For someone who left school at 14 and missed much of his schooling by attending the Nottingham School of Art from the age of 12, Cyril Mann was an extremely good and expressive writer.
Here are some examples of his thoughts.
At a time when abstract art predominates in every gallery, serious figurative painters are the 'avant-garde' of our day. So many artists have jumped on the band-wagon of abstraction, that the exponent of realism has become the artistic lone wolf.
Many people believe realism has become banal and moribund. A glance at a photographic poster confirms that the camera is infinitely more accurate than the human eye. Painting every leaf on a tree or every hair on a head is pointless. This should not mean that art must be restricted to what cannot be photographed or recognised in future.
Camera or no camera, the best artists in history have never attempted to copy nature: they have taken nature as their point of departure. Rembrandt, for example saw nature as a play of light and shade. In Van Gogh's emotional mind, intensity of colour came to dominate. Cezanne gave solidity and structure to the feather-light stroke of the Impressionists. These artists all contributed something to realism that was previously neglected.
Is there still a place for the figurative artist, or has the camera – more precise than the human eye and steadier than a wielded brush – taken over? Will future art be restricted to decorative, accidental blobs of paint, where the painter's sole function is to know when to stop his smear?
Not so, in my opinion.
An artist's function is to bring out new aspects of realism and taking a step forward, rather than imitating nature. Putting it another way, nature should be the point of departure.
Take Rembrandt, for example, the master of chiaroscuro to the obliteration of all else. He was a master draughtsman – possibly the best the world ever knew – yet looking at some late self portraits, the drawing is imprecise, blurred and casual. Yet the overall picture is one of realism, much truer than the portraits by his contemporary, Van der Helst, who painted every single detail.
Art is not a religion and there are no true yardsticks. Some paintings have broken every law of good design, but still finished as a work of art. Perhaps the one necessity in art is honesty and because of this, few great artists were truly fashionable during their lifetime.