Copyright
Stanley Shaw.

William of Germany online

. (page 17 of 31)
Online LibraryStanley ShawWilliam of Germany → online text (page 17 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


respect of the programme I drew up I have made the treatment
of it as easy as possible, that while I ordered and defined
the work I gave you an absolute freedom not only in the
combination and composition, but precisely the freedom to
put into it that from himself which every artist must if he
is to give the work the stamp of his own individuality,
since every work of art contains in itself something of the
individual character of the artist. I believe that this
experiment, if I may so call it, as made in the Siegesallée,
has succeeded.

"... I have never interfered with details, but have
contented myself with simply giving the direction, the
impulse.

"But to-day the thought that Berlin stands there before the
whole world with a guild of artists able to carry out so
magnificent a project fills me with satisfaction and pride.
It shows that the Berlin school of art stands on a height
which could hardly have been more splendid in the time of
the Renaissance.

"Here, too, one can draw a parallel between the great
artistic achievements of the Middle Ages and the
Italians - that, namely, the head of the State, an art-loving
prince, who offered their tasks to the artists also found
the master round whom a school of artists could gather.

"How is it, generally speaking, with art in the world? It
takes its models, supplies itself from the great sources of
Mother Nature, who, spite of her apparently unfettered,
limitless freedom, still moves according to eternal laws
which the Creator ordained for himself and which cannot be
passed or violated without danger to the development of the
world.

"Even so it is in art; and at the sight of the beautiful
remains of old classical times comes again over one the
feeling that here too reigns an eternal law that is always
true to itself, the law of beauty and harmony, of the
aesthetic. This law is given expression to by the ancients
in so surprising and overpowering a fashion, in so
thoroughly complete a form that we, with all our modern
sensibilities and with all our power, are still proud, when
we have done any specially fine piece of work, to hear that
it is almost as good as it was made nineteen hundred years
ago.

"But only almost! Under this impression I would earnestly
ask you to lay it to heart that sculpture still remains
untainted by so-called modern tendencies and currents - still
stands high and chastely there! Keep her so, don't let
yourselves be misled by human criticism or any wind of
doctrine to abandon the principles on which she has been
built up.

"An art which transgresses the laws and limits I have
indicated is art no more. It is factory work, handicraft,
and that is a thing art should never be. Under the often
misused word 'freedom' and her flag one falls too readily
into boundlessness, unrestraint, self-exaggeration. For
whoever cuts loose from the law of beauty, and the feeling
for the æsthetic and harmonious, which every human breast
feels, whether he can express it or not, and in his thought
makes his chief object some special direction, some specific
solution of more technical tasks, that man denies art's
first sources.

"Yet again. Art should help to exercise an educative
influence on the people. She should offer the lower classes,
after the hard work of the day, the possibility of
refreshing themselves by regarding what is ideal. To us
Germans great ideals have become permanent possessions,
whereas to other peoples they have been more or less lost.
Only the German people remain called to preserve these great
ideas, to cultivate and continue them. And among these
ideals is this, that we afford the possibility to the
working classes to elevate themselves by beauty, and by
beauty to enable them to abstract themselves and rise above
the thoughts they otherwise would have.

"When Art, as now often occurs, does nothing more than
represent misery as still more unlovely than it is already,
by so doing she sins against the German people. The
cultivation of the ideal is at the same time the greatest
work of culture, and if we wish to be and remain an example
in this to other nations the whole people must work together
to that end; if Culture is to fulfil her task she must
penetrate to the lowest classes of society. That she can
only do when art comes into play, when she raises up,
instead of descending into the gutter.

"As ruler of the country I often find it extremely bitter
that art, through its masters, does not with sufficient
energy oppose such tendencies. I do not for a moment fail to
perceive that many an aspiring character is to be found
among the partisans of these tendencies, who are perhaps
filled with the best intentions but who are on the wrong
path. The true artist needs no advertisement, no press, no
patronage. I do not believe that your great protagonists in
the domain of science, either in ancient Greece or in Italy
or in the Renaissance period ever had recourse to a
_réclame_ such as nowadays is often made in the press in
order to bring their ideas into prominence, but worked as
God inspired them and let others do the talking.

