30th June 1942, at dinner
War as an inspiration in art—
reform of the Art Academies.
This war is stimulating the artistic sense much more than the last war. The works of the artists whom I have recalled from the front after a year or two in the field bear the hall-mark of personal experience and are among the most valuable examples of present-day art that our exhibitions can show.
These war paintings establish beyond discussion that the real artist is ripened by his own personal experience of life and not by study in some art academy. Most of the academy professors lack both the insight and the judgment necessary to bring real talent to the fore. Recall, if you please, how the beautiful seascapes of von Bock were refused by the Prussian Academy, although in their wonderful sweep they alone of current paintings gave a true picture of the northern seas. This same Prussian Academy which rejected these pictures was, however, not ashamed to adorn its walls with absolute muck.
Even in my exhibition in the House of German Art they always try to gain acceptance for the daubs of their own protégés. But when it comes to flinging these confections out, I am exceptionally obstinate! My views on the value of the academies are well known. And under present conditions it is difficult to see how talent, other than that which in practical life is incapable of producing a real picture, can be injected into the art schools as they are now constituted.
It is a characteristic of the present-day academies that they invariably try to stifle genius. No sooner does a real genius make his appearance in the circle of these very moderate “big-wigs” of the academies, than up they rise with their whole plumage ruffled in wrath against him.
If we wish to smoothe the way for an incipient genius in the academies and ensure him a practical livelihood in spite of the academies, then we must radically alter the whole structure of the academic world. They must be split up into a series of individual studios, on the lines of the State studios. Then the greatest artists available must be approached and asked if they would care voluntarily to take over one of these studios. Those who agree must be allowed a completely free hand, themselves to chose those pupils whom they consider worthy of further tuition.
If we organise the academies along these lines, then all the nonsense, claptrap and jargon, and all the juggling with mathematical formulae—a nonsense that only the sparrow-like brain of mediocrity could have conceived—will stop. And the great task of the academy will be, first, last and always, to teach the pupil to paint.
I always get angry when I think of how in the teachers’ training colleges the future school-teachers are stuffed with an inchoate mass of material, when all they will be called upon to do later is to teach the children the rudiments of the three Rs.
What special knowledge, for goodness’ sake, is required to teach six-year-old kiddies to say a, b, c correctly! It is equally ridiculous to try to cram children at school with all sorts of things. If you ask them, two or three years after they have left school, you’ll find that they have forgotten practically all about them. The curriculum of a school should be drawn up with the object of teaching the children those things which will enable them in after-life to take their places as decent citizens. And keep the children as much as possible in the open air! We shall then have a healthy rising generation, capable of roughing it without falling on their backs.