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The Ten O'Clock Lecture

Post #767 • April 4, 2006, 8:35 AM • 22 Comments

Later this week I'm going to write something about the Whistler print show that just came down at the Boca Museum. In preparation, I had to look up something called the Ten O'Clock Lecture, which the exhibition cited a few times. Whistler delivered the talk in 1885 in London, and the listeners and the press received it well. "There was a large and brilliant audience, at whose hands the lecturer experienced a very favourable reception," said the Morning Post.

I've read through the transcript a couple of times now, and I can't figure out what he's talking about, especially around the middle. He's outlining his priorities, that much I can tell, and he's using a writing method as hazy as his nocturnes. He seems to be criticizing a whole class of somebodies for an overly workmanlike approach to picture making. At any rate, it's an interesting glimpse into the mind of the master.

Comment

1.

oldpro

April 4, 2006, 8:19 AM

I wouldn't try to understand it too much. Very good 19th artists can be vague gasbags. These things don;t change much.

2.

Feneon

April 4, 2006, 9:16 AM

The culture that Whistler was part of was under a great deal of pressure from it's movement into what we call the industrial revolution. Romanticism itself, it could be argued was a reaction to this pressure. Back under a number of levels of cultural strata, the priorities and orientations to the artists role, it seems, were quite different, but yet with some similarities.
But when he states " Art has become foolishly confounded with education – that all should be equally qualified" he seems to be complaining that the "insensitive" are being validated as artists, where the role - to him - seems to be more of a natural calling, a talent, that cannot be taught. Inlarged upon, developed, but impossible to generate at its core.. What would he, or any 19th century artist think of a system like ours, where every year worldwide, thousands upon thousands of new "artists" are being extruded into the culture? Where many, if not most, validated artists are products of the art education business.
Whistler seems to be complaining about what we take for granted at this point in time, that even those with no aptitude can learn to walk the walk, etc, and BE artists with the right education. Get the tuition money for gods sake, keep the art veterans and company men/women in a job. Nobody tell the students that the attrition rate in their endeavor is incredibly huge.
Another point he seems to be making early on is that words and images are not directly equivalent. That as much as the verbalist would like to, he cannot produce a translation of the visual. Two different operating systems. Perfect the language of what you are doing, but under no circumstance will that necessarily produce a viable visable, form.

3.

KH

April 4, 2006, 9:47 AM

Hm. Sounds like a proto artblog regular to me! Check this out:

"For there are curious converts to a weird Culte, in which, all instinct for attractiveness – all freshness and sparkle – all woman’s winsomeness, is to give way to a strange vocation for the unlovely! – and this desecration, in the name of the Graces! –

Shall this gaunt, ill at ease – distressed – abashed mixture of mauvaise honte and desperate assertion, call itself artistic – and claim cousinship with the artist? – who delights in the dainty – the sharp bright gaiety of beauty! –

No! a thousand times no! – Here are no connections of ours! –

We will have nothing to do with them –

Forced to seriousness, that emptiness may be hidden – they dare not smile –

While the artist, in fulness of heart and head, is glad and laughs aloud – and is happy in his strength – and is merry at the pompous pretention – the solemn silliness that surrounds him! – "

4.

Franklin

April 4, 2006, 10:02 AM

KH, can you translate "mauvaise honte"?

Whistler's one of the first self-conscious adherents to the idea of art for art's sake, so I like certain bits of it. The whole speech is best taken in a few paragraphs at a time. I like to think that he would have enjoyed hanging out here.

5.

KH

April 4, 2006, 10:06 AM

Bad shame.

6.

KH

April 4, 2006, 10:12 AM

Maybe evil or bad disgrace. Bad shame sounds weird. Mauvaise is bad, evil, wrong, etc., and la honte is shame or disgrace. I don't know of it as a specific expression, but it could have been back then. Sorry. I'm working without caffeine this morning, which is abnormal for me and sucks. Plus, the little one is making many demands.

7.

Marc Country

April 4, 2006, 10:16 AM

Somebody get workin' on that time machine, so we can get Whistler and Ruskin tearing into each other here.

8.

Marc Country

April 4, 2006, 10:19 AM

Google "mauvaise honte", you get 'sheepishness', 'timidity', etc...

9.

