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STUDIES IN SEVEN ARTS




Edinburgh : T. and A. Constable, Printers to His Majesty



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TO RHODA



Do you remember the first two sentences of
Pater's essay on ' The School of Giorgione ' ? I
will copy them, for they make a kind of motto
for my book, and sum up, I think, the way in
which you and I (you always, and I since I have
known you) have looked upon art and the arts.
* It is the mistake,' says Pater, ' of much popular
criticism to regard poetry, music and painting —
all the various products of art — as but transla-
tions into different languages of one and the same
fixed quantity of imaginative thought, supple-
mented by certain technical qualities of colour in
painting, of sound in music, of rhythmical words
in poetry. In this way, the sensuous element in
art, and with it almost everything in art that is
essentially artistic, is made a matter of indiffer-
ence; and a clear apprehension of the opposite
principle — that the sensuous material of each art
brings with it a special phase or quality of beauty,
untranslatable into the forms of any other, an
order of impressions distinct in kind — is the
beginning of all true aesthetic criticism/

With the art of poetry, or of literature in general,
I am not here concerned : that is my main con-
cern in most of my other books of criticism. In
this book I have tried to deal with the other arts,
as T know or recognise them ; and I find seven :



164028



painting, sculpture, architecture, music, handi-
craft, the stage (in which I include drama, acting,
pantomime, scenery, costume, and lighting), and,
separate from these, dancing. Each of these
arts I have tried to study from its own point of
view, and (except in the case of architecture,
which has almost ceased to exist as an art) in its
contemporary aspects, and in those contemporary
aspects which seem to me most important or
most characteristic. In my endeavour to study
each art from its own point of view, it is to you
that I owe most in keeping me from slipping,
more than I have, into tempting and easy con-
fusions. You have a far clearer sense than I have
of the special qualities, the special limits, of the
various arts ; and it is from you that I have learnt
to look on each art as of absolutely equal value.
In my endeavour to master what I have called
the universal science of beauty, I owe more to you
than to technical books or to technical people;
because in you there is some hardly conscious
instinct which turns towards beauty unerringly,
like the magnet, at the attraction of every vital
current. You will find, then, in this book, much
of your own coming back to you; and, in this
dedication, hardly more than the acknowledg-
ment of a little of my debt. But I want the book
to be yours, chiefly because we have lived so much
of it together.

ARTHUR SYMONS.

WiTTERSHAM,

September 26, 1906.



CONTENTS



RODIN .....

THE PAINTING OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

GUSTAVE MOREAU

WATTS .....

WHISTLER . .

CATHEDRALS ....

THE DECAY OF CRAFTSMANSHIP IN ENGLAND

BEETHOVEN ....

THE IDEAS OF RICHARD WAGNER

THE PROBLEM OF RICHARD STRAUSS .

ELEONORA DUSE

A NEW ART OF THE STAGE

A SYMBOLIST FARCE

PANTOMIME AND THE POETIC DRAMA .

THE WORLD AS BALLET



33
71
89
121
151
175
191
225
301
331
349
371
381
387



RODIN




KODIN



The art of Rodin competes with nature
rather than with the art of other sculptors.
Other sculptors turn life into sculpture, he
turns sculpture into life. His clay is part
of the substance of the earth, and the earth
still clings about it as it comes up and lives.
It is at once the flower and the root ; that
of others is the flower only, and the plucked
flower. That link with the earth, which we
find in the unhewn masses of rock from
which his finest creations of pure form can
never quite free themselves, is the secret of
his deepest force. It links his creations to
nature's, in a single fashion of growth.

Rodin is a visionary, to whom art has no
meaning apart from truth. His first care is
to assure you, as you penetrate into that
bewildering world which lies about him in
his studios, that every movement arrested



■^^::



4 STUDIES IN SEVEN AETS

in those figures, all in violent action, is
taken straight from nature. It is not copied,
as you or I would see it ; it is re-created, as
he sees it. How then does he see nature ?
To Rodin everything that lives is beautiful,
merely because it lives, and everything is
equally beautiful.

