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The Modern Spirit in Contemporary Painting
A consideration of the more recent phases of current art presents an appeal not alone stimulating but possibly also disconcerting. And yet the matter is not so complicated as it would appear at first glance. Those same principles that govern every field of activity are operative in the province of aesthetic endeavour. You will grasp the issue more clearly if you bear in mind the all-important fact that art is a social expression, that the perennial quest of beauty is not an esoteric pastime or an ingenious puzzle. It is one of the essential characteristics of human effort and aspiration. There never was a time when man did not seek to visualize his impressions of the outward universe or give form and semblance to those ideas and emotions that surge so persistently within.
Art was at first the handmaiden of life. Each act in the initial stages of aesthetic progress was typically unconscious. In due course, however, the creation of beauty became an end in itself, and artistic production thus entered upon its second and more conscious phase. Throughout the serenity of the classic age, the inspiring exuberance of the Renaissance, and on down to modern times every artistic gesture possessed a special significance and responded to some specific need. If during the past century art has changed in aspect, it is largely because society itself has changed. We no longer, as did lordly patron, ecclesiastical or royal, command the artist to work for us. He works as a rule for himself alone, and one need scarcely scruple to term this the third or self-conscious phase of artistic development.
For various reasons painting is that particular form of aesthetic activity which is most sensitive and responsive to external influences. With but few exceptions the canvases to which we are accustomed have not been produced with any aim or end in view other than to appease the individual craving for graphic or coloristic expression. Rightly or wrongly the painting we encounter upon exhibition wall or in the studio has won its release from all explicit social obligation. It stands before us free and autonomous, and must be judged upon its own proper merits. That it has gained not a little by this change of status is evident. That in certain of its more acute manifestations it is paying the penalty of isolation is equally apparent.
Modern painting as such begins with the dawn of modern society, with the breakdown of the aristocratic order, the rise of democracy, and the rapid ascendancy of the scientific spirit. Timid and perturbed by the transformations which the Napoleonic regime wrought in his beloved Paris, Fragonard stands as the last of the old masters. He attempted, with pathetic futility, to adjust himself to altered conditions, but the task proved beyond his enfeebled powers. He did not possess the nervous vitality, the splendid, spasmodic virility of his Spanish contemporary Goya. It was David, ruthless and dictatorial, who dominated the early decades of the last century. After the rigid classicism of David came the impeccable academic propriety of Ingres and the eloquent romanticism exemplified by Eugène Delacroix. They each epitomized the temper and tendencies of their time. Painting was no longer content to minister modestly unto life; it had learned to echo in theme and treatment the social, political, and intellectual complexion of the age.
In the special sense in which it here concerns us, contemporary art did not begin with classicist, romanticist, or even with the sturdy terrestrialism of Gustave Courbet. It started with that prince of moderns the mundane, militant, Édouard Manet. Manet won two imperishable triumphs. He demolished the sterile prestige of academic tradition, and he taught us the possibilities of painting as a thing existing of, and for, itself alone - as something independent of history, allegory, or anecdote. With him the artist cast aside Roman toga and peasant smock. He was neither imperial like David nor a humble proletarian such as Millet. He stepped before us clad as anyone in frock coat and silk hat. Still, it was not reserved for the eager, ardent Manet to complete the emancipation of painting from the trammels of the past. He remained to the end a transitional figure. While he freed art from the tyranny of subject, he was not a true child of sunlight and atmosphere. All that Paris could offer he avidly absorbed, yet there was something more to be gleaned by watching haystack change subtly with the hour of day, in studying the cloud-flecked bosom of pool, or the fresh bloom of springtime garden. Although the impressionistic impetus emanated from Manet, it was the patient, salutary Monet who carried the doctrine to its logical conclusion. And close upon the heels of Manet and Monet pressed numerous converts who flooded studio and gallery with a radiance ever near at hand though until then so strangely neglected.
The story of contemporary painting in its first, or analytical stage, resolves itself into the struggle for light, and yet more light. For centuries figure and landscape had been bathed in brown sauce and blackened by bitumen. With but few exceptions all artists beheld nature through the subdued tonality of the old masters. Though Correggio saw the tender evanescence of atmosphere, and Velázquez felt the magic of its respiration, they stand almost alone amid a sombre assembly. With the moderns the conquest of light and air was by no means confined to the great, palpitating out-of-doors, to smiling field or iridescent stretch of water. It was also carried on within. Degas watched it filter through the windows of the foyer de la danse or flare into the faces of his ballet girls. Besnard caught its mellow flicker from lamp or fireside. Renoir adapted something of the chromatic opulence of Rubens to the requirements of the new creed, and even Gaston La Touche, in his St. Cloud villa, bathed his delicate, eighteenth-century evocations in this same fluid ambience.
