Oscar Wilde – Sculpture of the Arts and Crafts

(Pall Mall Gazette, November 9, 1888.)

The most satisfactory thing in Mr. Simonds’ lecture last night was the peroration, in which he told the audience that ‘an artist cannot be made.’  But for this well-timed warning some deluded people might have gone away under the impression that sculpture was a sort of mechanical process within the reach of the meanest capabilities.  For it must be confessed that Mr. Simonds’ lecture was at once too elementary and too elaborately technical.  The ordinary art student, even the ordinary studio-loafer, could not have learned anything from it, while the ‘cultured person,’ of whom there were many specimens present, could not but have felt a little bored at the careful and painfully clear descriptions given by the lecturer of very well-known and uninteresting methods of work.  However, Mr. Simonds did his best.  He described modelling in clay and wax; casting in plaster and in metal; how to enlarge and how to diminish to scale; bas-reliefs and working in the round; the various kinds of marble, their qualities and characteristics; how to reproduce in marble the plaster or clay bust; how to use the point, the drill, the wire and the chisel; and the various difficulties attending each process.  He exhibited a clay bust of Mr. Walter Crane on which he did some elementary work; a bust of Mr. Parsons; a small statuette; several moulds, and an interesting diagram of the furnace used by Balthasar Keller for casting a great equestrian statue of Louis XIV. in 1697-8.

What his lecture lacked were ideas.  Of the artistic value of each material; of the correspondence between material or method and the imaginative faculty seeking to find expression; of the capacities for realism and idealism that reside in each material; of the historical and human side of the art—he said nothing.  He showed the various instruments and how they are used, but he treated them entirely as instruments for the hand.  He never once brought his subject into any relation either with art or with life.  He explained forms of labour and forms of saving labour.  He showed the various methods as they might be used by an artisan.  Mr. Morris, last week, while explaining the technical processes of weaving, never forgot that he was lecturing on an art.  He not merely taught his audience, but he charmed them.  However, the audience gathered together last night at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition seemed very much interested; at least, they were very attentive; and Mr. Walter Crane made a short speech at the conclusion, in which he expressed his satisfaction that in spite of modern machinery sculpture had hardly altered one of its tools.  For our own part we cannot help regretting the extremely commonplace character of the lecture.  If a man lectures on poets he should not confine his remarks purely to grammar.

Next week Mr. Emery Walker lectures on Printing.  We hope—indeed we are sure, that he will not forget that it is an art, or rather it was an art once, and can be made so again.

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