Nevertheless, however pleasing or attractive any branch of knowledge, or any intellectual pursuit may appear to be, yet, in order to induce either those who are the most intelligent and influential, or who constitute the great mass of mankind to devote themselves to the study of it, we ought first to convince them of the real advantages which they will derive from its cultivation. They must be persuaded that the fruits which their exertions may be expected to yield, will fully compensate for the time and labour and skill bestowed upon the subject. Probably, but a small portion only out of the mass of mankind can afford to apply themselves extensively to an occupation, or will be induced to exert themselves to promote its advancement, simply because it is calculated to be a source of pleasure, or even of mental improvement. Nor, considering the great value of time to most persons, and the many important and necessary avocations in which each are engaged,how much time and exertion are required to provide for our ordinary physical exigencies, and that by the generality no direct or immediate pecuniary advantages are derivable from the study of the arts,ought we to expect that they should be led to occupy themselves in any particular undertaking, unless some certain and solid return can be guaranteed; for, when a great variety of important and useful studies are at the same time presented for our pursuit, and the limited period of life allows of our attention to but few, and of more than a cursory examination of but very few indeed, those which are most worthy of our adoption will be of course entitled to the priority in our choice; and by their comparative utility, or the necessity of them to supply our actual wants, must this selection necessarily be determined. In the definition of utility I would not, however, as already observed, be supposed to confine myself to mere pecuniary profit, or actual sordid advantage of any kind, but to whatever either conduces to our advancement in really valuable and sound knowledge, or the enlargement and refinement of the mind.
If, however, we consider this subject in a mere commercial point, the lowest and perhaps the least favourable position which can be assumed with regard to an intellectual pursuit of this high nature, and one of the last in which we should be led to contemplate it, more especially with the view of estimating its advantages,it must be acknowledged on a comprehensive survey of the matter that the actual pecuniary profit or advantage which the arts of painting, sculpture, and architecture, and indeed the arts in general, are capable of rendering is very considerable. To those manually employed in many kinds of manufactures, the object of which is to furnish ornamental articles of any description, such as household furniture, dresses of different varieties, and architectural embellishments, a knowledge of the general principles of art, of its capabilities and adaptations, and, more than all, a certain degree of taste for it, are altogether indispensable. Furniture and dress, in-deed, owe their beauty, in fact all claim to intellectuality which they possess, entirely to art. Taste both renders the useful ornamental, and the ornamental refining. Many articles of use are made not only ornamental, but additionally convenient by the application to them of art. By this means, moreover, not only is deformity banished, but extravagance is corrected. One grand result of skill in each pursuit of life is to render the ornamental useful, and the useful ornamental. The useful acquires refinement by being made ornamental ; and the ornamental acquires dignity by being made useful.
In many of the common articles of daily use, in our plate and porcelain, and all the implements of the table, how entirely indebted are we to art for whatever renders them not only beautiful, but sightly ! Among the Greeks and Romans great taste was evinced in the construction of domestic articles of this description, as shown by those which have been transmitted to our time. Indeed, the excellence of our manufactures and artisanship in all these different departments, and our ability to compete in them with foreign nations, very essentially and in fact mainly depend on the degree to which a knowledge of the arts is extended among those who are employed in these productions. In this respect, indeed, the arts are of the highest national importance. Many of our manufactures are so far actually dependent upon them that when our artists, who are employed in them, are inferior to those of foreign nations, foreigners cannot be induced to purchase our wares; nor can the wealthy among our own people be hindered from resorting to foreign nations for all ornamental articles of manufacture. In fact, it is the degree of excellence of art in any nation which constitutes the real and true difference in value of its manufactures of this kind. The ability of any nation to produce articles of this nature must consequently be considered as constituting an important part of its resources ; not of less consequence, in-deed, than its natural productions, or its national wealth. According as it is deficient here, it is dependent on other nations for its luxuries, and indeed many of its necessaries. In pro-portion as it excels here, are other nations in like manner de-pendent on and tributaries to it. This possession of power and skill in the production of a particular art, is of the same relative advantage to a state as the knowledge of a profession is to an individual ; it constitutes not only an acquirement, but a positive property and endowment. There are certain towns and districts in this and many other countries which have been rendered as important from the acquisition of skill in a particular art or branch of manufacture, as they would have been from the existence among them of particular natural productions, which were only to be there obtained. Just so must it be with respect to any nation of the world, which excels others with which it has commercial intercourse, in the production of the objects of its traffic.
Most, if not all of our manufactures, indeed, owe everything that they possess of attractivenessall their popularity, in factto the embellishment which they receive from art. But, more than this, art not only embellishes but dignifies, and renders intellectual each branch of manual pursuit to which it is applied by its alliance with it.
As regards the attainment of this species of excellence in our articles of manufacture, there are required both knowledge and skill in the artisans who are employed, and knowledge and taste in those who design and those who execute the artistical patterns. The workmen who executed the sculptural ornaments of our most celebrated cathedrals were all well skilled in art, and were endowed with taste and knowledge as well as manual dexterity, and without this could not have completed these designs with such delicacy and excellence.
