Martin Archer Shee [1809]

The realms of Taste are, indeed, peculiarly exposed to the inroads of vanity and presumption. In those airy regions the most callow understanding conceives itself equipped for flight. The dominions of the Muses are held to be a sort of free territory, where all plead nature’s claim to commonage, and let loose their pretensions without fear of restriction or reproof. ¶ An acquaintance with pictures is commonly mistaken for a knowledge of art; hence, many persons of learning and ingenuity labouring under this delusion, imagine that they must be critics, because they are collectors, and suppose themselves qualified to discuss the principles of painting without understanding even its rudiments. But every day’s experience proves, that it is very possible, to have visited all the great cabinets of Europe, to have lived familiarly with the ablest artists, and to have collected gems, vases, and antiques, in all their virtuoso varieties, without having made any considerable proficiency in true Taste. Even the proudest attainment of critical ambition, that acmè of accomplished connoisseurship–a knowledge of hands, may be acquired beyond the poring sagacity of a Picture-dealer, without producing a sound judgment in Art, or a sufficient knowledge of nature: as we may be able to distinguish accurately the hand-writing of different persons, and yet prove very incompetent judges of the sense which is intended to be conveyed. — Elements of Art, p. 20-21

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