The following numbered paragraphs combine citations of key points in italics, followed by a few of my own remarks. Your thoughts are most welcome in the comment section of this blog. If you would like to respond to a specific point, please precede your comment by the corresponding number.
1. "The Practice and Science of Drawing"
Baked into the title is the classic dilemma of art instruction. Do you teach the practice or the science? The technique or the theory? The methods or the principles? The hand skills or the thinking behind them? Harold Speed aims to address both. Note: earliest editions of the book reverse the order thus: "The Science and Practice of Drawing."
|Pages from J.D. Harding's "Lessons on Art|
2. "...the drawing masters of our grandmothers and still dearly loved by a large number of people. No good can come of such methods, for there are no short cuts to excellence."
Speed is probably referring to the drawing manuals of J.D. Harding (1798–1863), such as "On Drawing Trees and Nature." Harding's how-to-draw books were immensely popular throughout the 19th century. Typically his books present the student with a series of drawing lessons, beginning with geometric solids, and graduating to commonplace forms like buckets or stairs or rocks. It's kind of a recipe for drawing, but not a bad one for beginners, in my opinion. I think Speed wants his students to dig beyond these drawing formulas. He proposes to achieve it by examining more fundamental principles. He's also interested in the student acquiring the "artistic" sensibilities of rhythm and unity, regardless of the forms he or she is drawing.
3. ".... having passed through the course of training in two of our chief schools of art..."
The two schools he is alluding to are the Royal College of Art (where he started out in architecture) and the Royal Academy Schools. He also won a traveling scholarship to Belgium, France, Italy and Spain. Source: Burlington.
4. "the long uphill road that separates mechanically accurate drawing and artistically accurate drawing."
The academic education one would have found in the 1890s in England and continental Europe might have seemed superficially similar. Students worked from the cast and from the model in both traditions, but there were differences. According Speed, the English school was more concerned with observationally accurate drawings, while the French schools were more "interpretive" or "artistic."
Does anyone know at which ateliers in France or Europe Mr. Speed studied, and what the prevailing sensibilities were in those schools? Also, does anyone know which teachers he would have had at the Royal College of Art and the Royal Academy? Maybe one of our atelier experts can explain more about the specific differences between the English and French schools in the 1890s.
5. To many in this country modern art is still a closed book.
Modernism's assault on the ramparts of art-thinking was far along in 1917, when Speed's book was published. Europe was torn by the Great War. Russia was in the midst of its revolution. The Edwardian world, with all its assumptions about the nature and purposes of art, was collapsing like an ornate marble edifice. Speed, it seems, is trying to examine his assumptions about art and to remain open-minded.
|Contents of Speed's 1936 book What is the Good of Art?|
Speed's later books were even more philosophical, as if he was trying to work out an understanding of modernism that he could reconcile with his academic training. The 20th century illustrator and book author Andrew Loomis went through a similar evolution in his books as he went from "Fun With A Pencil" to "The Eye of the Painter." Loomis's earliest books are basic and practical, and as time went by, his books grappled more and more with serious and philosophical topics.
6. Where formerly the artistic food at the disposal of the student was restricted to the few pictures in his vicinity and some prints of others, not there is scarcely a picture of note in the world that is not known to the average student....It is no wonder that a period of artistic indigestion is upon us."
Wow, what would he make of the massive availability of art on the Internet?
7. The position of art to-day is like that of a river...
As I understand his whole metaphor, he's saying that we can't discard history and start all over again, nor can one pretend to be naive and see like a child again.
8. The real matter of art lies above and beyond the scope of teaching.
Speed is aware of the blood-draining effect of too much cold analysis. He recognizes the mystery of intuition, and the idea that in a good painting, a higher power seems to flow through an artist. With a tip of the hat to the infinite, he wants to proceed to the practical matters of the book. But he gives us this introduction to provide an aesthetic context to the material that follows. Encompassed in this section of the book is his search for a definition of Art.
