Schooling the Artist

The bird learns to fly by being pushed from the nest.  Sea turtles know they must run to the ocean.  Baby ducks ride mother’s back until learning by example to swim.  The tadpole grows legs and hops; the caterpillar grows wings and flies; what must the finger-painter grow to become a picture-maker.

George Clare (1830 – 1900); Bird’s Nest and Two Flower Baskets, date unknown

Certain you have noticed that all creatures, all things are of the same particles; that universal laws apply to all things, universally; you will notice that animate things differ from inanimate things, that all creatures are animate, that man is a creature differing from the tadpole, the butterfly, the duck.  What differentiates man from other creatures?  Each creature keeps its own society, the tadpole in water, the butterfly in air, the duck on sea and land, though, not by nature will the duck live in cities.  Man by nature keeps society in a city, a home different from a nest. 

Frank Cadogen Cowper (1877 – 1958): Kissing the Frog (date unknown)

How does a nest differ from a house?  First, a nest does not suppose permanence in time.  A nest is seasonal, little more than a month’s bed.  We would not call a “bed” a “home”, it is not.  A home knows time, knows the concept of permanence by the plan of its maker, by the structure of its design.  You have noticed that over time the house has become human-body-like, the bones of timber or stone, the skin of sheathing or paint, the electric veins, the pipes of faucet and drain, the brain in electronics, heart-like heating pumps, the cooling lungs and we could go on, detail into detail.  Point is, we make a thing by what we know; by how we know we serve our nature.

You have noticed, there is not agreement in what we are by nature.  Some suppose we are bodied alike tadpoles and butterflies, material, and little more, animals to be managed, to be fed, to be burned or buried, to increase by number, yet, only so much as work requires to feed, bury, increase, period.  This, the simple, Progressive model of managed society. 

In disagreement with the Progressive, the Classive, a philosophy, a way-of-being which supposes the body to be a home for the soul, alike a house being a home for a body.  Difference is, soul is not material, soul is not fed as is a body, is not buried as is a body, does not increase as does a body, a soul is not managed as is an animal body.  Obviously, the home for a bodied soul will differ from a home for a soulless body.  What might be this difference?

Does a tadpole need beauty, does a butterfly need truth, does a turtle need goodness, graciousness in the shell of its home.  No: turtles, butterflies, tadpoles haven’t man’s need.  The home of souled man wants beauty, goodness, and truth.  Let us compare, let us contrast the souled Classive city, the material Progressive city.

“The Ideal City” attributed to Luciano Laurana and to Melozzo da Forlì, c. 1485

The Classive city is logical, harmonic, symmetrical, most often, bilaterally symmetrical, alike the body of a living creature, alike ourselves.  Alike ourselves, our Classive selves, the Classive city is commodious, comfortable, at ease in living; is firm in fact, in appearance (in seeing, we believe that it shall stand); is a delight to the senses, especially the sensing eye which by its nature joys in balance, in symetrical variation.  And this: the Classive city is proportioned to man in consideration, in comfort to the width of arms; in breadth, to the breath of walking; in height, to the ease of climb; in mind, to the scale of our understanding: the Classive city is humane, friendly to the vicissitudes of body; the Classive city is beautiful, soulful, natured to the human soul, a thing made by man’s nature, as woods, desert, plain is made by God’s nature.

IM Pei, and Partners; National Gallery of Art, 1978

Awkward crooked stairs trippingly steep, low leaning walls crowding the street, fear in shadowed darkness, black, glass that hides by day, exposes by night, in height ginormous, littling man, off-centered alike a face of accident, in body monstrous, aggressive, disconcerting to we who seek truth by senses.  And yet, the Progressive city is mechanically efficient to feed, to increase, to bury, to feed again the ravenous body; the Progressive city is confrontational, idealogic, a place indifferent to humane tradition.  You are human.  You have eyes. You see.  You know what I speak is true: the Progressive city is soulless, a place unfriendly to man.  Friendly though to bugs, to rats, to criminals … yes, true, these creatures will be found everywhere at feed upon the health of others, feeding as does Congress, Silicon Valley, Beijing, and all creatures Progressive of appetite. 

As you have recognized, the art of different cities, Progressive, Classive, will want different artists schooled to different skills, to different purpose. With which city shall we begin our schooling. Since easy, simple, elementary:

Let us begin with a prescription for training the Progressive artist in the art of Progressive cities.

