« AnteriorContinuar »
He knew His boundless wisdom, His goodness, and His love,
J. H. & M. T. NEFF,
Fort Wayne, Ind.
ART CULTURE AND ITS EFFECT UPON THE CON
DUCT OF LIFE.
BY MELVIN L. SEVERY.
BEING EXCERPTS FROM LECTURES GIVEN BY HIM BEFORE THE BOSTON
(Number Six.) As each one of the art articles published in The ESOTERIC must repeat, in a very limited space, the substance of four extemporaneous lectures, it is expected that the Reader will pardon the absence of that elegance of diction, as well as the lack of that continual expression of strong, logical coherence which could only be obtained through the employment of more space than we can command, and accept in their stead, the somewhat cursory and detached statement here presented.
FROM what has been stated in the preceding papers of this series, it should now be evident to the mind of the Reader that there must be two distinct courses which an artist may pursue.
First, he may simply give faithful statements of any facts of nature, in which case he merely brings his auditor to his own vantage ground, and lets him see what he sees. Here the artist is merely the conveyance. If a painter of foreign scenes, he may show you the Alhambra without your having the trouble of an ocean voyage. If his picture be an ideal example of its class, you will have the same kind of thoughts and emotions when viewing it, as would be excited if you viewed alone the scene which it represents. Art, however, has a higher function than this.
The second course which the artist may pursue is that in which he not only brings his auditor into the presence, as it were, of certain facts of nature faithfully stated, but in which he selects for his auditor those things which are most worthy of his contemplation, and fills him, moreover, with the passions, thoughts. and noble motives which these things induced in his, (the artist's) more skilled perceptions and inore refined taste. In the former case the artist is as a horse, a mere means of conveyance, bringing his anditor into the presence of his accurately stated facts of nature, and then leaving him alone to think what thoughts he lists, and give what attention he pleases to the production before him ; but, in the latter instance, the artist is more than a conveyance; he is an earnest and eloquent friend, directing the attention of his auditor to those most salutary and ennobling portions of nature, firing him with his enthusiasm, lending him, as it were, his own laboriously refined perceptions; showing him, not only the beauty of truth, but the wonders of its infinite application; becoming, in short, for the nonce, his alter ego, illuminating the heart and mind of the observer by the effulgence of his own soul. The artist is a seer.
ceptions are far more searching and infallible than those of the majority of persons. I think it may be safely said that not one of ten people picked hap-hazard, have eyes of sufficient cultivation to detect the presence of reds in what is commonly called an open blue sky. Nor is this merely true in the case of painting. The proportion of persons who can detect the difference between a rising and a falling circumflex inflection, might even say who could discover the fact that a circumflex of
kind was given, - is equally small.
It should be seen from the above that one of the greatest benefits derived from an artist, comes from his ability to rectify and amplify the inaccurate and insufficient concepts of a half-seeing public. This matter of concepts is of the utmost ethical importance. I do not think it overstating the matter to affirm that a man's value to himself, and to the community in which he resides, is exactly commensurate with the accuracy and extent of his concepts. One thing is certain ; theory, whether elaborate or simple, whether applied to subtle and intricate matters, or to the humdrum occurrences of every-day life, must, and assuredly does, precede and govern every act we perform, which has not, through repetition, become either wholly or partially involuntary. Let me illustrate yet more fully; we do not need to'theorize in regard to our ordinary process of walking, since that act is given over to the control of a plexus governing such actions; but the time was when we did theorize upon that act, now so simple, just as a man learning to swim, or to skate, theorizes about those acts, which to others have passed into the category of semi-involuntary movements. Suppose, on the other hand, one were to engage in a walking-match,—something out of the ordinary course, he would then instantly begin to theorize. The point I wish to impress upon the Reader is this; theory stands, or at some time has stood, behind all acts, which is simply another way of saying that everything perceived in nature is an irrefutable evidence of the existence and working of mind ; that it is, as it were, its prefigarement. We cannot then, deny theory, and much less can we deny the fact that this theory is accurate or fallacious, useful or harmful, just in proportion to the extent and truthfulness of our concepts. The great majority of our acts then, and if we deny the hypothesis of innate ideas, ALL of them, -are governed by acquired concepts. The great importance of attaining accurate concepts will thus be seen, and the noble work of the artist in the rectification and amplification of concepts, duly appreciated.
