FOR two generations we have watched the crescent enthusiasm for art, and the feverish widening of art interest and art activity that are the continuance in a new community of a movement engendered in the Old World, now nearly a century ago. The significance of the movement is profound, its possibilities for good almost unlimited, but its dangers are no less, and it is of these dangers I desire to speak at this time.
I propose to say something as to the relation of the artist to society, to the world of men and women that is at the same time his environ-ment, his inspiration, and his opportunity. Of the artist, whatever one of the seven great arts he follows, for artistic differentiation is accidental, the artistic impulse is one.
We hear very much of the relation of the artist to his own particular art, to art itself, to history and tradition: I myself have had the honour of speaking in this place on the position art should hold in its relation to education ; in season and out of season I have urged the intimate bond that unites art and religion in a common service. With your permission we will broaden the scope of our persistent inquiry, and ask as to the function of the artist as an integral member of that human society which is so much greater and more momentous than he or any other individual; that common life of humanity of which the artist is the product and that he is bound to serve with all the great and singular powers that mark his personality.
It is not inappropriate that such an inquiry should be made in this place and at this time. The Yale School of Fine Arts is not a centre of empirical theorizing, an archæological gymnasium, a laboratory of scientific research; it is a school of artists ; it aims to reveal something of the eternal significance of art, to arouse those æsthetic faculties that have lain dormant in our race so many generations, in order that they may become creative agencies, manifesting themselves in time and space for the service of man, and therefore for the glory of God. Such a school I conceive to be the only type that is justifiable, since schools we must have for the regaining of our lost heritage, but it is precisely here that perils intrude themselves most insidiously, wherefore they must always be held clearly in mind ; for not even religion itself is more endangered by the “false doctrine, heresy, and schism” from which we rightly pray to be delivered.
Do not misunderstand me, I beg of you. I do not dream of postulating of art schools in general, still less of this Yale school in particular, a primacy in error or a peculiarity of sole possession. The dangers lie, not in the schools as such, but in society itself; in the very bone and sinew of man as he is to-day. They are part and parcel of our own contemporary civilization, and they show themselves in Church and in state, in business and professional and social life, more generally, perhaps, than in the life of art; but it is in the latter category that they may be most fatal in their operation. It matters comparatively little if for the moment the Church or some sect abandons itself to evil artistic tendencies; if a combination of illiterate legislators and a temporarily omnipotent politician are victorious in their schemes for defeating the ends of culture and civilization; if the preponderating weight of public opinion degrades the drama, prostitutes music and poetry to the most ignoble ends, and makes of the great art of religious ceremonial a barren desert or a riot of degenerate taste. All these pass; they are the froth of a churning maelstrom of new activity; but if the artist is him-self false to the ideal of his art, if he yields to the insidious influences that surround him, then not only is he faithless to the trust imposed in him through the gift of artistic expression, but he engenders a poison that courses subtly and far through the veins of the society he came into the world to serve.
During the last century it is hard to suppose that a true philosophical conception of art should have achieved popular acceptance, and as a matter of fact it did not, the proudest products being similar in their nature to that definition of beauty evolved by Grant Allen : “The aesthetically beautiful is that which affords the maximum of stimulation with the minimum of fatigue or waste, in processes not directly connected with vital functions”; surely the most grotesque example of serene incapacity anywhere recorded in that congeries of incapacities, the literature of aesthetics. It is, however, of great value as putting in concrete form the spiritual inefficiency of the dominant influence in the nineteenth century, and it is just because a new tendency now is visible that we may take heart of hope and believe that a saner and more penetrating view is possible.
As a matter of fact, a profound revolution is now in process, a revolution that is inter-penetrating every category of intellectual and spiritual activity, and by the glare of the red conflagrations that are crumbling the tall towers of our intellectual pride, we see revealed the cloud-capped mountains of spiritual endeavour, piercing that very heaven of mystery we with infinite labour had striven to scale with our Babel-towers of misguided ingenuity.