Marc Country

April 4, 2006, 10:26 AM

I like this bit from the lecture, touching on the notion of 'beauty' and 'meaning' (hot topics on a recent thread)... Whistler on the Goddess that is Art:

She is withal selfishly occupied with her own perfection only – having no desire to teach – seeking and finding the beautiful in all conditions, and in all times – As did her high priest Rembrandt, when he saw picturesque grandeur and noble dignity in the Jews' quarter of Amsterdam – and lamented not that its inhabitants were not Greeks...

10.

KH

April 4, 2006, 10:47 AM

The first entry to come up when googled is a definition from a "Dictionary of Phrase and Fable" from 1898; thank goodness for Google. ("A bad or silly shame, bashfulness, sheepishness")

However, French does have other words for bashful and sheepish, so I think that retaining the sense of shame or disgrace in mind while you also think sheepish or bashful might give a better sense.

Another entry, in the French wikipedia (wiktionnaire) indicates that "mauvaise honte" is a false or inappropriate (though blameless) shame which may sometimes even be laudable. I don't think Whistler was using it this way.

Sometimes honte even has the connotation of scandalousness; he might have liked that, given the tone of the rest of his sermon.

11.

KH

April 4, 2006, 10:53 AM

OO! Sorry! I meant the French wiki-dictionary (wiktionnaire); the wikipedia is separate.

12.

Feneon

April 4, 2006, 10:54 AM

#4
Franklin, I don't know that he would stay too long. So far the comments seem to center around trivial linguistics.

13.

Marc Country

April 4, 2006, 11:02 AM

So far the comments seem to center around trivial linguistics.

Do you mean this thread in particular, or the entirety of artblog.net.?

14.

Feneon

April 4, 2006, 11:04 AM

Not an overall criticism, but if he were tuning in to get some idea of a response to his lecture, what would he read?

15.

Marc Country

April 4, 2006, 11:04 AM

I don't suppose it matters... #12 is a trivial generalization, and a self-evidently untrue one at that.

16.

Marc Country

April 4, 2006, 11:12 AM

Sorry Feneon, I was taking your comment too seriously... I didn't realize you meant it as a joke.

17.

Franklin

April 4, 2006, 2:13 PM

I think Feneon has distilled some interesting points. One of my frustrations about being a teacher is that I couldn't do anything about anyone's talent, and not much else matters. You can encourage study and practice, but that's about it.

18.

George

April 4, 2006, 3:01 PM

"mauvaise honte" + Google Language tools = "self-consciousness"

19.

Hans

April 4, 2006, 5:06 PM

I fully agree with Whistlers complaints but beamed into our days.
Art became an Art Industry, where art workers produce artlike products for the Art Market, then it gets realized, recycled. Millions of art students worldwide push into markets. It produces some remarkable results, some good blogs, some good shows. Lets see how art on this will react, where we will find her (die Kunst) again.

20.

Jack

April 4, 2006, 6:48 PM

The Ten O'Clock Lecture is considered Whistler's aesthetic creed. The flowery, somewhat stilted-sounding language is a function of its time as well as Whistler's flamboyant personality. He was famous for his wit and dandyism and thrived on controversy, though his art was much more subtle and discreet. His belief in art for art's sake was radically different from the prevailing Victorian use of art to convey literary or moral ideas. The following pronouncement by him is typical:

Art should be independent of all claptrap--should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism, and the like. All these have no kind of concern with it, and that is why I insist on calling my works "arrangements" and "harmonies."

21.

oldpro

April 4, 2006, 7:08 PM

"His belief in art for art's sake was radically different from the prevailing Victorian use of art to convey literary or moral ideas. "

the more things change the more they stay the same.

22.

Jack

April 4, 2006, 9:35 PM

From #2:

a natural calling, a talent, that cannot be taught. Enlarged upon, developed, but impossible to generate at its core

Yes. I think this applies to artists, but also, in principle, to art lovers. There is certainly a role for exposure, education, and of course experience, but there has to be an innate aptitude or affinity. That's either there or it isn't, and it can't be manufactured. That's why some people need to be somehow told what to like (or not), what to buy, and how to think about art. The sad thing is they're ultimately wasting their time, because the experience they're having is borrowed, not personal, not really theirs. It must perforce remain like a costume or veneer, applied from the outside, not an integral, organic constituent. It doesn't matter how desperately flashy or frantically "committed" it may be; it's still not the real thing.

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