MARGARET BULLEY (2)

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I described Margaret Bulley’s aesthetic theories as “gushing”, full of ideas of “spirit” and “vital energy”. R. R. Tatlock, editor of The Burlington Magazine, who published several of her reports on artistic taste, said that –

“From one angle she is an aesthetician, from another a collector, from a third a teacher. It might be truest of all to call her a missionary, for it is in the pertinacious and fervent spirit of the spreader of a gospel that she works and writes. It is not easy to make out just of what her gospel consists, and I believe it would be impossible to account for it in so many words; but what is abundantly clear to those who so much as glance at her book is that art is for her a fact that inspires and compels the soul and puzzles and torments the brain: it is the nucleus round which Miss Bulley and similarly constituted electrons giddily spin; it is the indefinable Presence before whom they prostrate themselves and present offerings of books.” (1926)

Bulley’s books were occasionally mentioned in the philosophical journals, which remarked on the incoherence of her ideas. Philosophy, reviewing Art and Understanding, liked the illustrations in it but thought that “however pleasing the reproductions from ancient and modern masters, they cannot wholly atone for the conspicuous absence of any real knowledge of aesthetics exhibited by the first and theoretical half of the volume.” (1939) And a review of Art and Everyman in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (1954) regretted that “Unfortunately, the terms in which the author expresses her esthetic views are unduly opaque.” Although she wrote repeatedly on aesthetics, her ideas were really just an undigested mish-mash of outmoded ideas about taste.

Tatlock went on to describe her research methods in Art and Counterfeit, in which her industry, thoroughness and persistence made up for the weakness of her driving ideas:

“The best part of Miss Bulley’s days through many a year have been occupied in labouring to infect audiences of school-children and of adults with the love of art. But in various directions her zeal has over-flowed from that mission and has driven her to carry out long series of “tests ” with the object of settling what proportion of persons in a given category are able, without being prompted by others, to distinguish between a good and a bad work of art. Three papers, embodying Miss Bulley’s results of this kind, were published in these pages (October, 1919; October, 1923; and October, 1925), and these and others are included in the book. To help her in her teaching, Miss Bulley has made an enormous collection of photographs of every species of work of art. These she has arranged in pairs – one of each kind, good and bad, “of clean beasts and those that are not clean” – without the names of their creators being divulged; and many a reputation has been blasted through the functioning of that relentless instrument. But she has not only collected photographs; with equal zeal she has accumulated innumerable specimens of art criticism. These she has now arranged in groups and has most ingeniously attempted to illustrate by means of certain of her photographs. The result is a unique book – a Noah’s- ark of a book-whose subject may be described as comparative art and whose interest is at once literary and artistic.”

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