Very slowly it is dawning on us that for several centuries we have been confusing our categories and, by methods and agencies adequate to the estimating of phenomena, have been trying to weigh and determine the Absolute Truth that lies behind and above. Failing miserably, we have come to doubt, not the efficiency of our methods, but the very existence of anything they could not demonstrate. This, I think, is the essence of the great revolution now going on about us, and even more within ourselves : the discovery that those brilliant products of our epoch, natural science and natural philosophy, have their limitations; that beyond the uttermost radius of their possible activity lies the vast and mysterious domain of the real, the Absolute; as vital to man and as unconquered as ever it was in the past; as un-conquered, but neither forbidden nor beyond achievement, since by the grace of God even that Absolute, that final mystery of ultimate truth, reveals itself symbolically to those who open their hearts in reverence and with humble spirit, even though it is denied to that insolence of assumed wisdom that presumes to set metes and bounds to the infinite majesty of God.
And it is this high function of superhuman revelation t0 which I refer when I speak of all art as the natural, and, indeed, the only adequate, expression in time and space of spiritual things. This it has been in all the great past; this it must be in the great future. Adopting this final view of the essential function of art, we shall see, I think, how great the danger that follows from the acceptance of any less lofty view, how incalculable the loss to society, and how much a matter of moment is the question of the relation of the artist to the world of men and women in which he lives, how limitless the field that opens before him, how far-flung and wide-reaching the lines of his service.
Master of the great language, articulate amongst the tongueless, it is for him to express all the spiritual essays, ventures, and discoveries; all the dreams, aspirations, and visions of the mounting wave of humanity that bears him on its crest toward the stars. Seer, spokes-man, and prophet, he divines in scientific triumphs the inner significance that gives them value and that the scientist himself sometimes sees not at all; material, industrial, economical development are to him but husks hiding a precious kernel; democracy, socialism, anarchy , but the ugly outward form of the enchanted prince in the fairy tale. Through crabbed shards he penetrates to the hidden jewel, snatches it forth, and uplifts it in the sight of wondering men. This he does in his function as seer: as mouthpiece he proclaims the hidden mysteries of the soul, the quests and pilgrimages and adventures of the knights-errant of the spirit; not his own alone, less his than those of all his fellows, to whom, by some mystical affinity, his consciousness is delicately attuned, answering the faint and distant call, voicing it in the universal language he alone commands, though every God-given soul wholly and instantly comprehends. And as prophet he distances the runners in the race of life, mounting the crags and cliffs of the cloud-capped hills until he sees the far horizons of the promised, the inevitable, but as yet the unachieved.
Sophocles and Phidias, Virgil, Anthemius of Tralles, the unknown builders of mediæval abbeys and cathedrals, the forgotten creators of the Nibelungenlied and the Arthurian legends ; St. Gregory and his masters of music; St. Benedict Biscop and St. Dunstan with their crafts-men : Cimabue and Giotto and Leonardo ; Dante and Shakespeare; Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, Browning what are they and their fellows and peers but divinely constituted seers, clamant trumpets, prophets whose lips have been touched with the live coal of the altar of God ; speaking now in the Pentecostal tongues of art, the which every man hears as his own language ; hears and understands?
To every artist it is given so to voice some-thing of that which is best and highest in man. To the sculptor no less than the poet, to the architect no less than the painter, to the dramatist and the maker of liturgies and ceremonial no less than the master of music. Each art has its own peculiar methods, the ordained instruments of its operation; but each is but a dialect of a normal language that reveals, in symbolical form and through the unsolvable mystery of beauty, all that men may achieve of the mystical knowledge of that Absolute Truth and Absolute Beauty that transcend material experience and intellectual expression, since they are of the essential being of God.
The artist is bound and controlled by the laws of his art, but doubly is he bound by his duty to society. If he is prohibited as he is under penalty of æsthetic damnation from denying beauty or contenting himself with expedients, or sacrificing any jot or tittle of the integrity of his art to fashion, or vulgarity, or the lust of evil things, still more is he bound to mankind by the law of noblesse oblige, and by the fear of God, to use his art only for the highest ends, to proclaim only the vision of perfection, to cleave only to the revelation of heavenly things. The architect who abandons himself to the creation of ugliness, however academic may be its cachet ; the painter who “paints what he sees” or makes his art the ministry of lust; the sculptor who regards the form and sees nothing of the substance; the poet who glorifies the hideous shape of atheism, or the grossness of the accidents of life; the musician who exalts the morbid and the horrible; the maker of ceremonials who assembles depraved arts in a vain simulacrum of ancient and noble liturgies, these are but traitors to man and God, and however competent their craft, they are enemies of the people, and to them should be meted the condemnation of their kind.
