98 On the Making of Music,
who is to look at the picture. And this depends upon a man's
He therefore tells best in painting, as in literature, who
has best estimated the relative values or importances of the
more special features characterising his subject: that is to
say, who appreciates most accurately how much and how
fast each one of them will carry, and is at most pains to give
those only that will say most in the fewest words or touches.
It is here that the most difficult, the most important, and the
most generally neglected part of an artist's business will be
found to lie.
The difficulties of doing are serious enough, nevertheless
we can most of us overcome them with ordinary perseverance
for they are small as compared with those of knowing what
not to do—with those of learning to disregard the incessant
importunity of small nobody-details that persist in trying
to thrust themselves above their betters. It is less trouble
to give in to these than to snub them duly and keep them in
their proper places, yet it is precisely here that strength or
weakness resides. It is success or failure in this respect that
constitutes the difference between the artist who may claim
to rank as a statesman and one who can rise no higher than
a village vestryman.
It is here, moreover, that effort is most remunerative.
For when we feel that a painter has made simplicity and sub-
ordination of importances his first aim, it is surprising how
much shortcoming we will condone as regards actual execu-
tion. Whereas, let the execution be perfect, if the details
given be ill-chosen in respect of relative importance, the
whole effect is lost—it becomes top-heavy, as it were, and
collapses. As for the number of details given, this does not
matter: a man may give as few or as many as he chooses ;
he may stop at outline, or he may go on to Jean Van Eyck ;
what is essential is that, no matter how far or how small a
distance he may go, he should have begun with the most
important point and added each subsequent feature in due
order of importance, so that if he stopped at any moment
there should be no detail ungiven more important than
another which has been insisted on.
Supposing, by way of illustration, that the details are as
grapes in a bunch, they should be eaten from the best grape