Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham

‘Have you done anything you regret.’

’How can I regret when what I did was inevitable?’ asked Cronshaw in return.

’But that’s fatalism.’

’The illusion which man has that his will is free is so deeply rooted that I am ready to accept it. I act as though I were a free agent. But when an action is performed it is clear that all the forces of the universe from all eternity conspired to cause it, and nothing I could do could have prevented it. It was inevitable. If it was good I can claim no merit; if it was bad I can accept no censure.’

People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise. Besides, what’s the good of criticism? What does it matter if your picture is good or bad?

The only reason that one paints is that one can’t help it. It is a function like any other functions of the body, only comparatively few people have got it. One paints for oneself: otherwise one would commit suicide. Just think of it, you spend god knows how long trying to get something onto canvas, putting the sweat of your soul into it, and what is the result? Ten to one it will be refused at the Salon; if it’s accepted, people glance at it for ten seconds as they pass, if you’re lucky some ignorant fool will buy your painting and put it on his walls and look at it as little as he looks at his dining table. Criticism has nothing to do with the artist. It judges objectively, but the objective doesn’t concern the artist.

The artist gets a peculiar sensation from something he sees, and is impelled to express it, and, he doesn’t know why, he can only express his feeling by lines and colours. It’s like a musician; he’ll read a line or two, and a certain combination of notes presents itself to him: he doesn’t know why such and such words call forth in him such and such notes; they just do. And I’ll tell you another reason why criticism is meaningless: a great painter forces the world to see nature as he sees it; but in the next generations the painter sees the world in another way, and then the public judges him not by himself but by his predecessor. So the Barbizon people taught our fathers to look at trees in a certain manner, and when Monet came along and painted differently, people said: ‘But trees aren’t like that.’ It never struck them that trees are exactly how a painter chooses to see them. We paint from within outwards – if we force our vision on the world it calls us great painters, if we don’t it ignores us; but we are the same. We don’t attach any meaning to greatness or smallness. What happens to out work afterwards is unimportant; we have got all we could out of it while we were doing it.

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