Life without industry is guilt, and industry without art is brutality. Ruskin.
“There is nothing which the intellectual life of America so needs, and begins to feel the need of, as an aesthetic inspiration.”
The terms science and art have been too often ambiguously confounded and interchanged. Science is the theory, art is the practice. Science proposes, art performs. We speak of the propositions of science and the accomplishments of art. Art is science applied – that which is done by “regular and disciplined methods.” The essence of science lies in knowledge, skill, and contemplation. We define geometry to. be the science of magnitude and of the properties of space, without regard to practical computations. A science becomes an art, as when arithmetic is said to be the science of numbers and the art of computing by them. Astronomy, geometry, logic, rhetoric, grammar, music, poetry, medicine, are all sciences when considered as acquisitions of the mind, doctrines, or collected bodies of observations, deductions and rules; but they become arts when their principles are made instrumental, or are put forth by human exertion, dexterity, and practical discipline. Thus we have the rhetorical art, the “ars poetica,” the medical art.
What is the relation of art to human life? The true aim of all art is either to sustain man’s physical life or to ennoble his moral and religious nature. Too many look upon the mission of the fine arts as intended to do little more for man than to afford him intellectual pleasure and “graceful recreation” without regard to the serious purposes of life. Mr. Ruskin makes the grand purpose of all true art to be three-fold, substantially as follows,-either to teach and enforce pure religion, to perfect man’s moral state, or to do him material service.
Art first arose from the necessities of human society. The mistake has been made of ascribing the prime origin of art to the religious imagination, to the “inspiration or special grace of some god or hero,” rather than to that invention which is stimulated by the positive needs and requirements of early society. The immediate necessities and utilities of life, such as food and covering, led to the invention of the first simple arts. Agriculture is probably the most primitive of arts. The art of cultivating the land is the art of all arts. Indeed, the term art is thought to be from the Greek ar__to plow.
The work of the potter seems to be next to agriculture, the most ancient of the arts. It is impossible to tell how far back the potter’s art had it’s origin. Archeology is now largely resolved into the study of ancient pottery. In Japan, the potter still stands at. the head of all engaged in honorable and artistic employments, because his art is regarded as the most ancient. The inscriptions on terra cotta ware and fragments of burnt clay that are dug up in all parts of the world hand down to us a record of the early development of humanity. Marryat in his standard work, says:
“From the pottery of the tombs we learn the domestic manners of nations long since passed away, and may trace the geographical limits of the various great empires of the world. The extent of ancient Greece, of its colonies, and its conquests, is clearly to be traced through each division of the Old World by the Grecian funeral pottery, which, distinct in its character from that of any other, long survived the political existence of the Grecian empire. The limits of the Roman empire are, in like. manner, deduced from the remains of the Roman pottery; beyond the spot where Arminius repulsed the remains of the Roman legions no trace of Roman pottery has been found, and the frontier line of the Roman dominion in Britain is marked out in a similar manner. The extent of the Mohammedan empire in the Old World, and the Aztec dominion in the New, would alike be clearly pointed out by their pottery, if no other record of their conquests had been transmitted to us.”
Were it not for their devotion to the art of pottery,. though rude at first, we should now know very little about the ancient nations. And not only are the great collections of primitive pottery an interesting study to. the antiquarian, but in our examination of these rude ceramic productions we can trace out the very remotest history of the artistic faculty in man, how fine art began in its earliest manifestations of artistic design, both in shape or form and in applied decoration. Emerson says that, ” The whole extant product of the plastic arts has herein its highest value, as history,” and Mr. Ruskin adds on this point, ” Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts – the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others; but of the three, the only quite trustworthy one is the last.”
The Egyptian hieroglyphics and the idols of the Chinese, the Mexican, and Indian, are valuable as history showing the height of the human soul in those ages and nations. All literary records of some nations have perished, but their art-records remain. In the history of a nation, the arts are the exponents of each phase of its moral state. The art epochs of mankind are a good record of civilization.
The early rude inventions gradually progressed and divided into groups of arts, until men came to have the arts of government, the arts of gain, the arts of war, the arts of peace, the useful arts, and the liberal, polite or fine arts. In our own age and land, we now hear most about the mechanical, industrial or useful arts. It will answer our present purpose to divide all .art into the useful and the fine arts. The former are applied to things necessary and useful, the latter to things ornamental and beautiful. What are commonly included in the fine arts are architecture, sculpture, painting, poetry and music. The fine arts add much to our pleasant experience of life, though we could live without them.
