THE minute analysis of what constitutes the difference between "light and dark" and "light and shade" is necessary for two reasons. First, if pictorial art in our country is ever to attain to that development that is the very flower of European civilization the young must be taught to understand it and not judge it from decorative standards only. Second, photography emerging from science into pictorial art should be supplied with principles unmistakable and direct. A wide-spread re-awakened interest in the Arts and Crafts has resulted in the upbuilding of several systems for teaching composition in which the decorative principle is made to dominate in all representation. Pictorial art thereby suffers misinterpretation. The Arts and Crafts movement was revived by William Morris, who in turn had been stimulated by the writings of John Ruskin. Morris's ideas were mediaeval and Gothic. Followers of this movement abroad and in our own country came later under the spell of Japanese art and were fascinated by the beauty resulting from its pure decorative quality. Its influence soon began to be felt and attempts were made to harmonize our traditional pictorial art with the principles revealed in the work of the Japanese. While certain qualities of this oriental art can enrich, we go to destructive lengths when we make its foundations a basis for our pictorial art. Not until the Occident is willing to dispense with the tactile quality, to expunge perspective, anatomy, and shadows, to surrender its own idea of a finished work, can it accept that pure abstract beauty composing Japanese and Chinese art, nor will the oriental idea avail us so long as we use oil colors.
A translucent quality is possessed by the oil and when mixed with pigment it has a natural depth which it always maintains. A simple even tone in the background, for instance, will retain a mystery, suggestive-ness, receptiveness, and richness in an oil painting not known to any other medium.
The difference between the decorative and pictorial principle is this: In decoration we seek to retain the feeling of the surface, whatever the elaboration may be, while in pictorial work an illusion is created on any surface, that we are looking into a space much as we would gaze through a window. The gulf between the oriental art based on decoration, and the occidental founded upon the pictorial principle, widens in many ways. For instance, in applying colors Japanese art is brought into being by an emotional touch with the water-color brush characterized by spontaneity. The stroke is at once complete. Oil colors, the medium that to us is most responsive, allow deliberation, correction, growth, and in working with them we acquire a habit of "going into" the material, seeking greater depth through superposition of colors. Not least effective in this technique is the glaze, by means of which the under painting is made richer, more lustrous, and possessed of a mysterious quality resulting from its being revealed beneath the transparent film. With this technique an occidental artist may labor over his work indefinitely. Some famous pictures now in European galleries have required from four to five, others even ten years for completion.
The occidental artist is bound to his model, is unable to paint seriously without nature before him. Occidental art may be said to come nearer to an imitation of nature than oriental art. In producing their pictures the Japanese work from a memory of things observed, from suggestion, and the work is considered worthless when labored. It can be readily seen that our oil pigment is not suited to oriental needs, nor is their method of using water colors serviceable to us in rendering the more compact phenomena of nature.
All our mediums, such as the pen and ink, pencil, etching needle and water colors, are used with a deliberate intention of getting the plastic effects to which we have become endeared through our exploitation of oil painting. In the use of each we wish to direct the gaze into the picture, whereas in decorative work the effort is more nearly to direct the gaze at the picture.
To prepare oil colors for use in pictorial (mural) decoration the oil is frequently mixed with wax to cause it to lose its depth; it then becomes flat or "dead," attaining surface quality.
These differences in the technique and conception of art are racial. There is no doubt that occidental decoration can be improved by infusion of Japanese principles, but our pictorial art is based upon so different a foundation that it amounts to misleading a nation when the pictorial is spoken of as being cast in the same mould with the decorative principle. For several centuries there prevailed in occidental art a mistaken view as to the relation of the pictorial principle to decoration. That branch known as mural painting, which being based upon architectural conditions is fundamentally decorative, has been overpowered by the pictorial principle. It remained for Puvis de Chavannes in his mural work to re-establish right relations.
A decoration is always identified with the object it embellishes, while a pictorial representation is as mobile as a leaf. Expected to be beautiful in itself, it can be hung wherever the good taste of its owner impels him to place it. Though one branch of art projects itself into another, its fundamental principle is to be kept intact. To take a panel painted by Cha-vannes from its place in the Boston Public Library and, framing it, incorporate it in another building would be to injure the painting, to entirely pervert its meaning and purpose and to weaken its beauty.
An easel picture may and often should possess decorative qualities, thus fusing sobering science with the more emotional pictorial element. Figures 90 and 91 are examples.
The pictorial photograph shares with the easel picture these qualities. Like any well-blanced pictorial composition it may be placed upon the wall and it will "hold" at any distance. The artistic photographic rendering, - Fig. 96, will be pleasingly effective upon the wall, but its plain prototype, - Fig. 93, would be a strain to our vision if seen at a distance. Whatever value it has lies in its detail in the fineness of its texture, inviting close study.