This second course which the artist may pursue is, it will at once be seen, nobler, out of all comparison, than the one first cited. It is the highest aim of art, and “- Is not an appeal to constant animal feelings, but an expression and awakening of individual thought : it is, therefore, as various and as extended in its efforts as the compass and grasp of the directing mind ; and we feel, in each of its results, that we are looking, not at a specimen of a tradesman's wares, of which he is ready to make us a dozen to match, but at one coruscation of a perpetually active mind, like which there has not been, and will not be another..... And this is the reason why, though I consider the second as the real and only important end of all art, I call the representation of facts the first end; because it is necessary to the other, and must be attained before it. It is the foundation of all art ; like real foundations, it may be little thought of when a brilliant fabric is raised on it; but it must be there : and as few buildings are beautiful unless every line and column of their mass have reference
to their foundation, and are suggestive of its existence and strength, so nothing can be beautiful in art which does not in all its parts suggest and guide to the foundation, even where no undecorated portion of it is visible; while the noblest edifices of art are built of such pure and fine crystal that the foundation may all be seen through them; and then many, while they do not see what is built upon that first story, yet much admire the solidity of its brickwork; thinking they understand all that is to be understood of the matter; while others stand beside them, looking not at the low story, but up into the heaven at that building of crystal in which the builder's spirit is dwelling. And thus, though we want the thoughts and feelings of the artist as well as the truth, yet they must be thoughts arising out of the knowledge of truth, and feelings raising out of the contemplation of truth. We do not want his mind to be as badly blown glass, that distorts what we see through it; but like a glass of sweet and strange color, that gives new tones to what we see through it; and a glass of rare strength and clearness too, to let us see more than we could ourselves, and bring nature up to us and near to us. Nothing can atone for the want of truth, not the most brilliant imagination, the most playful fancy, the most pure feeling, (supposing that feeling could be pure and false at the same time ;) not the most exalted conception, nor the most comprehensive grasp of intellect, can make amends for the want of truth, and that for two reasons; first, because falsehood is in itself revolting and degrading; and secondly, because nature is so immeasurably superior to all that the human mind can conceive, that every departure from her is a fall beneath her, so that there can be no such thing as an ornamental falsehood. All falsehood must be a blot as well as a sin, an injury as well as a deception.
“ We shall in consequence, find that no artist can be graceful, imaginative, or original, unless he be truthful ; and that the pursuit of beauty, instead of leading us away from truth, increases the desire for it and the necessity of it tenfold ; so that those artists who are really great in imaginative power, will be found to have based their boldness of conception on a mass of knowledge far exceeding that possessed by those who pride themselves on its accumulation, without regarding its Coldness and want of passion in a picture, are not signs of the accuracy, but of the paucity of its statements; true vigor and brilliancy are not signs of audacity, but of knowledge...... Truth is a bar of comparison at which they (artists) may all be examined, and according to the rank they take in this examination, will almost invariably be that which, if capable of appreciating them in every respect, we should be just in assigning them; so strict is the connection, so constant the relation between the sum of knowledge and the extent of thought, between accuracy of perception and vividness of idea.”
It is desirable that the art student, as early as possible, disabuse his mind of that fallacious idea so prevalent among the people at large, that one must of necessity see a thing, if it is placed before his eyes, or that he must hear a sound, simply because it is produced in his presence. Nothing could be farther removed from the actual fact. Were this erroneous assumption true, all mankind, without any especial drill or concentration of attention, would be able to perceive at once a truth of nature, and would invariably be shocked at all trickery of imitation. It is a deplorable fact that the majority of persons consider themselves amply able to detect all
falsehood in art. It is only the cultured, only those who have lain their heart next to Nature's, that are able to even approximate infallibility in the perception of truth, and the detection of falsehood. A truth of Nature, is a part of the truth of God. He who searches it out enters infinity, he who is blind to it loses himself in darkness. I have said that it is a common error to suppose that the senses convey to the mind a report of all the occurrences in which they are immersed. There can be no record inscribed upon the mind save through the exercise of the attention, and, as has been carefully stated in the earlier papers of this series, the attention soon ceases to address itself to trite and commonplace impressions: hence, by virtue of this very law of mind, it occurs that we do not see, and are frequently even unaware of the existence of, those very things which are most persistently present to our senses. This truth has been stated by Locke, Book 11, chapter 9, section 3, as follows:-“This is certain, that whatever alterations are made in the body, if they reach not the mind, whatever impressions are made on the outward parts, if they are not taken notice of within, there is no perception. Fire inay burn our bodies with no other effect than it does a billet, unless the motion be continued to the brain, and there the sense of heat or idea of pain be produced in the mind, wherein consists actual perception. How often may a man observe in himself, that while his mind is intently employed in the contemplation of some subjects and curiously surveying some ideas that are there, it takes no notice of impressions of sounding bodies, made upon the organ of hearing, with the same attention that uses to be for the producing the ideas of sound! A sufficient impulse there may be on the organ, but it not reaching the observation of the mind, there follows no perception, and though the motion that uses to produce the idea of sound be made in the ear, yet no sound is heard.”
