Howard Pyle is considered by many to be the Father of American Illustration. He is credited for changing stilted almost stage-like scenes into more energetic and natural scenes for illustration. One night at a dinner party he started talking and someone happened to write down what he said. Here is a part of his speech.
by Howard Pyle
What is art? When we ask that question, the idea ordinarily intended is of a picture, of a statue, or a beautiful work of the architect; but art to me has a far greater, a far more vital significance than that. Art is the expression of a human thought in a living and a permanent form. As that thought is great and noble and grand within the man that conceives it, so in that degree is the work that he produces great and noble and grand. There is no school, there is no possible means whereby a great work of art can be created. The great work of art must emanate from the man – not from without, not by lines or rules or methods – it must emanate from the man. What is it that makes the great Saint Gaudens statue of Sherman so very great? It is not its technical skill; it is not any particular form or line or method of construction, but it is that that great man conceives within his mind the image of the hero of our war. Before that hero, advancing from the rock whereon he stands, the very ideal of American victory. It is American. It is not based upon any line or any rule or any method; but it is American, and therefore it is great, because it appeals from a great American soul to the soul of every other American who beholds it.
For three and thirty years I have served steadfastly at my chosen profession as an illustrator. In that time I have beheld the art of illustration, originating from small, obscure beginnings of a discredited handcraft, extend, expand and grow, until today it is almost, if not quite, the most dominant factor in existing American art. In that growth there is symbolized the truth that governs and must govern the product of all works of art. That truth is this: that any given work, to make its final and its most magnificent appeal, must be based upon the divine truth of uses. Unless a work of art meets a use, unless it fits to the demands, the aspirations and the ideals of the age in which it is created, it is a failure, and nothing can possibly make that art a success. [Applause.] The art of illustration is a success. Why? Primarily because the people of this country desire and love that which is beautiful. I have no patience with the talk, that emanates largely from the studios, of educating the American people to understand art. Educate the artist to understand the American people. [Applause.] If the artist understands the American people, there is no question of his work being a success. He does not have to depend upon commissions or ministries or any means to make his art a success, for it is a success in itself, because it emanates from a living soul and reaches to the other living souls who receive it. The art of illustration is a success for the simple reason that the American people love to see that which they read made beautiful with pictured image.
It is not far to seek; it is not a profound equation. All art is great just in the degree it is useful; and it is never great in any other degree. What was it that made the art of Phidias great? His art was created for a specific, definite purpose, as definite and as specific as the illustration today for our great magazines was made for a specific purpose. It was made that those who beheld it might be inspired with reverence for their gods and admiration for their heroes. [Applause.] That was the one reason why it was made, and as it touched the reverence and the respect, and the admiration of the Greeks of that day, so does it touch our reverence, our respect and our admiration today; – that when a living thought is embodied in a form that men can see, and touch and understand, it lives forever. What was it made the work of Michael Angelo, Leonardo, of Raphael, Durer, or Holbein great? Those works were great because each and every one was done for a definite and specific purpose. That purpose was to embody the human ideal of reverence for the divine motherhood; and as those artists poured their souls into those pictures that they made, just in that degree do those pictures. live today. They lived then; they live now, and they shall live forever – because they are human, not because they are technical works of art, but because they are human thoughts of excellent ideals cast into a living, visible work.
What is it makes American architecture the most successful art of the day? It is because the inspiration, the ideals, the beauty and graces that emanate in the mind of the architect is cast into the form of use. We talk of the American people not appreciating art. The crowds of American people pour into the public buildings which they themselves built, and who love them because they are beautiful in their eyes, not because they cost so many millions of money, but because they are beautiful. They say: “That is my capitol.” What is it makes the art of the architect successful today? It is because the American eyes can see and behold the visible form of American ideals. I cannot say that the art of painting, of which I am a representative, is so successful, for I do not think that that art is based fundamentally upon the higher uses of humanity, and until it is it cannot be successful.
I would touch again upon what I have heard several times tonight, and that is the education of the American people. I am a plain American. A very charming lady lately accused me of being a Philistine. Well, I am a Philistine. I like my beef and pudding, but I do like other things as well, and I am an American; and as an American I resent the talk that emanates from the studios of educating the American people. Let us instead of talking vaguely about this, recite the true facts, side by side; measure and compare those facts and see their proper significance. Upon the one side is a nation, we will say, of a hundred million people. It is safe to say that it is one of the greatest nations, one of the most enlightened nations in the world – a nation which is successful beyond the highest dreams of success; a nation with high ideals, exalted aspirations; a nation with a limitless future; upon the other side are a group of men (Shall I speak it of my own fellow craftsman?), narrow in their views – necessarily narrow in their views because they are confronted with certain technical rules which make them narrow in their views. As a rule, they are bigoted in their opinions. We all know that, for we are all artists. [Laughter and applause]. Doubting among ourselves as to what is the right thing, it is a great question among the hundreds of schools of art, each differing from the other in his opinion of what is the right thing; callous, not successful as a rule; taking the painters by a large majority, it is not a successful craft. Now, I ask you, with those two pictures placed side by side, which is the better equipped to educate the other? To me there is no doubt about it.