Erno Goldfinger; Balfron Tower, 1963

Soulless … well, assuming no soul … we shall consider material, we shall train the artist in crafting material objects into shapes devoid of inner life and meaning, id est, the circle the circle, the square the square, the line the line, et cetera; if sculpting, spheres, cubes, bars, the sphere the sphere, etc.  We shall craft surfaces, the superficies: texture, smooth or rough; value, black or white; shape, simple or complex; color, this or that; motion, line leaning for fast (the faster the lean, the quicker … ah, the art!), horizontal or vertical to slow; a thick-or-thin, a repeated-or-single, a curved for organic growth, right-angled for constructed growth.  And there, you have it.  Yes. That’s it. The course of Progressive study in full.  Truly, this was the course of my Progressive study, has been for all, all these 70 years.  < This, what I taught to Fresh-people by-the-book for pay.

Some clever, Progressive teachers will eschew lines and shapes and colors and forms, and instead of drawing, recording on paper the artist’s mind (the particulars of purposed consideration), clever teachers and their students will crumple an empty paper-bag, the crumpled paper-bag being the work-of-art, the model from which the building will be built. Clever, in its way. Yet, are you suited to a house of ill-considered crumpled paper, a home hollow, empty, crumpled alike a paper-bag. These crumpled buildings exist in some few cities, maybe yours. Does the crumbled building suit your nature.

Look about.  See: the million-dollar works-of-art, artsy architectures that you are taxed to purchase, are little more, little less than a fresh-person’s cardboard art-project.  Easy enough to see.  You see.  What you might not see, the art lobby paid-off by politicians, an industry in spending taxes for your public good, the material feeding of a soulless population.

Diego Pierno (contemporary); Brampton Go Station #11, 2019

And you will notice this: there are in Progressive cities no statues, no reference to literary work, no remembrance of history, no celebration of life, merely the smarmy cause, the tedious one-liner, the cheap-irony, and other distillations of placards and bumper-stickers and slogans.  In other words, the Progressive artist need not trouble with philosophical subtleties, literary erudition, spiritual enlargement, need not trouble with thinking at all, but for the mechanical necessity of bending metal, splattering paint, and pounding stone.  You might say, “The Progressive artist needs nothing beyond a typical, public education.”

Frederick Lord Leighton (1830 – 1896); The Arts of Industry as Applied to Peace (study), 1871; photo credit: Victoria and Albert Museum

Now, let us consider the prescription for training an artist in the craft of building Classive art, the Classive city.

First: learn the language grown of tradition, that those of our future might know those of our past, that all in the family of man might enjoy understanding; eschew the babble, the bah-bah barbarism of infantile ejaculations.  Learn the purpose of language, “to inform and delight”, learn the language of meaning in words, of music in sound, of dance in time, learn the language of form and line; study the best of what has been thought, done, said; look into your soul and there ask God the meaning of Beauty, Goodness, Truth, and then, you might have prepared yourself to begin a course of training in classical dance or music or verse or pictuary or statuary or structures or thought … each a craft necessary to civic health.

Frederick Lord Leighton (1830 – 1896); The Daphnephoria, 1876
Frederick Lord Leighton (1830 – 1896); Cimabue’s Madonna Carried in Procession, 1855 

If, within minutes, I was not scheduled to complete design of a very-fine funerary monument, the design of a book for a fellow author, to pursue relationship with several excellent, likely ladies, from which but one must be chosen, we might review the skills requisite to artistry in the several Classive crafts.  As is, must choose but one.  I am inclined to choose architecture, “structures”, because this, because these the bones of a city.  I am inclined to choose statuary, because here is man in our most divinely solid form, the example, the pattern by which we fit ourselves into a universal god.  Music, dance, verse, thought … ah, yet, here we are: Pictuary, yes, must settle upon that art which, in-its-way, comprehends all, that art of which when young I demonstrated seldom matched gifts, whose examples by the model of Platon burning his play, by insightful criticism of Socrates, I destroyed … well, all but one, a girl behind a Dairy Queen counter who I saw but once, in passing — in the picture I removed her from the happy mundane, allowed her to live in a lovely flowered frame, where yet she remains, young, still, quieted, soulful. 

So then, we shall for you incorporate the several arts into one, that together we might know how best to school youth into Classive artistry.

Teach love, the love of neighbor, of self, of nature, mostly, the love of nature’s god. 

