John Jānis Šteins

:: Artist ::

Chapter 12





In wood-engraving the limitations of the medium should prevent any question of photographic representation. Too close an imitation of natural appearances will almost certainly force the medium too far and destroy its character. The engraver must remember the limitations of his medium and realize that in the observance of these lies the whole interest of the craft for the artist, and its charm from the spectator’s point of view. But at this stage one ought to utter a word of warning.

The cry of the  “limitations” of the medium has been so popular of late years and has been repeated so often that it has tended to obscure the possibilities ofthe medium and has frequently stifled initiative in craftsmanl ship. Many prints have been produced which are either so simplified that they are empty and colourless, with none of the richness which one associates with wood-engraving, or else the forms have been so symbolized that they have become mere meaningless shapes and devoid of all interest.

It must never be forgotten that each symbol must be based on the form, and that without knowledge and observation of the facts these symbols will have no aesthetic significance. Every line and every shape used in the composition must have a definite meaning, and the artist’s aim must be to find the inherent design in each form and to translate it into as simple a symbol as possible, without losing any of its msthetic qualities. In all good art, no matter to what period it belongs, the symbols used do explain both the forms and the artist’s understanding of their design and construction.

If the engraver sincerely tries to explain the forms in terms of his craft, then he will develop a style which will be personal and which will not simply be a collection of second-hand and irritating mannerisms. His work will be good technically and will probably be good art too. Whether it will be great art depends on the artist and the measure of his comprehension of the forms. One sees so much work nowadays which is done in the “modern” manner that the beginner is apt to think the manner counts for more than it does. But manner is largely a question of fashion, and some of this work is bound to become hopelessly dated and old-fashioned in the course of a few years. Many modern works are undoubtedly great and will live, but some work is acclaimed simply because it is new and “ different” and – well, change is always stimulating.

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