LECTURE VI. LIGHT

146. The plan of the divisions of art-schools which I gave you in the last lecture is of course only a first germ of classification, on which we are to found farther and more defined statement; but for this very reason it is necessary that every term of it should be very clear in your minds.

And especially I must explain, and ask you to note the sense in which I use the word "mass." Artists usually employ that word to express the spaces of light and darkness, or of colour, into which a picture is divided. But this habit of theirs arises partly from their always speaking of pictures in which the lights represent solid form. If they had instead been speaking of flat tints, as, for instance, of the gold and blue in this missal page, they would not have called them "masses," but "spaces" of colour. Now both for accuracy and convenience' sake, you will find it well to observe this distinction, and to call a simple flat tint a space of colour; and only the representation of solid or projecting form a mass.

I use, however, the word "line" rather than "space" in the second and third heads of our general scheme, at p. 94, because you cannot limit a flat tint but by a line, or the locus of a line: whereas a gradated tint, expressive of mass, may be lost at its edges in another, without any fixed limit; and practically is so, in the works of the greatest masters.

147. You have thus, in your hexagonal scheme, the expression of the universal manner of advance in painting: Line first; then line enclosing flat spaces coloured or shaded; then the lines vanish, and the solid forms are seen within the spaces. That is the universal law of advance:—1, line; 2, flat space; 3, massed or solid space. But as you see, this advance may be made, and has been made, by two different roads; one advancing always through colour, the other through light and shade. And these two roads are taken by two entirely different kinds of men. The way by colour is taken by men of cheerful, natural, and entirely sane disposition in body and mind, much resembling, even at its strongest, the temper of well-brought-up children:—too happy to think deeply, yet with powers of imagination by which they can live other lives than their actual ones: make-believe lives, while yet they remain conscious all the while that they are making believe—therefore entirely sane. They are also absolutely contented; they ask for no more light than is immediately around them, and cannot see anything like darkness, but only green and blue, in the earth and sea.

148. The way by light and shade is, on the contrary, taken by men of the highest powers of thought, and most earnest desire for truth; they long for light, and for knowledge of all that light can show. But seeking for light, they perceive also darkness; seeking for truth and substance, they find vanity. They look for form in the earth,—for dawn in the sky; and seeking these, they find formlessness in the earth, and night in the sky.

Now remember, in these introductory lectures I am putting before you the roots of things, which are strange, and dark, and often, it may seem, unconnected with the branches. You may not at present think these metaphysical statements necessary; but as you go on, you will find that having hold of the clue to methods of work through their springs in human character, you may perceive unerringly where they lead, and what constitutes their wrongness and rightness; and when we have the main principles laid down, all others will develop themselves in due succession, and everything will become more clearly intelligible to you in the end, for having been apparently vague in the beginning. You know when one is laying the foundation of a house, it does not show directly where the rooms are to be.

149. You have then these two great divisions of human mind: one, content with the colours of things, whether they are dark or light; the other seeking light pure, as such, and dreading darkness as such. One, also, content with the coloured aspects and visionary shapes of things; the other seeking their form and substance. And, as I said, the school of knowledge, seeking light, perceives, and has to accept and deal with obscurity: and seeking form, it has to accept and deal with formlessness, or death.

Farther, the school of colour in Europe, using the word Gothic in its broadest sense, is essentially Gothic Christian; and full of comfort and peace. Again, the school of light is essentially Greek, and full of sorrow. I cannot tell you which is right, or least wrong. I tell you only what I know—this vital distinction between them: the Gothic or colour school is always cheerful, the Greek always oppressed by the shadow of death; and the stronger its masters are, the closer that body of death grips them. The strongest whose work I can show you in recent periods is Holbein; next to him is Lionardo; and then Dürer: but of the three Holbein is the strongest, and with his help I will put the two schools in their full character before you in a moment.