7 SEPTEMBER 1934, Page 24

Painter Preachers

Sermons by Artists. (Golden Cockerell Press. 21s.) Tim foreword to this volume suggests a fundamental frivolity of purpose which ill consorts with the solemnity of its con- tents. It notes the existence of a society of parson painters exhibiting annually in Bond Street, and declares what is sauce for the goose to be sauce for the gander too. If parsons can paint, why should not painters preach ? Artists are too commonly believed to be mere unpractical dreamers ; let them prove themselves, then, "among the most genuine and sincere of human beings." Let them prove themselves, at least, as solemn as-any.

They prove indeed, for the most part of the ten of them, that their thoughts, when expressed out of their special medium, are very like the thoughts of other men. David Low, Erie Kennington, Roger Fry, Will Dyson, and up to a point E. J. Sullivan and Leon Underwood speak less as artists than as social beings of good will and common sense. Mr. Low would set against the ideal of Success the Simplicity and Love of Jesus. Mr. Kennington would have us abolish war by rising above the flesh towards the spirit. Mr. Fry cries out upon Pride, national, religious ard moral, pointing us, a little 'oddly, to a Science bearing the gift of "the idea of auto- matism in human action." Mr. Dyson declares a world of material plenty in which " virtue is become easy "—and sin therefore the more sinful. Mr. Sullivan's imagination is kindled by Science too ; he projects a division of labour wherein Religion shall "approach to the Absolute by way of Goodness alone, leaving Truth in the safe hands of Science," while Beauty shall be the business of " the poet and artist of every kind."

Mr. Leon Underwood comes much closer to the specific artistic outlook in his appeal for the adoption of an ideal of nakedness without shame, not so much of the body as of the -soul and mind, but the contributions of Paul Nash, Robert Gibbings, Percy Smith and Stanley Spencer are those in which are felt the voices of men. who speak in, and out of, their capacity as artists. Mr. Nas/a's plea for a faith in art, which shall be born of the "cloud of witnesses" testified to by the history of art, and which shall give the artist courage and patience to face the difficulties besetting him, is mainly per- sonal, but not the less effective for that.

It is Mr. Stanley Spencer's essay which is perhaps the pro- foundest and therefore the most satisfying, though like all profundities it has at times an air of naivde which is dis- arming and misleading. He takes as his text "He that loveth not krtoweth not God," and would establish Art as the imaginative expression of love, a love that seeks not pos- session but is content to know an object happily, almost adoringly, in its undisrupted identity, in a knowledge bestow- ing a meaning wholly transcending the utilitarian. As such, it is essentially a supernal revelation. "It was the con- sciousness of the fact that the true substance and nature of things were perfect happiness and bliss which encouraged and bred in me a desire to establish and ratify the truth." Dis- tortion in art, he suggests in a sentence typical in its depth of understanding, "arises from the effort to see something in a way which will enable (the artist) to love it." Unfortunately his allotted space is so short that he can give no more than the barest outline of his conception. The book as a whole is inter- esting, if sometimes principally as a study in the minds of its eminent contributors, but one does feel that it could have been even more striking and certainly more valuable could Mr. Stanley Spencer have appeared as sole preacher over the entire extent of its eighty nicely printed pages.