ARTICLES FOR THE ENCYCLOPEDIA JUNIOR BRITANNICA[1]

Original Typescript

JEAN CHARLOT

 

 

FINE ARTS.  The term refers to diverse activities of man, not practical in[2] their nature and yet as essential to him as bread.  Architecture, sculpture, painting, music, the dance are divisions of the fine arts.  The scope may be widened to include poetry and creative writing.  Two newcomers to the ranks should be mentioned: photography and cinematography. 

Classification

A first attempt at classification divides the arts according to which of our senses they put into motion.  Music appeals to the ear, painting and sculpture to the eye.  The ballet, cinematography, appeal both to ear and eye.  Tempting in its obviousness, this sorting out of the arts has serious shortcomings.  As our senses are interrelated, rarely does one come into play without awakening others.  Textures are important means of aesthetic appreciation.  We hold a statuette in our hands to test its smoothness or roughness.  Texture enters into play in monumental sculpture as well as in architecture.  The image gathered through the eye activates our tactile appreciation.  Touch plays its role in painting, physically as impasto, the mound of pigment that a generously loaded brush piles up on the canvas, or as make-believe rendering of rough and smooth objects.  Even music has power to evoke through rhythm textural parallels.  Because of this interrelation of all our senses, this division of the arts at a purely physical level is too primary to be meaningful. 

A more substantial theory refers to the Fine Arts in relation to time.  Time is of the essence of some and not of others.  A work of architecture, a painting, or sculpture, once launched into the world by their creator, may be appreciated at will.  The art object survives its author, is endowed with relative immortality.  It will last as long as the material it is made of will last.  Other arts exist only when they are performed.  A piece of music, a ballet, a movie have a beginning and an end.  Generations of art lovers may enjoy successive performances, but in between, the work of art lies dormant.  Time is an integral part of the so-called performing arts. 

Man and the Fine Arts

We all understand how food and clothing and a roof over our heads are things well worth possessing and well worth striving for.  More mysterious are the motives that impel us to paint and sculpt, to sing and dance.  Such activities are as integral a part of our human nature as is the need for food or clothing.  The making and enjoyment of the Fine Arts is literally as old as man himself.  No civilization, from the most primitive to the most sophisticated, has failed to express itself along these lines.

Our senses deal with the Fine Arts only occasionally.  When we cross a street, the ear warns of an approaching car, the eye sights it, appraises its speed and position.  Corresponding reflexes help us avoid a collision.  This use of our senses is practical in nature.  No question concerning art is raised.

If we are in the countryside, lolling under a tree, our eye may enjoy the ripple of grass blades bending under the wind, our ear relish the trill of birds.  Pleasure comes to us through eye and ear.  Our enjoyment is of an aesthetic nature, but Fine Arts are not present.  Neither grass blades nor singing birds are consciously bent on art making.  The term applies to man-made arts only.  

Fine Arts, as we understand the term, is a relatively new concept.  In the olden days, the word art was used for all kinds of crafts, and artists thought of themselves as craftsmen.  Painters ground their own colors.  Sculptors were rated no different than stonemasons.  Yet these men brought into existence great art.  A Gothic cathedral blends into living unity pieces of architecture and sculpture.  Rainbow colors filtered through stained-glass windows light them.  So strong is the pull of art at manŐs heart that to cross the portal of a Gothic cathedral and to enter into this man-made world of art is a greater and deeper experience than to watch grass bending under the wind or to hear the song of birds. 

Art-Making

Art is produced by artists.  Art-making expresses clearly the age-old tie between arts and crafts.  To see an artist at work is to watch a manual worker shaping a chunk of matter to fit specialized ends.  To hack at a marble block, to weld together metal rods, to brush color on a surface are physical activities.  The making of art hardly differs from the trade of the carpenter who joins the parts of a table or that of the house painter who whitewashes a wall. 

