Art – Its Gradual Rise To Maturity

The arts of each kind having their origin in certain faculties of the mind, it almost necessarily follows that, according to and in proportion as these particular faculties are cultivated and develope themselves, these arts also will rise and become developed. As in the case of a plant springing out of the ground, certain circumstances may contribute to aid, and certain others may contribute to retard their growth, without how-ever in any way at all altering or even affecting the essential nature of the arts themselves.

But although each of these arts advances and improves by cultivation, yet the celerity with which they respectively do so, and the degree of perfection to which they ultimately attain, must depend on various and very different causes, already alluded to, which are well deserving of attention. In early times, as already observed, art was extensively indebted to commerce for its promotion, and for the interchange of communication between different nations which this occasioned. Pilgrimages to, and constant intercourse with Rome did much to encourage and to further the progress of art in this country, especially painting, sculpture, architecture, and music. Many events, not at all directly connected with art, affect its rise in a very important manner; as the prevalence of peace or war in a nation, at any particular period. Thus, in our own country, the fifteenth century has been observed to be peculiarly barren as regards the condition of polite literature, owing to the constant civil dissensions and internal warfare which prevailed between the houses of York and Lancaster. War has proved inimical to the progress of art in two ways.

1. By preventing free intercourse with foreign nations, and also the introduction of foreign artists and works of art into a kingdom. 2. By calling off the attention from the arts of peace to the pursuit of military science, which is more exciting than the former.

But besides these causes to which I have already referred, art has been found to be also to a great degree dependent, as regards its rise and progress, on the peculiar state of mind existent in a nation, and affecting society at particular periods; and also on the cultivation of other pursuits which are then followed. Thus, during a large portion of the middle ages, especially in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the prevalence of scholastic philosophy, and the eagerness with which it was followed, caused works of art, and poetry and fiction, to be but lightly regarded by the learned. Imaginative efforts at that period sprang from the popular taste. Perhaps this occasioned productions of this kind to be more natural, less artificial and studied, than if they had proceeded from those of more cultivated minds, although they would probably be less elevated in their style; more striking, but less refined; more free, but less correct. Thus, however, to some extent, has it ever been at all periods of the world, that science and art have opposed and thwarted, instead of aiding and furthering each other. As science causes us to dislike ,all that is not strictly practical, so reason leads us to disregard whatever is not actually real.

The progress of art, as regards its advancement and development, when it has once taken root, corresponds with that of a plant. It is continually making fresh shoots, and imperceptibly expands in each direction.

The development of art is, moreover, as gradual and as regular as is the growth of an embryo in the shell. By slow degrees the being acquires distinctness and shape, after which the characteristic qualities of that particular structure are manifested, more especially as regards its relative robustness or delicacy; and in course of time the various vessels which aid the frame become visible, and the whole form acquires vitality and vigour.

But although art of each kind thus advances in its progress, this growth is very limited in its bounds ; each style, like each species in a plant, forming the sphere beyond which the particular species is unable to advance. Thus at each stage, the efforts of taste and imagination appear to be final, because we have no idea of progressing beyond that particular mode. Science, on the other hand, is ever in a state of advancement, and each step and discovery in it appear to lead on to an-other. Hence, while it seems to be of the nature of art at every stage to remain stationary, science is constantly moving onward. When art makes any great shoot, it does so by changing suddenly from one method of working to another; and then, occupied with carrying out the principles of that particular system, it seems to rest satisfied here, and to be persuaded that it has reached its highest state of perfection, and that there is no possibility of further progress. Science, al-though by slow degrees, and with measured steps, is ever marching on, and its sole aim and desire seem to be to advance. The efforts of taste and imagination are at each movement final. Those of reason are always inductive, one step leading on to another.

As regards the mechanical development of each art, its progress in this respect is ordinarily very slow. In works in painting, for instance, we see effected first of all the rude outline merely, which by degrees becomes more correct as it is improved by practice. The next effort consists in the introduction of patches of black and white, in order to fill up the figure; after which it is contrived to unite the two colours together so as to attain some resemblance to shading. Subsequently to this, other colours are tried, and in time the blending of each of them ; and as experience improves the practice in the art, a greater similarity to nature is effected in the representation.

From specimens extant we may trace the gradual rise of each of the arts from their infancy to their highest ultimate condition. Painting in its earliest efforts is hardly even imitative. It does not reach so high as this. Its achievements are little more than symbolical; and until a moderate degree of dexterity has been attained in the art, they bear no real resemblance to objects in nature. In its second stage it is imitative, when it first really deserves the name of art. In the third it is ideal, when alone it may rank as an intellectual pursuit. In its first stage it appeals only to the memory, in the second to reason, in the third to taste and imagination.

In course of time, as art became better understood and its capacities were developed, those who followed it would not be content with effecting a mere unadorned unimpassioned representation, but would endeavour to infuse that variety and life and beauty and grandeur into their design, which would render it capable of producing emotions and feelings in the minds of those who viewed it, corresponding with the nature of the subject represented. Efforts in painting acquired vitality as the art itself obtained life and vigour. Various styles are also then originated.

A corresponding course as regards its progress may also be observed with regard to sculpture. Thus also has it been in the art of poetry, the powers and capacities of which become more fully developed, as I have observed with respect to the other arts, as its cultivation advances ; although, on the other hand, it will become more imitative and less ideal as it progresses in its career. Music is then employed to excite ideas of different kinds, and of the greatest variety; and distinct orders of architecture are invented, and are applied for their respective peculiar purposes.

