Far From The Madding Crowd.
T. M. Weaver.
There remains another argument, or, rather, it is the same one put in a more subtle way. It is this: that there are some things which the camera can do better than (to quote Mr. Bernard Shaw) "that clumsy instrument, the human hand." Therefore, it is argued, the special province of the camera is to concentrate upon those things in which its powers of execution are naturally superior. Very seductive but very shallow. In the first place, in what way is the camera superior to the hand? We have heard it said, in the rendering of tone values. That is not so. It is quite true that in many cases the artist cannot get perfect tone values, because the range in Nature is greater than in pigments - the contrast in Nature, between the highest lights and the deepest darks is often greater than the difference between white and black paints. How does that fact demonstrate the superiority of the camera? The photographer has nothing but pigments to print with!
But what about the rendering of detail? Even there the human hand could do it, if necessary, though of course with infinite pains. But why do it, when it inevitably spoils the picture? The argument, you see, is just the same as the former one. What the objectors want is a photograph, not a picture. Well and good; let them get what they want. But they really must not call it Art!
One more suggestion. Regard as an essential part of your education visits to picture galleries. Whenever you get into difficulties with any particular part of your pictures (you are certain, as all painters are, to find foregrounds the bugbear) go and notice how the artist tackles the problem, and then see to what extent you can do something of the same kind.
Finally, beware of prejudices in Art. Preferences we must have or fail, but prejudice - the artist's besetting sin - results in nothing but blindness and stagnation. Shun as though he were plague-stricken, the man who speaks of every new thing as the work of a crank, and upon whose lips is ever that blessed word "legitimate."
The delightful photograph by Mr. T. M. Weaver, "Far from the Madding Crowd," illustrates what we have been driving at far more admirably, because with more subtlety, than the sketches. Let us analyse it. First as to Repetition. There is the large arch echoed on the left-hand side by two small ones; the large one alone would have been unbearable. A painter would probably have brought them farther into the picture and made them rather large. Then there are the three trees leaning inwards and almost parallel. But there is no unpleasantness, because the trees vary so much: one is leafless; another has the stem considerably broken up with foliage; and the right-hand one is nearly lost. Also the tone of each is slightly different. Still, they would have given a nasty "lean" to the picture were it not corrected by the many upright lines, notably of the large window and the lamp-post. The prominence of the large arch would have made one's eyes swirl round at the top of the picture, but this again is counteracted by the horizontal lines which have an admirable steadying effect. Notice, too, how aptly the rays of light are broken by a branch of the left tree running firmly across it. Just here there is a piece of charming subtlety displayed. See how the line of that branch is continued by the foliage lower down on the left-hand side, directing the eye towards the little archway, and clustering at the back of the lamp so as to take away its geometric shape. But the picture is perhaps most notable in its contrasts of light and shade. The dark shadow of the near arch greatly enhances the soft atmospheric effect of the rest, while the quiet, low tone of the house gains immensely by being contrasted with the dancing lights on the ground, and particularly on account of the bright lights on the seated figures. The concentration is altogether happy. Those long rays of light would have been distressingly obvious, if they had been strongly marked, and if there had been no other concentrating lines. But there are the joints in the stonework of the arch, the positive line of the principal tree, and (happiest touch of all) the shadow of a branch trailing across the pavement, all leading the eye gently but inevitably to the figures, which, though exceedingly small, thereby become the essential feature of the whole picture.