Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 2, No. 10. June 14, 1939
Art Without Epoch
Art Without Epoch
When very young, the present writer believed implicitly in the British Israelite theories concerning the Great Pyramid—you know, the passages are measured in inches, one inch represents one year, and by the places where passages intersect marvellous prophecies are disclosed. He was demonstrating this theory to his class at school on one occasion. In the presence of the form-master, and, at the conclusion of what he considered a magnificent logical survey of the subject, was somewhat dashed by the form-master's comment.
"Go on!" he said. "I could prove all that from a rabbit-hole!"
The form-master's comment was perfectly true. In the infinite number of relationships constituting experience. It is easy to select and correlate certain facts bearing a similarity to one another, and produce logically the most absurd results. Thus I know a person who believes that the Bible Is divinely inspired because he can show that the letters, words, and sentences of the original manuscripts are constructed throughout on an intricate and involved series of sevens—the seventh verse has seven words, etc.
Mr. E. C. Simpson, speaking at a recent Phoenix Club meeting, appeared to fall into the same error when he endeavoured to demonstrate some aspects of his theory of aesthetics. Mr. Simpson talked at length on the famous "Golden Mean"—a geometrical law, based on the quantity square root of 5 plus 1 divided by 2, by which, since the days of Greece, men have tried to find a mathematical standard for artistic harmony. Although artists may, consciously or unconsciously, apply the "Golden Mean" In the proportions of doors, crosses, etc., It Is Inconceivable that it should apply as a general rule. It certainly cannot apply with mathematical exactitude in such work as the Cezanne landscape shown by Mr. Simpson to demonstrate his point. All that can be said is that certain proportions are pleasing and others are not: to endeavour to reduce these proportions to three places of decimals is to destroy the whole basis of art.
Mr. Simpson commenced his lecture with a brief talk on the difficulty of understanding art. "If you put figures on a blackboard, anybody can see whether you are right or wrong—but you can't argue about art. You can't prove it as you can a science—all you can do is to excite people's minds by showing them art."
This theme was developed with the aid of a splendid collection of lantern slides. Commencing with a survey of the importance of line in art—illustrated by Chinese art and script, and Persian writing, Mr. Simpson demonstrated how the effect of weight and mass could be obtained. Sculpture did not necessarily represent mass—witness some of the [unclear: exquisite] figures on the Chartres Cathedral; and pure line could also represent mass effectively, as was shown by his analysis of a sketch by Matisse.
Art and Music.
In his analysis of an African mask, its "form" being explained on the analogy of the sonata "form" in music. Mr. Simpson seemed to go a little too far, discovering relationships where the artist probably did not Intend them at all. It appears to us that such an extension of the functions of art criticism is unwarranted.
With slides of work by Giotto, Seurat, Eric Gill, and Cezanne, Mr. Simpson explained a theory concerning the process of perception, which did not seem to be in accord with modern psychological theories.
Mr. Simpson is an interesting, fluent, and meticulous speaker, and few people in New Zealand have a greater knowledge of modern art than he. We hope that, he will speak to us again, if possible developing the controversial theories mentioned above.