Houses of Sleep
Willow Woman
East West
Decline of Taste
Note on Yeats
Oscar Wilde
Again on Hokku
On Poetry
Again on Poetry
Morning Fancy
Ink Slab 





IT is not only the Oriental conception to say that "yes" and "no" are, after all, the same thing; I often find such an assurance in the matter of art. Whistler, for instance. His art of "curious carving of nature and life" had been recognised from the beginning in England by the stronger word of flat denial; Ruskin was the greatest of his admirers. Whistler was clever almost to a fault, and cleverness in art as well as in literature was comparatively a new thing in England. When I say he was clever, I mean it in the sense our Hokusai was clever. His impressionism—Oh! what an arbitrary word!—was something of Hiroshige's; and again, his gracefulness might belong to Utamaro. I do never mean he was influenced by the Japanese artists—no, no; I do not mean it at all. I feel only glad to know that the best art always comes from Nowhere, and never carr!es a particular badge of East or West; it is a bit of Japanese vanity when we write Whistler down in parallel with our artists. As the question yet remains (perhaps for ever) [<104] to fix the final place for the colour-print artists in our art, we have the same question, we believe, on Whistler; and as we find many reasons to deny the title of greatness to the former, the latter, too, may not have been great. I know how charmed, and again bewildered, we are when we are alone with his work face to face, and we think him almost great; but we cannot help perceiving his smallness when we see his work side by side with the work of some greater artists. There is an artist who suddenly gains from being compared; Whistler, however, is rather sad in comparison. So it is with our artists of the Ukiyoye school—for instance, compare Hokusai (that magician of line and design) with Sesshu, or even Okyo. I am told that Whistler's small physique—he hardly weighed more than 1301b.—was never noticed when he was alone; I think it was so with his art. I agree with Mr. George Moore, who said that Whistler might have been a greater artist if he had been higger in physique; Mr. Moore says often clever things. To say he was small I do no mean to undervalue him: in fact, smallness or [<105] greatness has not much meaning. His being over-fastidious cannot be overlooked; his perfection in unfinishedness mostly betrays his temperament; he was one of the most studied artists. If it appeared his work was always clone from inspiration, it is only that he proved the work which he executed at the odd moment, as we might say, when he least expected it. The remarkable part is that he was always ready for that moment; what energy, what persistence he had to grasp it.
    I am told of his habitual indifference to time and place; not only in his personal action, also he made his dream of colour and rhythm at once soar out of them. He never copied Nature or eternity; what he represented on canvas was the very Nature and eternity themselves; it was a sad accident to let his picture bear a particular name of a place. While it does not look like the reality you and I think we see perhaps in Nature, it shows a a sweeping ghostliness ageless and eternal. It is most interesting to read what he said before the Judge at the time of the RuskinWhistler case. He remarked:—" If it were [<106] called a view of Cremorne, it would certainly bring about nothing but disappointment on the part of the beholders. It is an artistic arrangement." Again, he said:—"To some it may represent all that is intended, to others it may represent nothing." That is the real point of his art. A desire and composition are merely a human creation that great Nature never thought of; as Nature never tells you where it was begun, how it was ended, what its idea and what its intention, so Whistler thought his pictures should he. It is perfectly clear to see why he was called a conceited and wilful impostor; but the abusers only exposed at the best their own knowledge, which is a lost thing in Art. What Whistler aimed at was imagination and impulse.
    No artist when he is great can separate his personality from his work; as Whistler's personality was unique, whether it was after study or not, so his art was; and we all see his personality behind his work. If you only see the surprise, mystification, confusion, and confounding in his art, I do not think you see the real Whistler at all. It appears, at the first glance, that he was [<107] always playing with his art and also with his friends, and he was so witty and combative; but he was at his heart of hearts most sincere and sad, again like our Hokusai. His strange aloofness in his art as well as in his personality may have been rooted in his Puritan blood; and his Puritanism was touched by the modern cynicism and alternately by the attractive cosmopolitanism; therefore he was both severe and delicate. I do not find a particular reason to call him eccentric, if not in the fact that he was proud in art, uncompromising in intention, eager in aim. If so, he was the most eccentric artist that ever lived.
    As there are not two Hogarths, two Velazquez, there will be no other Whistler in the future; just one Whistler is indeed enough. He was his own rule to himself, not belonging to any school already in existence; the school which he established at once was extinguished with his death; that was good. I know that a great art of the world is a creation of prayer, and the great artist is always a sort of priest. But where Whistler lacked the sober reverence towards Nature and Life, he gained, on the [<108] other hand, a touch of democracy; it was he who brought art down to noble artisanship. And his democracy of art was saved from vulgarity by his Puritanic aloofness. It is too common to say that his art was a work of love; but with Whistler it was a true case. Whatever the people happened to say, he was the most enthusiastic admirer of his own work; where is any more strong supporter? And where is the other artist who adored his work of creation as he did? I think that it does little justice to call him a colourist. We have many Oriental artists who never use any other colour but black and grey; yet we call them true colourists. One must see beyond the colour itself, and feel the inner voice of symphony. The colour, I think, was for Whistler only a means to make his picture sing a living song; from such a sense, he was a great colourist. Indeed, he was. And it is almost foolish to attempt to examine the truth or reality of the colour on his canvas; though it may not be a true colour to you, surely it is a poetry or song, which you cannot deny. [<109]

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