[This is taken from Charles G. Leland's The Mystic Will.]
"He who hath learned a single art,
Can thrive, I ween, in any part."
"He would have taught you how you might employ
Yourself; and many did to him repair,
And, certes, not in vain; he had inventions rare."
When I had, after many years of study and research in England and on the Continent, developed the theory that all practical, technical education of youth should be preceded by a light or easy training on an esthetic basis, or the minor arts, I for four years, to test the scheme, was engaged in teaching in the city of Philadelphia, every week in separate classes, two hundred children, besides a number of ladies. These were from the public schools of the city. The total number of these public pupils was then 110,000.
My pupils were taught, firstly, simple outline decorative design with drawing at the same time; after this, according to sex, easy embroidery, wood carving, modeling in clay, leather-work, carpentering, inlaying, repoussé modeling in clay, porcelain painting, and other small arts. Nearly all of the pupils, who were from ten to sixteen years of age, acquired two or three, if not all, of these arts, and then very easily found employment in factories or fabrics, etc.
Many people believed that this was all waste of money and time, and, quite unknown to me, at their instigation an inquiry was made of all the teachers in the public schools as to the standing of my art pupils in their other classes, it being confidently anticipated that they would be found to have fallen behind. And the result of the investigation was that the two hundred were in advance of the one hundred and ten thousand in every branch geography, arithmetic, history, and so on.
It was not remarkable, because boys and girls who had, at an average age of twelve or thirteen, learned the principles of design and its practical application to several kinds of handiwork, and knew the differences and characteristics of Gothic, Arabesque, or Greek patterns, all developed a far greater intelligence in general thought and conversation than others. They had at least one topic on which they could converse intelligently with any grown-up person, and in which they were really superior to most. They soon found this out. I have often been astonished in listening to their conversation among themselves to hear how well they discussed art. They all well knew at least one thing, which is far from being known among esthetes in London, which is that in Decorative Art, however you may end in all kinds of mixtures of styles, you must at least begin with organic development, and not put roots or flowers at both ends of a branch or vine.
The secret of it all is that those who from an early age develop the constructive faculty (especially if this be done in a pleasing, easy manner, with agreeable work) also develop with it the Intellect, and that very rapidly to a very remarkable degree. There are reasons for this. Drawing when properly taught stimulates visual perception or eye memory; this is strikingly the case when the pupil has a model placed in one room, and, after studying it, goes into another room to reproduce it from memory. Original design, which when properly taught is learned with incredible ease by all children, stimulates observation to a remarkable degree. The result of such education is to develop a great general quickness of perception and thought.
Now, be it observed, that if anyone desires to learn design or any art, it may be greatly facilitated by the application to it of Will and Foresight, and in the beginning, Self-Suggestion. He who understands the three as one, sees in it a higher or more energetic kind of self-discipline than most people practice. In the end they come to the same as a vigorous effort of the Will.
Thus, having mastered the very easy principles of design which govern all organic development or vegetable growth (as set forth in a plant with roots, offshoots, or crochets, and end ornaments, flowers, or finials, with the circle, spiral, and offshooting ornaments; rings made into vines and wave patterns; all of which can be understood in an hour with diagrams), let the beginner attempt a design, the simpler the better, and reproduce it from memory. If on going to bed he will impress it on his mind that on the morrow he would like to make more designs, or that it must be done, he will probably feel the impulse and succeed. This is the more likely because patterns impress themselves very vividly on the memory or imagination, and when studied are easily recalled after a little practice.
The manner in which most artists form an idea, or project their minds to a plan or invention, be it a statue or picture; and the way they think it over and anticipate it very often actually seeing the picture in a finished state in imagination all amounts to foresight and hypnotic preparation in a crude, imperfect form. If any artist who is gifted with resolution and perseverance will simply make trial of the method here recommended, he will assuredly find that it is a great aid to Invention.
It is probable that half the general average cleverness of men is due to their having learned, as boys, games, or the art of making something, or mending and repairing. In any case, if they had learned to use their hands and their inventiveness or adaptability, they would have been the better for it. That the innumerable multitude of people who can do nothing of the kind, and who take no real interest in anything except spending money and gossiping, are to be really pitied, is true. Some of them once had minds and these are the most pitiful or pitiable of all. It is to be regretted that novels are, with rare exceptions, written to amuse this class, and limit themselves strictly to "life," never describing with real skill, so as to interest anything which would make life worth living for except love which is good to a certain extent, but not absolutely all in all, save to the eroto-maniac. And as most novelists now pretend to instruct and convey ideas, beyond mere story-telling, or even being "interesting," which means the love or detective business, I would suggest to some of these writers that the marvelous latent powers of the human mind, and also some art which does not consist of the names and guide-book praises of a few great painters and the Renaissance rechauffée would be a refreshing novelty.
The ancient Romans were thoroughly persuaded that Exercitatione et usu (by exercising the physical faculties in every way; by which they meant arts as well as gymnastics; and by making such practice habitual) they could develop intellect, in illustration of which Lycurgus once took two puppies of the same litter, and had the one brought up to hunt, while the other was nursed at home in all luxury; and when grown, and let loose, the one caught a hare, while the other yelped and ran away. So the word handy, in old English hend, meaning quick, alert, or gifted with prompt perception, is derived from knowing how to use the hands. BRUSONIUS ("Facetiæ," Lyons, 1562) has collected a great number of classic anecdotes to illustrate this saying.
Recapitulation. Those who desire to become artists, can greatly facilitate their work, if beginning for example with very simple outline decorative designs, and having learned the principles on which they are constructed, they would repeat or revise them to themselves before sleep, resolving to remember them. The same principle is applicable to all kinds of designs, with the proviso that they be at first very easy. This is generally a very successful process.
Fore thought, or the projection of conception or attention with will, is a marvelous preparation for all kinds of art work. He who can form the habit of seeing a picture mentally before he paints it, has an incredible advantage, and will spare himself much labor and painting out.
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