Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Lee Ti, Waiter and Artist

New York Herald, October 23, 1910
The Unsuspected Wits of Some Waiters

... Brawn, however, was not exactly what I was searching for. Was there no Waiter Artistic to be found among the greater deserts of the New York dining room?

Yes; he was discovered presently, an ivory, tint Oriental of the name of Lee Ti, consecrated for some few months to art—while his savings held—but recently the servitor of chop suey and other confections at the Mon Far Low, which is Loo Lin's and is in Chinatown.

Lee Ti is small and quick moving, and has shining Oriental eyes, bright as lizards. He will tell you (although you must be very diplomatic to tempt his confidence) that he has been here since he was a boy. He once was wealthy, but his material estate has fallen, though he bears his cross and his noodles more cheerfully than might most of us. 

He paints now (or in some spare moments of waiting) delicate, flat toned pictures. And when he speaks of them something beacons from his eyes. Then you know that he has a theory, and you learn that he has a mission,

“The weakness of the Western and the Eastern artist,” says he, with his specific but irreproducable [sic] dialect, “is that each refuses to consider the possibilities of beauty in the other’s art, and in so doing shuts his eyes to the possibility of a universal art—an art as broad as humanity—and therefore to a greater art than any which has gone before.

“Now, each of the arts has beauties of its own which the other fails to suggest. About the Western art is a vibrancy, a movement, a warmth perhaps lacking in that of China or Japan. But the Eastern art, on the other hand, has a broad simplicity, a delicacy, which even your greatest masters have not approached.

“In manual dexterity, too, the Eastern artist is far beyond his Western brother. The Westerner even affects to despise it, though when he christens it ‘technique’ he plods after it in a crude way of his own. But I prefer to call it ‘manual dexterity,’ and it is far more important to creative result than even the greatest of technicians conceive it to be.

“It represents the difference between subtlety and its opposite, between the responsive and the unmoving. Think of the magical touch of the Easterner, who, without pencil, does everything unerringly with one small brush. Then compare him and his mechanical results with the Western painter, aided by his dozens of brushes, all used for greater mechanical ease. 

His Art Chat.

The Waiter Artistic paused smilingly, after the bland ways of his race, and resumed:—

“I spoke about simplicity. In painting our race looks at nature more simply than does yours. We look in simple flats, you look in intricate ‘rounds.’ To merge, say, a sky with land you grade imperceptibly; we merge more effectively by arrangement. Up to the present your greatest artists have been those who have studied the art of looking simply at things, though even the greatest of them look far less simply than do the artists of our race.

“On the other hand, we can learn much in perspective from you, much intensity, much in warmth and much in characterization. I see these things—I who am Chinese and American too—and I am trying to incorporate the beauties of each art and unify it in
another. I shall have introduced a broader art, a greater art, a universal art, to the world.”

Lee Ti, too, drifted out, to be (who knows?) acclaimed in some hundreds of years as one of earth’s great originators, from the germ of whose idea the fruit of progress has come. ...

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