For many generations there has been too much of this, and the plea offered in extenuation, “The public demands it,” is not a justification, but an intensification of criminality. It is vicious enough in journalism and politics, since it is the death-warrant of society, but it is ten times more evil in art, for the life-blood of art is the giving of something a little better than men consciously desire; the expression of the subconscious, which so often is the real man working deeply in the mysterious fastnesses of the soul. If the artist sells himself for bread, if he is driven by the harsh compulsion of poverty to sacrifice his art to Hydra, there should be pity for him on earth as there surely is mercy for him in heaven, but I know of no other justification for his sin. Even in the golden days when men could rename a road, calling it the Street of Rejoicing, because in a singing pro-cession all the people of the quarter had carried through it to its altar in the parish church a new picture by a new painter, the art they acclaimed was good to them, not because it was the old and familiar art they knew, given them by the mechanical purveyors of Byzantine tradition, but because it was a newer and better thing, the picture in their hearts, not the picture in their minds. How much more, then, now that the popular instinct for beauty has become a craving for the hideous and the uncouth, how much more is it necessary that every artist, whatever the mode of his work, should lay down his life, if need be, in a last defence of the “something better,” knowing his day, his year, his life to have been misspent if at the end of either one he could not say, “I have given better than was asked or expected of me.”
Yet even in this, in the impulse that drives ever onward, that marks the artist as does his sense of beauty and his creative power, there is danger of the sharpest kind; the peril that lurks on the serpent tongue of the time-spirit, luring men into vain imaginings of “new art.” It is a subtle and specious temptation; it comes with all the support of popular enthusiasms for breadth and liberality, personal emancipation and intellectual independence, human-ism, and a certain temporal and racial self-consciousness. It is of the same ilk as that economic nervousness that devises pseudo-scientific panaceas for social and industrial ills; as that religious hysteria that fills the Saturday editions of the evening papers with astonishing advertisements of unearthly cults and wild philosophies: it asserts the need of new modes of expression for new manifestations of life, casting doubt and disfavour on old philosophies, old religions, old arts. Plato and Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas were well enough for their own time, and doubtless quite wonderful. The Catholic Faith, yes, Christianity itself, whatever its form, served excellently in an undeveloped stage of society and mental accomplishment. Gothic architecture was a good expression of its peculiar time. But we, now that the shackles of superstition have been shattered, now that the intellect is really emancipated and we have produced a civilization in comparison with which Hellas and the Roman Republic and the Christian Middle Ages were but as tentative beginnings, full of false steps and vagarious wanderings, we must create our own philosophy, our own religion, our own art.
And we try: whether Monism and Pragmatism, New Thought, Christian Science, and the “Church of the Higher Life,” Matisse, Richard Strauss, and D’Annunzio achieve a degree of vital and enduring expression of essential things that gives them place above the philosophy, the religion, and the art of the past, is, I submit, a question susceptible of discussion. For my own part I am persuaded that they do nothing of the kind, but rather that what they produce is in no respect either new philosophy, new religion, or new art, but simply the troubled ferment of an epoch that, having lost its sense of proportion, fails to grasp either its own deficiencies or the notable advantages that are attributable to the times and the men and the works it now regards with a patronizing toleration.
And in holding this I do not lose sight of certain elements of value that exist in each one of the revolutionary and sometimes anarchical protests against a frozen tradition, the value of precisely this protest. As a matter of fact, we are bound hand and foot to a traditionalism that is Byzantine in its rigidity and mounts often to the level of an historic superstition. The nineteenth century, instead of being an era of emancipation, was the very age wherein were forged the most efficient shackles on true freedom of thought and action. Then were fixed in final form all the narrowing tendencies of modern life : the stolid formule that are making of parliamentary government a synonym for corruption and inefficiency; the pretensions of physical science that have turned religion out of house and home; the carnival of industrial activity that has threatened to revolutionize education into a wilderness of “institutes of commerce” and “vocational schools”; that has brought in a new and awful form of serfage and slavery and has almost overturned the ethical standards of society; the fanatical exaggeration of the value inherent in “free speech and a free press” that has built up an irresponsible and unprincipled engine that is fast becoming a menace to civilization; the literary standard of the “best seller,” the dramatic standard of the “successful run,” the academic and mechanical theories of art that metamorphose the gift of God into a series of hidebound formule that are taught as one teaches sanitary engineering or stenography.