Rodin believes, not as a mystic, but as a
mathematician, I might almost say, in that
doctrine of * correspondences ' which lies at
the root of most of the mystical teaching.
He spies upon every gesture, knowing that
if he can seize one gesture at the turn of
the wave, he has seized an essential rhythm
of nature. When a woman combs her hair,
he will say to you, she thinks she is only
combing her hair : no, she is making a
gesture which flows into the eternal rhythm,
which is beautiful because it lives, because
it is part of that geometrical plan which
nature is always weaving for us. Change
the gesture as it is, give it your own con-
ception of abstract beauty, depart ever so
little from the mere truth of the movement,
and the rhythm is broken, what was living
is dead.

We speak of the rhythm of nature. What



KODIN 5

is it, precisely, that we mean? Rhythm,
precisely, is a balance, a means of preserving
equilibrium in moving bodies. The human
body possesses so much volume, it has to
maintain its equilibrium ; if you displace its
contents here, they shift there : the balance
is regained by an instinctive movement of
self-preservation. Thus what we call har-
mony is really utility, and, as always, beauty
is seen to be a necessary thing, the exquisite
growth of a need.

And this rhythm runs through all nature,
producing every grace and justifying every
apparent defect. The same swing and
balance of forces make the hump on a dwarf's
back and the mountain in the lap of a plain.
One is not more beautiful than the other,
if you will take each thing simply, in its
own place. And that apparent ugliness of
the average, even, has its place, does not
require the heightening energy of excess
to make it beautiful. It, too, has the beauty
of life.

There was a time, Rodin will tell you,
when he sought for beautiful models ; when
he found himself disappointed, dissatisfied,
before some body whose proportions did not



6 STUDIES IN SEVEN ARTS

please him. He would go on working
merely because the model was there ; and,
after two hours' work, discover suddenly the
beauty of this living thing which was turning
into a new kind of life under his fingers.
Why choose any longer'? why reject this
always faultless material ? He has come to
trust nature so implicitly that he will never
pose a model, leaving nature to find its own
way of doing what he wants of it. All de-
pends on the way of seeing, on the seizure
of the perfect moment, on the art of render-
ing, in the sculptor's relief, *the instant
made eternity.'

Rodin was studying drawing, with no idea
but of being a draughtsman, when the idea
of modelling in clay came to him. He had
been drawing the model from different points
of view, as the pivot turned, presenting now
this and now that profile. It occurred to
him to apply this principle to the clay, in
which, by a swift, almost simultaneous,
series of studies after nature, a single figure
might be built up which would seem to be
wholly alive, to move throughout its entire
surface. From that time until now, he has
taken one profile after another, each separ-



RODIN 7

ately, and all together, turning his work in all
directions, looking upward at the model to
get the arch and hollow of the eyebrows, for
instance, looking down on the model, taking
each angle, as if, for the time, no other
existed, and pursuing the outlines of nature
with a movement as constant as her own.
At the end, the thing is done, there is no
need of even a final point of view, of an ad-
justment to some image of proportion : nature
has been caught on the wing, enfolded by
observation as the air enfolds the living
form. If every part is right, the whole must
be right/

But, for the living representation of
nature in movement, something more is
needed than the exact copy. This is a

1 This method of work is very clearly defined by M. Camille
Mauclair, almost in Kodin's own words, in an article on ' La
Technique de Rodin ' : ' II eut I'idi^e de ne point travailler k
ses figures d'un seul c6t4 a la fois, mais de tous ensemble,
toumant autour constamment et faisant des dessins successifs
a meme le bloc, de tous les plans, modelant par un dessin
simultan^ de toutes les silhouettes et les unissant sommaire-
ment de fagon a obtenir avant tout un dessin de mouvement
dans Vair, sans s'occuper de I'harmonisation pr^congue de son
sujet. C'^tait obdir aux principes naturels de la statuaire faite
pour etre vue en plein air, c'est-^-dire la recherche du contour
et de ce que les peintres appellent la valeurJ ('Rodin et son
CEuvre.' ifedition de * La Plume.' 1900.)



8 STUDIES IN SEVEN ARTS

certain deliberate exaggeration; not a cor-
rection, not a deviation, but a means of
interpretation, the only means by which the
softness and the energy of nature can be
rendered in clay. It is a manner of express-
ing in clay what nature expresses with the
infinite resources of its moving blood. ' All
art,' said Merimee, 'is exaggeration dprojposJ
It is on the perfection of this a promos that
everything depends, and here Rodin's train-
ing as a draughtsman gives him his safety
in freedom. He, who never measures his
proportions, can rely implicitly on the
exactitude of his eye, in preserving the pro-
portion of every exaggeration.

