The Artists Power Over Human Minds
( Originally Published 1896 )
Few persons realize the artist's power over the human mind and heart. Man is a being subject to impressions and external influences. Every companion he associates with, every book he reads, every picture he sees leaves impressions upon him that have their effect. Every time he enters a room or church, the objects in that room or church that he has looked upon with attention, whether it be the minister, the choir, the living people, or works of art, as pictures, statuary, frescos, carvings, - leave more or less impressions that make him some-what different from what he was before. Any one would admit that if he saw a bad picture or heard bad language, it would make an impression deeper than the eye or ear. So it is just as true of good and worthy objects that meet the senses.
The Evil One has long understood and employed the mighty power of art in his service. A writer in the London Lancet speaks as follows of murder culture by the pictorial art: "No fact is more patent to science than the direct effect of influences exerted through the medium of the senses upon the brain-that particular part of the organism whose functioning we call mind. Darwin, Ruskin, and all the great students of development have labored to bring this fact within cognizance of the general thinking public; that they have failed is only too painfully evidenced by the persistence and surprising ingenuity of the practice of cultivating homicidal propensities, and collaterally murder, by a refined use of the art of mural decoration. While we empower the police to put down with a strong hand the exhibition in shop windows, and the censor of stage plays and spectacles to interdict the parade in theaters of pictures and scenes of an 'immoral' character, because it is recognized that these have a tendency to corrupt the mind of youth-and age too nothing whatever is done to restrain the daily increasing evil of pictorial placards displayed on every boarding, and of highly-wrought scenes produced at nearly all the theaters, which not only direct the thoughts, but actively stir the passions of the people in such way as to familiarize the average mind with murder in all its forms, and to break down that protective sense of `horror' which nature has given us, with the express purpose, doubtless, of opposing an obstacle to the evil influence of the exemplification of homicide. It does seem strange-passing strange - that this murder-culture by the educationary use of the pictorial art has not been checked by public authority."
There is danger of glorifying war in art by an undue perpetuation and recalling of its horrors on canvas and too many bronze or marble monuments and statues of great chieftains and men of blood. The Bible distinctly declares that God would not permit even King David to build the great temple at Jerusalem because he had been a man of war and blood, even in a righteous cause, but the privilege was reserved for his son Solomon whose name meant " peace."
To go into many art galleries and even parlors, one would conclude that Mars, the old heathen god of war, is the deity worshiped in these times. War is some-times necessary and perhaps inevitable, but it is always barbaric, rough, brutal, and demoralizing-at best but legalized murder. War is the bloody monster that marches to the wail of widows' sighs and orphans' cries. John Bright said in a speech in favor of peace that the expense of the late civil war in America would have sufficed to free all the slaves without cost of war. Did we ever think that the war made it cost seven hundred and fifty dollars a piece to free the slaves, and the life of more than one soldier for every five slaves freed?
A distinguished writer, having observed how conspicuous is the martial spirit in the arts of France and Germany, whose museums and art galleries are so crowded with cruel and bloody battle scenes, says: "It was a pitiful spectacle to see the arts thus degraded, enslaved, pressed into the service of barbarism, instead of advancing and glorifying civilization." "Bloodshed and slaughter were glorified; here the chieftains of war, in shining harness, mounted upon superb steeds, were receiving the homage of the conquered neighbors beyond the Rhine; there the wounded and the dying were half raising themselves on their elbows, swinging their blood bespattered caps, and, with breaking voices, cheering the Emperor and Bismark or the Crown Prince and Von Moltke as they rode by."
It is well to have our children read the history of the. struggles of mankind for principle and liberty, and especially how our forefathers fought and bled for freedome, so as to make the young patriotic and in sympathy with the world's heroes; but bloody pictorial scenes of carnage and cruel death, with cannons, guns, bombs, bayonets, and swords, as an element of education, are pernicious. These cruel symbols have a like effect upon the nature of youth as blood-curdling dime-novel literature, or as flaunting the red cloth has upon the animal in the Spanish bullfights.
If we want our boys to become barbarians, thirsting for somebody's blood, we only need to place on constant exhibition before their eyes and impressible natures' blood-stirring battle scenes between man and his brother man, which, we are happy to say, civilization and arbitration, and the arts of peace, are, under the Gospel of Christ, outgrowing. " Blessed are the peace-makers.
One has well said, " Pictures of peace are better than those of war. Strife may be painted for instruction or-to show skill, but fratricidal scenes are not objects for contemplation to be dwelt upon long. The artist Allston would never paint a battle scene."
Not everything, though even truth and fact, is a fit, subject for art. That beauty is largely ideal and ugliness real is no proof that ugliness ought to be imitated on canvas or in marble or bronze.