The difference lies in the motive.  The house painter, the carpenter, cater to everyday needs.  There is a ready market for their products.  The impulse that urges the artist to work is of another sort, even though he uses the tools and gestures of a craftsman.  The true artist works because of an inner urge or, to use an old-fashioned term, in the heat of  inspiration.  This urge is so strong that it will not allow the artist to relax until he has fulfilled its command.  His aim is to infuse a piece of matter with an inner spirit.  Regardless of the amount of sweat and hard work involved in the shaping of an art object, the making of art remains a spiritual activity.  

Communication

Once the artist has completed his work, the art object leaves its maker as the ripe fruit leaves the tree.  By now, the object contains a built-in message.  The next phase of the Fine Arts brings in the consumer––that is, the spectator.  It is concerned with problems of communication.  We think of a message as being made of words.  In the case of the visual arts, forms and colors carry the message.  Words have meaning only for those who speak the language.  Forms and colors remain eloquent where words falter.  Should we be able to overhear the conversation of cavemen who lived fifteen thousand years ago, it would sound to us like pure gibberish.  In contrast, the drawings these same men left on the walls of their caves can be appreciated today as easily as the day they were made.  Through the universal language of forms and colors, the caveman tells us of his cult and his hunts, of deeds of heroism as he met the great beasts with at most a spear for a weapon.  More important, cave drawings describe with undiminished power the inner urge that impelled the cave artist  to draw. 

A Subject matter

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Academies of Art discoursed learnedly about the respective merits of different subject matters.  There was a stiff scale of values.  At the very bottom were still lives: paintings of everyday objects, kitchen utensils, plucked fowls, table accessories.  Landscape existed on a higher level, especially if it included ruins of classical antiquity.  Portrait painting was a noble genre, but the noblest of all was paintings of histories, which illustrated in action heroic episodes from pagan fables and the Scriptures.  A great master like Chardin, the eighteenth-century French painter, was refused the title of Academician on the strength of his still lives and had to prove his worth by painting portraits.

This faith in the importance of subject matter is now more cautiously appraised.  Our first contact with a work of art is skin-deep.  It deals with its subject matter.  It is granted that the painter has power to conjure on a flat canvas a landscape, a still life, or a portrait.  A sculptor makes us believe at his will that marble has become flesh.  Yet if this was all that art could do, it would run a poor second to nature.  One cannot eat a painted fruit or smell the flowers in a painted garden.  The marble men and women carved by the sculptor have no conversation whatsoever.  The bearded bust entitled Philosopher has not a thought in its stone head. 

Message

In art, the subject matter is an outer wrapping meant to protect the inner message.  Message and wrapping are not always of the same sort.  That is why the painting of worthless objects can be great art.  One of CaravaggioŐs masterpieces represents an empty wine bottle with a few field flowers stuck in it.  Doubtless the models were thrown on the garbage heap as soon as the picture was finished.  Even a fragment of an art object may retain the fullness of its message.  Most sculptures of antiquity survive only in mutilated form.  What would be a grave handicap in a live body need not be so in a sculptured body.  The Venus of Milo is of unmatched beauty even though both its arms are missing. 

That art is not slavishly dependent on subject matter has been made clear in our time by a novel form of art: abstract art.  Abstract paintings and sculptures bypass traditional subject matter: still life, figure, or landscape.  Their purpose is to carry the message direct from the artist to us without need of a wrapping.  Abstract art makes clearer than ever artŐs spiritual nature.

Nature of the message

The form of the message is most varied, depending on which one of the Fine Arts is concerned.  The nature of the message depends on the nature of the artist.  It is a detached fragment of his living self that remains alive long after the man has ceased to be.  To contact the world through the eyes or ears of the Master is rewarding.  It allows us to partake of his insights, acute above those of the nonartist.  Each message shall be the expression of a unique personality.  Attempts have been made to bring order into this diversity.  The theories advanced fall somewhat short of their goal.  They are after all literary exercises, an attempt at translating into words a message that remains better said in its chosen medium of color and form, of sound and motion.  

