Saturday, 29 May 2004

From Blake's annotations to Reynold's Discourses

Blake: Reynolds's opinion was that Genius May be Taught, and that all Pretence to Inspiration is a Lie and a Deceit, to say the least of it. For if it is a Deceit the whole Bible is Madness. This opinion originates in the Greeks calling the Muses Daughters of Memory.

The Enquiry in England is not whether a Man has Talents and Genius! But whether he is Passive and Poetic and a Virtuous Ass, and obedient to Noblemen's Opinions in Art and Science. If he is, he is a Good Man: if Not, he must be Starved.

To: "After so much has been done by His Majesty, &c."

Blake: 3 Farthings.

To: "Raffael, it is true, had not the advantage of studying in an Academy but all Rome, and the works of Michael Angelo in particular, were to him an Academy. On the sight of the Capella Sistina, he immediately from a dry Gothick, and even insipid manner, which attends to the minute accidental discriminations of particular and individual objects, assumed that grand style of painting which improves partial representation by the general and invariable ideas of nature."

Blake: Minute Discrimination is not Accidental. All Sublimity is founded on Minute Discrimination.

I do not believe that Eafael taught Mich. Angelo, or that Mich. Ang. taught Rafael, any more than I believe that the Rose teaches the Lily how to grow, or the Apple tree teaches the Pear tree how to bear Fruit. I do not believe the tales of Anecdote when they militate against Individual Character.

To: "I would chiefly recommend that an implicit obedience to the Rules of Art, as established by the practice of the Great Masters, should be exacted from the young Students. That those Models, which have passed through the approbation of ages, should be considered by them as perfect and infallible guides; as subjects for their imitation, not their criticism."

Blake: Imitation is criticism.

(On a page on the importance of directing the studies of youth at first to what is substantially necessary for their artistic knowledge, lest they should pick up brilliant and superficial tricks early on, and not have the courage to go back afterwards, and learn essentials.)

To: "A facility in composing ... a masterly handling ... are captivating qualities to young minds."

Blake: I consider the following sentence is Supremely Insolent, for the following Reasons: — Why this Sentence should begin by the words, A Facility in composing, I cannot tell, unless it was to cast a stigma upon Real Facility in composition by assimilating it with a Pretence to and Imitation of Facility in Execution. Or are we to understand him to mean that Facility in composing is a Frivolous pursuit. A Facility in composing is the Greatest Power of Art, and Belongs to None but the Greatest Artists, the Most Minutely Discriminating and Determinate.

(To the next pages which are about the "useless industry" that makes executants of mere boys with mechanical facility, about its danger as a source of corruption and error as shewn in Foreign Academies, about frivolousness of the ambition of a student who wants to show dashing effect, not to attain exactness — and about a warning against the impetuosity of youth seeking short paths to excellence, and needing to be told that labour is the price of fame, and that however great their genius, there is no easy method for them to become painters.)

Blake: Mechanical Excellence is the only Vehicle of Genius.
This is all False and Self-Contradictory.
Execution is the Chariot of Genius.
This is all Self-Contradictory; Truth and Falsehood Jumbled Together.

To: "When we read the lives of the most eminent Painters, every page informs us that no part of their time was spent in dissipation. They pursued their studies ..."

Blake: The Lives of Painters say that Rafael Died of Dissipation. Idleness is one Thing and Dissipation is Another. He who has Nothing to Dissipate Cannot Dissipate. The Weak Man may be Virtuous Enough, but will Never be an Artist. Painters are noted for being Dissipated and Wild.

To: "When they (the old masters) conceived a subject, they first made a variety of sketches, then a finished drawing of the whole; after that a more correct drawing of every separate part, — head, hands, feet, and pieces of drapery; they then painted the picture, and after all re-touched it from the life."

Blake (after underlining): This is False.


To: "A Student is not always advancing because he is employed; he must apply his strength to that part of the art where the real difficulties lie. The Students, instead of vying with each other which shall have the readiest hand, should be taught to contend who shall have the purest and most correct outline."

Blake: Excellent.

To: "I must beg to submit to Visitors a matter of very great consequence. The students never draw exactly from the living models which they have before them drawing rather what a figure ought to be than what it appears. This obstacle has stopped the progress of many young men ... I very much doubt whether a habit of drawing correctly what we see will not give a proportionable power of drawing correctly what we imagine."

Blake: This is Admirably Said. Why does he not always allow as much.

To: "He who endeavours to copy nicely the figure before him not only acquires a habit of exactness and precision, but is continually advancing in his knowledge of the human figure."

Blake: Excellent.

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