of a work of art.
Be on your guard against the petty-minded, who would have you admire one type at the cost of others. His is a sort of narrow exclusiveness" blinkers " worn by the half learned in the presence of what is modern, and taken off before the works of the past. Young people who are carried off their feet by the enthusiasm of the moment feel sure that what they are enthusing over is right, and the rest, of course, wrong—and not only wrong, but a negligible quantity. Quaintly enough, these same men can run from a Holbein to a Rembrandt, from a Velazquez to a Titian, from a Van Eyck to a Watteau, and are perfectly content that an old mansion can have many windows letting in the light, but a new house only one at a time ; the others must have their shutters closed. Nor are the young the only sinners. There is an able book written on Velazquez which no doubt you will and should read, and you will better understand the aims of that master. But the writer was fired with a desire to explain through the work of Velazquez the aims of a certain school of impressionists. He was perfectly at liberty to espouse any appealing cause, and with all the more force when that cause was little understood and was attacked by those accustomed to the old, and chary about accepting the new. But there was small need for this writer himself to belittle the old that is sincere and fine, by way of lauding the attributes Of another, however great that other is. To make a bonfire of the Venetians and Flemings, wherewith to light up with a brighter light the achievement of Velazquez and lesser men who sought inspiration from him, is not justifiable. Velazquez gains nothing by such special pleading, and the advocate of a cause loses the sympathy of his tribunal.
A want of the sense of proportion is one to which we are all prone, and I cite this merely as an instance of what you may be tempted to do in your partisanship for the last of your discoveries. As you proceed you will find that there is no finality for many years of these last and only loves. Successive periods of such infidelities are but a phase of your evolutionary growth, from the grub to the chrysalis stage, out of which you may fly with wings of your own. Let this thought make you tolerant. Know beforehand that your fancy of to-day will give place to a new one to-morrow, and that a wide outlook is not achieved or expected without long experience, and then only with improving practice, " a rubbing of minds " with the most capable advisers, a reading of all upon which you can lay your hands that is written by acknowledged judges, a cultivating of the broadest sympathies, and then perhaps, after an apprenticeship to such training and influence for about twenty years, you may arrive at what may be called an independent judgment. Meanwhile, look askance at the verdicts pronounced by the immature who, like yourself, are yet to pass through the stress and storm inseparable from intellectual growth.
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