This section is from the book "Arts & Crafts Magazine Vol1-2", by Hutchinson & Company.
There were undoubtedly points of interest in the papers read and the subsequent discussions upon them at the two sessions of the Conference of Teachers held under the auspices of the London County Council, reported elsewhere in the magazine. The lecture by Mr. Strange on Art Teaching in the Primary and Secondary Schools of Japan; that of Mr. R. Catterson-Smith, of the Birmingham Municipal School of Art, on the Relation of Art Teaching to Handicraft in our own schools of similar classes; and that by Mr. John Williams, of the Northampton Technical Institute, on the Art Training of the Artisan, were all well worth hearing. Yet, the net result of the impression left upon the mind at the end of the day's proceedings can hardly be said to have been quite satisfactory. From Mr. Strange, first, came the startling information that the "nature" studies by the school children of Japan which had been brought together for the edification of the assembled Art teachers of the London County Council schools, had been so "touched up" for exhibition purposes by the native drawing masters as to be quite unrepresentative, and he further stated that the Japanese nature studies generally - the admiration of which for many years in this country has been a cherished tradition - were not nature studies at all, but mere conventions of bygone native drawing masters handed down from generation to generation. Mr. Catterson-Smith ingenuously found in all this a splendid vindication of his faith in the great artistic value of memory drawing, but as Mr. Black very pertinently remarked, memory drawing is only possible after you have learnt to draw: "it cannot come first, because you have nothing to memorise."
The importance of cultivating the faculty of drawing from memory is no new revelation. Every artist has always known and appreciated it. That the Congress of Art Masters at Berne, as Mr. Black stated, had unanimously recommended the practice to schools throughout the world was commendable, but hardly surprising, and it was certainly gratifying to note the unanimity with which the importance of cultivating memory drawing in our elementary and secondary schools was insisted on at the recent Conference. But that memory drawing should displace object drawing - as Mr. Catterson-Smith declared that it should in his school at Birmingham - is preposterous, as any artist would tell him, and it is sincerely to be hoped that such folly will not be imitated at any school over which the London County Council has jurisdiction.
In saying that the net result of the proceedings of the Art Teachers' Conference cannot be regarded as quite satisfactory, I have specially in mind the dangerous influence that some of the opinions expressed by the head-master of so successful a school as that presided over by Mr. Catterson-Smith must have on the weaker brethren. Surely such extraordinary views should not pass unchallenged. What can one say of the judgment of the principal of a great art school who declares that he cannot live with examples of the acknowledged masters of the Renaissance, who is not ashamed to confess that he "hid Michel-Angelo up the chimney.". So that I may not be suspected of misquoting the speaker, let me reproduce his exact words and their context: - "I find myself slightly in disagreement [with Mr. John Williams] in the matter of examples. I do think the less examples we have the better. On my appointment to the large school at Birmingham, and, in fact, when I was appointed to the smaller school, the Jewellers' School, the first thing I did was to turn out nine-tenths of the examples they had there. A very small and choice number of examples were left, and I even took those choice examples and hid about half of them behind curtains and in corners wherever I could. A Michel-Angelo I hid up the chimney, for I could see nowhere else - the point being that I felt that I was confused, and the students were confused, and there was nothing but confusion coining from this enormous mass of superlative work which they were millions of miles away from ever being able to do, and I felt it was an impossible and hopeless business if we were to have those things staring us in the face."
I do not find it altogether easy to follow the reasoning of Mr. Catterson-Smith. He declares that he is a firm believer in drawing from memory, and that henceforth his influence will be used towards the abolition of the practice of drawing from the object. Michel-Angelo he has already "put up the chimney" - so, by the way, the students, even if they wished to do so, could not copy the single features of the "David" which, on another page, Professor Lanteri is quoted as telling his pupils are the best possible models for the beginner. Venus of Milo, the Apollo Belvedere, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Elgin Marbles, and similar objects of "dead art" are no doubt among the objects he has "hidden behind curtains and corners." It would be interesting to learn how Mr. Catterson-Smith intends now to teach the study of light and shade? Perhaps he does not think it necessary. Or is that, too, to be clone from memory? Birmingham is certainly a wonderful city, and it has been making remarkable-progress in art work of late. Still, one can but hope that the startling views expressed by the Principal of the Municipal Art School may not be accepted as the last word on art culture.
Portrait Study In Lead Pencil By J Carroll Beckwith