The Congress of Women: Art


Mrs. Emily Crawford was born in New London, in the County of Middlesex, England. Her parents were thoughtful and cultivated people. She was educated at home, and with considerable thoroughness, especially in art. She has traveled in many lands. She married James Alexander Crawford, B. C. S. Her principal paintings up to the present time are life-sized portraits in pure watercolors. She was appointed judge of Special Handicraft for the Columbian Exposition, and has been invited to write the special report on Japanese Bronzes, Japanese Cloisonnes and the Enamels from all nations. In religious faith she is a Protestant, and is a member of the Church of England. Her permanent postoffice address is The Well House, Chilworth, Surrey.

The subject is rather a comprehensive one, as the Arts when allied to the Sciences are the most important factors in our modern lives. Whether we eat or drink, rush about the world in luxurious trains or mammoth steamers, or lounge at home in beautiful rooms, resting our weary bodies on exquisitely fashioned and comfortably cushioned seats, recreating our tired minds with the work of others' brains, the too often abused "fiction," the Arts everywhere encompass us with a cloud of beauty and comfort, which has become so much our natural atmosphere that we fail to notice it, accepting it as the usual thing, until a day comes when we find ourselves in wilder and more uncivilized regions, where nature only provides the art material. Then we speedily and very gratefully recognize how artificial or made up of arts our own habits of existence are. The Sciences provide us with a solid framework, and the Arts clothe and embellish that basis, for our use and enjoyment. The higher arts, or high art, as it is more popularly called, meaning painting, sculpture and literature (it is still a disputed point whether architecture should be called an art or a science); high art may be defined as the expression of any idea or emotion, the arresting of it as it first proceeds from the mind, the giving to it a more solid and durable form, a sort of body, in which it can be shown to others and started on its career in the world. A single noble idea from one noble mind so fitted out can go on and onward, illuminating and firing other minds in its course, leaving its luminous track behind it. The traces of its passing will be very evident; it would be impossible to overestimate its influence when it becomes translated into works and lives.

In looking over the collection of the various works of art accumulated in the museums of the countries where they originated, or to which they were transplanted from countries still older, so old, in fact, that their histories only remain written in their sculptures, potteries or carved gems, which, from their substance, are imperishable, and which are from time to time dug out of the masses of fallen masonry, earth and sand that have almost obliterated the traces of the cities where they were made; in looking over such collections we easily recognize one of the first uses to which art was applied, the recording of passing events for the instruction of succeeding generations. Consider with what difficulty those records were cut into the granite of the colossal blocks of the Assyrians, or burnt into the cylinder of the Egyptians! It was certainly pursuing literature under difficulties. One cannot imagine flashes of wit being chiseled out in such laborious fashion; their delicate essence would have disappeared. All such trifling with the thistledown of fancy had to wait until the medium united to such ephemeral conceits was invented-the stylus and wax-tablets, that could be scribbled on and the writing erased in a moment. The stylus and tablets soon became highly ornamented, and had their fashions like our lizard-skin note-books and ivory tablets have.

But the medium that lent itself so painfully to literature, lent itself to another art-sculpture-with far more satisfactory results, no less painfully to the artist, perhaps, because all good art is brought out in discomfort. There is no such thing as ease in art. It is effort, mental and bodily, all the time, and the huge figures of the ancient Egyptian kings, priests, doorkeepers, and so on, remain to awe us with their grandeur and an earnestness which we seem to have altogether lost. After all, the greatest artist is Time. I knew of a colossal lion that lay for ages at length on a promontory and looked out over the blue seas, while the suns of centuries burnt his gigantic hide into very nearly the color of the living one, and into his raised and watchful visage grew an expression and a pathos that was most assuredly beyond the power of his sculptor to produce. There is a something about the Egyptian art that appeals to our human sympathies more than the more modern, and the much more materially perfect Greek art, whose most splendid statues leave us plunged in wonder at their knowledge and correctness and beauty of form, but seldom prompt us to wish we knew more of the individual and his thoughts and fancies. Of course this doesn't hold good for such statues as are portraits-of the Caesars, or the great philosophers, for instance. About such people the ordinary rank and file of the world must always feel a vivid curiosity. In pictorial art, the earliest known specimens are all of coarse frescoes, mural decorations. We have some very interesting ones of about the time of Moses, before or since, and they give us a very good idea of how the Egyptian of that period lived his life. We see the farmer among his cattle or driving his geese, the hunter going after game, the warrior returning from battle with his captives, and we see the society functions of the time. One especially perfect fresco shows us an entertainment devoted to the ladies, who are seated in rows, in an elegant hall, and are listening to probably the best orchestra to be had. The ladies fan themselves with the peculiar palm-leaf. They are much draped, and appear to feel the heat, while, gliding about among the company, offering trays of cakes and fruits, are very young girl attendants, whose black ringlets are kept in place by a fillet of white or gold, with a blue lotus lily stuck through it, an effective costume and their only one.

While touching upon dress I only mention that we have a little Egyptian figure whose dress is "accordion pleated" from throat to feet; it also wears a little "accordion-pleated " cape. So the fashions and arts of dress come round.

The frescoes that cover the walls of the exquisite little houses of Pompeii are wonderfully elegant and fanciful in device and brilliant in coloring, exquisitely fine and finished as everything in that jewel-box of a city was even to the delicate mosaics that covered its floors. It is a whole education in art to wander alone through the deserted streets of Pompeii toward sunset, when the purple and red shadows begin to sweep over Vesuvius, that wonderful background to that wonderful town; that mountain, that still roars and threatens and shoots up its fiery column, as it did of old, unheeded, until at last it poured its fiery lava over the town and preserved to us those gems of its arts by which we are now profiting. Here we can see where the Italians acquired their sense of color. It was in the nature around them, in the translucent skies, the glowing light, the sun-mellowed marbles of their homes, the garments dyed with indigenous pigments that could never clash with their native surroundings.

Portraiture seems to owe its origin to various motives besides the vanity to which it is most generally ascribed. We all know the pretty fable of the young Ionic girl who parted from her lover in the sunset, and as he went from her she saw his shadow thrown on the wall near by, she took a piece of charcoal and ran it over the shadow's outline, and so kept a faint image of him till he came again-a pretty story that em- bodies the universal desire to keep some sort of foothold on this transient existence, to leave a something that will at any rate testify to the fact that such a personage once really lived and labored, or to secure this kind of remembrance for one's beloved. Occasionally one touch of nature will do this.

In the cloisters of Westminster Abbey there is an unremarkable stone; cut on this stone in old characters is a very short inscription, "Jane Lyster-deare Childe." Nothing more. Yet every traveler goes to see this simplest of gravestones, and if he, or more particularly she, has any imagination or human feeling at all she will understand all that was left unsaid those many years ago. I think this inscription touches the highest point of suggestiveness in art, the what to leave undone is well-nigh as important as the what to do.

Those extraordinarily accomplished artists, the Japanese, have long grasped this fact, and, I believe, more than one treatise exists on how much can be or should be expressed by a single line as the very climax of the art of representation or suggestion.

I have attempted to give very concisely some notions of what must always be somewhat vague, the beginning of art. You will be able to form your own estimate of what it was, how arrived at, from the examples from all countries gathered together in this magnificent Exposition. You will find admirable specimens of the primitive attempts at ornamental art in the Smithsonian loan collection exhibit down-stairs, "Arts of Women in Savagery." Some of them are perfectly classical in form, fundamentally identical with the ancient relics of Etruria. All these will well repay a careful study. The pictures and statuary from the various countries I need scarcely recommend to your attention; the galleries that contain them are here as everywhere the great center of attraction.