FI NE ARTS.
THE GOVERNMENT SCHOOL OF DESIGN.
Tan School of Design at Somerset House was established by Govern- ment eight years ago, for the express purpose of affording English artisans the instruction necessary to qualify them for producing ornamental de- signs of original character, in such numbers as would enable our manufac- turers to compete with foreigners. The arrangements were made under the control of a Council of Management composed of Privy Councillors, Members of Parliament, and Royal Academicians: by whom masters were appointed, and casts, specimens, and books of ornament, were pro- vided at the public expense. There has been no lack of pupils—the number of applicants has exceeded the means of accommodation; and these not mere boys learning to draw, but young men working at various crafts, who devoted their spare time to improving their taste and acquiring know- ledge and skill in design. Schools have also been established in the chief provincial towns of manufacturing districts; and annual reports have chro- nicled the numbers of students and the hours of their attendance. Artists have been commissioned to investigate and report upon the nature of the education given to ornamentists in the Continental schools, and the cha- racter of decorative art in other countries. In short, no expense has been spared to ascertain what ought to be done in national schools of design, and to procure the means of accomplishing the object.
What has been the result? Let facts answer.
First, as regards house-decoration. At the recent competition of de- corative artists for the new Houses of Parliament, the Royal Commissioners passed over in silence the specimens that bad been got up at the School of Design. The Royal Exchange, the new Conservative Club, and many pri- vate buildings, have been decorated by Herr Sang and his band of Ger- mans; who have covered walls and ceilings with the commonplaces of Con- tinental work-shops, in a slovenly style, that would not be tolerated in a Parisian cafe; all for want of a sufficient supply of competent English de- corators.
As for pattern-drawing, ask the shawl-weavers of Paisley and the cot- ton-printers of Manchester, if any pupils of the School of Design have sur- passed the productions of their old hands, or have caused them to spend fewer thousands per annum on designs by foreign ornamentists? Are we indebted to the School of Design for any improvement in the patterns of carpets, curtains, or paper-hangings—in the shapes of chairs and sofas, of jugs and tea-cups—or in the fashion of silver plate or gilded frames? We trow not. Indeed, we might almost go so far as to say, that out of the hundreds of pupils who have attended our Schools of Design, not one has been qualified by the instruction received in them to produce a really ori- ginal design.
The annual show at Somerset House is a sham, got up to " strike the public ": the so-called " original designs," for which prizes are given, into merely reproductions of old examples in an altered shape. To prove this assertion, we have only to quote the definition of originality given in the following passage from the last official statement, signed by the Secretary —" The more advanced students are exercised in original designs and composition; that is, in forming new combinations of the materials of ornament." In accordance with this prescription is the recipe for an original design for a vase given by the Director of the School to a candidate for the modelling-prize: " Take the body of this vase, and the base of that; put them together and model them." To call a place where such doctrine is held and such lessons are taught a " school of design," is ads abuse of terms: school of "imitation" or of " plagiarism," rather, would be the fitting title. This is the gipsy-trick of stealing children and disguising them that they may not be recognized. The brooms are indeed stolen ready-made; but the stealers "are exercised in forming new com- binations of the materials." This is improving on the practice of Professor Fagan at his school of Petty Larceny in Field Lane: it is a step in ad- vance of the education of the " artful Dodger."
Nor are drawing and painting taught better than designing: the executive skill of the students is on a par with their originating power. A practical decorator was asked by the father of his pupil if the boy should not attend the School of Design? His answer was—" By no means: he'll lose the freedom of hand that he has got. They do'nt draw there, they niggle: they learn to stipple, not to paint. I have a pupil who has been there, and I can't get him out of that nasty School of Design man- ner: whenever my eye is off him, he falls into it again. It's muddling, not painting." And if proof be wanting, one has only to visit the school and see boys occupied in slavishly copying lithographic prints with lead- pencil; and young men copying the Vatican arabesques in colours, with the touch of miniature-painters. In short, the whole course of study in the School of Design is one continued process of copying: copy—copy--copy, is the beginning, middle, and end of their practice. Now, copying draw- ings or paintings is a mere exercise of eye and hand: the mental faculties, understanding, judgment, taste—to say nothing of inven- tion—are not called into play. The most ignorant Chinese mechanic would excel the pupils of the School of Design at " dead copying." No teaching is required for that. But set a boy to delineate on paper the appearance of a solid form, and you call all his faculties into action: he must first understand thoroughly what is before him, or he can not draw it correctly; and to represent the effect of projection, he must not only deduce the outline of the forms, but observe the laws of perspec- tive, light, and shade. The mind and hand work together, and knowledge quickening practice, improves both skill and taste. Copying prints is sheer waste of time; and it is a delusive kind of practice too: the copyist makes elaborate drawings without learning one of the principles on which his original was produced, and does not even acquire power of hand. By dint of copying ornament, the pupils may become familiar with the characters they are constantly imitating; but the signification is not understood: they learn the alphabet of a style, but remain wholly ignorantof the grammar of its language. The students of the School of Design complain, and with good reason, that the principles of art and the distinguishing character- istics of the various styles of ornament are not explained to them. How can they originate or invent any thing new, when they are not taught the language of form in which their ideas must be expressed?