"And so must an honest, proper artist act. The art which
descends to _réclame_ is no art be it lauded a hundred or a
thousand-fold. A feeling for what is beautiful or ugly has
every one, be he ever so simple, and to educate this feeling
in the people I require all of you. That in the Siegesallée
you have done a piece of such work, I have specially to
thank you.

"This I can even now tell you - the impression which the
Siegesallée has made on the foreigner is quite an
overpowering one; everywhere respect for German sculpture is
making itself perceivable. May you always remain on these
heights, may such masters stand by my sons and sons' sons,
should they ever come into existence! Then, I am convinced,
will our people be in a position to love the beautiful and
honour lofty ideals."

At the Berlin Art Museum next year, after praising the devotion of his
parents to art, and especially of his mother, "a nature," he said,
"about which poesy breathed," he continued: -

"The son of both stands before you as their heir and
executor: and so I regard it as my task, according to the
intention of my parents, to hold my hand over my German
people and its growing generation, to foster the love of
beauty in them, and to develop art in them; but only along
the lines and within the bounds drawn strictly by the
feelings in mankind for beauty and harmony."

The Emperor's speech to the sculptors, if it contains some
questionable statements, is a thoughtful address by one who is himself
an artist, though not perhaps an artist of a high class. His artistic
endowments, transmitted from his parents, have been already indicated.
In reference to them he said to the official conducting him over the
Marienburg in later years, when the official expressed surprise at the
Emperor's art-knowledge: -

"There is nothing wonderful in it. I was brought up in an
artistic atmosphere. My mother was an artist, and from my
earliest youth I have been surrounded by beautiful things.
Art is my friend and my recreation."

The highest praise of a work of art is to say of it that it pleased,
or would have pleased; his mother. Of her he said, "Every thought she
had was art, and to her everything, however simple, which was meant
for the use of life, was penetrated with beauty." When giving his
sanction to a plan, a park, a statue or a building he always
thinks - "Would it have pleased my parents - what would they have said
about it?" The Kaiser Friedrich Museum and the Kaiser Friedrich
Memorial Church, both in Berlin, testify to the Emperor's gratitude to
his parents for their artistic legacy.

He went, as we have seen, through the ordinary art drudgery of the
school, recognizing, no doubt, with Michael Angelo, with all good
artists, that correct drawing is the foundation of every art into
which drawing enters and applying himself industriously to it. As a
young soldier at Potsdam he spent a good deal of his time, during the
three years from 1880 to 1883, practising oil-painting under the
guidance of Herr Karl Salzmann, a distinguished Berlin painter. Among
the results of this instruction was a picture which the princely
artist called "The Corvette - Prince Adalbert in the Bay of Samitsu,"
now hanging in the residence of his brother, Prince Henry, at Kiel;
and two years later, as his interest in the navy grew, a "Fight
between an Armoured Ship and a Torpedo-boat." Innumerable aquarelles
and sketches, chiefly of marine subjects, were also the fruit of this
period.

The Emperor has constantly cultivated free and friendly intercourse
with the best artists of his own and other nations, and been
continually engaged devoting time and money to the art education of
his people. The admirable art exhibitions in Berlin of the best
examples of painting by English, French, and American artists, which
he personally promoted and was greatly interested in, may be recalled
as instances. If his efforts in encouraging art among his people have
not been so successful as his imperial activities in other directions,
the reason is not any fault on his part, but simply that art refuses
to be, in Shakespeare's phrase, "tongue-tied by authority."

