The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Fine Arts and Education, Part 1

by Francis Bate
Volume 7, 1896, pgs. 561-571

[H. Francis Bate, 1853-1950, was a landscape painter who laid down the principles of the naturalist school of painting when he was secretary of the New English Art Club, writing in 1887 that "art is only an accurate reflection of natural appearances" in a 97-page book/pamphlet titled "The Naturalistic School of Painting."]

Being a consideration of the place that should be given to the Fine Arts In Educational Systems.

There is more than one Fine Art. Music, poetry, painting--but there is no need to enumerate them--you know them. I do not propose to define them. I am prepared, for the purposes of my argument, to accept any definition of Fine Art that you may prefer. Whatever general reference I may make to a Fine Art will apply more or less to them all. But I wish to speak more particularly to you about painting.

I am come to you hoping that you are so interested in all matters of education that you will let me plead with you for this Fine Art of painting, which has absorbed, for whatever they may be worth, the chief interests and energies of my life. I lay my conclusions before you and urge upon you my conviction that the proper study and practice of the art of picture painting must be given a place of consequence in any scheme of education that professes to be adequate for sufficient and satisfactory results.

Lest there should be any misconception of my stand-point, let me explain what I mean by education, and the distinction I draw between education and scholarship. It is that education, from almost the beginnings of life, takes charge of all the senses and faculties of being, awakens and interests them, quickens and trains them, develops them, and enlarges their scope; never leaving the well-balanced reason that guides and controls them, and employs them to acquire and assimilate knowledge for good or for evil purpose.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I understand by education and, however wrong I may be, it is the meaning of the word as I use it this afternoon. I leave to scholarship the phase of mental culture that depends upon familiarity with accumulated knowledge, comprising the result of the exercise of the faculties of other persons, not only contemporary, but recorded through the ages of the past.

From this rough distinction between education and scholarship it almost follows that education must precede scholarship, that until the senses and faculties have become somewhat expanded, it is difficult or impossible for scholarship to be acquired. It is, I think, also evident that education is of first importance, for while it is possible to master but a small degree of scholarship before the senses and faculties are disciplined, a fair degree of education makes possible the attainment of scholarship, and any advanced education of senses and faculties renders easy the attainment of great scholarship.

If, then, education is to be understood as the awakening, the guiding and development of the senses and faculties, it is well that we should have some opinion as to the purpose and end of education. But the purpose and end of education seem inseparably associated with the purpose of life and the end of living. So serious an inquiry into personal convictions it is not for me to pursue. Yet having remembered this close connection of education with the conduct of life, I may take it (again as sufficient for any argument) that in any intelligent community, even in communities of a low standard of civilization, the great purpose of healthy life is directed to an end conceived to be good. Conceived to be good by those nobler natures whose sincerity and unselfishness dignify customs and habits and exalt deeds to heroism. If education and the great good purposes of life are indissoluble, the training of the faculties must be the greatest responsibility that follows the endowment of life, because the manner of life will be affected by the perfection or imperfection of their development.

Exercised through different organs of the body closely related one to another, greatly dependent one upon the other, the senses and faculties, ruled by reason, are, in their exact relation to each other, and collectively, largely responsible for the fitting performance of the moral and physical functions of life.

The perfect organ requires that its faculty should be increased towards perfection by reasonable use. The perfect relation of one organ to another, of one faculty to another, requires their collective advancement towards perfection by the cultivation of each individual faculty. The neglect of one organ interferes with the proper condition of the others. The neglect of any organ impairs the powers of the being which the organs constitute; because the perfect being requires not only the development of its organs but their use relatively to each other. Moreover, the continued disuse of an organ results in the atrophy of that organ. A living being exactly constituted with a sufficiency of organs is an imperfect being if one or more of its organs is perished or deteriorated. An organ once decayed its faculty is lost for ever. And a faculty lost or impaired permanently affects the power and purpose of life.

This has long been common knowledge, but the majority of people have failed to act in accordance with it. I would suggest that where this has been so, examples even of great mental power in individuals are but cases in which, with a more perfect relative enlightenment of the senses and faculties, still greater achievements would have been possible, not only in all-round knowledge but in the particular kind of knowledge that individual most inclined to.

