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OF IDEAS OF POWER, AS THEY AEE DEPENDENT UPON
By the term "execution," I understand the right ine|i. Meaning of chanical use of the means of art to produce a
the term T'ei- *
ecution." given end.
All qualities of execution, properly so called, are influenced by, and in a great degree dependent on, a far highquality of execu- er power than that of mere execution,—knowledge of truth. For exactly in proportion as an artist is certain of his end, will he be swift and simple in his means; and, as he is accurate and deep in his knowledge, will he be refined and precise in his touch. The first merit of manipulation, then, is that delicate and ceaseless expression of refined truth which is carried out to the last touch, and shadow of a touch, and which makes every hairsbreadth of importance, and every gradation full of meaning. It is not, properly speaking, execution; but it is the only source of difference between the execution of a commonplace and of a perfect artist. The lowest draughtsman, if he have spent the same time in handling the brush, may be equal to the highest in the other qualities of execution (in swiftness, simplicity, and decision ;) but not in truth. It is in the perfection and precision of the instantaneous line that the claim to immortality is laid. And if this truth of truths be present, all the other qualities of execution may well be spared ; and to those artists who wish to excuse their ignorance and inaccuracy by a species of execution which is a perpetual proclamation, "qu,ils n,ont demeure" qu'un quart d,heure a le faire," we may reply with the truthful Alceste, " Monsieur, le temps ne fait rien a l,affaire."
$3. The second The second quality of execution is simplicity, simplicity. rpne more unpretending, quiet, and retiring the
means, the more impressive their effect. Any ostentation, bril
liancy, or pretension of touch,—any exhibition of power or quickness, merely as such, above all, any attempt to render lines attractive at the expense of their meaning, is vice. $4. The third The third is mystery. Nature is always myste
mjstery. rious and secret in the use of her means; and art is
always likest her when it is most inexplicable. That execution which is the most incomprehensible, and which therefore defies imitation, (other qualities being supposed alike,) is the best. 15. The fourth. The fourth is inadequacy. The less sufficient the1"!}""7 'dec£ the means appear to the end, the greater (as has *l<m- been already noticed) will be the sensation of
The fifth is decision : the appearance, that is, that whatever is done, has been done fearlessly and at once; because this gives us the impression that both the fact to be represented, and the means necessary to its representation, were perfectly known. I e. The sixth, ve- The sixth is velocity. Not only is velocity, focity. or thg appearance of it, agreeable as decision is,
because it gives ideas of power and knowledge; but of twotouches, as nearly as possible the same in other respects, the quickest will invariably be the best. Trnth being supposed equally present in the shape and direction of both, there will be more evenness, grace and variety, in the quick one than in the slow one. It will be more agreeable to the eye as a touch or line, and will possess more of the qualities of the lines of nature —gradation, uncertainty, and unity.
j 7. strangeness These six qualities are the only perfectly legitisourcogor'pieasnre mate sources of pleasure in execution; but I might in execution. have added a seventh—strangeness, which in many cases is productive of a pleasure not altogether mean or degrading, though scarcely right. Supposing the other higher qualities first secured, it adds in no small degree to our impression of the artist,s knowledge, if the means used be such as we should never have thought of, or should have thought adapted to a contrary effect. Let us, for instance, compare the execution of the bull,s head in the left hand lowest corner of the Adoration of the Magi, in the Museum at Antwerp, with that in Berghem,s landscape, No. 132 in the Dulwich Gallery. Rubens first scratches horizontally over his canvas a thin grayish brown, transparent and even, very much the color of light wainscot; the horizontal strokes of the bristles being left so evident, that the whole might be taken for an imitation of wood, were it not for its transparency. On this ground the eye, nostril, and outline of the cheek are given with two or three rude, brown touches, (about three or four minutes, work in all,) though the head is colossal. The background is then laid in with thick, solid, warm white, actually projecting all round the head, leaving it in dark intaglio. Finally, five thin and scratchy strokes of very cold bluish white are struck for the high light on the forehead and nose, and the head is complete. Seen within a yard of the canvas, it looks actually transparent— a flimsy, meaningless, distant shadow ; while the background looks solid, projecting and near. From the right distance, (ten or twelve yards off, whence alone the whole of the picture can be seen,) it is a complete, rich, substantial, and living realization of the projecting head of the animal; while the background falls far behind. Now there is no slight nor mean pleasure in perceiving such a result attained by means so strange. By Berghem, on the other hand, a dark background is first laid in with exquisite delicacy and transparency, and on this the cow,s head is actually modelled in luminous white, the separate locks •of hair projecting from the canvas. No surprise, nor much pleasure of any kind, would be attendant on this execution, even were the result equally successful ; and what little pleasure we had in it, vanishes, when on retiring from the picture, we find the head shining like a distant lantern, instead of substantial or near. Yet strangeness is not to be considered as a legitimate source of pleasure. That means which is most conducive to the end, should always be the most pleasurable ; and that which is most conducive to the end, can be strange only to the ignorance of the spectator. This kind of pleasure is illegitimate, therefore, because it implies and requires, in those who feel it, ignorance of art.