Frederick Lord Leighton (1830 – 1896); Music Lesson, 1877

Teach truth: first, the truth of touch, reality, by which all truth is measured; the truth of vision, a touching of things beyond the surface, that touch of eye flesh, mind flesh which creates pleasure in understanding of objects distanced by space; the truth of knowledge, reality of all that is outward inward; then, if these can be taught, the artist might attain wisdom worthy of sharing with fellow human souls, pictures suited to a citizen body.

Frederick Lord Leighton (1830 – 1896); Mother and Child [uncertain of date]; Photo credit: Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery

Teach goodness: first, in parable, the universal theme personalized, pictured in small; later, in fabled biography, the single man in tide of powerful obligations — force the ethical choice; in allegory poetic, conceptually fuse the sunflower with the sun, the making of two things, one; goodness comes to each in knowing the self to be as others in god.

Paul Delaroche  (1797–1856); Central portion, “L’Hémicycle des Beaux-arts”, 1842

Teach beauty: first, the beauty of what is by nature loved, the mother’s face, the touch of beau’s strong hand, the silk of Eve’s hair; the beauty of what is of itself beautiful, the measured, stately Parthenon, the composed, balanced Doryphoros, the deep, rich, mysterious Mona Liza, the divine sublimity of the “Tristan Chord” in Isolde’s “Love Death”; the beauty universal of spheric harmony, spatial balance, geometric symmetry; the force of Creation, Love, Beauty internalized, spiritually realized in the object of daily practice – here, of course, the sun’s day, not the blinkering spin of Earth.  

Frederick Lord Leighton (1830 – 1896); Study at a reading Desk, 1877

If Beauty, Goodness, Truth can be taught, there might be potentiality for a maker of pictures, if the person is by God gifted with painterly skill in mind, in eye, in hand.  If so, the mind must be organized, a library stacked with knowledge in learning, in experience; the eye must be conditioned to pictures framed, pictures windowed; the hand must be practiced in grace of movement, for, what is a picture if not by brush the recorded dance of the hand in graceful partnership with a leading mind. Yes, Progressives, this is your invitation, I am setting-you-up. Take it.

And here, what am I saying.  Why?  We were discussing, it seems, man’s nature, our houses, the citied home suitable to the creatures of ourselves, intelligent, God-souled animals.  If this is what we are, flesh-eating monkeys who can know Greek and love God, our city shall be Classive, a place to nest all that we might be, the best that we might become.  Yet here, I am airy.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780 – 1867); The Apotheosis of Homer, 1827

To make a good artist, make a good man; to make a great artist, make a great man, as-much-as God will allow.  Why?  Perhaps you have noticed: look around, yes, in this moment, look; all that you have, all that you see is made by the craft of hand, by the art of design, by the useful beauty of mind. 

Leo von Klenze  (1783–1864); The Acropolis at Athens, 1846

You live in Art.  Art makes you what you are.  By the hand of the artist, you live in the artist’s mind.  Great Art might make you great: little art, little man; Great Art, Great Man.  There is cause in Socrates being Socrates of Classive Athens; cause in Alexandria “Sandy” Ocasio-Cortez being Sandy of Progressive New York.  You know the cause.  You know the truth.  Tell me.  Are we creatures souled, created in the image of God.  Are we malleable material, creatured into political use. 

House of the Golden Bracelet, Pompeii; fresco detail, circa 40 A.D.

Which city will you choose?  How will you school your artist?  

Edvard Munch (1863 – 1944); The Scream, 1893

Right: nearly forgot.  The picture.  Perhaps you know: We become what we are by the artists we school, by the artist we choose. Which do you choose? And what, friend, does the answer tell you about yourself?

Frederick Lord Leighton (1830 – 1896); Self-Portrait, 1880

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Michael Curtis (1956 – present); Alexandria Classical Academy & Museum, 2010

In footnote:

Not long ago, I was asked to design a school of art, its curriculum, its building, its business plan. I did, with Christine Franck’s assistance in curriculum, Dr. Nir Buras’ consultation in architecture, with the early cooperation of The National Civic Art Society, The Institute of Classical Architects, and other like-purposed organizations. Messers Edmund Frost and Kevin Kosa funded the project until the devestating, incompetently overlong recession dried funds.

This illustration will serve as example of the building planned (favored by Mayor Bill Euille [Alexandria, Virginia]).

Soon, likely this year, will share the school’s curriculum: a specific prescription for a healthy, arts education.

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