As primitive man’s immediate wants became supplied, we find him beginning to cultivate arts for his pleasure, fancy and delight. The early cave dwellers have left not only stone arrow heads, knife heads, etc., with bone handles, but some of these handles are quite gracefully carved with the forms of animals that were familiar to them. Thus man early began to cultivate his aesthetic .nature and one has said that “-Every great climax of human history has found its most expressive and imperishable utterance and record in fine art.” The fine arts, then, are those which give pleasure and delight and minister to man’s love of beauty, as distinguished from the useful or mechanical arts which satisfy his practical needs or conveniences. Some of the arts are made to answer the double purpose of being useful and beautiful at the same time. When architecture provides a simple inclosure for shelter, comfort and accommodation, it is a useful art; but when the structure is elaborately finished with more or less ornamentation and a studied harmony of surface, mass, line, light, shade, color, etc., the end of which decoration is beauty and a pleasing effect, the architecture is now a fine art. The builder’s art becomes a fine art, or architecture, when it adds to the simple desire to have buildings, the desire also to have them “beautiful and imposing.”
Auxiliary to the fine arts are numerous subordinate manual and useful arts, perhaps we should designate them as the lesser fine arts-pottery, pattern making, embroidery, wood carving, working in gold, glass, etc. Arts are made subordinate when coupled with utility, as paintings and carvings on furniture, vases, and other articles that we call both useful and ornamental. A pure work of art is one primarily designed to please the taste or awaken the love of the beautiful. On the other hand, an applied art cares not so much for beauty as. utility, the ornamentation being applied to some work or production intended to serve some useful and practical purpose.
We live in the utilitarian age, the days of art-manufacture and the products of machinery. While the fine arts are exercised by a higher order of powers, ” by the spontaneous and unreasoned working together of infinitely complex and highly-developed sensibilities and dexterities” in the artist, beyond the reach of rules men rising to inspiration, the mechanical arts on the other hand are exercised by mere ” habit, rote, or calculation.” The artist is as valuable a member of society as the artisan. The latter is indeed indebted to the former for his design. The first elaborate carpet pattern, the cunningly-engraved plate, the artist’s copy, too, may be a work of fine art, and the original designer a first-class artist, but a mere mechanic can reproduce and manufacture any number of the original work.
There is a practical side to this fine-art problem, for is there no difference in price between raw clay, clay in brick, clay in a finely-moulded vase, and clay in a noble statue? To show how much the value of raw material may be increased by the ingenuity of a skillful artist, we may point to the two vases, made of a clay found in France, which we saw in the gallery of St. Cloud, near Paris, and which are valued at 100,000 francs each. Angelo could let the angel out of an obscure stepping-stone lying neglected and covered with rubbish in Florence. The value of fine works of art may be seen from the almost fabulous prices that the productions of the old masters command. The material of that beautiful and popular modern painting – The Angelus, was only a bit of canvas and a few cents’ worth of paint, but the original sold for $100,000.
One branch of the arts may be more subtle, but cannot be more honorable. The carpenter who works in wood or the potter who fashions clay is as honorable in his calling as he whose chisel carves the marble or whose brush paints the canvas. Fine art and industrial art are intimately related. The artist and the artisan seem necessary to each other. Aesthetics and the fine arts should become the industrial, applied, or practical arts for the benefit of the poor as well as the rich. The poorest man loves beauty as well as utility. Earlier art -existed almost exclusively for churches, public buildings, and royal palaces. Let art now be put to universal use. Let us now have not art so much for art’s sake, as art for humanity’s sake-art applied to the needs and uses of everyday life. Let us rejoice that art is in these days being applied to industry, that it is becoming visible all about us and in almost every article of utility, making them more pleasing to look at,-as in the more shapely forms and agreeable ornamentation of our public buildings as well as private houses, vehicles, furniture, stoves, lamps, crockery, garments, etc. Emerson would go so far as to have beauty come into the useful arts till the distinction between the fine and the useful arts is forgotten. He says that “if history were truly told, if life were nobly spent, it would be no longer easy or possible to distinguish the one from the -other. In nature all is useful, all is beautiful. It is therefore beautiful because it is alive, moving, reproductive; it is therefore useful because it is symmetrical and fair.” A more recent writer says:
“Yet the, interesting and consoling fact about so many masters of our time is that they are conscious of a duty to man in their work, and they do it with a sense that it does not begin and end in themselves; that even art does not compass it all, and that to amuse or thrill their readers is no longer enough. Art, indeed, is beginning to find out that if it does not make friends with need it must perish. It perceives that to take itself from the many and leave them no joy in their work, and to give itself to the few whom it can bring no joy in their idleness, is an error that kills. This has long been the burden of Ruskin’s message; and if we can believe William Morris, the common people have heard him gladly, and have felt the truth of what he says: `They see the prophet in him rather than the fantastic rhetorician, as more superfine audiences do;’ and the men and women who do the hard work of the world have learned from him and from Morris that. they have a right to pleasure in their toil, and that. when justice is done them they will have it.”