This was shown by the chorus of unfavourable criticism which the
speech to the sculptors drew forth. No one questioned the sincerity of
the Emperor or the magnanimity of his aims, nor was the criticism
wholly caused by the suspicion that it savoured of the "personal
regiment" under which the people were growing impatient; but many
thought he was pushing the dynastic principle too far and unduly
interfering with liberty of thought and judgment, and that there was
something Oriental as well as selfish in occupying with a gallery of
his ancestors, the majority of whom were, after all, very ordinary
people, one of the fairest spots in the capital. Perhaps, however,
what was most objected to was his trying to drive the art of the
nation into a groove, the direction given by himself: in trying to
inspire it with a particular spirit and that an ancient not a modern
spirit, when he ought to let the spirit come of its own accord out of
the mind of the people - the mind of many millions, not the mind of one
man, however high his rank. Politics and government might be things in
which he had a right to an authoritative voice, but art, like
religion, the people considered to be a matter for individual taste
and judgment.

Yet something may be advanced in favour of the Emperor. His
recommendation, for in fact it was and could be only that, was quite
in keeping with the traditions of his office and the people's own view
of royal government. The speech, as was admitted, was suggested by no
mere dilettante's vanity, but, as is evident from his words at the Art
Museum, by the conviction that just as it is the imperial duty to
provide an efficient army and navy, so it is the imperial duty to use
every personal and private, as well as every public and official,
effort to provide the people with an art as efficient, as honest, and
as clean; and it was inevitable that the art the Emperor recommended
was that which he believed, and still believes, to be in conformity
with the ideals, as he interprets them, or would have them to be, of
the Germanic race.

The speech itself is interesting as showing the Emperor's attitude
towards art and artists and his personal conception of art and its
nature. His attitude is evidently that of the art-loving prince of
whom he speaks in the address, a royal Maecenas or di Medici, who
gathers artists round him; but he means to use them, not so much
perhaps for art's sake, as for the instruction and elevation of his
folk. A very laudable aim; only, as it happens, the folk in this
matter desire themselves to decide what is improving and elevating for
them and what is not. They are not willing to leave the exclusive
choice to the Emperor.

The Emperor, again, would give the artist the freedom to put into his
work "that from himself which any artist must, if he is to give the
work the stamp of his own individuality." This attitude, too, is
admirable, but on the other hand lies the danger, such is poor human
nature, that the individuality will be that which the Emperor wishes
it to be, not the artist's independent individuality To the foreign
eye all the Hohenzollern statues in the Siegesallee, with the
exception possibly of two or three, seem to have much the same
individuality, though that again may be due to the nature of the
subject and the foreigner's inherent and ineradicable predispositions.

Thirdly, art, the Emperor says, can only be educative when it elevates
instead of descending into the gutter. Hogarth descended into the
gutter. Gustav Doré depicts the horrors of hell. Yet both Hogarth and
Doré were great artists, and educative too. The Emperor was here
thinking of the Berlin Secession, a school just then starting,
eccentric indeed and far from "classical," but which nevertheless has
since produced several fine artists. The Emperor, it would appear,
thinks that the antique classical school is the true and only good
school for the artist. Very likely most artists will agree with him -
at least as a foundation; but the belief, it also appears, is not
considered in Germany, or outside of it, to justify the Emperor, as
Emperor, in discouraging all other schools and particularly the
efforts of modern artists in their non-classical imaginings.

The Emperor says art "takes its models, supplies itself from the great
sources of Mother Nature." With all courtesy to the Emperor one may
suggest that art, and sane art, takes its models not only from Mother
Nature, but also from an almost as prolific a maternal source, namely
imagination; and that imagination is limited by no eternal laws we
know of, or can even suspect. Accordingly it is useless to check, or
try to check, the imagination by telling it to work in a certain
direction - so long, naturally, as the imagination is not obviously
indecent or insane.