In so far as the suffragettes and Mrs. Eddy and Matisse and Debussy and the prophets of “art nouveau” are a protest and a rebellion against the mordant superstitions of the nineteenth century, we may wish them well in their revolt, but when they assume to rebuild as well as to destroy, then we must arise to do them battle. The Renaissance broke a splendid path through a fast-thickening jungle, but once in the saddle, Machiavelli followed, and Alexander VI ; the Reformation was a mighty destroyer of evil, but its substitutions were calamitous; the Revolution swept Europe clear of a pestilence that bred death and hell, but, conquering, it engendered a poison that still runs in the veins of society. The power that destroys can never under any circumstances rebuild; the conquer-ors in battle may never organize the victory, a lesson the world seems never to learn even in its gray hairs. And so, for the artist, the very plausibility of the new revolutionists, the manifest righteousness of their crusade, wins a confidence in their constructive propaganda that is justified only in their campaign of destruction. It is true the Old Salon is simply an ever-renewed museum of mechanical toys that re-fuse to go, and when Matisse in decent scorn and disgust paints his protest in a kind of pictorial anarchy, when Cézanne thrusts gratuitous ugliness in the face and eyes of smug imbecility, we cheer them on, and are bound to come to their aid; but we are no more bound thereafter to their following than we should have been to that of Marat and Robespierre because we had taken part in the affair of the Tennis Court.
It would be folly to deny that our own era has innumerable elements of conspicuous novelty, many of them admirable and deeply to be desired, others no less loudly acclaimed, but essentially worthy only of condemnation. That the novel things are so radical in their nature, so Minerva-like in their spontaneous generation, that before them antiquity stands wondering and impotent, I venture to deny. Neither the hand, nor the mind, nor the soul of man has created or revealed during the last four centuries any single truth or aspect of truth that transcends the powers of expression of the philosophy, the religion, or the art of the past. New modes of expression, yes, quite possibly; indeed, surely; but variety of expression does not involve a revolution in the fundamental law. The philosophy of St. Thomas did no violence to that of Aristotle; the religion of St. Bernard, or St. Francis, or St. Bonaventure was one with the religion of the Apostles; the art of the Middle Ages was based on the fundamental law of the art of Hellas; and yet how infinitely varied, how bright with the clear light of new dawns, how infused and palpitant with new blood, new visions, new revelations. The eternal laws that control the operations of the universe were effective before the nineteenth century, and they were perceived and acted upon before the invention of printing and the popularizing of experimental science and the emancipation of the intellect. New foundations there are none, new superstructures there must always be, end-less in variety, better intrinsically, perhaps, than those we have known before, but if they are to be this, if they are to rank even in the same category with the wonders of the past, they must be wrought in obedience to the same laws that have held from the beginning of time.
Therefore, the artist who, fired by the outward diversity and the crescent vitality of the life that environs him and of which he is a part, steps beyond the bounds of possible variation in method and violates the eternal law of his art, ceases at that instant to be an artist and becomes a charlatan, and as such an enemy of the people.
All the art of every time is founded on some specific art of the past; without this there is no foundation save that of shifting sands. If it remains in bondage to this older art, if, like the Munich painting, the English architecture, the American sculpture of half a century ago, it wanders in the twilight of precedent or, in fear and trembling, chains itself to the rock of archæology, then again it ceases to be art ceases? no; it has never even begun: it is only a dreary mocking of a shattered idol, a futile picture-puzzle to beguile a tedious day.