It would seem that the sense of sight has been more neglected than any other; that the proper study of the art of picture painting has not only been widely misunderstood in its character but generally disregarded in practice. I feel sure that to those whose powers of observation have been neglected in this matter, one of the most useful chapters in the book of nature has remained unread, and that those who have left it so have lost, perhaps for ever, the pleasure of the most confidential, the most sympathetic, the most spiritual of nature's communications. Those who have failed to educate the organ of sight that it may make and appreciate the appearance of nature, most assuredly miss the advantage of its quickening connection with the other faculties, and how much soever knowledge and power they may possess it is less and less applicable than it might have been.

I am claiming that in connection with the faculty of sight, the study of the Fine Art of picture painting is not only as important as any other study, is not only worthy of careful and regular training as any other faculty, but that the cultivation of it is perhaps even more necessary than any of the others (if one faculty can be considered more deserving than another) to secure that condition of refined and intelligent action which education has for its immediate object. I take it that not only after the exercise of the senses and faculties to healthful living, physical growth, and proper functional activities, but co-incidently with it any special faculties should be instructed; or rather, all the faculties should be instructed to the special end of unfolding to all kinds and branches of knowledge that exquisite connection and adjustment of each to the other, and the parts of each, which is the basis of so-called scientific knowledge. This, in its turn, is closely related to aesthetic emotion, to recognition of beauty and delight in it, which, associating itself both in the energy and the repose of life, with our imaginative and speculative inclinations is, as it were, the ultimate reach and resource of education, for it connects all the trained and expanded physical qualities of being with the moral and religious instincts of complete life. To this special end the study and practice of picture-painting is preeminently useful.

Belief in picture-painting as a common necessity differs from the views of some philosophers; it is somewhat different from the views expressed by Herbert Spencer in his book on education, where he speaks of the Fine Arts as the "efflorescence of civilization," a phrase that well describes a very general notion of the character of the Fine Arts. An idea of them which, especially in the case of painting, is by many looked upon as something outside the ordinary activity of life, and devotion to it is even yet regarded as a pursuit apart from the common requirements of living. This is a mistake arising from confounding the practice of the Fine Arts--exercise in the technique of them--with the aesthetic pleasure which can be expressed through them. The study of language and proficiency in the use of words enables the poet to communicate refined emotions and beautiful thoughts: but language is not necessarily poetic or beautiful, although in the study of it, our attention will be drawn, not only to the beauty of its exact and fitting use, but also to the elevated ideas which others have communicated by it. So too with the study and practice of picture-painting, which, perfected, is the art of recording consistent facts concerning the appearance of things. This correct and skilful record of consistent facts is itself a beauty--a Fine Art--the Fine Art of picture-painting. The chief aesthetic value of the record of facts of appearance lies not in the painting, but in the selection of facts consistent with each other, sympathetic to the mood of nature, and in harmony with the personal emotion aroused by the contemplation of them.

The training of the faculty of sight to observe the appearance of things, and of the intelligence to understand the laws which govern it is not directly a training in aesthetics, although it brings one into communication with things beautiful. The pure aestheticism lies rather with that quality of taste exercised by individual preference for and selection of the facts of appearance, so that the artist, after having strengthened his powers of observation, is able, through the technique of painting, to record facts of appearance selected from nature's constant and infinite display, and to convey to us by this means personal emotions and ideas, The aesthetic value of the picture must lie chiefly with the emotion and ideas conveyed and the measure of their sympathy with the accurately recorded facts of appearance. To the formation, fostering, and bias of taste, knowledge and scholarship of all kinds contribute.

I am prepared to narrow the base upon which I found my plea for the practice of painting. I am prepared to leave it for you to recognise how, amongst other occupations and Fine Arts, painting is convenient for the expression of beautiful thoughts and the development and communication of aesthetic feelings; and I am willing that you yourselves should fix the just value of those feelings, and the habits resulting from them, in securing and maintaining the health and happiness that follows refined physical and mental activity. I am convinced that you cannot rate it too highly.

I fancy that you are remembering that, in the curriculum of your education, "drawing and painting" was included with other accomplishments. We have some of us learned since then, that "drawing and painting" is not such an accomplishment, but that it is a necessary study in any system of education. We begin to suspect that it is quite as necessary as any other study, and, as I have already told you, apart from any consideration of its connection with aesthetics and their relation to the higher purposes in life, I am inclined to consider it a more usually study than any other, because the knowledge most readily acquired by it is so widely applicable, and because the principles that underlie it are found so generally underlying other branches of knowledge.

We will consider, then, the practice of the Art of Painting as the best means of educating the senses to observe and record facts of appearance, and I will try and suggest the character of these facts of appearance, and show how study of the laws which govern them embraces the fundamental principles which underlie knowledge of all kinds.