Again, the Emperor says that in classical art there reigns an eternal
law, the "law of beauty and harmony, of the aesthetic" which is
expressed in a "thoroughly complete form" by the ancients. It is
admittedly a delightful and admirable form, but is it thoroughly
complete? Is it the last and only form; and may not the very same law
be found by experiment to be at work in future art that cannot be
called classical, as it was found to be at work in the various noble
schools since classical times? One must agree with the Emperor that
the Greeks and Romans illustrated the "law of beauty and harmony, of
the esthetic, in a wonderful manner." But it was wonderfully done for
their age and intellect. They did not exhaust the beautiful and
harmonious: far from it.

Neither the world nor mankind has been standing still ever since;
certainly the mind of man has not, even though his senses have
undergone no elemental change. Paganism was succeeded by Christianity,
and with Christianity came a new art canon, new forms of beauty and
harmony - the Early Italian. The age of reason followed, bringing with
it the Baroque and Rococo canons: and as time went on, and the world's
mind kept working, came other canons still. The most recent canon
appears to be that of naturalism (the Emperor's "gutter ") with which
artists are now experimentalizing. None of the canons, be it noticed,
destroyed the canon that preceded, because beauty and harmony are
indestructible and imperishable. "A thing of beauty is a joy for
ever."

But not only the mind of man kept changing: the world itself and its
civilization - by war, by treaty, by science, by invention, by art
itself - kept changing, and is changing now. Development, physical as
well as social, has been constant, and the changes accompanying it
have inspired, and are inspiring, artists with new ideas to which they
are always trying to give expression. The subjects of art have
enormously multiplied. Those introduced by sport of all kinds, by the
development of the theatre, by the newly-found effects of light and
colour, need only be mentioned as examples capable of suggesting
beauties and harmonies unknown to and unsuspected by the ancients.
Hence, in addition to the classical art of the day, there is room for
the "new art," the secessionist, the futurist, the impressionist, even
the cubist, or whatever the experimental movement may call itself. And
any day any of these movements may lead to the establishment of a new
and admirable school of genuine art as beautiful as the classical, if
in a different manner. The world has no idea of the surprises in all
directions yet in store for it.

The Emperor, too, is at one with all the world in assuming that art,
to deserve the name, must possess the quality of beauty. He speaks of
"beauty and harmony," but let it be taken that he understands beauty
to include harmony. Now, as has been suggested, to answer the
question, what is beauty, satisfactorily, is no easy matter. In
immediate proximity to it lies the question, what is ugliness? It
might be argued that nothing in nature is ugly, and that the word was
introduced to express what is merely an inability on the part of
mankind to perceive the beauty which constitutes nature; and it
certainly is possible that, were man endowed with the mind of God,
instead of with only some infinitesimal and mysterious emanation of
it, he would find all things in creation, all art included, beautiful.
The author of the Book of Genesis asserts that when God had finished
making the world He looked upon His handiwork and saw that it was
good. There is one advantage in adopting this view, and no small one,
that a belief in its truth must impel us to look for beauty and
goodness in all things, whether in art or nature - and even in the
Secession. Perhaps, however, we shall not be far from the truth in
saying, as regards art, that all things in creation are beautiful,
that there are degrees in beauty of which ugliness is the lowest, and
that the truly inspired artist can make all things, ugliness included,
beautiful.

The Emperor thinks the appreciation of beauty is one of our innate
ideas, like the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, which
we call conscience. There is no agreement among thinkers on the point,
and it may be that both beauty and conscience are relative, and simply
the result of environment and education. Certainly there is no
standard of beauty, and more certainly still, not of feminine beauty.
The Mahommedan admires a woman who has the nose of the parrot, the
teeth of the pomegranate seed, and the tread of the elephant.

But though there is no complete standard of beauty about which all
people, at all times, in all countries, are agreed, there are two
elements of beauty which may be said to have been standardized, at
least for the civilized world, by the early Greeks and Romans. These
elements are simplicity and harmony, simplicity being the forms of
things most directly and pleasingly appealing to the eye and most
easily reaching the common understanding, while harmony is the
combination of parts most nearly identical with the lines, contours,
and proportions of nature. These are two essentials of good sculpture,
and the Emperor was talking to sculptors and perhaps thinking only of
sculpture.