Among these attempts, the most satisfying is the theory advanced by the German author, Goethe.  Goethe recognizes only two types of art, Apollonian and Faustian.  Apollonian art is named after the Sun God, Apollo, who in ancient mythology orbited the heavens from East to West in his luminous chariot.  It is an art that strives on light.  Not so much the physical sunlight that may bathe a landscape as that intellectual search for absolute clarity: clarity of thought and clarity of means.  The beautiful proportions of statues, the Greek concept of ideal beauty that reshapes the human body into a godlike countenance, are examples of Apollonian art.

To Apollonian art, Goethe opposes Faustian art.  It is named after Doctor Faust, the alchemist.  Medieval tales represent him as having sold his soul to the Devil.  Faustian art loves darkness as much as Apollonian art loves light.  To enter the realm of Faustian art is like entering a dark room.  One confusedly realizes that half-seen things or beings are waiting and watching in the night.  Faustian art brings into play deep-seated instincts that go much further back in time than does the Apollonian order of Classical art.  The powerful stirring of ancient instincts achieved by Faustian art reaches a climax in the works of Rembrandt, the Dutch painter and etcher of the seventeenth century.  When a Rembrandt painting sells at auction for two million dollars, it represents modern man's homage to the continuing magic of Faustian art.  

Purpose

Most activities of man serve an end outside themselves.  The Fine Arts are an exception.  They have no purpose but themselves.  Poussin, the great French painter of the seventeenth century, stated that the end of art is delectation.  The word does not imply sensuous pleasure but a strong attraction that applies equally to the delight in proportions found in Apollonian art and to the magic spell cast by Faustian art. 

People who do not believe in the uniqueness of art have been at pains to find means of putting art to work.  Doctors have boosted art as mental therapy.  Dictators have made use of art as political propaganda.  Interior decorators fit a painting to the color scheme of a room.  Commercial art sells razor blades and detergents.  A whole world of applied arts has come into being.  There is a temptation to draw a sharp line between Fine Arts and applied arts.  In fact, this borderline is rather hazy.  Many paintings and sculptures that serve no utilitarian purpose are nevertheless poor art.  If the proof of true art is the message at the core of the art object, such a message may be found on surprising byways.  A pottery jug may be truly great art, even though it was created as a water cooler.  The posters of Toulouse-Lautrec, printed to advertise music-hall programs, are great art.  Close to great art are the pen-and-ink drawings of Herriman, whose Krazy Kat was a pioneer among newspaper funnies. 

The term Fine Arts carries a misleading connotation of exclusivity, of catering only to the few. There is no ground for such a belief. The Gothic cathedrals mentioned at the start are undoubted examples of the Fine Arts. They were built for the people at large by men of the people.  Fine Arts should never be thought of as a privilege reserved for an elite.  All men have use for what the Fine Arts have to offer. 

 

 

 

Mexican Painting. Though far removed from other art centers, Mexico plays a role in contemporary art that cannot be dismissed as merely provincial.  Mexicans have their own classical tradition, that of Indian cultures.  Since before the time of Columbus, Aztec and Mayan artists sought their inspiration in the drama of pain and death rather than in a Greek-like ideal of physical beauty.  And pain and death came to Mexicans in our century on contemporary terms, caught as they were in the web of the many civil wars sparked by the revolution of 1910. 

The Mexican artist worked in the midst of a social turmoil quite unlike the secluded quiet of Parisian studios.  JosŽ Guadalupe Posada (1851–1913), a man of the people, mirrored their viewpoint that was also his own in countless engravings sold in the streets by newsboys for a few pennies. 

In 1920, the successful revolution raised to power men bold enough to commission untried artists to decorate the walls of public buildings.  Thus came into being a mural renaissance.  The muralists preferred to think of themselves as artisans or even as manual workers.  (See Rivera)  JosŽ Clemente Orozco (1882–l949) started his career as a political cartoonist and carried to the walls the same freedom and power with which he drew his biting cartoons.  David Alfaro Siqueiros (born 1897) presents the theme of machine versus man in murals painted in Duco, a kind of automobile paint. 