There is hardly an industrial art that may not be, brought to partake of the nature of a fine art. Why not unite beauty with convenience? Ancient Greece taught this lesson to the world that industry may be elevated into the regions of fine art. Let us explode-the falsehood that the character of beauty cannot be-given to industrial productions without loss of time and pains. Most people seem to regard art as some-thing to be placed in a frame or on a pedestal in a museum, to be looked at merely-an object entirely separate from ordinary life. There is a great deal of needless wear and tear in our lives due to an: ignorant and unskillful use of our forces. There is an art needed for every day life, and no art study is higher or more important than the art of living-the art of properly breathing, talking, standing, sleeping, dressing, eating, and a hundred personal arts. William Morris writes that when we come to understand and! practice the art of true living, it “will make our streets-as beautiful as the woods, as elevating as the mountain. sides. It will be a pleasure and a rest and not a weight upon the spirits to come from the open country into a town; every man’s house will be fair and decent, soothing to his mind and helpful to his work; all the works of man that we live among and handle will be in harmoray with nature, will be reasonable and beautiful, yet all will be simple and inspiriting, not childish and enervating. For as nothing of beauty and splendor that man’s mind and hand may compass shall be wanting from our public buildings, so in no private dwelling will there be any signs of waste, pomp or insolence, and every man will have his share in the best.”
It is not our purpose to inquire into the relation of art to material progress, comfort, and utility, or to discuss at length the comparative value of the arts. Our subject is rather the Fine Arts proper-those that fashion materials for man’s entertainment and higher pleasure and profit rather than for purposes of physical convenience and utility. There is a broad sense in which all art is useful. The highest fine art has a utility belonging to it, but it is utility standing in a different relation from that of the industrial arts; it is not the utility of material service, of mere wage-earning, and bodily comfort, but that which ministers to man’s nobler nature. If fine art is merely to be a wholesome pleasurable appeal to the intellect and emotions, it has its use in that direction, has it not?
The question of importance is, shall we sacrifice everything for mere use? Are we to have no pleasures or pastimes apart from material profit? Must we give our entire attention to the useful arts which simply serve to support human life, or may we also innocently cultivate the fine arts which aim to exalt man by teaching and enforcing pure morality and religion? Flowers are not really useful, shall we therefore cultivate no flowers? Shall we say that they only waste our time and soil? Music is not useful, brings in no dollars and cents. Will any one dare say that the art of music by its rhythm, its proportion, its harmony and melody, has no good effect on those to whom it is addressed? Aristotle speaks of the beneficial effect of certain kinds of music in quieting the wilder forms of excitement.
Art is not necessary to morality or religion, but we shall see that it is quite advantageous to both. Clothing is not absolutely essential to mankind, but it is very convenient and comfortable as well as becoming. Who does not feel better-not necessarily prouder – when dressed in clean, neat, and nicely fitting garments? It will be noticed that as a rule children behave better when clean and clad in their new and comely clothes. Our pleasure and enjoyment of life depend largely on our surroundings. Why not patronize the tailor and dress-maker that are artists in their line? Who would not prefer a salt-cellar of beautiful design to one coarse and ugly looking? There may not be any more happiness in a marble palace than in a log cabin, yet who would not choose to live in the beautiful palace?
God dwells in cottages as well as in churches, and there ought to be no abuses or burlesques of art in building cottages. It speaks well for any city or country when its churches as well as school houses are fine and costly buildings. How can there be right religion, morality, and happiness, in a town where the buildings are frightful monstrosities of architecture, and there are neglected spots here and there filled with scum and scurf and old rookeries whence is emitted an eruption of shame! Who would not rather live in a town where the streets are kept clean, and there are numcrous parks that are beautiful with green lawns, flowers, sparkling fountains and statuary of bronze or marble, and where the public buildings and churches are real ornaments rather than hideous architectural deformities!
It has been said that the beginning of art is in getting the country clean and the people beautiful and lovely. John Wesley is the author of the saying that “cleanliness is next thing to godliness,” and Spurgeon exhorted all to keep carefully out of the cottage ” debt, dirt, and the devil.” We have no sympathy with the monkish idea that lives in dirt to’ serve God. Living in dirt is serving the devil. A late writer says: “I would say that of all abominable heresies thc most so is the heresy that there is something peculiarly superior religiously in poverty and ignorance and dirt. We have got past the time of the mendicant friar, when a man thought he was serving God by climbing on a pillar, and folding his hands till his nails dropped out on the wrong side of his hands. We wash, and we are happy, and see that the world was made in colors, and not in black and white; and that God made the rose, and the eye of a woman, and all beauty; and that we can find virtue in the service of God, in wealth and power, and in enjoying the forces of nature.”
