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THE COURSE AND ORDER OF STUDY. THE DIFFERENT STAGES OF ART.-MUCH COPYING DISCOUNTENANCED. -THE ARTIST AT ALL TIMES AND IN ALL PLACES
SHOULD BE EMPLOYED IN LAYING UP MATERIALS FOR
THE EXERCISE OF HIS ART.
GENTLEMEN, I Congratulate you on the honour which you have just received. I have the highest opinion of your merits, and could wish to show my sense of them in something which possibly may be more useful to you than barren praise. I could wish to lead
into such a course of study as may
your future progress answerable to your past improvement; and, whilst I applaud you for what has been done, remind you how much yet remains to attain perfection.
I flatter myself, that from the long experience I have had, and the unceasing assiduity with which I have pursued those studies, in which, like you, I have been engaged, I shall be acquitted of vanity in offer. ing some hints to your consideration. They are indeed in a great degree founded upon my own mistakes in the same pursuit. But the history of errors, properly managed, often shortens the road to truth. And although no method of study that I can offer, will of itself conduct to excellence, yet it máy preserve industry from being misapplied.
In speaking to you of the Theory of the Art, I shall only consider it as it has a relation to the method of
Dividing the study of painting into three distinct periods, I shall address you as having passed through the first of them, which is confined to the rudiments; including a facility of drawing any object that presents itself, a tolerable readiness in the management of colours, and an acquaintance with the most simple and obvious rules of composition.
This first degree of proficiency is, in painting, what grammar is in literature, a general preparation for whatever species of the art the student may afterwards choose for his more particular application. The power of drawing, modelling, and using colours, is very properly called the Language of the art; and in this language, the honours you have just received prove you to have made no inconsiderable
When the Artist is once enabled to express himself with some degree of correctness, he must then endeavour to collect subjects for expression ; to amass a stock of ideas, to be combined and varied as occasion may require. He is now in the second period of study, in which his business is to learn all that has been known and done before his own time. Having hitherto received instructions
from a particular master, he is now to consider the Art itself as his master.
He must extend his capacity to more sublime and general instructions.
Thosé perfections which lie scattered among various masters, are now united in one general idea, which is henceforth to regulate his taste, and enlarge his imagination. With a variety of
models thus before him, he will avoid that narrowness and poverty of conception which attends a bigotted admiration of a single master, and will cease to follow
favourite where he ceases to excel. This period is, however, still a time of subjection and discipline. Though the Student will not resign himself blindly to any single authority, when he may have the advantage of consulting many, he must still be afraid of trusting his own judgment, and of deviating into any track where he cannot find the footsteps of some former master.
The third and last period emancipates , the Student from subjection to any authority,
but what he shall himself judge to be supported by reason. Confiding now in his own judgment, he will consider and separate those different principles to which different modes of beauty owe their original. In the former period he sought only to know and combine excellence, wherever it was to be found, into one idea of perfection : in this, he learns, what requires the most attentive survey and the most subtle disquisi
tion, to discriminate perfections that are incompatible with each other.
He is from this time to regard himself as holding the same rank with those masters whom he before obeyed as teachers ; and as exercising a sort of sovereignty over those rules which have hitherto restrained him. Comparing now no longer the perform
ances of Art with each other, but examining the Art itself by the standard of nature, he
corrects what is erroneous, supplies what is scanty, and adds by his own observation what the industry of his predecessors may have
yet left wanting to perfection. Having well established his judgment, and stored his memory,
he may now without fear try the power of his imagination. The mind that has been thus disciplined, may be indulged in the warmest enthusiasm, and venture to play on the borders of the wildest extravagance. The habitual dignity which long converse with the greatest minds has imparted to him, will display itself in all his attempts ; and he will stand among his instructors, not as an imitator, but a rival.