( Originally Published 1896 )
Art may be persuasive, kindle sentiment, and suggest something of reason, liberty, and divinity. There is a symbolic art helpful to Christianity. The simple figure of a cross is suggestive to the Christian. What more potent way sometimes of conveying an idea than through the eye resting on some form or color? A picture may testify of God, but not attempt to portray Him. Art has the power to excite the imagination and human passions rightly and make them mighty for good. There are marvelously perfect works of art which fill the mind with a wonder akin to awe, and minister to our noblest gratification. The sculptor's power of genius thrills you with astonishment and rapture as you gaze upon his creations. One may feel a spiritual presence when he comes alike into the company of a great mind or a noble picture or building. The great cathedrals of the middle ages have a power both to express and suggest spiritual aspiration. These matchless cathedrals of Europe to which the religious art of that period gave rise are the most grand and wonderful of human monuments, and will forever excite the admiration of men. No one can gaze upon these beautiful and majestic designs in marble without their leaving a deep and indelible impression on the soul. Those vast and elaborate miracles in stone "will awe and refine and inspire the souls of men until they dissolve again to dust. Indeed, time only adds to the inspiring power of true art-conceptions.
Art aids the memory. Ruskin says, " We can worship without architecture, but we cannot remember without her." Art assists the dormant taste. We are often surrounded by beauty, but do not perceive it. Art creates thought by detaching one thing from many, calling attention to what would be lost in variety.
Single objects awaken contemplation. A good song, or picture, or statue draws the heart through the ear or eye.
The spirit of an age or land may find almost complete expression on canvas. We may learn much of the quality and character of a people from their art. Through the pictures and art-illustrations produced in a given age or country, me may come to a knowledge of the civilization and refinement of that age. One writer says of the Dutch painters of the seventeenth century, " These pictures are better than an open book for the study of old Dutch civilization." In fact, pictures once largely supplied the place now occupied by reading-books and printed publications. The painters of the past often yielded to a popular demand and duplicated their productions for public sale and for purposes of instruction. The populace were at one period, as in the time of the Italian Renaissance, as fond of pictures as they are now fond of printed papers, magazines, and books.
Printing itself is an art - a new and more rapid means of expression. A great author may thus be a great artist of wide influence. A printed book that is filled with apt illustrations and pictures will give it a far greater power, and make it easier to comprehend. " A holy fire may burn as appropriately on the altar of a printed page as in the heart of a preacher's sermon." This is the age of men of letters, poets, musical composers,- the paper age, the age of printer's ink. Imaginative literature is to this age what imaginative painting was to the age of the Italian masters.
We fear that the new methods of education and expression by the art of printing are less effective upon man's spiritual nature than the all-but obsolete art of painting and sculpture, if not of architecture. For real spiritual aid, is man less dependent now, than at any time past, on the language of forms? There is no good reason why religious pictorial subjects should be offensive and abandoned by Protestant more than by Catholic. If the Catholic has kept excluded the printed book, except the prayer-book, and clung idolatrously to the traditional picture, shall the Protestant rush to the opposite extreme of the unreasoning iconoclast? In former ages, art had hardly more than a sacred or classical use, and though now it has come to be applied to hundreds of secular uses, extending to all nature and life, yet by what authority or reason should it be divorced from religion and the service of God? The arts have all been greatly abused, but they have never been, and are not now necessarily inseparable from a pure spiritual religion.
The popular signification of the term art seems to restrict its meaning mostly to sculpture and painting. Yet what is all art but a certain kind of language, as it were, with which to convey the knowledge of certain facts or beauties? Is there so much difference between a pen with ink on it and a brush with paint on it, that the former is a blessed thing and the latter a cursed thing? The little black letters or characters of the printed page are nothing essentially different from the larger characters of the painted page or canvas.
Great responsibilities rest upon writers and artists because people are apt to believe what they see printed ,or pictured. We hear much about the power of the press, yet art has a power that no pen or tongue can express. Thc influence of the great masterpieces of art is limited by their necessary location, and herein literature and music have the advantage in that they are capable of being widely diffused. If "music hath charms," so have painting, sculpture, and architecture. A picture may teach sincerity, truth, honesty, strong character, and point to a story, as is specially seen in many Dutch paintings. Pictures can teach some things. that cannot otherwise be so well shown. Nearly all secular and religious papers and periodicals are now using line drawing illustrations and the photo-engraving process more and more and thus coming to recognize the gain in power and influence by appealing to the eye and the aesthetic taste of all classes. There is not a more potent factor working in our Sunday schools than the Picture-Lesson papers for the children. The pictures will be remembered when the print is forgot-ten. The power of art is not limited to the mere expression of thought and feeling, but these are often largely directed and shaped by it. The learned writers of the Christian church have done much to determine religious thought and devotion by the printed page, but the fairly inspired Christian artists have hardly accomplished less by their immortal productions and teachings from the canvas.