Paris of course proved the spot from whence radiated this new gospel, just as, a generation later, it was from Paris that was launched the propaganda of the Expressionists, who today represent the inevitable reaction against Impressionism. Simultaneously there sprang up over the face of Europe, and also America, countless acquisitive apostles of light who soon changed the complexion of modern painting from black and brown to blonde, mauve, and violet. The movement seemed spontaneous. In Spain it was Sorolla and Rusiñol who popularized the prismatic palette among the vineyards of Valencia, along the plage of Cabañal, or in the gardens of Andalucía. Far up among the peaks of the Engadine, Giovanni Segantini, the solitary, heroic-souled Italian-Swiss painter perished in endeavouring to apply the principles of Divisionism, as he termed it, to simple and austere mountain scene. Darkness was everywhere dissipated. Under the direct inspiration of Degas, Max Liebermann undertook the task of injecting purity of tone and swiftness of touch into the Gothic obscurity and linear severity of Teutonic painting. Claus and Van Rysselberghe in Belgium, Thaulow in Norway, Kröyer in Denmark, and a dozen or more talented Swedes witness the widening acceptance of the Impressionist programme. Apart from George Clausen, Bertram Priestman, Wilson Steer, and a scant handful of the younger men, it cannot be claimed that Impressionism has made commensurate headway in England. The Scotchmen, to the country, have proved more sensitive and open-minded, and, in modified form, the feeling for atmospheric clarity has become one of the characteristic features of the Glasgow School.
In America conditions were favourable owing to the efforts of certain of our abler men who lived and studied in Paris during the early 'eighties of the last century. The pioneers in this particular field were Theodore Robinson and Alexander Harrison. Still, it must not be assumed that American Impressionism and French Impressionism are identical. The American painter accepted the spirit, not the letter of the new doctrine. He adapted the division of tones to local taste and conditions and ultimately evolved a species of compromise technique. Only one American artist, Hassam, went as far as Monet, yet he has managed to individualize his brilliant, vibrant colour appositions. In addition to Hassam the main exponents of the new movement were Weir, who has passed with distinction through divers transitions, Metcalf, the sweet-toned lyrist of the group, Simmons, Dodge, and Reid who applied the method to decorative figure composition, and the late John H. Twachtman whose work soon became an essentially personal manifestation. Associated with the foregoing men in the general aim of giving freshness and verity to native vision are Melchers and Hitchcock, who painted chiefly in Holland, Miss Cassatt, who has long been identified with Paris, and the Boston artists, Tarbell and Benson. That certain of them evince more craftsmanship than conviction is not a matter to be deplored, for they have done much toward revealing the possibilities of the modern palette and proving the necessity for a more painterlike and less provincial conception of their profession.
It has been necessary to recall the general diffusion and wide-spread vogue of Impressionism in order to indicate the significance of an achievement which, in the history of painting, ranks only second in importance to the discovery of perspective. The realization that there is no such thing as absolute colour, that what we see is not the actual object, but that object conditioned by varying effects of light and shade, and that, in certain circumstances, line and form themselves disintegrate, are facts which brought about a veritable revolution in pictorial representation. Artists became eager analysts of nature and natural phenomena. The hitherto undisputed predominance of subject-interest almost disappeared, and each man sought to steep himself in that all-pervading luminosity which, for the time being, seemed the sole source of beauty and inspiration. Certain phases of artistic effort did not, of course, so readily respond to the new order of things, though even portraiture and mural decoration ultimately reflected the spirit of the hour.
While there resulted from this scrupulous study of the optics of art much that was fresh and invigorating, the personal equation was nevertheless lacking, or was reduced to a minimum. You cannot open the window to nature and close it upon the human soul, and even before the conclusive triumph of Impressionism there were signs of a reaction. Analysis was bound to give place to synthesis, and hence Impressionism, which ignores the individual, was supplemented by Expressionism, which exalts the individual. Various names have been given the multiple forms which these ultramodern tendencies have assumed. We hear, with increasing perturbation, of Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Orphism, Synchromism, and a bewildering succession of isms all more or less closely associated in aim and idea. The most comprehensive and characteristic appellation is that of Expressionism, which, as is readily perceived, stands in direct antithesis to Impressionism. There are manifest differences between each of these isms. The inventors and promoters of one, repudiate all affiliation with the exponents of another, yet their general significance, both popular and philosophic, remains substantially the same.
