Essays on Art by A. Clutton-Brock


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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Essays on Art, by A. Clutton-Brock

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
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re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

Title: Essays on Art

Author: A. Clutton-Brock

Release Date: July 2, 2005 [EBook #16178]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1


Produced by Ted Garvin, Peter Barozzi and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at






_First Published in 1919_


These essays, reprinted from the _Times Literary Supplement_ with a few
additions and corrections, are not all entirely or directly concerned
with art; but even the last one--Waste or Creation?--does bear on the
question, How are we to improve the art of our own time? After years of
criticism I am more interested in this question than in any other that
concerns the arts. Whistler said that we could not improve it; the best
we could do for it was not to think about it. I have discussed that
opinion, as also the contrary opinion of Tolstoy, and the truth that
seems to me to lie between them. If these essays have any unity, it is
given to them by my belief that art, like other human activities, is
subject to the will of man. We cannot cause men of artistic genius to be
born; but we can provide a public, namely, ourselves, for the artist,
who will encourage him to be an artist, to do his best, not his worst.
I believe that the quality of art in any age depends, not upon the
presence or absence of individuals of genius, but upon the attitude of
the public towards art.

Because of the decline of all the arts, especially the arts of use,
which began at the end of the eighteenth century and has continued up to
our own time, we are more interested in art than any people of the past,
with the interest of a sick man in health. To say that this interest
must be futile or mischievous is to deny the will of man in one of the
chief of human activities; but it often is denied by those who do not
understand how it can be applied to art. We cannot make artists
directly; no government office can determine their training; still less
can any critic tell them how they ought to practise their art. But we
can all aim at a state of society in which they will be encouraged to do
their best, and at a state of mind in which we ourselves shall learn to
know good from bad and to prefer the good. At present we have neither
the state of society nor the state of mind; and we can attain to both
not by connoisseurship, not by an anxiety to like the right thing or at
least to buy it, but by learning the difference between good and bad
workmanship and design in objects of use. Anyone can do that, and can
resolve to pay a fair price for good workmanship and design; and only so
will the arts of use, and all the arts, revive again. For where the
public has no sense of design in the arts of use, it will have none in
the "fine arts." To aim at connoisseurship when you do not know a good
table or chair from a bad one is to attempt flying before you can walk.
So, I think, professors of art at Oxford or Cambridge should be chosen,
not so much for their knowledge of Greek sculpture, as for their success
in furnishing their own houses. What can they know about Greek sculpture
if their own drawing-rooms are hideous? I believe that the notorious
fallibility of many experts is caused by the fact that they concern
themselves with the fine arts before they have had any training in the
arts of use. So, if we are to have a school of art at Oxford or
Cambridge, it should put this question to every pupil: If you had to
build and furnish a house of your own, how would you set about it? And
it should train its pupils to give a rational answer to that question.
So we might get a public knowing the difference between good and bad in
objects of use, valuing the good, and ready to pay a fair price for it.

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