Penelope's English Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Part Second--In the country.
Chapter XIX. The heart of the artist.
I am almost too comfortable with Mrs. Bobby. In fact I wished to be just a little miserable in Belvern, so that I could paint with a frenzy. Sometimes, when I have been in a state of almost despairing loneliness and gloom, the colours have glowed on my canvas and the lines have shaped themselves under my hand independent of my own volition. Now, tucked away in a corner of my consciousness is the knowledge that I need never be lonely again unless I choose. When I yield myself fully to the sweet enchantment of this thought, I feel myself in the mood to paint sunshine, flowers, and happy children's faces; yet I am sadly lacking in concentration, all the same. The fact is, I am no artist in the true sense of the word. My hope flies ever in front of my best success, and that momentary success does not deceive me in the very least. I know exactly how much, or rather how little, I am worth; that I lack the imagination, the industry, the training, the ambition, to achieve any lasting results. I have the artistic temperament in so far that it is impossible for me to work merely for money or popularity, or indeed for anything less than the desire to express the best that is in me without fear or favour. It would never occur to me to trade on present approval and dash off unworthy stuff while I have command of the market. I am quite above all that, but I am distinctly below that other mental and spiritual level where art is enough; where pleasure does not signify; where one shuts oneself up and produces from sheer necessity; where one is compelled by relentless law; where sacrifice does not count; where ideas throng the brain and plead for release in expression; where effort is joy, and the prospect of doing something enduring lures the soul on to new and ever new endeavour: so I shall never be rich or famous.
What shall I paint to-day? Shall it be the bit of garden underneath my window, with the tangle of pinks and roses, and the cabbages growing appetisingly beside the sweet-williams, the woodbine climbing over the brown stone wall, the wicket-gate, and the cherry- tree with its fruit hanging red against the whitewashed cottage? Ah, if I could only paint it so truly that you could hear the drowsy hum of the bees among the thyme, and smell the scented hay-meadows in the distance, and feel that it is midsummer in England! That would indeed be truth, and that would be art. Shall I paint the Bobby baby as he stoops to pick the cowslips and the flax, his head as yellow and his eyes as blue as the flowers themselves; or that bank opposite the gate, with its gorse bushes in golden bloom, its mountain-ash hung with scarlet berries, its tufts of harebells blossoming in the crevices of rock, and the quaint low clock-tower at the foot? Can I not paint all these in the full glow of summer- time in my secret heart whenever I open the door a bit and admit its life-giving warmth and beauty? I think I can, if I can only quit dreaming.
I wonder how the great artists worked, and under what circumstances they threw aside the implements of their craft, impatient of all but the throb of life itself? Could Raphael paint Madonnas the week of his betrothal? Did Thackeray write a chapter the day his daughter was born? Did Plato philosophise freely when he was in love? Were there interruptions in the world's great revolutions, histories, dramas, reforms, poems, and marbles when their creators fell for a brief moment under the spell of the little blind tyrant who makes slaves of us all? It must have been so. Your chronometer heart, on whose pulsations you can reckon as on the procession of the equinoxes, never gave anything to the world unless it were a system of diet, or something quite uncoloured and unglorified by the imagination.