In order properly to appreciate the situation it is necessary to realize that there are, to begin with, no revolutions in art. The development of artistic effort proceeds along definite lines. The various movements overlap one another, and in each will be found that vital potency which proves the formative impulse of the next. The aesthetic unity of man is as indisputable as is his ethnic unity, and, given similar conditions, he will not fail to produce similar, if not identical results. The panorama of pictorial or plastic accomplishment the world over, like the phenomena of crystallography, conchology, or those basic verities that lie at the root of all harmonic proportion reveal but scant variation from fixed rule. Nature at the outset managed to get such matters systematized, and since then has been satisfied to let things pursue their appointed course. While it is permissible for juvenile or uncritical enthusisiasts flamboyantly to announce revolutions, at bottom it is the more deliberate process of evolution to which they are paying tribute.
Why, then, the current super-excitation in art circles? It is merely due to a lack of close, firsthand acquaintance with the problem at issue. Most of us see only effects, not the causes that lead up to these effects. The primitive craftsmen, owing partially to their rudimentary command of technique, pictured things synthetically, and it is something of this same precious synthesis of vision and rendering which certain painters and sculptors of today have set about to recapture for themselves. The trend of art during the past few centuries has been away from subjective, and frankly in the direction of objective, representation. It is the thing itself we have gradually been forced to accept, not that which it may suggest to sight and sense. We have little by little stooped to a sort of debased illusionism and in order to extricate ourselves from the stupidity and stagnation of such a predicament, we have gone back to the fountain-heads of native art as they may be found in Hindu-China or Yucatan, on the plains of Mongolia, in the basin of the Nile, or among the shimmering islands of the Polynesian archipelago.
Less revolutionary than reactionary, the modernists have reverted to an earlier type of art, and in doing so it was inevitably to the East that they were forced to turn. The present movement of which we hear so much, possibly too much, represents more than anything the subtle ascendancy of Orient over Occident. The first premonition of this impending triumph was apparent as far back as the early 'sixties of the past century, when a certain Mme. Desoye opened in Paris a modest shop where she sold Japanese prints, pottery, screens, and the like, and succeeded in attracting the notice of Bracquemond, Louis Gonse, the de Goncourts, and other discerning spirits. Scattered quite by chance, the seed bore fruit in various quarters. Though Whistler paid his tribute in parasitic fashion, it was Manet who, inspired by the Spaniards and freed from scholastic influences by the redoubtable Courbet, first seized upon the essentials of the new art-the simplicity of outline, the juxtaposition of pure colour tones, and the substitution for elaborate modelling of flat surfaces without the use of shadow. The virtual precursor of the Impressionists, on the one hand, Manet may also be ranked as the parent Expressionist, for it was from him that Cézanne received hints of that structural and chromatic unity which, as we shall see, became the keynote of his method and the corner-stone of subsequent achievement. Yet it must never be forgotten that it was Courbet who at the outset courageously spurned a stilted and effete classicism and rudely dispelled the embers of a burned-out romanticism. It was upon his expansive peasant shoulders that Manet, the townsman, climbed to hitherto unattained heights. And it is to Courbet and to nature, which he worshipped with such passionate energy, that, once they have ventured far enough into space, our tense and pallid theorists must inevitably return.
The new art preaches before all else the supremacy of the personal factor. Social as well as aesthetic in aspect, it bases itself upon an unfettered, uncompromising individualism. We had a foretaste of this in the capricious attitude of Whistler toward the world of actuality about him which he was unwilling, or unable, to fix upon canvas. It was he who first inveighed against the picture that simply tells a story or states a fact. With his super-exclusiveness we are already well along the pathway leading toward complete independence of objective representation. The principle upon which the new movement is founded is, as we have indicated, one of the oldest of graphic expedients. It is the principle of simplification, of eliminating the superfluous and the non-essential. Consciously or unconsciously, it was practised over fifty thousand years ago by the caveman in his rock pictures of bison and reindeer. It lies at the root of all primitive artistic effort, and has been resurrected by a group of men who, whatever their individual differences and disagreements, unite in maintaining that contemporary painting and sculpture are but slavish and cumbersome forms of nature-imitation. They hold that the spirit has insufficient scope in a world so studiously, so palpably real. They take refuge in a realm where the abstract reigns supreme. One after another they have cast aside the precepts of the schools, the paraphernalia of the pedants, and gone, so they claim, straight to the source of things.