Between these perils on either hand, the temptation toward anarchical novelty, and the temptation toward archæological sterility, the artist falls often to the ground; to steer a safe course between Scylla and Charybdis, is hard, indeed, the more so in that the old landmarks, the old buoys and beacons have disappeared. If we only possessed at least the conviction that art is never wholly an end in itself, the problem would be simpler, but this knowledge we do not have. We are taught, indeed, the nobility of art, the varied and Wonderful and hardly acquired methods of its accomplishment; but when our schools (which’ in several of the categories of art are vastly superior to any that have existed before) have accomplished their due task, life itself, either in its material or its spiritual aspect, does not step in to show the artist how to use his art toward the highest ends. In France, for example, architecture is taught more brilliantly and efficiently than anywhere else in the world; yet when a young man graduates from the École des Beaux Arts and seeks to put into practice the art he has acquired, what does he find for an environment, what are the powers and influences of society that are brought to bear on him for the development of his personality? Anarchy thinly veiled by socialistic nomenclature; religion a scorn and a laughing-stock; materialism supreme in nearly every department of life; education that is mechanical, and supposedly scientific, but with no faintest cognizance of the spiritual side of human nature ; immorality rampant, and unchecked in its appalling in-crease. Is it any wonder that no French architect bred in the Ecole since it was organized has brought into being any work whatever that belongs in the same class with that of the unlearned master-masons of the time four centuries ago when France was still a Christian nation ?
Something of the same danger confronts us here in our own country, though nowhere in the world are the powers of evil marshalled so massively against righteousness as in unhappy France. So long as it is true, even in a measure, that the obvious and salient forces of society are leagued against the development of the spiritual and idealistic elements in man, so long will our schools of art fail of accomplishing their mission. They frame the law, but righteous life is itself the “enacting clause,” and without this, legislation is inoperative.
There is a certain hedonistic view of life that breeds the doctrine that art is the product of luxury, culture, and ease. No more poisonous heresy was ever devised. The springs of art lie in right living and good citizenship and the fear of God. We may organize schools of architecture in every state; crowd the villas of Rome with ambitious young sculptors, and the Parisian ateliers with potential painters; we may patronize poets even to the point of giving them a living wage, and endow opera-houses and theatres in every village ; our millionaires may shed their golden rain over a thirsty land, and public opinion may demand high art even if it has to get it with an axe it is all but “vanity ; feeding the wind and folly,” as Sir Thomas has it, if beneath it all, the only enduring foundation, we have not a right attitude to ourselves, to our fellows, and to God.
But, men may say, perhaps, this is the affair of the Church and the school, of the teacher of ethics, the social reformer, the philosopher, and the priest. Not altogether, by any means. Art, rightly understood, rightly practised, is so wonderful a thing that it has many and varied aspects. Not only is it a revelation, it is an incentive : not only is it the flower, it is also the seed. Every art is at the same time vocative and dynamic: it voices the highest and the best; it subtly urges to emulation; it is perhaps the greatest civilizing influence in the world. Yet if it is a seed, it must fall neither amongst thorns, nor on stony ground, nor yet in a soil so rich that the weeds spring up and choke it. We deny this manifest truth of the civilizing potency of art for the very reason to which I alluded earlier, namely, that we estimate art by its highest reaches, and since these always came like the aftermath of harvest, when the fields of civilization had been reaped and the frosts of winter were at hand, the fertile seed shrivelled and perished and the fields remained barren and dead. When art was crescent, when it was the great outpouring through the chosen few of the spiritual experiences of a people, then it found its fertile soil, and the reward was an hundred fold.
If we believed, which God forbid! that we of this race and time and generation could offer nothing but an unfruitful soil, then were our labours vain ; but while we know we come at the decadent end of one epoch of five centuries, it is gloriously true that we are at the very beginnings of yet another: the night is deep, but there is dawn on the uttermost hills. Before us lies the choice of fields for our sowing: if we turn to those that are exhausted by five centuries of reckless husbandry, to the fields of materialism and anarchy and infidelity, then our future is without hope ; but if we go forward to the new lands of the new day, then there are no limits that may be placed on our service and our accomplishment.
In the very fact we deplore, that we have no immortal artists such as those of the great moments of the past, lies the cause of our greatest courage. Were this a time of art such as that which flung the radiant glamour of its matchless glory over the charnel-house of the Italy of the pagan Renaissance, then we might despair, for we should know that the issue was hopeless; but because of this, because we must lament our lack of art instead of exulting over its triumphant possession, we are full of courage, knowing that the tide has turned and that we are at the beginning of things, not at the lamentable end.
Before every artist of this day and generation open limitless and glittering possibilities. There is a new light on the hills, a new word on the wind, a new joy in the heart. France goes her way to the pit she has digged; England crumbles daily before our eyes; anarchy looms in the Latin countries of Europe; and we ourselves are for the moment staggered by persistent and mordant corruption in public, private, commercial, and industrial life; and yet we know these are the last things of an epoch only, not of a race; that they are episodes of a phase of growth and sequent decay, not the final revelation of the genius of a people. Al-ready, though sometimes in baffling and devious ways, the new impulse is manifesting itself: again men turn to religion and to the everlasting things of the spirit, to law and order, to a new righteousness of life. For ourselves, the crash of crumbling superstitions and persistent error: for our children, the building of new mansions of righteousness and truth.
