The Application Of Art
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IN his last chapter an author discloses his reasons for having written the book. In it he preaches his moral, expounds his philosophy—or, no longer concerned about holding his reader's attention, he reveals the mailed fist beneath silken glove. Time, then, for the uncovering of mine.
My conclusions from the study of universal taste are embraced in what may be termed the pragmatism of art. Now pragmatism, as you know, is the practical application of psychology. It means using all that is known of the science of the mind in daily life. Pragmatism of art, then, would be applying the basic principles of that subject. Where shall we apply them? First, quite naturally, in our homes. But we cannot all possess art treasures. No matter. The best in art is within reach of all. A cultivated taste, while immensely useful, is not the possession I have in mind. Something vastly more important is involved.
The principles of art employed in making a home—that is art pragmatism. I mean this literally. Costly possessions need not enter into it. The underlying principles which govern works of art may be successfully followed in creating worth-while home surroundings, in making of the home itself a work of art. Here is the equipment required: (1) a knowledge of the rules; (2) furnishings to fit a given space; (3) a modicum of taste; (4) a few grains of common sense.
What then are the rules, or standards of art? Unity, symmetry, balance, composition, color, expression, harmony and our old Chinese favorite, rhythmic vitality. To them all the arts must adhere. They are the foundation of all that mankind creates in expressing itself artistically. Essential in painting, sculpture and architecture, they are equally important in an opera, good jazz, your Sunday sermon—or this book. Their mere recital seems a full explanation of my thesis. Obviously they should make an artistic home, as they make for art in any other medium.
Producing a worth-while home is largely a matter of selection and grouping. Unity and symmetry, these are nothing more than proportion, fitness. Some things go together. Others do not. A simple Windsor chair is delightful in its place. No less desirable is a carved Chinese table. But somehow the two do not mate. Balance involves all the things in a room, or in the entire home. It requires careful study. Color is simple: choosing things with a view to their blending or harmonizing with other things; or, better still, choosing everything with a complete color scheme in view—always bearing in mind that a dull home holds no more potentiality of enjoyment than a dull person.
Composition means placing objects with a view to pleasing or interesting outline in ensemble. A little study will do that. Expression—what each room, or the entire house, will have to say for itself—here is much to think about. Will your home speak with welcome or hauteur, will it cheer or chill? It is in your power to produce any number of effects. All it needs is a little study. Settings for desired effects are possible on the stage, why not in the home? Make up your mind what you want your home to say to your friends and to you—then make it deliver the message. Next you consider harmony. Careful attention to all the other elements will produce that.
Finally, you want rhythmic vitality. Pulsation, vibration, pleasing movement are to be sought in the make-up of a home as in any work of art. Artists will tell you that it is not easy of attainment in any medium. Certainly it is difficult when you deal with that heterogeneous mass of articles comprising the furnishings of your home. But it is well worth the effort. Study the effect of your objects and colors on one another. And remember, you are after pleasing, gentle vibration—the shimmy is not art.
The secret of the worth-while home lies not in expense but in ideas. Incidentally, by applying thought and judgment you will also be giving expression to your personality. Here, then, is an outlet for self-expression, the need of which is as strong in you as in any artist. Say it in your home.
The underlying principles of art have other uses. The well-dressed woman has put them to the test through the ages. But I want to point out another place for these art standards—and it is even more my justification for having written this volume—their application to the business of living. To be successful here is of paramount importance to us all. It involves the art of life itself.
Before proceeding with that, however, permit me an-other thought or two on the home. First, I am using the term in its broadest sense. The rules here enumerated apply to the rooming-house fourth floor rear just as much as the bootlegger's palace. They are equally effective for the son's dormitory at school and father's club on the avenue.
Second, we are exceedingly fortunate in knowing how all peoples who preceded us treated their homes. We may slavishly copy old ideas, if we are that lacking in originality. Or we may apply underlying principles of other days to our own artistic needs. Thus, while adhering to the fundamental rules which I outlined in making of the home a work of art, we may keep before us the Greek ideal of purity, Venetian love of color, Dutch cleanliness, French intellectuality—any or all as may suit our purpose.
