The Art of Illustration – Blake On Imagination

THE popular idea of imagination is of something vague, undefined and illogical, generally associated with stars, clouds, and rainbows, or the sticking of a pair of goose-wings on a pretty girl in white and calling the result an angel. This is a mistake.

Imagination is not wool-gathering, but is a clear-minded and rational act, even though it may sometimes proceed by logarithm, so that it hops from a point of solid ground in a parabolic curve back to earth again in one burst of explosive energy instead of slowly pacing out the distance, leaving no traces of its flight.

No man more imaginative than Blake ever breathed, so that what he has to say upon the subject must have the highest value. What he set most store upon was definition ; and, no matter how indefinite his drawings may appear, there is no lack of lucidity or precision in his critical pronouncements. Following are some extracts, upon which comment is hardly necessary :

” Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized particulars ” (Gilchrist, 235).

” All that has existed in the space of six thousand years

Permanent and not lost : not lost nor vanished, etc., mere possibilities,

But, to those who enter into them, they seem the only realities

For everything exists ; and not one sigh nor smile, nor tear,

One hair nor particle of dust—not one can pass away.”

These drawings are remarkable as expressing in addition to character and movement, extraordinary detachment of groups in pure line, by means of perspective and slight variations of force.

A passage that might have suggested the core of Browning’s ” Abt Vogler,” and later

” For all things exist in the human imagination ” (Gilchrist, 237).

” 0 dear mother Outline, of wisdom most sage

What’s the first part of painting ? She said : ‘ Patronage.’

And what is the second to please and engage ?

She frowned like a fury, and said :

‘ Patronage.’

And what is the third ?

She put off old age,

And smiled like a Syren, and said ‘ Patronage.’ ”

(Gilchrist, II, 132).

A common error to be controverted is that which looks upon pen drawing as ” sketching “—in the sense of something slight and unfinished that an artist simply ” knocks off.” While, of course, there is no desire to magnify its difficulties or to claim any undue consideration of it as a craft or mystery, a too light-hearted view of it either by artists or the public does harm to both. Three of the most original artists England has produced devoted their lives entirely to pen drawing—Charles Keene, Phil May, and Beardsley. Yet all took the work itself with great seriousness, with the result that it will outlive the greater bulk of the much more pretentious work on canvas of their period ; and will always give pleasure not for its humour or content alone, nor as giving a wide outlook upon the world of their time, but by its intrinsic artistic qualities.