MASS DRAWING

In the preceding chapter it has, I hope, been shown that outline drawing is an instinct with Western artists and has been so from the earliest times; that this instinct is due to the fact that the first mental idea of an object is the sense of its form as a felt thing, not a thing seen; and that an outline drawing satisfies and appeals directly to this mental idea of objects.

But there is another basis of expression directly related to visual appearances that in the fulness of time was evolved, and has had a very great influence on modern art. This form of drawing is based on the consideration of the flat appearances on the retina, with the knowledge of the felt shapes of objects for the time being forgotten. In opposition to line drawing, we may call this Mass Drawing.

The scientific truth of this point of view is obvious. If only the accurate copying of the appearances of nature were the sole object of art (an idea to be met with among students) the problem of painting would be simpler than it is, and would be likely ere long to be solved by the photographic camera.

This form of drawing is the natural means of expression when a brush full of paint is in your hands. The reducing of a complicated appearance 59to a few simple masses is the first necessity of the painter. But this will be fully explained in a later chapter treating more practically of the practice of mass drawing.

Plate X. EXAMPLE OF FIFTEENTH-CENTURY CHINESE WORK BY LUI LIANG (BRITISH MUSEUM) Showing how early Chinese masters had developed the mass-drawing point of view.

Plate X.

EXAMPLE OF FIFTEENTH-CENTURY CHINESE WORK BY LUI LIANG (BRITISH MUSEUM)

Showing how early Chinese masters had developed the mass-drawing point of view.

The art of China and Japan appears to have been more [influenced by this view of natural appearances than that of the West has been, until quite lately. The Eastern mind does not seem to be so obsessed by the objectivity of things as is the Western mind. With us the practical sense of touch is all powerful. "I know that is so, because I felt it with my hands" would be a characteristic expression with us. Whereas I do not think it would be an expression the Eastern mind would use. With them the spiritual essence of the thing seen appears to be the more real, judging from their art. And who is to say they may not be right? This is certainly the impression one gets from their beautiful painting, with its lightness of texture and avoidance of solidity. It is founded on nature regarded as a flat vision, instead of a collection of solids in space. Their use of line is also much more restrained than with us, and it is seldom used to accentuate the solidity of things, but chiefly to support the boundaries of masses and suggest detail. Light and shade, which suggest solidity, are never used, a wide light where there is no shadow pervades everything, their drawing being done with the brush in masses.

When, as in the time of Titian, the art of the West had discovered light and shade, linear perspective, aerial perspective, &c., and had begun by fusing the edges of the masses to suspect the necessity of painting to a widely diffused focus, they had got very near considering appearances as a visual whole. But it was not until Velazquez that a picture was painted that was founded entirely on visual appearances, in which a basis of objective outlines was discarded and replaced by a structure of tone masses.

When he took his own painting room with the little Infanta and her maids as a subject, Velazquez seems to have considered it entirely as one flat visual impression. The focal attention is centred on the Infanta, with the figures on either side more or less out of focus, those on the extreme right being quite blurred. The reproduction here given unfortunately does not show these subtleties, and flattens the general appearance very much. The focus is nowhere sharp, as this would disturb the contemplation of the large visual impression. And there, I think, for the first time, the whole gamut of natural vision, tone, colour, form, light and shade, atmosphere, focus, &c., considered as one impression, were put on canvas.

All sense of design is lost. The picture has no surface; it is all atmosphere between the four edges of the frame, and the objects are within. Placed as it is in the Prado, with the light coming from the right as in the picture, there is no break between the real people before it and the figures within, except the slight yellow veil due to age.

But wonderful as this picture is, as a "tour de force," like his Venus of the same period in the National Gallery, it is a painter's picture, and makes but a cold impression on those not interested in the technique of painting. With the cutting away of the primitive support of fine outline design and the absence of those accents conveying a fine form stimulus to the mind, art has lost much of its emotional significance.

Plate XI. LOS MENENAS. BY VELAZQUEZ (PRADO) Probably the first picture ever painted entirely from the visual or impressionist standpoint. Photo Anderson

Plate XI.

LOS MENENAS. BY VELAZQUEZ (PRADO)

Probably the first picture ever painted entirely from the visual or impressionist standpoint.

Photo Anderson