Yet simplicity and harmony alone do not constitute beauty, while on
the other hand beauty may take very complicated forms. A third element
one may suggest is essential, and its indescribable nature causes all
the difficulty there is in defining beauty. This third element
is - charm. A work of art, to be beautiful, must charm, and to
different people different things are charming. Plato's theory is that
the sense of beauty is a dim recollection of a standard we have seen
in a heavenly pre-existence. Accepting it as as good an explanation of
charm as we can get, we may conclude by defining beauty as, in its
highest form, a combination of simplicity and harmony, resulting in
charm.

The Emperor says: "To us Germans great ideals have become permanent
possessions, whereas to other peoples they have been more or less
lost." The remark is not one of those best calculated to promote
friendly feelings on the part of other peoples towards Germany or its
Emperor. It is like his declaration that Germans are the "salt of the
earth," and of a piece with the aggressive attitude of intellectual
superiority adopted by many Germans towards other nations - one reason,
by the way, for German unpopularity in the world. But is it true?
Germany has great ideals in permanent possession, but are they more or
less lost to other peoples? It is at least doubtful. Great ideals are
the permanent possession of every great people; it is these ideals
that have made them great; and they are no less great if they differ
according to the nature and conditions of each great people. One might
go further, indeed, and say that great ideals are the common property
and permanent possession of all great peoples. It is a hard saying
that any one people has a monopoly of them. The contribution of every
great nation to the common stock of great ideals is incalculable, and
it would be interesting to investigate which nation is most
successfully working out its great ideals in practice.

The truth is the German ideal of beauty in art is not, generally
speaking, the same as that of the Anglo-Saxon or Latin foreigner. The
art ideals of the Anglo-Saxon and Latin races in this respect are for
the most part Greek, while those of the German race are for the most
part Roman; and in each case the ideals are the outcome of the spirit
which has had most influence on the mind and manners of the different
races. The Greek philosophic and aesthetic spirit has chiefly
influenced Anglo-Saxon and Latin art ideals: the Roman spirit,
particularly the military spirit and the spirit of law, have chiefly
influenced German ideals: and, as a result, arrived at through ages
during which events of epoch-making importance caused many successive
modifications, while the Anglo-Saxon and Latin races are most
impressed by such qualities as lightness and delicacy of outline,
round and softly-flowing curves and elegance of ornamentation, the
German appears, to the Anglo-Saxon and Latin, to be more impressed by
the elaborate, the gigantic, the Gothic, the grotesque, the hard, the
made, the massive, and the square. In both styles are to be found
"beauty and harmony, the aesthetic," to quote the Emperor, but they
appeal differently to people of different national temperaments. To
the Anglo-Saxon and Latin in general, therefore, German art, and
particularly German sculpture and architecture, while impressive and
admirable, lack for most foreigners the entirely indescribable quality
we have called "charm."

The true artist, the Emperor says, needs no advertisement, no press,
no patronage. The Emperor is right. The true artist, once he begins to
produce first-rate work, will obtain instant recognition, and his work
will begin to sell, not perhaps at prices the same kind of work may
bring later, but at prices sufficient to support the artist and his
family in reasonable comfort. If it does not, he is not producing good
work and had better turn his attention to something else. As a matter
of fact very few true artists do advertise, use the press, or seek
patronage. The artist does not go to the press or the patron, for
nowadays, the moment the artist does excellent work, the press and the
patron go to him, and, when he is very exceptionally good, he is
advertised and patronized until he is sick of both advertisement and
patronage.

Naturally it is different in the case of the artist who is not
excellently good, but the Emperor was not considering such. These
artists too, however, insist on living and must find a market for
their wares. It is an age of advertisement, the growth of new economic
conditions, for advertisement creates as well as reveals new markets.



Online LibraryStanley ShawWilliam of Germany → online text (page 17 of 31)