Glance at the founders of the cult and you will doubtless better comprehend the situation. First you encounter Paul Cézanne, ever sane and searching, extracting from the visible world its voluminal integrity of form and colour. You next behold Gauguin, the so-called barbarian, synthetizing life and scene in faroff Tahiti with a smouldering splendour of tone and stateliness of poise that hark back through Degas, Ingres, and Prudhon to the symmetry and spaciousness of classic times. And finally you are confronted in Van Gogh with a fusion of Gothic fervour and sheer dynamic fury that gives his tortured landscapes or distraught peasant physiognomies something of the eternal throb of all creative energy. Each, after his own fashion, was individual and anti-academic. Each, after his own fashion, strove to free eye and mind from the actual and the objective. Each sought not the substance but the sign, and that is why together they constitute the intrepid trinity of the new movement. Troubled and inarticulate as their utterance sometimes was, they rank as pioneers of the first category. And furthermore they did not shrink from paying the price of their independence in anguish, isolation, and death.
A perceptible distance separates these now classic pathfinders from their clamorous pendants and successors. It is a far cry from Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh to Henri-Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Francis Picabia, et alii. You are compelled to take a still more extended stride in order to find yourself abreast of Severini, Russolo, Boccioni, and the Italian Futurists. Matisse presents a mixture of naive sophistication and deliberate savagery. Picasso deals in a species of plastic geometry, and Picabia seeks to convey his impressions of the universe visible and occult by means of a series of ingeniously assembled cubes. The distinction between Cubist and Futurist is that the former strives to express volume in the most elementary fashion known to human concept, while the aim of the latter is to create upon canvas the sensation of ceaseless, synchronous motion. The one is static, the other kinetic.
Once the importance of the lesson taught by the pioneer spirits had been grasped, the field of operation, as we have seen, rapidly extended itself. The backward swing of the pendulum toward the primal spontaneity of untutored effort followed as a matter of course, and within a few brief years we were greeted with the apparition of Henri-Matisse. Others, less radical of temper, such as Maurice Denis, lingered appealingly with the Italian Primitives, yet all conceded that it was no longer the exclusive function of art to relate facts, but to communicate sensations; not to record life, but to interpret life. It was soon found that rhythm had been neglected, that form had lost its original significance, and that, above all else, the visible world had ceased to be employed as a vehicle for arousing emotion, but was doing service as the actual object of emotion.
As Henri-Matisse is the accredited head of the present movement, it may not be inappropriate to consider at somewhat closer range his personality and principles. This arch-enemy of convention inhabits a charming villa at Issyles-Moulineaux, in the suburbs of Paris. He is fond of his garden and dogs, and is a devoted husband and father. His studio is large, square, thoroughly workmanlike and painted white without and within. It is here amid normal salubrious surroundings that he perpetrates those huge, schematic panels, elementary essays in still-life, and primitive adventures in plastic form which are acclaimed in Germany, Russia, and Austria, which make a sensation in Paris, and create consternation in America. There is however nothing in the artistic credo of this mild-mannered iconoclast to frighten or confuse. Alike in word and deed he typifies the customary reaction against academic ascendancy and the futility of conventional formulae which one encounters elsewhere. His ideas are concisely set forth, and his canvases, while they may repel because of their brutal insistence upon outline and broad spaces filled with primary colours, are in no sense obscure.
"I began," said Matisse, in a recently published interview, "like everybody else, at the École des Beaux-Arts. When I started to paint, I painted for a time like everyone else. But things did not go well, and I was very unhappy. Then, little by little, I strove to paint not as I had been taught but as I felt. One cannot do successful work which shows feeling unless one sees the subject simply, and one must do this in order to express oneself as clearly as possible. Now, although certain conservatives accuse me of having dispensed with drawing, harmony, and composition, such is by no means the case. Drawing is for me the art of being able to express myself in line. When an artist or student renders a figure with painstaking care the result is drawing, not emotion. A true artist cannot see colour that is not harmonious. He should express his feelings by means of the harmonic sense of colour which he innately possesses. He should above all express a vision of colour, the resultant harmony of which corresponds to his feeling. Now take that table," he added, indicating a table near by upon which stood a jar of flowers, "I do not paint the table, I paint the emotion it arouses in inc."
