Excerpt from ‘Taste and Temperament’ by Joan Evans I

Excerpt from ‘Taste and Temperament’ by Joan Evans. To see a modern and updated version of the same theme, go here.

The slow introvert, who strives to understand so much, rarely turns his mind to the understanding of concrete works of visual art. It is entirely characteristic that Plato’ in the Republic should desiderate a beauty of style and a harmony and grace that depend upon simplicity, and in the Timaeus should add a proportion that links the work of art with the universal and moral order, with no further discussion of the aesthetic qualities of visual art. It is equally characteristic that for him music should be the dominant art; poetry the next, and the visual arts no more than the vaguest background.

It is not often that the slow introvert will express an opinion about a work of visual art; yet if its sudden beauty forces him to do so, his canons of proportion and relation and his natural sincerity make him a critic to be respected. It is a characteristic of almost diagnostic validity that he does not write about the visual arts, unless he is a practising artist; then he writes as a crafts-man rather than a critic.

The individual is apt to find a peculiarly congenial quality in works of art produced by men of his own temperament. Delacroix, who might stand as the type of the slow extravert artist, admired (and sometimes even copied) the works of Goya, Rowlandson, Rubens, Ingres, Constable and Lawrence; and I should conceive all these artists to have been of the same temperament as himself. Curiously often the man who is conscious of this spontaneous liking will describe it in terms of friendly affinity. William Morris wrote of the Gothic Churches of Northern France that they were ‘the grandest, the most beautiful, the kindest and most loving of all the buildings that the earth has ever borne’. The late Professor of Poetry at Oxford writes:

‘Some poets are more friendly than others. I like to think that among the friendly poets are some of the greatest. The most friendly of them all is the first of them, Chaucer … After Chaucer… the most friendly of them is, beyond a doubt, the greatest of them, Shakespeare… After Chaucer and Shakespeare for friendliness we must go, I think, to two Scots-to Burns and “Sir Walter”.’ Such frankly subjective criticism is revealing because- as here – it is apt to group together writers and artists of similar temperament.

A man will always tend to have a primary attraction towards the art produced by men of like temperament with himself; so the slow extravert Daumier had a passion for Rembrandt and Rubens, and David – a man of the same temperament – admired Van Ostade, Teniers, Subleyras and Rembrandt, all slow extraverts likewise. Yet a man may also experience a secondary attraction to the work of men of another type. A slow introvert, if he be sad or tired, may find the work of another slow introvert depressing, and may turn to that of a man of a quicker form of his own temperament. A slow extravert in like case may turn to the work of a quick extravert, and find there either the human gaiety or the mystical reassurance that he needs. In his turn the quick extravert (though rarely) may seek reassurance from those who are closer to actuality than himself; so Van Gogh writes: ‘I feel always a great attraction for the figures either of the English draughts-men or of the English authors, because of their Monday-morning-like soberness, and studied simplicity and prosaicness and analysis, as something solid and strong that can give us strength in days when we feel weak’. So the quick introvert may find in the gracious calm of the work of the slow introvert the peace that his over-stimulated mind demands. Thus the quick introvert William Morris had an especial admiration for the work of the melancholic Van Eyck and Holbein, and Corot enjoyed and even imitated Vermeer of Delft. Manet said of Velasquez: ‘II ne m’a pas etonne, mais il m’a ravi’. Such secondary attractions, however, are often symptomatic of fatigue or stress, and are less characteristic and more variable than the attraction of like to like.