In the 1930s, another group of artists reacted against the specialized[3] attitude of the muralists.  Rating esthetic problems over social statements, they kept their eyes open on the swiftly changing international art scene.  Rufino Tamayo (born 1899) invented sophisticated distortions that came close to those of the School of Paris.  Nevertheless, TamayoŐs Indian heritage infuses his superb sense of color with a tragic content that remains validly Mexican.  Like so many quiet manifestos against the giant murals, Frida Kahlo (1910–1954) refined in exquisitely small pictures a technique close to that of a miniaturist.  

The present generation appraises the mural renaissance as past history to be neither embraced nor rejected.  Rafael Coronel (born 1932) prefers muted statements.  JosŽ Luis Cuevas (born 1923) stamps man with a sense of despair perhaps more literary in its approach than it is final in its plasticity.  

 

 

 

RIVERA, DIEGO (1886–1957).  Mexican mural painter, one of the few twentieth-century masters of the difficult technique of true fresco. 

Born in Guanajuato of mixed Indian and Spanish stock, Rivera first came into prominence in Paris as one of the small group of pioneers who created Cubism in the 1910s.  Throughout his life work, Cubism remained the strong discipline that tied into coherent oneness the miles of walls that he covered with his frescoes. 

The Parisian experiments, however, addressed themselves only to an elite.  Rivera experienced a change of heart while on a trip to Italy in 1920.  He admired Byzantine mosaics and the church murals painted in the 1300s.  He longed for a tie with an architecture.  GiottoŐs example taught him how to paint a story so simply that even the least art-minded onlooker could follow the action and gather its inner message. 

On Rivera's return to Mexico in 1921, his government commissioned him to decorate public buildings.  He painted an immense cycle of frescoes on themes of the Revolution.  Mexican Indians understand picture writing better than book learning.  In that sense the Mexico of 1920 was not unlike the Italy of the 1300s.  The artist denied himself the pleasures of self-expression, wishing only to act as a mouthpiece for his people.  One-sided though his version of the social struggle undoubtedly is, it will prove to be rich source material for future historians. 

In his murals, Rivera was first to break sharply with the artists of the School of Paris, who remained involved in experimental styles.  Therein lies his unique position in Art History. 

 

 

 

LITHOGRAPHY is a method of printing from a flat surface that is neither raised nor hollowed as is necessary with other forms of printing.  Lithography, meaning drawing on stone, was discovered in 1798 by Aloys Senefelder, a German from Bavaria.  As practiced in its original form, it consists in drawing with a special crayon, whose working ingredient is grease, on a carefully grained limestone.  Next, the surface is sponged with water.  Given that grease and water do not mix, the water recedes from the crayon work, leaving it exposed, and forms a protective film over untouched areas.  While the stone is still damp a roller worked by hand is used to ink the surface.  This special ink contains grease and adheres readily to the crayon work while it is repelled by the damp areas.  A sheet of paper is stretched over the stone that is then laid on the press bed.  A hand wheel carries the bed with the stone and paper on it under a scraper that applies equal pressure to all areas.  The print is then peeled off the stone.  It is a facsimile of the original drawing, but like an image in a mirror, it is reversed.

Before the discovery of photographic methods of printing, lithography was already put to commercial uses and competed with wood engraving as a means of illustrating periodicals.  Wood engraving could be printed in one operation with the text, while lithography required an extra printing.  The beauty of its range of values, however, was far superior to that obtainable in wood engraving. 

Artists soon discovered the new medium.  Up to then, special tools, such as graver and burin, were needed to translate an original design into printable form.  Now the lithographic crayon was the tool.  Early in the nineteenth century, a Spanish master, Francisco Goya, drew on stone a famous series of bullfight episodes.  In the l820s, a Frenchman, Eugne Delacroix, illustrated GoetheŐs Faust in the Romantic vein.  Greatest of all artist-lithographers, HonorŽ Daumier created over four thousand lithographs between 1830 and l870, mostly on satirical and political themes. 