From the above it should be seen that the majority of persons neither know what nature is, nor what is like her, and are consequently deficient in their perception of truth, as the term is used in art. It behooves all such, then, to cultivate their perception of truth, and it should be added here that, while the discovery of truth is purely an intellectual affair, depending wholly upon physical perception and abstract intellect, yet such is the impetus which love, veneration, and the moral attributes generally lend this perception and judgment, that we generally find the perception of truth keenest in those persons of highest ethical culture.
Another reason why so few are capable of forming an accurate judgment of what is like nature, arises out of the fact that we constantly recognize things by their least important and least characteristic attributes, and if these attributes be not found in the production, though there be a hundred higher, grander and more characteristic ones, we are wont to fail to recognize the production as truth. We recognize a friend by his clothes, perhaps, or by his gait, his voice, or by some such attributes, having but little relation to the real man. Another may recognize him by the flash of his eyes, or the expression of his face, as he saw it at some supreme moment of his life, and perhaps this one comes as near as any human being can, to knowing the real man, — an absolute knowledge whereof rests only in the Infinite. By whatever attributes that friend is recognized, those are the ones which the person will insist upon seeing represented in any production which he is willing to admit as a truthful representation.
Before leaving the subject of ideas of truth, some attention should b given to the fact that, since it is not wise to attempt an artistic representation of all the truths expressed by an object, it is necessary to consider what truths shall be given, and what omitted. It will readily be seen that the inore important truths should be given, and the more trivial ones omitted. This leads us at once to a consideration of what truths are most important.
There is a common aphorism, “ General truths are more important than particular ones." This is true in a certain usage as, for instance, when used in connection with a species. It is a truth of more importance to the world to know Newton's deduction that all objects attract each other, than to know the particular truth which led to it, viz., an apple falls to the earth if left unsupported in the air. It is of more importance that man should know that all his race are bipeds, than the fact that some particular man has two legs. But in these examples one particular factor, from the standpoint of art, is entirely overlooked. In producing a work of art the artist aims at the expression of such thoughts, feelings and motives as shall impress his auditor. He knows, or at least he should know, that those truths which are general, are, for the most part, so trite as to be passed by unnoted. If he be painting the portrait of a man, he will not expect to attract the observer's attention by the fact that he clothes him, for this is a general truth, and in no wise to be held characteristic of any particular man.
General truths are of most importance to the material world, because they apply to species or masses of things, but they are the least important to art, because works of art, in the main, deal with particular objects, applied to which general truths lose their breadth of application, and, having nothing characteristic in them, dwindle into comparative insignificance beside particular truths.
Let the student bear in mind then, that art, in the main, deals with individuals, rather than species, — with types, rather than with entire classes ; and that, for this reason, particular truths which are characteristic of the individual represented, are of far more value than general truths, which are only characteristic of the species or class to which the individual belongs. When a painter paints a portrait of a man he seeks to prefigure such individual truths as shall impress the observer with the man's personality, his ego, and, for this purpose, of course, he makes use of particular truths ; if, on the other hand, in the portrait of a man he desired to suggest, say the Caucasian race, he would adopt those general truths which are true to no man as an individual , perhaps, but are true to this race, as a race.
In the former case, the aim of the artist is to make the picture of the man stand out from that of all his fellows, by the intrinsic difference of its God-given personality : in the latter case, the aim of the painter is to sink all personality in a composite representation or type of a race.
From the above it will be seen that particular truths are of the greatest importance, because they are characteristic. Now, the fact should not be overlooked that particular truths, which alone, may be of the utmost importance, and may warrant the utmost skill of the artist at certain times, may, by their association with other, and more important truths, be entirely overshadowed and forced into the background. For example, the drapery of the Savior in “ Christ Before Pilate,” would, if it were considered by itself, be the object of such particular truths as might very properly engage the utmost finish of the artist, but the truths which indicate the personality of the Savior are so vastly more important, that such work