It has been said that artists are the most A partial judges on earth. Claiming to despise theories, as a rule it is they who uphold theory calculated to glorify and justify their own creations.
This frailty of the artistic mind is shown impressively in the observations of Auguste Rodin, the great French sculptor, set forth in this semi-biographical book which appeared in Paris in 1912, under the comprehensive title "Art," it contains Rodin's views on sculpture and painting, particularly the former, set forth by Paul Gsell.
This English edition was translated by Katherine Fedden, with many illustrations in half tone and photogravures. Paul Gsell tells in his preface about a conversation with Rodin in the spring of 1911. The French sculptor then gave his opinion that art was dead.
"You are interested in art?" he said. "You are an odd fellow. It is an interest that is quite out of date.
"Today, artists and those who love artists seem like fossils. Imagine a megatherium or a diplodocus stalking the streets of Paris! There you have the impression that we must make upon our contemporaries. Ours is an epoch of engineers and of manufacturers, not one of artists. The search in modern life is for utility; the endeavor is to improve existence materially. Everyday, science invents new processes for the feeding, clothing, or transportation of man; she manufactures cheaply inferior products in order to give adulterated luxuries to the greatest number—though it is true that she has also made real improvements in all that ministers to our daily wants. But it is no longer a question of spirit, of thought, of dreams.
"Art is dead. Art is contemplation. It is the pleasure of the mind that searches into nature and which there divines the spirit by which Nature herself is animated. It is the joy of the intellect which sees clearly into the Universe and which recreates it, with conscientious vision. Art is the most sublime mission of man, since it is the expression of thought seeking to understand the world and to make it understood. But today, mankind believes itself able to do without art. It does not wish to meditate, to contemplate, to dream;, it wishes to enjoy physically. The heights and the depths of truth are indifferent to it; it is content to satisfy its bodily appetites. Mankind today is brutish... it is not the stuff of which artists are made.
"Art, moreover, is taste. It is the reflection of the artist's heart upon all the objects that he creates. It is the smile of the human soul upon the house and upon the furnishing. It is the charm of thought and of sentiment embodied in all that is of use to man. But how many of our contemporaries feel the necessity of taste in house or in furnishing? Formerly, in old France, Art was everywhere. The smallest bourgeois, even the peasant, made use only of articles which pleased the eye. Their chairs, their tables, their pitchers and their pots were beautiful. Today Art is banished from daily life. People say that the useful need not be beautiful. All is ugly, all is made in haste and without grace by stupid machines. The artist is regarded as an antagonist. Ah, my dear Gsell, you wish to jot down an artist's musing.
Let me look at you! You really are an extraordinary man!"
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