It is a mistake to suppose that God can keep us pure only by keeping us poor. Such an old superstition does not belong to this age of opulence and advanced civilization. An individual or a nation filled with christian faith and grace can at the same time. abound in wealth, aspiration, liberty, recreation and innocent pleasure. We may have an intelligent and pure faith that will spiritualize and sanctify government, gold, business, science, art and ” keep the roses of pleasure as pure as the roses of a garden.” The possession of any amount of riches need not smother a man’s religious nature, nor does it follow that his spiritual instinct and power must be lost because he has come to possess a cultivated aesthetic taste.
Some things are desirable for the sake of their pleasing effect on the mind. Should we not multiply sources of intellectual pleasure and enjoyment? The elevating influence, if not moral effect, of flower-shows and art exhibitions when the latter are under the supervision of proper persons, cannot be overestimated, and should be encouraged by all who appreciate the refining value of aesthetic culture upon society. If we would form correct tastes in our children, we should afford them an early acquaintance with art by artistic surroundings in our households. It is said that John Ruskin the prince of art-critics, was taken while yet a boy, by his parents in “leisurely travel to nearly all the castles, cathedrals, and picture galleries of England.” All cannot travel, but there is hardly any one who may not share much of the traveler’s delight by viewing and studying the photogravures and pictures of the master-pieces in painting, sculpture and architecture now to be seen in our best illustrated magazines.
Great advantages are given to a country from a cultivation of the fine arts. Dr. S. Spooner says “The Parisians have a keen perception of the beautiful, simply from being educated in a city abounding with galleries and the best models of art, the genius of ages.” Napoleon Bonaparte has forever enshrined himself in the hearts of the French people by his love of art with which he beautified Paris, having transported thither from the various countries, even from far away Egypt, some of the most renowned works of art of ancient and modern times. Wherever the arts have been fostered, they have shed their glory upon mankind. That public art galleries are of vast importance and value to a country is now admitted by the wisest. Much of the accumulated wisdom of the ages may be thus communicated to the mind through the eye. That storehouse of art-the Vatican, has been of untold value to Italy and to Rome in particular. There are thousands of people who go all the way from America and other parts of the world to Rome, Florence, Milan, Dresden, and other art centers every year to see the original masterpieces of art. Renowned art galleries are worth many thousands each year even in a financial sense to the country or city that is fortunate enough to possess them. It is not waste thus to spend something for things that win the respect of other nations, and make men more refined, patriotic and truly proud of their country, and prompt in its defense.
“Civilization is not wholly material and mechanical. Something more than agriculture, city building and railroading, is necessary to civilized man. There is nothing which the intellectual life of America so needs, and begins to feel the need of, as an aesthetic inspiration.”
There may be an undue attention to art, as there may be to material comfort. One may be intemperate in the use of any good thing, but no one will deny that there is a lack of the aesthetic element in American life. If one wants to study the fine arts, let him go to the old countries; if he would study the useful arts, he need only to look around him in the United States of America.
In this utilitarian and practical age, there is danger lest the intensely scientific spirit that is abroad in our land, may rule out the claims of the aesthetic faculty, if not even of the moral sense and religious sentiments. This has been called the age of grab and greed for wealth and office with little thought of matters of taste and high art culture. There seems to be everywhere a supreme devotion to practical affairs. We believe, however, that a better day is dawning. It is not unusual now to read of the unveiling and dedication of some fine monument that is a worthy work of art. Schools of art and design are being established in many of our leading cities. Our church architecture is rapidly improving. We have our Central Park and others that will compare favorably with many of the Old World.
Those who consider mere material comfort as the chief end of life and condition of happiness will of course have but little appreciation of objects of beauty which minister to pleasure and the higher nature. There are many worthy people who but imperfectly estimate the worth of art in human life and culture. Even Plato depreciated the fine arts; setting them below agriculture, medicine, and other useful arts, and he regarded them as playthings or cheap shows without seriousness, reality, or much benefit. Plato simply reversed the true order of things. He doubt-less had adopted the old heathen axiom of art for art’s sake, instead of regarding it what the best art. is now-art for humanity’s sake, for truth’s sake, for the sake of sound intellectual, ethical, and religious development.
We ought to perceive in the fine arts most efficient means of mental culture and refinement as well as gratification of sense. The mechanical arts minister to man’s lower needs. The fine arts minister to man’s higher pleasure – his love of music, painting, poetry, sculpture, and architecture. Fine art is the expression or embodiment of aesthetic feeling. ” That only is fine art which affords keen and permanent delight to contemplation. All good art has the power to please, and when art does not please, there is something wrong with it or with the beholder. There is something refining and ennobling in viewing a beautiful object, whether it be a fair face, or flower, or sky, or fine work of art. The life to live is one in contemplation of the beautiful, the true, and the good. It is well to admire and imitate beautiful outward forms, but better to love beautiful intellect and character, beautiful institutions and doctrines.