Monday, March 01, 2010

850. A Meditation On John Constable - Charles Tomlinson

"Painting is a science, and should be pursued as an inquiry into the laws of nature. why, then, may not landscape painting be considered as a branch of natural philosophy, of which pictures are but the experiments?"

––John Constable: The History of Landscape Painting

He replied to his own question, and with the unmannered
Exactness of art; enriched his premises
By confirming his practice: the labour of observation
In face of meteorological fact. Clouds
Followed by others, temper the sun in passing
Over and off it. Massed darks
Blotting it back, scattered and mellowed shafts
Break damply out of them, until the source
Unmasks, floods its retreating bank
With raw fire. One perceives (though scarcely)
The remnant clouds trailing across it
In rags, and thinned to a gauze.
But the next will dam it. They loom past
And narrow its blaze. It shrinks to a crescent
Crushed out, a still lengthening ooze
As the mass thickens, though cannot exclude
Its silvered-yellow. The eclipse is sudden,
Seen first on the darkening grass, then complete
In a covered sky.
Facts. And what are they?
He admired accidents, because governed by laws,
Representing them (since the illusion was not his end)
As governed by feeling. The end is our approval
Freely accorded, the illusion persuading us
That it exists as a human image. Caught
By a wavering sun, or under a wind
Which moistening among the outlines of banked foliage
Prepares to dissolve them, it must grow constant;
Though there, ruffling and parted, the disturbed
Trees let through the distance, like white fog
Into their broken ranks, It must persuade
And with a constancy, not to be swept back
To reveal what it half-conceals. Art is itself
Once we accept it. The day veers. He would have judged
Exactly in such a light, that strides down
Over the quick stains of cloud-shadows
Expunged now, by its conflagration of colour.
A descriptive painter? If delight
Describes, which wrings from the brush
The errors of a mind, so tempered
It can forgo all pathos; for what he saw
Discovered what he was, and the hand––unswayed
By the dictation of a single sense––
Bodied the accurate and total knowledge
In a calligraphy of present pleasure. Art
Is complete when it is human. It is human
Once the looped pigments, the pin-heads of light
Securing space under their deft restrictions
Convince, as the index of a possible passion,
As the adequate gauge, both of the passion
And its object. The artist lies
For the improvement of truth. Believe him.