Therefore, there is for the artist a clear field : man is in revolt against materialism; thinking thoughts and dreaming dreams and seeing visions that cry aloud for utterance through that great agency of art that always in the past has answered the call and recorded in enduring monuments all that makes for nobility and righteousness in any race or time. Also, the ground is prepared for the sowing, and all that art can do toward furthering the process of a great regeneration may now be done with full effect. Rightly conceived and nobly executed, every work of art that is created in answer to the great new call of man may become an active agency in the momentous crusade. Church and college and school are, it is true, the prime educational and regenerating influences, but no one of these agencies, great as it is, can accomplish its completest destiny unless it recognizes the educational potency of art, and effects with it that alliance against which the powers of evil cannot prevail. Every church nay, every building of whatever kind that is infused with beauty and significance; every picture or statue that tells of eternal things through the same quality of sacramental beauty; every poem, every musical creation, every drama that exalts the sacred and hidden things of the soul over the flamboyant and futile phantasms of the world, becomes a living energy, an irresistible influence toward those very ends for the attainment of which the Church and the school exist.
Art may no longer remain “cribbed, cabined, and confined” in the private possession of those who can pay its price: as it is the language of the people, so must it become their free possession. Architecture has always been for all men, for none could hide its light or darkness, perhaps under a bushel; but all the other arts must come forth into the open, and in the Church, the school, the public buildings of city and state, offer themselves and their wide beneficence to all humanity. For centuries we have made great music, great pictures, great sculpture either an appanage of the rich, or the professionally venerating paraphernalia of an æsthetic curiosity shop, to be seen on payment of twenty-five cents on week days, free on Sundays and holidays. This is the nadir of civilization: better almost a generation that knew not even the name of art than one that so utterly misjudged it as so to misuse it. There may be some question as to whether free speech, a free press, and the electoral franchise are inalienable rights of the people; there is none as to the nature of art: either it is the divine heritage of all men, or it is nothing; if it is the ear-mark of a class, the privilege of a caste, it is no more than the monster of Frankenstein, a dead horror, moving and sentient, but without a soul.
This also is a part of the duty of the artist to the public, the giving back of the seven old lamps, heedlessly bartered for new. They cannot raise the potent genie of the fire and air, these new lamps, for all their rubbing. Give back the old lamps, and once more the
” Djins and Afrits of the enchanted deep ”
bow obedient, filling our hands with the over-flowing treasures of the wonderland of the spirit and the soul.
To voice, to reveal, to prophesy; yes, and to fight manfully in the new crusade. There is besotted ignorance in the high places of the city and the state and the nation; there is an illustrated journalism that is working insidiously and overtime to break down not alone the new-found sense of beauty, but civilization itself; there is a popular drama not the good old melodrama, that had some rough semblance of truth and beauty, but the new and horrible thing exploited by the racial enemies of Christianity that finds its parallel only in the dark annals of toxicology; there is an insane rationalism in painting and sculpture that builds on the mad formula that the measure of art is its fidelity to the observed facts of nature; there is the on-rushing pestilence of bill-boards, the gross humbug of the art fakir, and a score of other depressing things of similar nature against which every civilized man must contend, but the artist more than all, for each is to him a personal insult, and he can see more clearly than others the menace they are, not only to him and to his art, but to the, ‘whole life of man that speaks through him.
There is war enough, God knows, and a field for good fighting. The artist who cares for his art, who knows what it means and why it is given him, knows also that his work is done not only in the studio, but on the field of action, in fierce fighting against the marshalled enemies of society and civilization, and for the bringing back to the people of their long-lost heritage.
And specifically there is one field where all these ends are furthered in one : I refer, of course, to art in its association with religion. A few years ago there was not this possibility: then religion reviled art and would none of it; then also it was the fashion to sneer at religious things and to consider them unworthy the attention of an emancipated intellect and beneath the dignity of a reputable artist. The results were not such as to encourage a persistence in these courses. Now it is no longer fashionable to sneer at religion, nor is it a mark of intelligence. Infidelity, agnosticism, indifference are now notes of an outgrown superstition, while the Church, roused from her long nightmare of iconoclasm, and worse, clamours for the aid of her old ally.