The phenomena of the appearance of things are governed by natural laws, systematic knowledge of which constitutes what we call a science, and the study of the science of appearances must go together with the practice of painting. Will you then ever cease to regard the practice of painting as sleight of hand? Believe me, aptness in the use of the brush is as easily and unconsciously acquired as the use of the pen. Dexterous use of the brush is as relatively unimportant to what is recorded by it as the skilful use of the pen is relatively unimportant to what is written by it. There can be no good picture-painting without great powers of observation, and the intelligent study of the science of appearances. The science of appearances is as exact as mathematics.

May I make an example of flowers to illustrate the application of the science of appearances? Amongst other sciences applicable to them is horticulture, which treats of their civilization, the robustness of their constitution, their span of life, their propagation, their cultivation, the improvement of their characteristics of form and colour, the soil suitable to them, its texture, and its chemical constituents. There is also botany, a science which deals with their habits, their structure, their organs, their classification and variety. These are all concrete facts, to acquire which we examine the flowers from every point of view. We uproot them, we dissect them, we remove them from their surroundings, and consider them almost without reference to them. The facts of their appearance are different. They depend, not only upon the aspect and condition of the flowers themselves, the relation of the parts to the whole, and of the parts to each other, in different qualities and characteristics, but their aspect also depends upon their relation to surroundings, and to the aspect and condition of surroundings, and to relations, conditions, influences outside themselves and their immediate surroundings.

We may be able to change their surroundings and the outside influences, but we cannot disassociate them, We may take flowers from the field, or hedgerow, or garden, and bring them indoors, place them in a vase or upon a table or in a box, we may change their conditions in a countless number of different ways, but do what we may, we cannot see them without some surroundings. Any change of surroundings or change of relation of outside influences will cause change of appearance. Their appearance amongst the green grasses in the field will be different from their appearance as they grow in the garden soil against the red-brick wall, or as they lie indoors upon a polished mahogany table. They will appear different under the influence of sunshine, or gray weather or rain, at a distance from us or near at our feet. The appearance of the flowers will, in every possible case, have certain fixed relations to surroundings and outside conditions and influences. We cannot see or conceive flowers or any other object except under aspects influenced by outside conditions, for that is the way nature conveys to us the impression of them.

It therefore follows that in order to convey such a impression to other people, the artist must record facts concerning the qualities, characteristics, and conditions, not only of the object, but of its surroundings and all other outside influences. The record of these relations must be accurate and consistent, and they must all of them be treated of at one and the same time, because they are inseparable from the impression of the appearance, and time alters appearances. Moreover, while these appearances need not completely convey such facts as appertain more properly to other scientific observations of the object, they will seldom, or never, be contradictory or inconsistent with them. The surroundings of the Edelweis will seldom appear as the banks of the Thames; we shall not not often have the impression of Madonna-lilies growing up upon a rose bush.

Very well then, let us consider flowers in this way, remembering it is to be from the point of view of the artist-painter, who is not to examine them as a botanist would, or as a horticulturist would. The artist-painter is to receive, in observing them, an impression of their appearance. We may choose whether we shall see them in mass of numbers or as one flowering plant. Let us come from the nearest approach to nowhere and nothing that we have. Let us come forth from sleeping in a dark chamber into broad sunshine. Our first impression is of light, a dazzling brightness, closely following which is the sensation that parts of the brightness are less bright, that there are, here and there in our range of vision, patches of comparative darkness. Next, we realise brilliant colours, then vaguely a proportion between the patches of colour and their intervals. Then, some collection or group of these proportions assumes prominent interest. The light and shade and patches of colour become more defined, we begin to realise the shape of the dark patches, the character of the colour, and the shape of the patches of colour. The group of proportions which occupies our chief interest begins to assert itself as an object. We realise more distinctly the shapes of its lights and shades and masses of colours. Quickly these become definite until the whole object, its light and shade, its various colours, and decided shapes, is quite clear to us. We then become sensible of its surroundings, but their clearness is subordinate to the object of our chief interest.