Music being an art, the condition and advancement of which depend in part on the public taste and the state of cultivation of the mind of the nation, and in part on the scientific skill attained in the construction of the instruments for producing harmony ; more fortunate than painting and sculpture, has effected decided and extensive progress as the world has grown older, and consequently the moderns here, on the whole, much excel the ancients. This is an art, indeed, capable of infinite progression, and depending only as to its limit on the genius and skill and taste of its composers. As even on earth the works of God are above all comparison superior to those of man, so in Heaven may we expect the music of the celestial choirs will be beyond all conception more perfect than that of any terrestrial performers. And this may constitute one of the exquisite charms of that ecstatic condition.

The originating cause and invention of dramatic acting have already been traced. Various circumstances have contributed among different nations to influence its progress. In some cases the natural genius of the people, in others the example of foreign nations aided here.

Costume in its rise and progress is influenced correspondingly with all the other arts; and as we have seen, in the case of architecture, originates in a practical science or branch of skill which we term dress. In time the tree puts forth leaves, and ultimately flowers, as during its growth it advances to perfection.

As regards gardening, the cultivation of this art was an early object of attention among very different nations of the world. Homer refers to the garden of Alcinous, which appears to have been fenced round, and to have been adorned with trees of different kinds, planted in regular order.* The hanging gardens of Babylon are described by Diodorus and Strabo, rising with terraces and supported by pillars, and the trees of various kinds being ranged in rows.

We learn from Xenôphon that Cyrus considered gardens as an indispensable appendage to his palaces. ” Wherever he resides, or whatever place he visits in his dominions, he takes care that the paradises shall be filled with all that is beautiful and useful which the soil can produce. “t The gardens in question are supposed to have been planted with trees regularly arranged in straight lines, and in angular figures, and to have been interspersed with sweet-smelling flowers. We have no detailed description, however, of the Grecian style of gardening, further than that these spots were adorned with trees and walks, and flowers and fountains.

The earliest reference to a Roman garden in Roman history is that of Tarquinius Superbus, mentioned by Livy and Dionysius Halicarnassensis ; but of this we have no particulars, except that it was planted with flowers, and was adjacent to the palace. The magnificent gardens of Lucullus at Baiæ may also be referred to here.

It appears from Pliny and other Roman writers, that among the Romans small gardens existed in which trees were arranged in straight lines and regular figures, the margins of the walks being planted with tufts of roses, violets, and other odoriferous flowering plants, while the trees consisted of those kinds which are most grateful for their fragrance, such as the cypress and the pine ; or agreeable for their shade, as the plane and the common elm.

The arts of each kind are so much alike among different nations during their earlier stages, that it is often difficult to sup-pose that the people who cultivated them had not intercourse one with another, as we know to have been the case as regards the followers of Egyptian and early Grecian painting and sculpture.

The nine arts already enumerated, certain of which are but the ornamental appendages to the practical pursuits of man-kind, in their origin were some of them as already observed united, as they all are in nature. As their career advanced they gradually separated, in clusters of two or three; and as the journey yet further progressed they might be at length perceived wandering alone, although occasionally they were brought together again and conjoined, as in the case of poetry and the drama, when they each stimulated and aided one another. At first, during their infancy, these arts appeared unable to walk alone. In time they ventured two or three together. As they arrived at maturity, they sauntered forth singly, and were singly able to support and to provide for themselves.

The arts of painting, sculpture, and architecture are in general considered to be of slower growth than those of poetry and music, because in the former so much mechanical skill is required to be attained before they can reach a high condition. Thus not only taste and refinement among their votaries is requisite, but scientific ingenuity among others also, by which tools are furnished, and materials are supplied for the construction of these works.

It is also to be observed that taste in works of art depends to a great extent on knowledge and experience, as unless we are acquainted with other and superior works, or have a full perception of the capacities of the art, we may admire and be satisfied with very inferior productions. A landscape or piece of sculpture very rudely executed which would disgust a connoisseur, might delight a peasant or wild Indian. The barbarous performances in painting, sculpture, and poetry, which were produced during an early age of these arts, probably caused as much admiration and delight in those who viewed them, and who had never seen any works of art superior to them, as those of a high degree of perfection do, in an advanced age, to persons of cultivated taste and experience, who appreciate and applaud them.

But although it may be thought by some that poetry, eloquence, and music may be of more rapid growth in a nation than painting, sculpture, and architecture, because they are independent of mechanical skill to aid their advancement ; yet it should be borne in mind that the two first of these arts, although they owe nothing to mere manual dexterity, are altogether dependent for their progress on the real state of feeling and cultivation of the people, and on the refinement of the language of the nation, which it is far more difficult to improve than it is to forward its mere excellence in workmanship. These arts as it were float with the stream, while the others move on the earth. And although it may appear far easier to propel the vessel through the water than to accelerate its progress on shore ; yet it must be considered that it can only go with the current as it floats tardily along it, while the movement of that on land is wholly independent of the element over which it is drawn. A foreign painter, or sculptor, or architect, may effect an immense advance in these arts in a particular nation, because they are to a certain extent independent of the general condition of the kingdom. But a foreign poet or orator can do but little here, as he cannot quicken the course of the great cur-rent of national refinement and civilization, along which his bark must float, and by the speed of which his own must be regulated.