Above all things I pray that she may have it, both for her own sake and that of the artist, and that of society itself. If art is, indeed, as I have said, one of the really great agents of civilization, the Church is preeminently the place where its work may be made most effective. Beautiful buildings, pictures, and sculpture in schools and libraries, popular productions of the Greek and Elizabethan dramas, all are good and powerful influences toward education and regeneration; but the Church is more than all, for it has been, and is coming to be again, the great centre of spiritual energy. Each art is fine in itself, but a great and beautiful church, living with pictorial and sculptured decoration, where the sublime, appalling mystery of the Christian Faith is solemnized through the assembling of all the other arts music, poetry, drama, and ceremonial in one vast, organic work of art built up of every one of them raised to its highest level of possibility, and all fused in one consummate opus Dei, this, the Catholic Mass in a Gothic church, is, in simple fact and in plain speech, the greatest artistic achievement, the most perfect proof of man’s divine nature thus far recorded in the annals of humanity.
Here, above all other places, art performs its highest function, becomes most intimately the art of all the people, and gives to every artist his most perfect opportunity both for artistic expression and artistic service. In the new epoch that is even now at dawn, it will be, not in the palaces of captains of industry, or in any secular capacity whatever, that each and every art will find its opportunities both for creation and for service, but, as in the golden past, in churches and monastery chapels and cathedrals, themselves once more become, as also in that same past, the most essential, intimate, and important single thing in the life of every man.
Therefore, if the artist is to serve the public, he must become the proud and reverent ally of organized religion; first of all, winning back for himself the faith filched from him, and learning once more to speak the tongue God gave him and as it was taught him whatever his art by this same Church herself.
Is this too great a thing to ask? It has happened over and over again in the past, and it must happen again: if not to-day, then to-morrow. Religion and the sacramental vision of Absolute Truth and Absolute Beauty are knit together by indissoluble bonds, and with them art is involved in a union that neither man nor devils may break asunder. The effort is made, and for a time it seems to be successful, but always and invariably the result is incalculable loss ; to art, to religion, to the world. Religion wavers, yields to insidious heresies, breaks up into futile sects, fails to enforce its appeal to men ; while art loses, first its highest ideals, then all ideals whatever; and finally follows after false leaders and silly theories, and so breaks down in ruin. This is the thing that has happened in the centuries that have followed the fall of Constantinople, and now once more begins the great recovery, the new epoch of restoration : already the ground gained amongst those of our own Northern blood and speech is enormous, but it must continue farther yet, infinitely farther, — and the next step is inevitable. Alone, isolated, neither religion nor art can accomplish its destiny, which is to seize upon society and lift it to those heights of righteous achievement that have made and marked the eras of the past. Religion lacks its Pentecostal tongue; art lacks the Pentecostal flames of divine inspiration. The Church is conscious now of what this alliance will mean, for herself, for art, and for humanity: she is ready, with welcoming hands; and if the artist answers in kind, if he breaks the bonds of plausible materialism and rationalism, forsaking the exhausted fields of a squandered past for the fertile soil of a burgeoning future, then he will achieve that new life in his own spirit and in his art that is the guaranty of the fulfilment of the destiny that brought him into the world.
And here we find the revelation of the function of the artist in his relation to the world ; in his choice between the two fields offered for his sowing. If he is false to the light within him, yielding his divine art for the pleasure of the votaries of pleasure; binding himself in servitude to the defiant corruption of a lost and ended cause; sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death; his reward is as theirs and he goes down to his appointed place with all other unfaithful servants. But if he chooses otherwise, making himself the mouthpiece of the new crusaders who march ever onward for the redemption of the holy places of the soul, answering the call of the best in man with the best that is in himself, revealing to humanity, through sacred beauty, the truth that shall make men free, consecrating himself to the showing, through whatever art where God has given him craft, “the light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world,” then, for a time his reward may be poor in material measure, but in the end for him is reserved that crown of righteousness that is for them that are faithful and true, and that serve God through the serving of them that He made in His image and redeemed in the darkness and the thunderings of Calvary.