9. Variety of definitions of art
Speed summarizes several classic definitions of art, and ends up favoring that of Leo Tolstoy. I also love Tolstoy's definition, which hinges on the artist intentionally transmitting a felt emotion to the viewer. The great thing about that definition is the way it includes virtually every form of art, including music, painting, dance, and storytelling, but it excludes things like wallpaper or architect's blueprints.
If you would like to read the full text of Tolstoy's famous essay, it's available on Archive.org, and it's a good read, despite his bashing of opera at the beginning.
10. Each art has certain emotions belonging to the particular sense impressions connected with it.
Speed introduces his notion of "rhythm," for want of a better word, to encapsulate the abstract visual power of painting and drawing. He's talking about the effect of the design of the picture, apart from the representational subject matter. Speed was influenced by the English art critic Walter Pater (1839-1898), who said, "All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music." Speed points out that the abstract power of painting contains qualities that are unique to our visual life, and perhaps distinct from other art forms that appeal to other senses.
11. There seems to be a common centre in our human life.
Speed speaks to the universal human emotions and experience expressed in art.
12. The visible world is to the artist, as it were, a wonderful garment, at time revealing to him the Beyond, the Inner Truth there is in all things.
This notion goes all the way back to Plato, and can be found in the writings of the American Transcendentalists. I recommend, for example, Asher B. Durand's essay "Letters on Landscape Painting," which presents similar ideas about landscape painting.
13. Beauty is a state of mind.
Speed regards beauty not so much as a particular arrangement of proportions or a particular kind of object, but rather a state of mind in the observer which allows him or her to find rhythm in anything. He criticize artists "whose vision doesn't penetrate beyond the narrow limits of the commonplace."
Thus, finding beauty in the subject is not the same as altering it to meet some ideal formula. Instead, the artist must cultivate the feeling in the heart, and use the tools of the trade to put that feeling on canvas — while still painting the subject accurately.
14. Art for art's sake or art for subject's sake?
The former is the guiding idea of the Aestheticism, which was in full swing in the opening years of the 20th century. Speed strikes a reasonable middle course between the two classic art theories. He faults paintings that calls attention to surface technique, and he also dismisses the other extreme: artists so caught up in their subject matter that they create only "painted symbols."
15. It also serves to disturb the 'copying theory.'
Speed ends his introductory essay with an admonition to his readers not to fall into the common pitfall among academic students of his time, and perhaps now, to copy the outer surface of things, while missing the more elusive qualities of life and rhythm.
I invite you to add your comments, as much as possible keyed to the numbers.
|Harold Speed "Drawing"|
The Practice and Science of Drawing is available as an inexpensive softcover edition from Dover, You can also get the book fully illustrated and formatted for Kindle. Or you can read it online in a free Archive.org edition. Finally, there's a Project Gutenberg version
Articles on Harold Speed in the Studio Magazine The Studio, Volume 15, "The Work of Harold Speed" by A. L. Baldry. (XV. No. 69. — December, 1898.) page 151.
and The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, "The Art of Mr. Harold Speed" by Austin Chester, page 335. (thanks, अर्जुन)
There will be additional discussions and postings related to the GJ Book Club on:
GJ Book Club Facebook page organized by Keita Hopkinson
Pinterest page by Carolyn Kasper. Thanks for moderating those.
Original blog post Announcing the GJ Book Club
Overview of the blog series
Chapter 1: Preface and Introduction
Chapter 2: Drawing
Chapter 3: Vision
Chapter 4: Line Drawing
Chapter 5: Mass Drawing
Chapter 6: Academic and Conventional
Chapter 7: The Study of Drawing
Chapter 8: Line Drawing, Practical
Chapter 9: Mass Drawing
Chapter 10: Rhythm
Chapter 11: Variety of Lines
Chapter 12: Curved Lines
Chapter 13: Variety of Mass
Chapter 14: Unity of Mass
Chapter 15: Balance
Chapter 16: Proportion
Chapter 17: Portrait Drawing
Chapter 18: Visual Memory
Chapter 19: Procedure
Chapter 20: Materials