When * I'Age d'Airain,' the bronze which
is now in the Luxembourg, was sent to the
Salon of 1877, Rodin was accused by the
hanging committee of having moulded it on
a living model. He protested, there was an
ofl&cial inquiry, and the commissioners came
to the conclusion that at least some parts of
the body had been thus moulded. It was not
until three years later that the charge was
finally disproved and officially withdrawn ;
the statue was again exhibited at the Salon,
a medal of the third class awarded to it, and



KODIN 9

it was afterwards bought by the State. The
story is instructive, and might be remem-
bered by those who have since brought
against Rodin so very different an accusa-
tion. Turn from this statue to the mar-
vellous little bronze of * la Vieille Heaul-
mifere ' : there, in that re-incarnation of
Villon's ballade, you will see the same pre-
cision of anatomical design, with an even
deeper sense of the beauty of what age and
the horror of decay cannot take out of the
living body. Rodin has never taken a step
without knowing exactly where he is going
to set his foot, and he has never turned
back from a step once taken. It was not
until he could copy nature so exactly as to
deceive the eyes of those who imagined that
they knew nature when they saw it, it was
not until he had the body by heart, that he
began to make the body think. He had
given it form ; the form must be awakened.
The touch of life and of thought comes, then,
from an exaggeration here, an exaggeration
there ; a touch, inexplicable and certain,
which is at once his method and his secret.

It is on these two methods that Rodin
relies for the rendering of his vision of life.



10 STUDIES IN SEVEN ARTS

The art of the sculptor gives him but one
means of expression ; all is in relief, all
depends on the power, balance, and beauty
of the relief. Watching the living move-
ment from every angle, turning about it as
a wild beast turns about its prey, spying for
the moment to pounce, seize, and possess,
he must translate form, movement, light
and shadow, softness, force, everything
which exists in nature, by the cunning
adjustment of his relief. ' Le style, c'est
I'homme,' we say ; * le modele, c'est I'art,'
Rodin would say.

Rodin has sometimes been compared with
Michelangelo, but it would be more accu-
rate to trace the principles of his art back
to the Greeks. The Greeks worked directly
from nature, with a fresh observation, the
eyesight of the youth of the world, and its
unspoilt mastery of hand. In Donatello we
find the same directness, less powerful, but
not less sincere. Michelangelo approached
nature through Donatello, so to speak, and
then departed from nature, with his immense
confidence, his readiness to compete with
nature itself on a scale more decoratively
impressive than nature's. His exaggeration



RODIN 11

is not the exaggeration of the Greeks, nor
is it Eodin's, an attempt at always greater
fideUty, at an essentially more precise exacti-
tude ; it deviates, for his own purposes, along
ways of his own. He speaks truth, but not
without rhetoric.

To obtain grace, Rodin will say to you,
you must begin with strength ; otherwise
the work will become hard and dry.
* Quelque chose de puissant,' he will repeat,
with half-closed eyes, the hands clutching
upon the imagined clay. If you remind
him of Baudelaire's saying : ' L'energie, c'est
la grace supreme,' he will accept the words
as the best definition of his own meaning.

The later manner of all great artists, in
every division of art, obeys the same law of
growth. Aiming always at the utmost pre-
cision of rendering his subject-matter, the
artist comes gradually to take a different
view of what precision really is. He begins
by seeking a form which can express every-
thing without leaving anything over; he
desires to draw his circle round some
separate fragment of nature, and to exhibit
the captured, complete thing. Only, nature
rebels. Something remains over, stays out-



12 STUDIES IN SEVEN ARTS

side the circle. The breath has gone out of
the body, the mystery has gone out of the
soul. He has cut off his fragment, if you
will, but he has cut it off from life. At this
point the public accepts his work ; he seems
to have attained. At this point he realises
how far he is from attainment, and he sets
himself to the eternal search. He breaks
down the straight limits of his form, he
seeks to i&nd new links by which to attach
this creature of his hands to the universal
life of things. He says frankly to the
spectator of his toil : you must come and
help me, or I can never tell you all that I
have to say. He gives a twofold burden to
the lines of his work : that which they
express, and that which they suggest. The
lines begin to whisper something to the
soul, in a remote voice, and you must
listen in order to hear it. The eyes have
something more to do than to see. The
mind must collaborate with the eyes, and
both must be content to share with life itself
the dissatisfaction of an inexplicable mystery
left over at the end.