It is further necessary also for the encouragement and advancement of the arts that the public, who are to be the final judges and patrons of the skill so employed, should in a corresponding manner be endowed with discrimination and taste to capacitate them to discern correctly between the meritorious and meretricious productions which are presented to them, so that those performances which are really superior shall meet with approbation and patronage ; and those which are of an inferior and mere tawdry description shall not be encouraged. The improvement of the taste of the workmen who are to be manually employed in the execution of works of art for the embellishment of manufactured articles, of that of our manufacturers who are to superintend their construction, and of that of the public who are to approve and patronize these performances, will alike be attained by a more general extension of the cultivation of the arts among all ranks and classes. Nor, as regards this important matter, are the sister arts of poetry and music to be altogether disregarded ; as, although they may seem to pro-duce no direct effect, nor to be in anywise applicable as regards the embellishment of manufactures, yet the general re-finement which they occasion in the minds of those who cultivate them of the highest practical importance in this respect. If the mind itself is refined, the refinement will be general. The taste cannot be improved and elevated as regards ideas derived from music and poetry, and remain dull and coarse as regards those excited by works of painting and sculpture, if even the commonest attention has been paid to the study of the latter, and but a mere general knowledge of their rudiments and principles is obtained. Unless those who are employed in the production of manufactures are endowed with correct principles of taste, we cannot expect them to produce performances which will satisfy those who are so gifted. Ostentation and gaudiness will then be substituted for beauty and elegance, and extravagance and absurdity usurp the place of sublimity and grandeur.
Most important, therefore, is it that the real connection between art and manufactures, and the mutual assistance which they render to each other, should be perceived and properly understood. By many the two are looked upon as distinct and independent, and even opposing pursuits; and the extensive aid which they may contribute the one to the other is altogether disregarded. And while the manufacturer is ignorant of the advantages and the benefit which he might derive from art, the artist, in his turn, is also ignorant of the opportunities afforded by manufacture for the employment of art.
The study of nature in general, of the human forms, of animals, of foliage and flowers, of colour, of architectural design, and of the most exquisite ancient models (especially those in which utility is united with elegance), is of the highest use to perfect manufacturing workmen in their art. Nor, while calling attention to objects in general in nature, ought we to overlook the real beauty and majesty of the human form divine–created after God’s own image, and by far the most perfect of animal figures, uniting in itself all the combined examples of elegance, proportion, beauty, and grandeur, which are only to be found in a variety of other figures. The study of nature, generally, is, moreover, alluring and advantageous to each, not only for the purpose of acquiring a correct knowledge of art, but as a source both of mental and moral improvement and instruction, and which forms a most important and valuable branch of education to every intelligent being. By always having perfect specimens before their eyes, or to which they could refer, such as exquisite models from the antique, the taste of our workmen would become improved and cultivated ; they would learn to contemplate with delight objects of beauty and excellence, and habitually to discern between these and inferior productions. Such studies are, indeed, more absolutely necessary for us than they were for the ancients, as we have not the opportunities of observing the naked form which they possessed.
It is of the greatest consequence that the application of the arts to the common purposes and conveniences of life should be properly understood, so that they may be rendered of practical use to the manufacturer and the artisan. The pursuit of them is too apt to be regarded merely as a luxury, or an amusement, unattended with any actual utility, instead of a really valuable and practical branch of knowledge. They are not as yet sufficiently blended with other occupations. Indeed, one of the most important principles to be established with respect to this subject, and which it is one main object of this work to inculcate, is the connection between the arts and the practical pursuits of life, and the general and constant application of them for the purposes of the latter. As among the manufacturing classes that kind of instruction is required which may show them the connection between the arts and the manufactures in which they are engaged, and teach them to apply the former to the purposes of the latter ; so among the higher and more wealthy and educated classes should that knowledge be diffused which will evince to them the connection between the arts and the most intellectual branches of learning.
A complaint has, nevertheless, been made by a very eminent and eloquent writer upon art,* because art is applied to the decoration of purely scientific or commercial edifices. But while, on the one hand, I see no reason why these should necessarily be unsightly, as in nature the most useful plants and animals are often endowed with a high degree of beauty; on the other hand, as I have already said, art and science should always be united, and art is ever most serviceable to correct the rudeness and want of taste which an exclusive pursuit of science is too apt to produce. And, as was the case among the Greeks, it is most important to associate art and its refinements with the occupations and usages of everyday life. By habitually contemplating the beautiful in nature, we correspondingly improve our taste for art. By habitually contemplating the beautiful in art, we gradually acquire a distaste for all that is ugly and deformed. As in nature, so in art, no object is too mean or common to be inadapted for beauty. Even the mighty genius of Flaxman was induced to descend from its divine contemplations and inventions, and to apply itself to the improvement of the taste of our manufactures in porcelain. If God does not disdain to confer beauty on the humblest of his creatures, why should man deem it below his dignity to design with grace what he constructs for his own use ?
It is, indeed, in the works of nature, which are all master-pieces in their way, that the most perfect examples of the union of wisdom, of mechanical skill, and of artistical beauty, are to be found ; and in which their adaptation to their end, and the gracefulness of their appearance are equally obvious.