there were two points I tried to make: First, the similarity
between creative and critical effort-the essential likeness
in temperament between the artist and the critic; and
second, the necessity for openness of mind above all
other qualities in either the one capacity or the other.
That a painter, or a writer, or an artist of any sort
must be receptive, seems almost self-evident. It is
his business to be sensitive, to keep on the alert for
all passing phenomena of beauty, all the suggestive
incidents of life. Not a line or a gesture must escape
him of the manifold human drama daily enacted before
his eyes; not a shade or tone of color must be lost
on him of all the wonderful fleeting loveliness of sky
and sea, mountain and cloud, sun and rain. The changing
face of the universe is his continual study, and his
appreciation will never fail to catch the gusts of passion
and mood that sweep across the tumultuous regions of
the mind. Whatever else he may be, he can never for
one moment be fixed or stable, save in the purpose to
be always free, always unprejudiced, always ready for
the new impulse, the new impression, the new inspiration.
For whether we think of inspiration as coming though
experience or through intuition, it demands an equally
receptive habit of thought. And one who would be guided
by it must have an equally sedulous regard for the inward
meaning and the outward apparition of things. He must
be endowed with senses of no ordinary keenness, like
that figure in Norse mythology who could hear the grasses
growing; and a very wizardry of instructive comprehension
must be his. Culture for him will mean not so much self-perfection
as self-absorption in nature and life for the others,
and at the instance of an uncontrollable propensity.
He is the unwearied listener at the Sphinx, the eternal
wanderer by all trodden and unfrequented paths, he is
a nomad in the blood, and an incredulous believer from
his birth. And this natural aptitude for indecision
and appreciation is emphasized by a daily use, is encouraged
and developed and grows by practice; until your typical
artistic temperament, as the phrase runs, becomes proverbially
impressionable and fastidious.
all this that he may convey some expression of his new
knowledge to the audience of his fellows. He is eyes
and ears for multitudes less fortunate than himself.
We rely on him for daily fresh reports from every corner
of the house of life, with all its wonderful galleries
and crannies, crowded with fact and haunted by illusion.
But what is our attitude toward him? I remarked that
many of those traits which are most useful to the artist
are most useful to the critic as well. Flexibility or
openness of mind, is one of them, and the most important.
If the artist must exercise absolute freedom in his
art, are we ready to grant him that right? I mean, do
we look with tolerance on the new and strange in art?
If we were to approach a new book or a new picture with
anything of the same receptiveness which the writer
or the painter felt in dealing with his subject, we
should, first of all, be attentive, curious, receptive.
We certainly should not be carping and antagonistic.
Our first effort would be to understand. We should apply
thought to our subject and not prejudice.
however, what is the usual state of mind in which we
approach an original creation. Recall for a moment the
mass of everyday criticism in which our average sentiments
are embodied. Is it tolerant, intelligent, alert, sympathetic?
I am afraid not. Our attitude toward the artist is seldom
one of confidence, and the very word "critical"
has come to be almost synonymous with "censorious."
Criticism as generally exercised resolves itself into
the gentle art of making enemies. Cain was the first
critic, and his slashing criticism of his brother's
religious observances remains the type of theological
controversy to the present day. But there are many varieties
of criticism, from the high censorious British snort
to the patronizing sniff of the latest free lance among
journals. And they are all equally valuable. The most
lamentable thing about them, however, is the ease with
which they may be acquired. They resemble all other
forms of sin in that.
all our worst methods of critical procedure-the censorious,
the patronizing, the furtively malicious, the acrid,
the snarling, the insulting, the brutal-flourish best
anonymously. Indeed, they are hardly possible otherwise.
The vicious system of unsigned criticism (vicious as
it seems to me) must surely be responsible for most
of the brutalities and vulgar personalities in which
we indulge so freely. And the evil is not so much in
the direct harm it does in that way, for it does no
one any serious damage to be cut up a bit or even falsified
occasionally. But the greatest mischief is that such
a system corrupts all honest efforts at fairness. Most
men need all their self-respect to help them be rid
of vindictiveness and laziness. Then, too, an anonymous
system ruins those who exercise it by investing them
with undue authority.
of growing in culture, one tends to warp into the bent
of the party which he has espoused. A man who is speaking
in his own person must always be limited and stimulated
by his own characteristics; but when he assumes the
editorial impersonality the chances are he will assume
all the blind prejudices of his paper at the same time.
Or, rather, it would be fairer to say, any publication
which stands for certain principles and sentiments,
is already biased. Individual criticism is no longer
possible. The judgment of any set or party is of no
value critically; for a party is held together by adherence
to principle, and the very life of criticism is to have
no principle. It must stand apart, without creed or
predilection. The academic point of view, so valuable
for all scientific purposes, is out of court in critical
affairs; since the gist of art is revelation, the accomplishment
of something unprecedented. The underlying science of
art is as fixed and stable as all other natural law;
but the manifestations of art are always surprising,
often in seeming contradiction to all tradition. So
that the purely scholastic mode of appreciating them
is inadequate. To set up standards of bygone excellence
in art and then bring all new achievements into comparison
with them, is unjust to both. You pin your faith to
Dante and Shakespeare and Milton and Wordsworth, let
us say, and then you bring a new book to be tested by
their standard. If it does not conform, you say it must
be poor. But if it did conform, art would be a dead
thing. Art and poetry are not inventions, we must remember;
they are not pretty contrivances designed once for all
in the early history of our race for mere amusement.
They are living and vital forces, growing with civilization,
and making themselves felt in fresh ways every day.
So that it is impossible, as it seems to me, to confront
them with any preconceived notion of what they ought
to be. It is only possible to criticize them in a spirit
of absolute impartiality. And this can only be done
by the individual, never by the school or sect.
how does this bear on the signing of criticism? The
Daily Censor, let us say, represents certain
well-defined principles: it stands for one set of persons
in the community; it has a pronounced bias of its own.
But when a new book appears or a new play is put on,
I don't want to know how it impresses a man who has
The Daily Censorian sort of mind; I can guess
that already. I want to know how it impresses a man
of open and free mind. The Daily Censor may be
an admirable sheet; it may be absolutely honest, but
it is bound by an honorable allegiance to a certain
set of principles. It cannot be candid; it has no right
to be candid. And the man who writes for it tacitly
sinks his individual judgment and retains only so much
of it as will tally with the likes and dislikes of his
is largely, too, a matter of authority. The banding
together of men for government constitutes the authority
of the state. The banding together of men in religion
constitutes the authority of a church. And the state
or church has some apparent right, at least, to exercise
its little authoritative power. But in matters of art
there can be no constituted body of authority, with
power to approve or disapprove. And it is not desirable
that there should be.