We still regard it and now recognise a plant of a certain height and a width proportionate. It is a reality, a tangible thing. We know that it is growing up from the earth and that there is behind it a brick wall, and that the colour of the wall is red. We see that the leaves of the plant are green; that the blossoms are of a delicate rose colour; that they are cup-shaped, that they are carried up on a firm round stem. We see that parts of the leaves and parts of the stem and parts of the flower receive the full sunshine; that parts receive less light and are darker as they are in shade. We notice that parts of the plant intervene between the full light and other parts of the plant, that the shadow of one part falls upon another part, just as the shadow of the plant falls upon the ground and upon the wall. We have recognised the characteristic shape of the leaves and their characteristic colour. We compare the facts thus observed with other knowledge that we have, gained perhaps, through other sciences. We recognise the kind of plant we are looking at and its variety. We know that it is called a poppy. We are looking at a rose-coloured poppy growing against a red-brick garden wall. It has three flowers upon it, one quite open, one unfolding, one little more than a bud. This is part of its individuality. The plant does not touch the wall, it stands about a foot away from it. The flowers have a relative position on the plant, they have a relative proportion of size. The leaves are large, complicated in shape, and being somewhat drooping, contrast with the upright stem. They are green, but not only green, they are of that particular grey colour of green characteristic of these plants. We notice further that the sunlight has the warm orange colour of evening, and that it tints everything that it falls upon. It adds its orange to the grey green of the leaves and stem, and to the rose of the blossom, while the red wall glows warm and rich. The great light comes in one direction. The sun is low; its rays make an acute angle with the earth: objects that intervene between it and the ground cast long shadows. The shape of the object which cast them, the shape of the surface they fall upon, and the angle and direction from which the light falls upon them. As the sun moves round to the west, the shadows move round to the east. As the sun sinks to the horizon, the shadows grow longer; they fall upon the horizontal surface of the ground; they stretch across it as the sun falls. When the shadows reach the perpendicular wall, they adapt themselves, bend, and creep up it. The shape of some of the leaves of our subject is clearly to be traced in their shadow, there is a distinct relation between the form of the substance and the shadow. We can distinguish the modified shape of the open flower, and of the bud, the shadow of the third flower perhaps is merged in the main shadow of the plant. It may be that the shadow of an object which we cannot see is cast across part of our subject; from its shape and position we shall be able to form some idea of the shape and position of the object that casts it. Again, as we watch the deepening orange of the light, added to whatever colour it falls upon, we see the shades and shadows where it does not touch, grow colder in colour. A blue or purple tint seems to add itself to the colour of the different parts of our subject. There is contrast everywhere between the lights and shadows which depend upon each other. Between the deep shadows and the bright lights there are subtler degrees of shade, delicate differences of colour. Where the orange light falls less strongly there is less orange colour added. Where it falls least the cold purple of the shadow has strongest influence; so that the dainty tones that lie between the light and shadow reveal the actual, or as it is called, the "local colour" of the object, most unaltered. But there is another and a lesser light influencing our subject. Some small part of the direct light that falls upon one surface is reflected on to surrounding surfaces, and, with the light, some part of the colour of the surface is reflected also. We can see the bright red of the wall reflected upon the rosy flower and upon the green leaves. Some of the green of the leaves is reflected into the purple shadow that lies upon the ground and upon the wall, and a warm light is reflected from one leaf to mitigate the cold shadow of another. From brightest light, through subtle tones and reflections, to deepest shadow, we find an exact relation of light and colour.

The variation in colour of the different parts of the same object is a real difference of colour, not a mere deepening of a tint, but a positive change, sometimes from one colour to its opposite in character. We cannot change these tone relations or these colour transitions without changing the appearance of the whole subject. Each light, half-tone, shadow, and reflection has its exact relative place, its exact relative size and shape, its exact difference in amount of light received, its exact difference in colour. All depends upon the colour, intensity, and direction of the light or lights which illuminate it, shape and colour of the object, and its parts; the shape, size, colour, and position of its surroundings, and our own position as we observe these facts. Nature conveys to us the impression of an object and the condition of its appearance in this way. All these different qualities of light, colour, form, size, and, position have unalterable relative proportions. Any change in them alters the character of the object or the condition of its appearance. Put too much white or too much red into the poppy flower, and it is no longer this poppy that we are examining but another. Alter the quality of the colour of its green leaves, make it the green of a dahlia leaf and you have an anomaly. Decrease the relative differences of light and shadow, change the warm orange light to a cold grey, and the cold purple shadow to a warm one, then the evening sunshine will disappear, while the long shadows, unaccounted for, mock at the inconsistency. Intelligence to connect cause and effect, a sense of proportion applied to various qualities (not confined to size), an appreciation of accuracy, are required of us as artist-painters before we can collect these elementary facts concerning the appearance of this ordinary flower.

(To be continued.)

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