The absurd and futile practice of copying—which has been pursued with some modifications from the first—has resulted in a state of things that imperatively calls for authoritative interference- The Council is divided against itself; the Director and Sub-Director are at daggers- drawn; the only master competent to teach advanced students (Mr. Her- bert, R.A.) is suspended from his functions; and nearly all the students in the upper classes are excluded, for complaining of the conduct of the Di- rector, Mr. Wilson.* During the eight years that the school has been esta- blished, there have been three different Directors appointed; the division in the Council is of no very recent date; and the dissatisfaction of the students is not greater than that of the manufacturers for whom they have been educated. We have neither space nor inclination to enter into the merits of these quarrels; suffice it to say, that they have arisen out of the want of a complete and efficient system of instruction. The students' complaints of the incompetency of the present Director, Mr. Wilson— assuming their statements to be true—are but too well-founded. No wonder that the School of Design should not have produced any decorators for the new Houses of Parliament, when the Director "particularly dis- courages" the study of Gothic ornament!
The evils of this state of things are not confined to the head school at Somerset House; all the provincial schools are affected by them: the brain being paralyzed, the limbs are of necessity powerless. Wherever Govern- ment lends its aid, it is a condition that the system—or rather no system— followed at Somerset House shall be adopted. The consequences are, that vital knowledge is set aside for dead copying. One instance must suffice. At Manchester, a school for training designers had been established by the manufacturers, and was flourishing under the active superintendence of Mr. Zephaniah Bell—an artist of ability, and zealous in the discharge of his duties as a teacher. Government assistance was offered and aceepted; whereupon the whole course of teaching was changed. The study of the living model, in which the pupils had made good progress, was interdicted; Mr. Bell resigned in disgust.; and the young men who would not give up the study of the figure were fain to hire a room and models to draw from, at-their own cost.
It may be asked, of what use is knowledge of the human form to pat- tern-drawers? This question was asked by the late Lord Sydenbam of Mr. Bell; and thus pleasantly and pertinently answered—" In drawing a plant or an ornament the deviation of half an inch matters little; but it is a good deal in the length of a man's nose." The ability to delineate the human figure correctly and well, is a test of the artist's power of drawing: if he can draw a man, he can draw anything that is put before him. The study of anatomy will have taught him the necessity of first thoroughly understanding what he is to draw, and of preserving character accurately in. the minutest details. Moreover, the study of the proportions and con tours of the human form cultivates the taste. Whoever has been accus- totned to draw from the life, acquires a facility in designing shapes and patterns, composed of elegant curves and combinations of line, from a habit of nicely discriminating the graceful undulations of the figure. So with the study of colour, light and shade, and reflection, which are more sub- tilely blended in fleshy forms than in any other object natural or artificial.
The grand defect of the Government scheme of education for ornament- ists is its narrowness: it aims at limiting instead of diffusing the know- ledge of art. The students are taught as little as possible; and are not suffered to learn more than is (erroneously) considered necessary to follow their craft. Pupils on entering the school are required to specify the par- ticular branch of ornament they mean to practice, and are kept to that only. Surely the faculties should first be developed by a thorough course of training on a sound and comprehensive plan. But it was feared that artisans would become artists; and this scheme was devised to cripple their powers and confine their energies. There was a jealous apprehension of journeymen decorators learning to draw as well as gentlemen artists,— which they may easily do; and, lest the toe of the operative should gall the kibe of the Academician, the progress of the workman is to be impeded by educational fetters. This attempt to hoodwink the mind of the work- ing-classes—to put " goggles " on their eyes, that their perceptions may be exercised only in one particular direction—must fail of its purpose; and if the attempt be persisted in, the Government School of Design will end in producing a set of mere pattern-making machines, " forming the materials of ornament into new combinations " as mechanically as the kaleidoscope, but without the variety and precision of its figures. Inventive power, originality of ideas, and refined taste, cannot be cultivated by such means. It was in a very different spirit and on a much wider basis that Napoleon founded the famous School of Design at Lyons; and if English ornamentists
are to enable our manufacturers to compete with the foreigner in the market, the Government Schools must be remodelled on the Continental plan, and provided with efficient masters. There is no lack of talent and energy among the students. Give them thorough knowledge and sound principles to start with, and individual impulse will direct each one in the right way.
Since this article was written, the Connell of Management—or rather, the small section that mismanages the affairs of the school—have dismissed Mr. Her- bert, as being "too efficient" for theirpurpose; and, to lessen the chance of their being troubled with another "too efficient" Sub-Director, they have cut off fifty pounds a year from the salary of that office. The refractory students have been required to make an ample apology as the condition of readmission to the School; and also to make a distinct declaration that they will be either decorators or pat tern-drawers, and not become artists. The students, of course, refused, one and all. They would only be wasting their time and subjecting themselves to annoy- ance by returning, now that the only master from whom they ever learned any- thing is dismd for being "too efficient." Mr. Dyce, the former Director, who had been appointed Visiter of the Provincial Schools, has also rest So that the School of Design is now reduced to as low a pitch of inecy as hir. Wilson and the supporters of a not " too efficient" master can desire, It now be comes a question, whether the Board of Trade will sanction the continuance of thin state of things, and Parliament vote money to uphold a system that repudiates efficiency both in teachers and students?