The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1935
The Art Room
The Art Room
Inattention to the fine arts is a phenomenon found in all "new" countries. The reason advanced is that more material needs exclude their encouragement. If the position at Victoria is any indication it would seem that this phenomenon extends even to the universities. After an existence of over thirty years the only opportunity this College offered for the study of the fine arts was a series of lectures in Greek History, Art, and Literature, with History and Literature predominating.
Not in any circumstances then, can it be said that the establishment this year of an Art Room was premature. On the contrary it was long overdue, but it is significant that its existence was made possible only by funds from outside the country, namely, the Carnegie grant. For this grant we can never be too appreciative, providing as it does the opportunities we have awaited so long.
So, off the library is now to be found a small pleasant room containing works that reveal all that is best of the art treasures of the world. Many many books are there—you may use them as you wish. If you take down Picasso and find that he annoys you, you can put him back and turn to Rubens. No one will mind, no one will be offended. Or perhaps Rubens is too florid, and yes, so is Velasquez, so you discover "Three Essays on Oriental Painting." With what beautiful simplicity are all these pictures executed, you look through them again. And then, to Cezanne; but there is a difference between the Oriental prints and his painting that is rather upsetting. In fact all these various styles are confusing. Perhaps it would be better to start at the beginning and try to obtain an intelligent idea of the fundamentals of painting. What is there here on the subject, "Three Dimensional Form," and "Expressionistic Use of Line Form Drawing," and here is another, "The Art in Painting." Yes, one can certainly obtain an insight from these books—but perhaps it would be better to leave them until one has more time. What other books are there in this corner? You read the titles—the Van Eycks, the Renaissance, the Tate Gallery, French painting in the XVIIIth Century, a dictionary of Painters and Painting, Millet, Constable, Nevinson, Orpen, Flemish Art, Modern French Painters . . . You turn back to Nevinson, his stark "Casualty Clearing Station" always makes one realise the power of cubism.
Then down below are the cases containing individual pictures. In their reproduction and classification these prints leave nothing to be desired, while their mounting and labelling make them very easy to handle and study. First one case and then another comes out, and the works of centuries pass before your eyes.
But that is only one corner of the room, the corner dealing with painting. In another corner is sculpture, and elsewhere domestic arts. Move around the room and the glories of the Acropolis can be compared with the works of Epstein and Henry Moore; modern wood-cuts with mediaeval ones; European peasant pottery with the pottery of the Incas; the art of Egypt with that of India; the crudities of the cavemen with the enigmas of the moderns—in fact there is no limit to what one may study. To be found here are books on weaving, printing, glassware, furniture, armour, fashions and dress . . . little wonder then that time passes quickly.
Without remorse we can let it pass. Apart from the enchantment of the books we are away from the irritating presence of people preparing for examinations. We are able to browse complacently through book after book and forget that outside in the library people are cramming in an oppressive and unbreakable silence. We are able to read books for mere pleasure and not feel criminal because they do not happen to be prescribed in a syllabus. Without diffidence we can wander from shelf to shelf, and without compunction we can even hold a little quiet conversation.
Such is the atmosphere of the Art Room. Free from restraint we can follow some of the strivings of man for self-expression from the beginnings of time. At first we may do it in bewilderment and confusion. The achievements are so great and our leisure is so small. But we return to these books again and again—the glories they hold are irresistible.
Gradually we can come to appreciate the artifice of delineation, the fascination of design, the subtleties of colour and the flexibility of media. Slowly we are able to obtain a glimmering of the technique and achievements of painting, of etching and of sculpture.