Excerpt from Tangent, 1935
IT IS quite possible for some salient truth to become so generally accepted that nobody pays any keen attention to it. If one were to begin an essay on painting by saying that universality is an essential quality of any real art, the reader might pr... omptly go Off into a snooze, certain that he knew all about that idea long ago. But, I wonder. It does no harm to frisk an Old notion now and again, dust it off and take a fresh look at it. Let us pin down this old truism - that art must be universal - by making one con crete statement that the artist must keep in touch with his public.
Too often that dictum is misinterpreted as painting down to the public, which it does not mean at all. It is a fallacy to imagine that the average, intelligent person cannot enjoy the message of form and must depend on anecdote or atmosphere. Nonsense. Provided he has not been spoiled by a smattering of connoisseurship or a quack knowledge of periods and schools, your average man can respond even to what are sometimes called abstract qualities. This stand can be confidently defended, despite the fact that so admirable a critic as Craven may suggest the contrary.
Good modern art has easier approach to the uninitiated than has the sterile part of academic art, since it strips off non-essentials and stresses fundamental things. But, no matter what the style or the method, it is imperative that the emotion which the artist expresses be one which the normal human being can feel when he has learned to follow the artist's method of expressing himself, which I call the artist's language of form. It must not be some exotic quirk that can only ¿ower in peculiar, psychological heat.
G. K. Chesterton struck home when, in preface to a book of reproductions of Old Masters, he said that genius consisted in being greater and more finely aware than other men, not in being different; that the Old Masters would retain their power because, like Shakespeare, they seemed to be our brothers, and not as men apart.
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