As described by its inventor, Senefelder, lithography was a black and white medium.  Further experimentation introduced color.  Color separations were obtained by drawing on as many stones as there were colors planned.  The draftsman used the same black crayon to signify all colors.  It was only at the time of inking that color inks were used.  In mid-century, full color reproductions of paintings, usually anecdotal and sentimental, came into fashion.  Called oleographs, varnished and suitably framed, they decorated the homes of those who could not afford the price of original oil paintings. 

Color lithography also attracted great artists.  In the 1890s, Toulouse-Lautrec designed and executed posters masterly in their use of color. 

In our century, only a few master craftsmen follow the nineteenth-century method.  The hand-manned bed press has been replaced by the rotary press capable of printing hundreds of copies per hour.  Flexible sheets of aluminum or zinc, especially processed to acquire a grained finish, replace the heavy block of stone.  The image is laid on the plate photographically.  Moistening, inking, and printing are automatically achieved  at the push of a button.  Direct contact between plate and paper has given way to the offset process: a rubber-covered cylinder[4] transfers the image from inked plate to paper.  Thus by reversing the image twice, offset lithography gives an exact facsimile of the original image instead of the mirror image from stone lithography.  Now text and pictures can be printed as one.  Offset is widely used for commercial purposes, being especially fitted for full color effects.  Cigar bands are miniature examples of the craft.  The billboard posters that line our highways are among its more spectacular products.

  Contemporary artists have adapted their art to offset with excellent  results.  They draw directly on the metal as their predecessors drew on stone.  If the work is to be in color, the true artist prefers to create his own color separations rather than trust to camera work and color filters.  Thus understood, offset lithography is as genuine an art medium as any one of the older graphic media.  Etching and drypoint remain by necessity fit for limited editions.  Offset permits an almost unlimited number of proofs to be pulled from the original plate without loss of effect.  It is well suited to carry art to the many. 

 

 

 

ENGRAVING.  The term refers to the cutting of a design into a flat surface for the purpose of multiplication.  It also means the print pulled from the engraved plate.  There are two main types of engravings, relief and intaglio.   

Relief engraving

The principle of relief engraving is illustrated by the taking of fingerprints.  The fingertips are pressed onto an ink pad and then onto a white surface.  The inked crests of lines and whorls appear in black in the resulting print while the hollows between ridges, having received no ink, register in white. 

The earliest relief engravings were created in China.  There in the third century BC lived an emperor called Chin.  Bent on unifying the many Chinese dialects, he ordered that an edited text of the classical authors be engraved on flat stones.  With the invention of paper in the second century AD, people were able to pull inked prints from the stones and to study the corrected texts.  Chinese does not use an alphabet but ideograms.  These were hollowed out in the stone.  In the resulting prints, called rubbings, the text appears white on a black background.  This early example of relief printing differs somewhat from later Western usage.  The plate is stone instead of wood.  The design is white on black instead of black on white.  The image is obtained without the use of a printing press. 

Woodcut

Prints pulled from a plank of wood cut along the grain are called woodcuts.  Woodcuts are an early form of European relief engraving.  This technique made its appearance ca. 1400 in Germany at the time that paper came into common use.  The wood plank was drawn upon with quill pen and ink.  A craftsman scooped out with a knife the spaces between the drawn lines.  Ink was rolled over the surface of the plate and a sheet of paper laid on top.  Pressure was applied, usually with a screw press.  The resulting print was a replica of the drawing, but reversed as if in a mirror. 

German prints of the l400s are of a primitive nature.  The craftsman whose job it was to cut the design did not attempt a true facsimile.  The ink drawing was modified to fit the limitations of the cutting knife.  Made with a strong line, black on white, these prints express to perfection the bold nature of the process. 

Early engravings were single sheets that sold for pennies.  They were retailed at fairs in the form of playing cards and at pilgrimages as devotional images.  At times, a short caption cut as one with the design clarified the subject matter.  A pilgrimage sheet representing St. Christopher bears the date of 1423, the earliest date known.  To economize on effort and time, craftsmen invented ingenious shortcuts.  Male and female saints were cut in wood, but were left headless and nameless.  When a market for a certain saint was found, his head and name were cut separately and joined to the main block.  One body was made to serve many saints.  Purely practical in nature, these prints made of mobile parts were a first step towards the principle of movable type that Gutenberg was to perfect in the second half of the century. 

