Norman Lindsay Does Not Care: An Outburst [by P. R. Stephensen, 1928]

[Editor: This pamphlet regarding Norman Lindsay was written by P. R. Stephensen.]

Norman Lindsay

Does Not Care

An Outburst

by

P. R. Stephensen


Fanfrolico Pamphlets No. I

Price One Farthing

Why should Norman Lindsay care if suburbia shudders with a horror which is really terror of his stark and ruthless presentation of the image of beauty? Nothing else could be expected, for at this level criticism remains atavistically moral, tribal; and any artist making a vital expression is likely to be regarded as a spawn of Satan, Antichrist, lewd and wicked, abhorrent to all Right-Thinking People. Norman Lindsay does not care how loudly the Good People howl for his suppression.

But the Official Art Mob (or Mobs) also dislike him, with the intensity of a fascination which repels as it attracts. And as these quite sophisticated persons officially disown Suburbia, it is difficult for them to damn the man in Suburbia’s phrasing. Yet they must do something about it, because his work is by contrast a continual exposure of their own artistic ineptitude and moral vacuity. So they seek to explain him away, ostrich principle.

“Beardsley!” they used to say, eye-brow-lifting; as though Beardsley’s technique were the only possible alternative to that of (e.g.) Cocteau; or as though the Naughty Nineties supply the only possible moral alternative to that of (e.g.) Cocteau (if any). Or as though the bad boy Beardsley had perfected the ultimate method of exuberantly drawing women and draperies in black-and-white; or as though Norman Lindsay’s terrific maturity and individuality could be content to repeat indefinitely the form-experiments of any cut-off youngster, however ingenious. No. It is a pathetic exercise in self-protection, pathetically unconvincing, this effort to hang the Beardsley albatross about the neck of Norman Lindsay.

Try again. “An illustrator, not an artist!” some say, as though the terms were of necessity mutually exclusive; as though the lesser artist could be the greater illustrator; as though the human gesture (together with draughtsmanship) is forever banished from serious art because some frustrated café-gabblers have said it must be banished. Is this quibble serious? More likely, alas, it arises from a simply ignoble professional jealousy. Norman Lindsay’s work is sought after. It moves. It moves. Perhaps it is for this reason that he does not need to disparage those who disparage him. Instead, he keeps on working.

The descent is easy from pettiness to nastiness. “Fat women!” some snarl, “Vie Parisienne!” and, crown of abuse, “pornographical!” Suburbia would applaud; but Norman Lindsay has shown that he can easily survive the resentment which finds its expression in this scurrility. The more he provokes this kind of attack, the more he reveals the spuriousness of the noisy “freed spirits”, dull post-war “rebels” (ô so modern) who leer praise at any smart vulgar anagram of lewdness in art but shudder before the naked image of love in beauty.

Some critics have even said that Norman Lindsay cannot draw (though they would have to admit that he can draw crowds to an exhibition). Few would agree with the former statement and none could deny the latter. “Confound and blast his incomparable dexterity!” said one, recently, an etcher of repute, on being confronted with a set of Norman Lindsay’s plates. “He is the only man on Earth who can really do with his hands what his will requires. He is the greatest craftsman among living artists.” Let this decent tribute stand.

Judge Norman Lindsay’s work by its technical qualities alone; its delicacy, certainty, and swiftness of line, its communicable quality of light’s rhythm; its weight of form and its flexibility of tone; its sure grip upon the essentials of diversified character and gesture.

Leave to a remoter future the moral estimate of his prolific output, the deliberately-projected scale of human values it implies. Let next century consider the judgment, here offered, that this artist alone survived the Great War’s horror and confronted the foe Ugliness with a Greek affirmation of beauty instead of with a snarl from the swamp.

Say, if generously inclined, “What an incomparable technician!” or even, vaguely praising, “What a strange imagination! A queer genius!”

Or relapse into Suburbia’s execratory wail of “Shocking!” “Beardsley!” “Help!” “Police!”

Norman Lindsay will not care. He is a very busy man, and has a lot of work to do.

P. R. STEPHENSEN.



Source:
P.R. Stephensen, Norman Lindsay Does Not Care: An Outburst, London: Fanfrolico Press, [1928]

Editor’s notes:
The catalogues of the National Library of Australia and the library of the University of Technology, Sydney, have dated this publication as 1928 (as at 8 March 2014); this date is also given in the bibliography of P.R. Stephensen’s works, compiled by his brother Eric Stephensen.

References:
Eric Stephensen (editor), Bibliography of Percy Reginald Stephensen B.A. (Qld.), M.A. (Oxon. qual.), Eltham (Vic.): Eric Stephensen, 1981, page 7
Norman Lindsay does not care : an outburst / by P.R. Stephensen”, National Library of Australia catalogue entry (accessed 8 March 2014)

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