As the connecting link between the Neo-Impressionists and the Cubists, Matisse occupies a significant position. In his search for motives coloristic, decorative, or plastic, he has gone by turns to Persia or to Polynesia, and has produced effects that are both reminiscent and revolutionary. He stands as the one artist of the modern school who succeeded in giving painting its
definitive impulse toward the abstract. His existence is inconceivable without taking into consideration his Impressionist forbears, and, had it not been for him, Cubism could scarcely have come into being.
Quite as logical as had been its predecessors, the next step was taken by Pablo Picasso, whose basic ideas may be found in Pythagoras, and the principles of whose method were long since formulated by Plato. Simple elementalism herewith gives place to subtle geometrizing, with the result that we are at last free from all taint of imitation, and watch unfold before us a world of visual imagery accountable to itself alone. The austere, Iberian temperament of Picasso, which makes appeal almost exclusively through an inherent plasticity of design, is supplemented in the work of Picabia by a warmer, more sensuous tonality and a kindred desire to create, not to copy. Call it optical music, emotional mathematics, or by whatever term you choose, the production of Picasso, Picabia, Léger, Gleizes, and their colleagues cannot be dismissed as mere impertinent pleasantry. Something of that passionate self-absorption which characterized the great seers of the past finds reflection in the aims and activities of these men.
In order rightly to appreciate the sequence of development let us take a glance at Francis Picabia in his studio in the avenue Charles Floquet, Paris, or better, in the café of the Brevoort, for Picabia is known in New York as well as in the French capital. Born of a French mother and Cuban father, Picabia is short and dark with heavy frame and delicately chiselled features. While his personality suggests intensity of feeling, you instantly recognize in him a lucid, logical intellect with an extraordinary gift for abstract reasoning. In common with most young Frenchmen of artistic predilections Picabia first went to the ateliers for preliminary training. It was not long however before he experienced a profound distaste for the work and teaching of his preceptors and posted off to Southern France in order to paint according to his own liking, amid resplendent sunshine and the sheen of olive tree. His first outdoor studies, which were impressionistic in spirit, soon became individual in vision and treatment. "Here," he one day exclaimed standing before a glowing canvas, "is a song of colour which, without imitation or reminiscence, induces fresh sensations and arouses new sentiments. Away with form, and all attempt at materialization. Open wide the doorway leading toward the symphony of colour!"
It was on a bleak February afternoon at the Brevoort, with the sparse trees tossed about by the fitful wind, and the motor busses buffeting their way against the storm, when Picabia condescended to elucidate for me the inner workings of the Cubist mind. "Cubism," he began, "is not a conspiracy; it is a creed. Every Cubist is different, yet collectively they constitute part of the modern movement in art or, rather, the art of the future. The term Cubist, which, like the term Impressionist, was first applied in derision, we have adopted in all gratitude and good faith. The cube, you recall, is the third dimension of matter - that of depth, volume, or thickness. Now because we exponents of the new art have attempted to express what is beneath the surface-that which is not perceptible to the eye, or to any of the material senses, someone christened us Cubists, or workers in the third dimension. But why, let me ask, stop at the third dimension, or the fourth, for that matter? There are no limits to imagination and emotion save those imposed by habit or convention." The wind still swept across the grey, asphalt spaces in front of the hotel and whipped into submission man and beast alike. Picabia disdained the liqueurs which had been deposited upon the marble-topped table by a solicitous garçon and continued in measured, carefully modulated periods. He recounted with minute detail the inevitable transition which he and his circle had made from the new to the still newer. The various members of the original group, which was called La Section d'Or, have in brief gone their several ways, while he in turn has passed from Cubism to Orphism, in response to a call, real or fancied, from the passionate, fateful lyrist who epitomizes the divinity of music and song.
On concluding, Picabia peered across the table to see whether or not I had followed him with the requisite sympathy and comprehension. I am proud to record that he seemed reassured, yet all the while I could not keep my thoughts from the pathetic singer whose name the new cult has chosen in order to make their programme clearer to the popular mind. I recalled that Orpheus not alone sang and stroked his lyre among the sunlit hills and beside sparkling streams, but also down in the gloomy shades of the underworld, where pathways were devious and uncertain.