Rodin's earlier form seemed able to say
everything which he had to say ; the model-



RODIN 13

ling was infinitely detailed, the work lived
with a vivid life of its own ; and what
remained over ? Something remained over,
the breath was not yet wholly lodged and
at home in the body, the soul was not yet
wholly conscious of its power of flight. He
began to feel towards another form, appar-
ently vaguer, essentially closer to the idea.
He learnt how to indicate by a continually
greater economy of means, by omission, by
the simplification or synthesis of a great
complexity of efforts ; he found out short
cuts, which would take him more swiftly to
his end ; he built up his new form as much
with the brain as with the hand. The
Balzac is a divination ; everything is there,
and it is there as it must be if it is to be
shown by sculpture : all depends on the
sheer science of the relief, on the geometry
of the observed profiles ; but the life, the
mystery, the thing divined, must be divined
over again by every one who looks at it.
The work is no longer a block cut sharply
ofP from nature ; it is part of ourselves, to
be understood only as we understand one
another.



14 STUDIES IN SEVEN ARTS

II

In one of Rodin's finest creations, a great
hand, large, strong, and smooth, holds in a
paternal grasp a lump of earth, out of which
emerge two ephemerides, fragile, pathetic
creatures, with the delicate, insubstantial
grace of passing things, who cling to each
other joyously, accepting life on its terms of
brief delight. It is God bidding the earth
increase and multiply ; it symbolises human
life, in all its dependence on that unknown
force in the hollow of whose hand it lives
and moves. Elsewhere he has indicated the
vain struggles, the insane desires, the in-
satiable longings, the murderous divisions,
of the ephemerides, man and woman ; here
he indicates their not less pathetic content,
the butterfly accepting its hour.

All Rodin's work is founded on a con-
ception of force ; first, the force of the earth,
then the two conflicting forces, man and
woman ; with, always, behind and beyond,
the secret, unseizable, inexplicable force of
that mystery which surrounds the vital
energy of the earth itself, as it surrounds us
in our existence on the earth. Out of these



EODIN 16

forces he has chosen for the most part
the universal, vivifying force of sex. In
man he represents the obvious energy of
nature, thews and muscles, bones, strength
of limb ; in woman, the exquisite strength
of weakness, the subtler energy of the senses.
They fight the eternal battle of sex, their
embraces are a grapple of enemies, they seek
each other that they may overcome each
other. And the woman, softly, overcomes,
to her own perdition. The man holds her
in the hollow of his hand, as God holds both
man and woman ; he could close his hand
upon the fragile thing that nestles there,
and crush it ; but something paralyses his
muscles in a tender inaction. The hand will
never close over her, she will always have
the slave's conquest.

Every figure that Rodin has created is in
the act of striving towards something : a
passion, an idea, a state of being, quiescence
itself. His ' Gates of Hell ' are a headlong
flight and falling, in which all the agonies
of a place of torment, which is Baudelaire's
rather than Dante's, swarm in actual move-
ment. * Femmes damnees ' lean upward and
downward out of hollow caves and moun-



16 STUDIES IN SEVEN ARTS

tainous crags, they cling to the edge of the
world, off which their feet slip, they embrace
blindly over a precipice, they roll together
into bottomless pits of descent. Arms wave
in appeal, and clasp shuddering bodies in an
extremity of despair. And all this sorrowful
and tortured flesh is consumed with desire,
with the hurrying fever of those who have
only a short time in which to enjoy the
fruits of desire. Their mouths open towards
one another in an endless longing, all their
muscles strain violently towards the em-
brace. They live only with a life of desire,
and that obsession has carried them beyond
the wholesome bounds of nature, into the
violence of a perversity which is at times
almost insane.

But always, in the clay itself, there is
ecstasy. Often it is a perverse ecstasy ; at
times, as in the Iris, as in the Muse who
swoops like an eagle, as in the radiant figure
with the sun in his hair who flings open the
gates of the mountains in the monument to
General Sarmiento, it is pure joy ; often, as
in the Balzac, the Hugo, the Puvis de
Chavannes, it is the ecstasy of creative
thought. But always there is ecstasy.



