To see Spanish art steadily and to see it as a whole is admittedly difficult; success is achieved, as a rule, only by those who have mastered, at least in outline, the rest of European art history. For the art that has been proclaimed by a given generation as the last word, and discarded by the next as obsolescent, has often been tardily granted an asylum and a renewal of life in Spain. Spain appears to-day as the Tower of Babel within which resound the many languages of art, the echoes of culture after culture, alive, moribund and dead; tongues as dissimilar as the Arab, the Gothic, the Italian and the Flemish, co-mingle and contend within the four corners of the square Peninsula. Only the ear well accustomed to the local vernaculars of the rest of Europe can readily distinguish between them and the dialects native to Spain.
It is true that many have accomplished this feat, which, however, is or should be, but a means to an end. No ambitious art student can be content with a mere analysis of that kind. The first step, then, towards acquiring the materials for a synthetic study of the art of Spain, must be taken outside her borders. The next step consists in realizing that the multitude of towns and villages encompassed by Oviedo and Granada, Salamanca and Barcelona are, in terms of art history, an enormous melting pot. The final step must be to envisage Spanish art not only as a mere commentary on European culture, but as a special product of the race.
This has never yet been done, or if it has been done, no one has so far dared to translate such an experience into the written word. We must believe that the wooing of Spain will one day be consummated, but the bell ringers may still count on a term of slumber before they will be called to duty. In the meantime those of us who aspire to a complete understanding of what we instinctively feel to be a great and inspiring school, must, if we are quite frank, confess to some degree of bewilderment, a bewilderment intensified by the abundant evidence of how sharply the aloof Spanish temperament is marked off from those of her neighbours. It is as if, by some obscure law in psychology, the very individuality of her national character were compensated for by a confirmed habit of steeping herself in turn in every form of culture happening to come her way, with the result that, to the mind of the foreigner, Spanish art appears to be at one moment idiosyncratic and at another elemental.
A veteran among observant students of Spain and Spanish art assures me that to those who have the eyes to see, and the ears to hear, as well as a sufficiency of patience, there inevitably comes a day when Spain is really seen as an entity and when the whole complex of styles and schools represented, often in strangely modified but still recognizable forms, within her shores, fuse together in the mind as a delightful and unique experience. Accepting this, the great thing should be to go on and on until the transformation occurs; then and only then you may know Spanish art as George Borrow knew Spain.
It is our hope that the present book about Spanish art will help to accelerate some such process. The object of the book is, then, to encourage a closer and more intimate study of Spanish art, both on the part of those who know the country at first hand, and on that of students who have not yet done so. The plan on which it is built is a simple, but, we hope, an efficient one. It was suggested by our first and less ambitious experiment in book production, "Chinese Art," which is uniform with this volume.