Although it was not my good fortune to assist at the debut of the Futurists in Paris, I subsequently encountered the exhibition in Hamburg, and also in Copenhagen, where I made acquaintance with the work of these veritable anarchists in paint. In their impetuous, Latin fashion, they go further toward destruction and demolition than do any of their colleagues. If Cubism is a creed, Futurism is a challenge. This virulent, not to say savage, assault upon aesthetic convention was first delivered by the Italian poet and pamphleteer Marinetti at a public gathering held in the Chiarella Theatre at Turin, on the evening of March 8, 1910. The meeting was stormy and tumultuous. The opposition attempted to cry down Signor Marinetti, but the resourceful propagandist silenced the crowd by dexterously catching an orange which had been shied at his head. This he peeled, quartered, and ate with engaging unconcern. The incident saved the day, and he thereupon proceeded to read the now famous manifesto of the Futurist Painters, which may be designated as their profession of faith. Having stated their case, we were in due season permitted to see how these same ideas looked when transferred to canvas, and I do not hesitate to add that the sensation they created far exceeded the stir caused by the Post-Impressionists and Cubists.
Amid a vast amount of violence and bombast there lurk, at the basis of Futurism, certain valuable and invigorating truths. As an artistic demonstration it is virile and anti-sentimental. It is exhilarating, positive, and nationalistic. In no country save Italy could such tendencies have taken form, for the Futurist art is innately vivid, colourful, and effective. It is the desire of the Futurist to interpret life as it throbs and surges about him, to catch its movement, to convey a sense of its complexity, both visual and psychic. Everything that one sees, thinks, feels, or recalls may be crowded into a Futurist canvas. These men are striving, one and all, to destroy the traditional fixity of impression. They aim to demolish the theory that a given scene is unalterably focussed in the eye. Their art typifies not unity, but diversity, not that which is dead and immobile, but that which is vital, fluxional, and dynamic.
Is it necessary to lure you farther into the feverish, questing atmosphere of modernism - into this arena where the battle for aesthetic freedom is being waged so fiercely and tempestuously? You will in any event encounter the same phenomena from Stockholm to Naples, from Bordeaux to Budapest. Young men the world over are striving as never before to rejuvenate painting. That many, nay, most of them, are sincere is beyond question. That they will succeed in their efforts to create visual music, to found a new language of form and colour, is a question which may be discreetly left to the future. Meantime, while it can scarcely be maintained that they have produced anything approximating the supreme sovereignty of a masterpiece, they have injected into the pictorial and plastic arts a spirited, energizing impulse which has already proved of immeasurable benefit.
It is futile to expend one's energies debating whether such tentative manifestations as those under discussion have, or have not, any rightful place in art. The fact remains that they are here, hanging upon our walls, and that alone must go far toward justifying their existence. There is scant doubt but that much of this work is predominantly occult, or even at times positively hieratic. And still, despite what may be termed its over-individualization, it presages a profound spiritual rebirth in the province of aesthetic endeavour. There is little else to the so-called revolution in art than simply this. Its particularity of utterance will undoubtedly vanish, and its inner significance only will survive, since in any event our eyes, after a brief interval, become adjusted to method and are responsive to meaning alone.
Though it cannot be held that America has taken conspicuous part in the creation of these turbulent artistic currents we have not been oblivious of their existence. The most auspicious and authoritative note has been struck by Henry Golden Dearth, whose recent canvases are individual in conception, brilliant in colour, and highly decorative in arrangement. Impressionism having attained its final accent in the delectable outdoor confections of Frieseke, our less timid men have turned to fresher fields. Alfred Maurer and Arthur B. Davies, already well established along conservative lines, have espoused the cause of Expressionism. In addition, there are others, including Steichen, Sterne, Weber, Dove, Hartley, and the like who have declared themselves pronounced apostles of novelty. The combined effect of these various and varied foci of activity is felt mainly in its secondary phases, no specific programme having been thus far evolved. The local exhibitions are nevertheless brighter and more stimulating in aspect than was formerly the case, for which we must thank the exponents of the new movement, of whose existence neither the public nor the most indurated academician can remain unmindful.
