IN THE ARTS
BONI and LIVERIGHT
Publishers New York
Copyright, 1921, By
Boni & Liveright, Inc.
The papers in this book are not intended in any way to be professional treatises. They must be viewed in the light of entertaining conversations. Their possible value lies in their directness of impulse, and not in weight of argument. I could not wish to go into the qualities of art more deeply. A reaction, to be pleasant, must be simple. This is the apology I have to offer: Reactions, then, through direct impulse, and not essays by means of stiffened analysis.
Some of the papers included in this book have appeared in Art and Archeology, The Seven Arts, The Dial, The Nation, The New Republic, and The Touchstone. Thanks are due to the editors of these periodicals for permission to reprint.
ADVENTURES IN THE ARTS
Perhaps the most important part of Criticism is the fact that it presents to the creator a problem which is never solved. Criticism is to him a perpetual Presence: or perhaps a ghost which he will not succeed in laying. If he could satisfy his mind that Criticism was a certain thing: a good thing or a bad, a proper presence or an irrelevant, he could psychologically dispose of it. But he can not. For Criticism is a configuration of responses and reactions so intricate, so kaleidoscopic, that it would be as simple to category Life itself.
The artist remains the artist precisely in so far as he rejects the simplifying and reducing process of the average man who at an early age puts Life away into some snug conception of his mind and race. This one turns the key. He has released his will and love from the vast Ceremonial of wonder, from the deep Poem of Being, into some particular detail of life wherein he hopes to achieve comfort or at least shun pain. Not so, the artist. In the moment when he elects to avoid by whatever makeshift the raw agony of life, he ceases to be fit to create. He must face experience forever freshly: reduce life each day anew to chaos and remould it into order. He must be always a willing virgin, given up to life and so enlacing it. Thus only may he retain and record that pure surprise whose earliest voicing is the first cry of the infant.
The unresolved expectancy of the creator toward Life should be his way toward Criticism also. He should hold it as part of his Adventure. He should understand in it, particularly when it is impertinent, stupid and cruel, the ponderable weight of Life itself, reacting upon his search for a fresh conquest over it. Though it persist unchanged in its rôle of purveying misinformation and absurdity to the Public, he should know it for himself a blessed dispensation.
With his maturity, the creator's work goes out into the world. And in this act, he puts the world away. For the artist's work defines: and definition means apartness: and the average man is undefined in the social body. Here is a danger for the artist within the very essence of his artistic virtue. During the years of his apprenticeship, he has struggled to create for himself an essential world out of experience. Now he begins to succeed: and he lives too fully in his own selection: he lives too simply in the effects of his effort. The gross and fumbling impact of experience is eased. The grind of ordinary intercourse is dimmed. The rawness of Family and Business is refined or removed. But now once more the world comes in to him, in the form of the Critic. Here again, in a sharp concentrated sense, the world moves on him: its complacency, its hysteria, its down-tending appetites and fond illusions, its pathetic worship of yesterdays and hatred of tomorrows, its fear-dogmas and its blood-avowals.
The artist shall leave the world only to find it, hate it only because he loves, attack it only if he serves. At that epoch of his life when the world's gross sources may grow dim, Criticism brings them back. Wherefore, the function of the Critic is a blessing and a need.
The creator's reception of this newly direct, intense, mundane intrusion is not always passive. If the artist is an intelligent man, he may respond to the intervening world on its own plane. He may turn critic himself.
When the creator turns critic, we are in the presence of a consummation: we have a complete experience: we have a sort of sacrament. For to the intrusion of the world he interposes his own body. In his art, the creator's body would be itself intrusion. The artist is too humble and too sane to break the ecstatic flow of vision with his personal form. The true artist despises the personal as an end. He makes fluid, and distils his personal form. He channels it beyond himself to a Unity which of course contains it. But Criticism is nothing which is not the sheer projection of a body. The artist turns Self into a universal Form: but the critic reduces Form to Self. Criticism is to the artist the intrusion, in a form irreducible to art, of the body of the world. What can he do but interpose his own?
This is the value of the creator's criticism. He gives to the world himself. And his self is a rich life.
It includes for instance a direct experience of art, the which no professional critic may possess. And it includes as well a direct knowledge of life, sharpened in the retrospect of that devotion to the living which is peculiarly the artist's. For what is the critic after all, but an "artistic" individual somehow impeded from satisfying his esthetic emotion and his need of esthetic form in the gross and stubborn stuff of life itself: who therefore, since he is too intelligent for substitutes, resorts to the already digested matter of the hardier creators, takes their assimilated food and does with it what the athletic artist does with the meat and lymph and bone of God himself? The artist mines from the earth and smelts with his own fire. He is higher brother to the toilers of the soil. The critic takes the products of the creator, reforges, twists them, always in the cold. For if he had the fire to melt, he would not stay with metals already worked: when the earth's womb bursts with richer.
When the creator turns critic, we are certain of a feast. We have a fare that needs no metaphysical sauce (such as must transform the product of the Critic). Here is good food. Go to it and eat. The asides of a Baudelaire, a Goethe, a Da Vinci outweight a thousand tomes of the professional critics.
I know of no American book like this one by Marsden Hartley. I do not believe American painting heretofore capable of so vital a response and of so athletic an appraisal. Albert Ryder barricaded himself from the world's intrusion. The American world was not intelligent enough in his days to touch him to an activer response. And Ryder, partaking of its feebleness, from his devotion to the pure subjective note became too exhausted for aught else. As a world we have advanced.