In the l500s, great masters designed woodcuts.  Albrecht DŸrer composed the monumental plates of his Apocalypse.  Hans Holbein drew the minute series known as Dance of Death.  In his case, the craftsman who cut the plates proved equal to HolbeinŐs draftsmanship.  His name is justly remembered: LŸtzelburger. 

The next great school of woodcut flourished in Japan in the eighteenth century.  Its name, ukiyo-e, means a floating, fleeting world.  Fleeting indeed are the scenes portrayed––actors and sophisticated stars of the night life of Japan.  The plank is cut along the grain and worked with a knife.  The printer uses watercolor mixed with rice flour paste.  It allows for an infinitely livelier range of colors than do our Western inks.  Printed without a press, the prints are technically rubbings.  The paper is laid over the block and rubbed with a baren, a hard pad sheathed in a bamboo leaf.  The pressure varies at the will of the hand.  A single printing may color a sky from the deepest shade of night blue to the palest tint, an effect impossible to duplicate with press work.

In our century, linoleum has replaced wood as easier to work.  Pablo Picasso is one of the few major artists who works in this new medium. 

Wood engraving

In the second half of the eighteenth century, an Englishman, Thomas Bewick, revolutionized wood techniques.  Instead of using soft wood cut along the grain, he used hard wood, such as boxwood, cut against the grain.  So hard and dense were the resulting plates that the knife had to be replaced by a burin, the tool reserved up to then for metal engraving.  Bewick's method is called wood engraving.  It allows for small-scale designs and for the printing of many more copies than had been possible with the softer woodcut.  Bewick himself and another English artist, William Blake, used the method with creative results.  In the nineteenth century, it degenerated into a reproductive medium that held its own in magazines and book illustrations until photographic processes rendered it obsolete.

Intaglio

In intaglio engraving, the hollows are filled with ink and the raised surface wiped clean.  Only the hollowed out parts will print.  The craftsman does his work with a tool, without the help of chemicals.  Etching, which uses acid  to hollow the lines, is not an engraving.  The plate is metal, usually copper, though steel, zinc, lead, and pewter have been used.  Acetate is a newcomer to the process.

Drypoint

The simplest form of intaglio is called drypoint.  Its only tool is a needle.  The artist scratches his design on the smooth surface.  As does a plow with the earth, the needle throws sideways small mounds of matter.  At the time of inking, these rejected scrapings will take ink, even if in less definite form than the line itself.  A burr results, a velvety out-of-focus effect.  Only a few proofs can be printed from a drypoint, and only a very few will show a marked burr.  Collectors appreciate the medium because its incapacity to resist pressure is a guarantee of rarity.  Burr becomes the symbol of a beautiful proof, though not solely for aesthetic reasons. 

Intaglio engraving

In metal engraving, a burin is the usual tool.  It is a chisel-like tool of a quadrangular section.  The process was probably used at first by metal smiths without any thought of reproduction.  It was a way of decorating their wares that ranged from iron armors to gold plates.  The first prints may have been pulled simply to keep a record of a successful design.  South Germany in the early l400s is the birthplace of intaglio engraving.  In the l500s, Albrecht DŸrer learned the technique from his father, who was a metal smith.  His great plate, Melancholia, remains the masterpiece of intaglio engraving.

French artists have always appreciated the clarity of the medium.  In the seventeenth century, Claude Mellan cut portraits on metal admirable for their understanding of the technique.  In our own century, another Frenchman, Jacques Villon, used intaglio engraving for truly creative purposes.

 

 



[1] Jean Charlot wrote the following articles for the Encyclopedia Junior Britannica by April 1956.  The articles were variously edited and placed in the encyclopedia.  The original articles are published here for the first time from typescripts in the Jean Charlot Collection, Hamilton Library, University of Hawai`i.  Edited by John Charlot. 

[2] Original: of. 

[3] Replaces: localized. 

[4] Cut: acting as Ňmiddleman.Ó