i s. Yet even the The legitimate sources of pleasure in execution oTpieamre6TMTMs are therefore truth, simplicity, mystery, inadece»nfi°untBrewith quacy, decision, and velocity. But of these, be it «ach other. observed, some are so far inconsistent with others,
that they cannot be united in high degrees. Mystery with inadequacy, for instance; since to see that the means are inadequate, we must see what they are. Now the first three are the great qualities of execution, and the last three are the attractive ones, because on them are chiefly attendant the ideas of power. By the first three the attention is withdrawn from the means and fixed on the result: by the last three, withdrawn from the result and fixed on the means. To see that execution is swift or that it is decided, we must look away from its creation to observe it in the act of creating; we must think more of the pallet than of the picture, but simplicity and mystery compel the mind to leave the means and fix itself on the conception. Hence the danger of too great fondness for those sensations nesis to" ideas of of power which are associated with the three last Sie^adopfion of qualities of execution; for although it is most desirable that these should be present as far as they are consistent with the others, and though their visible absence is always painful and wrong, yet the moment the higher qualities are sacrificed to them in the least degree, we have a brilliant vice. Berghem and Salvator Rosa are good instances of vicious execution dependent on too great fondness for sensations of power, vicious because intrusive and attractive in itself, instead of being subordinate to its results and forgotten in them. There is perhaps no greater stumbling-block in the artist,s way, than the tendency to sacrifice truth and simplicity to decision and velocity,* captivating qualities, easy of attainment, and sure to attract attention and praise, while the delicate degree of truth which is at first sacrificed to them is so totally unappreciable by
* I have here noticed only noble vices, the sacrifices of one excellence to another legitimate but inferior one. There are, on the other hand, qualities of execution which are often sought for and praised, though scarcely by the class of persons for whom I am writing, in which everything is sacrificed to illegitimate and contemptible sources of pleasure, and these are vice throughout, and have no redeeming quality nor excusing aim. Such is that which is often thought so desirable in the Drawing-master, under the title of boldness, meaning that no touch is ever to be made less than the tenth of an inch broad; such, on the other hand, the softness and smoothness which are the great attraction of Carlo Dolci, and such the exhibition of particular powers and tricks of the hand and fingers, in total forgetfulness of any end whatsoever to be attained thereby, which is especially characteristic of modern engraving. Compare Sect. II. Chap. II. § 21. Note.
the majority of spectators, so difficult of attainment to the artist, that it is no wonder that efforts so arduous and unrewarded j10. Therefore should be abandoned. But if the temptation be perilous. once yielded to, its consequences are fatal ; there
is no pause in the fall. I could name a celebrated modern artist—once a man of the highest power and promise, who is a glaring instance of the peril of such a course. Misled by the undue popularity of his swift execution, he has sacrificed to it, first precision, and then truth, and her associate, beauty. What was first neglect of nature, has become contradiction of her; what was once imperfection, is now falsehood; and all that was meritorious in his manner, is becoming the worst, because the most attractive of vices ; decision without a foundation, and swiftness without an end.
in. Recapituia- Such are the principal modes in which the Hon' ideas of power may become a dangerous attraction
to the artist—a false test to the critic. But in all cases where they lead us astray it will be found that the error is caused by our preferring victory over a small apparent difficulty to victory over a great, but concealed one; and so that we keep this distinction constantly in view, (whether with reference to execution or to any other quality of art,) between the sensation and the intellectual estimate of power, we shall always find the ideas of power a just and high source of pleasure in every kind and grade of art.