It is certainly no small task to enjoy a large exhibit like ours and to preserve one’s peace of mind. The purpose of these pages is to assist in guiding the uninitiated, in his visit and in retrospect, without depriving him of the pleasure of personal observation and investigation. It is not to be expected that all pictures exhibited should be of a superior kind. If so, we should never be able to learn to recognize the good among the bad. So many pictures are only experiments. Only by having the opportunity for comparison can we learn to discriminate. The predominant characteristic of our art exhibition is its instructive value in teaching the development of painting by successive periods, sometimes represented and some times only indicated. The person who never had the opportunity to visit the larger historical collections of paintings abroad, could here obtain an idea of the many changes in subjects, as well as in technique, which have taken place in the relatively short existence of the art of painting. It is unfortunately true that the majority of people are not at all interested in the technical procedure of the making of the picture, but wholly in the subject matter. If this be pleasing, the picture is apt to be declared a success. The artist, on the other hand, and to my mind very justly, looks primarily for what he calls good painting, and a simple statement of these two points of view explains a great deal of very deplorable friction between the artist and the willing and enthusiastic layman, who is constantly discouraged by finding that his artist friend greets his pet canvas with a cynical smile.
The subject of the appreciation of pictures from a theoretical point of view is not exactly the purpose of this book. So enormous is it that it could be dealt with adequately only in a separate volume the writing of which I look forward to with joyful anticipation. What I should like to do — and I should be very glad if I could succeed — is to bring the public a little closer to the artist’s point of view through the discussion of the merit of certain notable works of art. It is my conviction that it is the manifestations of an artists artistic conscience which make exhibitions good, and not the question whether the public likes certain pictures or not. Only by constant study, a serious attitude, and a willingness to follow the artist into his realm can the public hope fully to enjoy the meaning of the artist’s endeavors.
It would seem only logical to begin our investigation with the pictures chronologically oldest, at the same time recognizing that European art has the right to first consideration. We are the hosts to the art of the world. Our own art is the newest, and yet occupies a large number of galleries most conspicuously, but it will not lose by waiting for attention till the end.