THE ARTISTS MIND.
In the March number of The American Mercury appeared an article by one, Thomas Craven, entitled “Have Painters Minds?” The title, like the views expressed in the body of the article, was calculated to “rile” those of its readers who sympathize temperamentally, if not always wisely, with some of the Mercury victims who are periodically punctured by the poison darts from its blow-guns.
The most irritating thing about the typical Mercury, writers, especially those who ape the style of its waspish editor, is the cynical cock-sureness and stubbornly one-sided point of view which refuses to see any exceptions to an arbitrary rule, or to consider any extenuating circumstances which a fair investigation of almost any case might disclose. If a seeming exception is occasionally made in favor of some individual whose case is under discussion, it is usually merely to pave the way for an after- following attack with an added sting at the end of it.
To be kind, to show mercy, to be generous to a foe, to be discriminating seems to be entirely foreign to the policy of the Mercury writers. They are out to “get” their game. Like the head- hunters of Borneo, they are never happy until they have hunted down, ambushed and decapitated their victim; and then, by some secret devils process of their own, have eviscerated, compressed, dried, smoked, shrivelled and otherwise manhandled the poor head until it is reduced to pigmy size, ready to be hung up and permanently displayed on their wall as a trophy, but still retaining a perceptible likeness to the original.
Mr. Thomas Craven was especially venomous in his attack upon the portrait painters, for whom he has no use except as targets for his blow-gun. Photography, he holds, has deprived the portrait painters of their raison detre and relegated them to oblivion. Those who are trying to maintain their place in the sun and keep their pots a boiling the critic professes to see as mere prettifiers, servile flatterers, obsequiously complaint with the whims of their sitters who demand that they shall “improve upon nature” and hand them down to posterity in counterfeit presentment as paragons of pulchritude. The poor shrimps will even comply with the request of those who bring a favored photograph with them and request that they be “painted like that” “that”, in most cases being a print from a negative that has been retouched out of all likeness to reality, however true to life it may have been in its original state.
It is commonly said that cameras, like fingers, do not lie, which as a figure of speech is quite true; but who does not know that the average retoucher “is a liar and the truth is not in him.” Granting that there are exceptions to the rule of venal and incompetent photographers, (Mr. Thomas Craven does not even admit that there are such incompetents all photographers are perfect for him), why not admit similar exceptions among the portrait painters? Why condemn a whole profession because individuals perhaps even a majority fail to measure up to the higher standards?.
In this bitter and bigoted spirit Mr. Thomas Craven reviews several branches of the painters art and their representatives, and comes to the foregone conclusion that the painter is not to be regarded as un homme desprit. His article concludes with a tirade which is one of the grossest exhibitions of wholesale condemnation, prejudice, brutality, and virulence it has ever been my misfortune to read.
“The modern painter,” he says,” is an inferior being. He is dumb and dull and conceited, an anti-social coward who dwells in miserable cocklofts, and run frantically to his dealer and back again, bleating like a sheep about his soul, his poverty, and his unappreciated genius. If he is lucky enough to have a little money he hurries off to Europe to steep his tender susceptibilities in the atmosphere of the past, or to destroy himself in the dives of Paris.
Of all the workers in the arts he is the least alive no man of brains and education could possibly waste his life in performances which are not only paltry and mechanical, but also totally divorced from current affairs. The general public has no conception of the feebleness, the stupidity and ignorance of the painter. He is inarticulate and proud of it; in any society he is a nonentity. Intellectually, our most celebrated painters not the contemptible small fry, but those periodically acclaimed as moder masters are much lower in the scale than such writers as Harold Bell Wright, James Oliver Curwood, Stratton Porter and Margaret Pedler,” etc.