RODIN 17

In Rodin's sculpture, claj or marble, that
something powerful of which he speaks has
ended in a palpitating grace, as of living
flesh. He feels, he translates, sensation for
sensation, the voluptuous soft cool warmth
of the flesh, the daintiness of the skeleton,
indicated under its smooth covering ; all
that is exquisite in the structure of bone and
muscle, in the force of man and the supple-
ness of woman. The flesh seems to shiver,
curdle, tightening upon the bone as if at
a touch; it lies abandoned, in a tender
repose ; it grapples, flesh upon flesh, in all
the agonies of all the embraces. His hand
seems to press most caressingly about the
shoulder-blades and the hollows of the loins.
The delicate ridge and furrow of the back-
bone draw his hand to mould them into new
shapes and motions of beauty. His hand
follows the loins where they swell into ampler
outlines : the back, from neck to croup, lies
quivering, in all the beauty of life itself

In the drawings, which constitute in
themselves so interesting a development of
his art, there is little of the delicacy of
beauty. They are notes for the clay,
' instantanes,' and they note only move-



18 STUDIES IN SEVEN ARTS

ment, expression. They are done in two
minutes, by a mere gallop of the hand over
paper, with the eyes fixed on some uncon-
scious pose of the model. And here, it
would seem (if indeed accident did not enter
so largely into the matter) that a point in
sentiment has been reached in which the
perverse idealism of Baudelaire has dis-
appeared, and a simpler kind of cynicism
takes its place. In these astonishing draw-
ings from the nude we see woman carried to
a further point of simplicity than even in
Degas : woman the animal ; woman, in a
strange sense, the idol. Not even the
Japanese have simplified drawing to this
illuminating scrawl of four lines, enclosing
the whole mystery of the flesh. Each draw-
ing indicates, as if in the rough block of stone,
a single violent movement. Here a woman
faces you, her legs thrown above her head ;
here she faces you with her legs thrust out
before her, the soles of her feet seen close
and gigantic. She squats like a toad, she
stretches herself like a cat, she stands rigid,
she lies abandoned. Every movement of
her body, violently agitated by the remem-
brance, or the expectation, or the act of



RODIN 19

desire, is seen at an expressive moment.
She turns upon herself in a hundred atti-
tudes, turning always upon the central pivot
of the sex, which emphasises itself with a
fantastic and frightful monotony. The face
is but just indicated, a face of wood, like a
savage idol ; and the body has rarely any of
that elegance, seductiveness, and shivering
delicacy of life which we find in the marble.
It is a machine in movement, a monstrous,
devastating machine, working mechanically,
and possessed by the one rage of the animal.
Often two bodies interlace each other, flesh
crushing upon flesh in all the exasperation
of a futile possession ; and the energy of the
embrace is indicated in the great hand that
lies like a weight upon the shoulders. It is
hideous, overpowering, and it has the beauty
of all supreme energy.

And these drawings, with their violent
simplicity of appeal, have the distinction of
all abstract thought or form. Even in
Degas there is a certain luxury, a possible
low appeal, in those heavy and creased
bodies bending in tubs and streaming a
sponge over huddled shoulders. But here
luxury becomes geometrical ; its axioms are



20 STUDIES IN SEVEN ARTS

demonstrated algebraically. It is the un-
known X which sprawls, in this spawning
entanglement of animal life, over the damped
paper, between these pencil outlines, each
done at a stroke, like a hard, sure stroke of
the chisel.

For, it must be remembered, these are the
drawings of a sculptor, notes for sculpture,
and thus indicating form as the sculptor
sees it, with more brevity, in simpler outline,
than the painter. They speak another lan-
guage than the drawings of the painter,
searching, as they do, for the points that
catch the light along a line, for the curves
that indicate contour tangibly. In looking
at the drawings of a painter, one sees colour ;
here, in these shorthand notes of a sculptor,
one's fingers seem actually to touch marble.



Ill



Eodin will tell you that in his interpreta-
tion of life he is often a translator who does
not understand the message which he hands
on. At times it is a pure idea, an abstract
conception, which he sets himself to express



RODIN 21

in clay; something that he has thought,
something that he has read : the creation of
woman, the legend of Psyche, the idea of
prayer, of the love of brother and sister, a
line of Dante or of Baudelaire. But more
often he surrenders himself to the direct
guidance of life itself : a movement is made
before him, and from this movement he
creates the idea of the movement. Often a
single figure takes form under his hands,
and he cannot understand what the figure
means : its lines seem to will something, and


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