Great things were freely predicted for American art following the initial influx of these stimulating and progressive foreign ideas. It is however only vaguely realized in certain quarters that, in order to paint like Gauguin it is necessary to live, think, and feel like Gauguin, or that, in order to fill a canvas after the fashion of Picasso, it is essential to possess the plastic vision and profound cerebral concentration of Picasso himself. Mere imitation, to which we are already too prone, will never produce anything significant or enduring, and, what should be taken to heart, is not the form but - let us once more add - the spirit of this work. The fact that one finds in Picabia, for example, a mingling of logic and lyricism which derives direct from the Impressionists and blends into the delicate exaltation of a new Orphism, should inspire our young men not to paint polymorphically, but look to their own traditions and sensibilities and see what they are capable of bringing forth. That which we, as a nation, above all else need is a more robust and decisive racial consciousness in matters artistic. And it is this lesson that the current agitation, despite its incidental crudity and incoherence, manifestly inculcates.
If, in fine, we are to accomplish something vital in art we must strive to purge ourselves alike from timidity and from pedantic prejudice. There is no phase of activity or facet of nature that should be forbidden the creative artist. The X-ray may quite as legitimately claim his attention as the rainbow, and, if he so desire, he is equally entitled to renounce the static and devote his energies to the kinetoscopic. If the discoveries of Chevreul and Rood in the realm of optics proved of substantial assistance to the Impressionists, there is scant reason why those of von Röntgen or Edison along other lines should be ignored by Expressionist and Futurist. There is, in any event, little occasion for alarm, since to no matter what lengths our restless Nietscheans of brush, palette, and chisel may go, they cannot destroy the accumulated treasury of the past. The point is that they will add nothing thereto, unless they keep alive that primal wonder and curiosity concerning the universe, both visible and invisible, which was characteristic of the caveman, and which has proved the mainstay of art throughout successive centuries.
It matters little, in the end, whether the message of art be conveyed through the employment of lines, dots, dashes, cubes, or spheres. The technical idiom is something that alters with each generation, each decade, almost. What is essential is that the general public, and not a few of the painters, too, be continually awakened, shocked if necessary, into a realization of the fact that art is a living organism which must reflect the temper of its time or degenerate into a sterile and soulless formula. The Futurists, in anarchistic frenzy, call upon us to demolish the museums and obliterate all connexion with an effete and futile past. No one else would be willing to venture quite so far, and yet it behoves us to inquire whether there is anything wrong with the art to which we have long been placidly accustomed.
Reference has been made to the penalty that painting has been forced to pay for pursuing its policy of aloofness, for losing direct contact with daily life and need. The fact has never, it seems, been more apparent than at the present time. Not only has the breach between painter and patron grown wider, but the barrier between the artist and the public has, in certain instances, become wellnigh impassable. Though neither side is wholly to blame, both are clearly at fault. Cubism, Futurism, Orphisin, Vorticism, and the like are not diseases, they are symptoms. For the disease itself, if such it be, one must look farther afield. Survey the achievement of the ages and you cannot fail to note that modern society offers less and less scope for that patient, often anonymous effort which fostered the masterpieces, pictorial and plastic, of preceding generations. Contemporary art is for the most part paraded before the common gaze for a few days, weeks, or months, and then immured in vast, impersonal edifices where it is inspected by the incurious and indifferent on Sundays and holidays. The conditions under which it is both produced and exhibited could scarcely be more false and unfruitful. We have in brief taken from the artist much that was formerly his, and he doubtless feels forced to call attention to his existence in ways that are often purposely sensational.
It is either immature or indurate to condemn or deride the countless isms that now and then disturb the sometimes too tranquil surface of contemporary art. There is in each a germ of verity and a wholesome fund of fermentation. And furthermore the latter-day painter or sculptor is by no means unique in his desire to create new forms or recombine old ones. Corresponding changes are taking place in music, poetry, the theatre, and the dance. In confronting these more advanced manifestations of the modern spirit we should strive in as far as possible to place ourselves in the position of the artist himself, for, whatever his title to fame or oblivion, he in no sense stands alone. He is, let us remember, but the eloquent and responsive offspring of his particular day and generation. Current artistic endeavour favours the frankly intensive appeal rather than the mere materialization of external appearances. With the ancients painting remained a submissive servant. With Whistler it became an aesthetic adventure. With us it is more and more assuming the aspect of a subjective experience.
 Copyright. 1916, by Christian Brinton.