Third, while my rules should prove effective regardless of rarity or intrinsic worth of furniture and decorative objects, I believe in the good to be derived from living with works of art. A good painting in your home, or a piece of sculpture, grows on you like a good friend. Aside from its purely decorative value, it radiates an indefinable something from which the longer you live with it the more you derive of genuine satisfaction. I cannot put my finger on this. It may be the personality of the artist speaking through his work. Or a personality far greater—the essence of all that is good in the universe —speaking through the artist and his work both. You will find it the same with an artistic rug, or vase, or piece of glass, or chair--or anything made by the hand and heart of man.
And now for the application of the rules of art to the art of life. Bear in mind that this is in no sense a sermon. I am not concerned with your religion, or your soul. I do not even want to see you good or virtuous. That is your look-out. If you can derive more from life by following the path that leads to prison bars that is your business. If you are honestly convinced that the best way to express yourself is through Mephistophelean channels, by all means go to the devil. What I am trying to do is help you get the most out of life by applying to what you do and the way you live the principles which make good art.
Well, then, let us take unity. Its application to life is simple in the extreme. In fact, simplicity is of its essence. In the language of the street, "Be yourself." Don't try to put on airs. You are far more attractive as you are. Besides which, you never get away with very much. Be consistent. Of what use is it to be a roaring lion in the office and a gentle lamb at home? If you have a better time of it at home why not try the same thing in business? For if you are built along muttony lines and assume a leonine role you are making yourself and every-body around you miserable to no purpose whatsoever. Or if playing the lion gives you the most pleasure, then roar everywhere. The point I make is that the impression you create is of no consequence. What really matters is, what are you getting out of life? Be you good or bad—and for my purpose it matters not which—you will get the most out of life by being true to yourself, by following the principle of unity.
Symmetry and balance may be combined into what is known as a balanced life. By that I do not mean killing yourself at work and for an antidote doing the same at cards. Cultivating a sense of proportion would come nearer my meaning. Doing things in moderation, balancing your activities one against the other. And moderation may be practiced even in the business of money-making.
How many Americans there are who plunge into business like mad, throw all their vitality into it in the hope that success will bring leisure and opportunity for enjoyment—who on the threshold of success are received by the undertaker. A sense of proportion is necessary always. Get what you can out of all that life has to offer, and get it all the time. But for your own sake pick what is really good for you.
Composition is in the things and the people you surround yourself with. This requires planning and is well worth it. As concerns things, obviously pleasing ones will bring pleasure, elevating ones will raise you to a higher level, and so on ad infinitum. The question of people is a bit more involved. To begin with, you are born into a family and married into a flock of in-laws. You are thrown into associations in office or shop. At times it seems as if there are in this world but two kinds of people—those that wouldn't have you and the ones you do not want. If you choose, there is always the danger of being considered a snob. Oh, yes, this offers never-ending complexities and perplexities. But it is your life. You must live it so as to get the most out of it. Pick your associations in spite of everything. Make it your business to be attractive to worth-while people, attract their society. If you want flowers you must plant wisely. And you must weed and cultivate.
Now for color and harmony. Taken in their literal sense, these have much to offer towards the enrichment of your life. I need but mention the value of impressions from good music, literature, art, flowers, hills and fleecy clouds. But more is involved. You must cultivate the habit of drawing color into your life and using it to radiate harmony. Under this head come travel and sensitiveness to impressions. The sight of St. Peter's at Rome should leave something lasting inside of you. Also a glimpse of an unwashed urchin face. Color' includes interest. And life is measured not in years but in what it yields by way of interesting experience. As the root sucks up vitality from the earth, distributes it through the plant and makes color in the rose, so must we draw from environment what we need for growth, let it mix with what in us is best and produce the utmost of color. Consider, too, the effect of colorful personality on others. We are not directly concerned with them, since only your life's enjoyment is involved. Yet I cannot help but point out that a colorful personality pleasing to others casts an inverted glow and makes for harmony within.
Rhythmic vitality has been sufficiently described in the preceding pages. How to attain it in life is our present problem. How to get vibration, pulsation, scintillating movement into a humdrum existence. Indeed, to see the efforts some people make in trying to attain it is pathetic. That toothless codger leading a nineteen-year-old gold-digger to the altar is in search of rhythmic vitality. So is the respectable man of business from the Middle West who is making such an ass of himself in a New York night club. Boredom is the curse of the age: winking, wild youth seems to offer a way out. Rhythmic vitality is in the Lorelei's sun-kissed tresses.
But to attain this quality it is not necessary to freeze your feet at stage doors, nor to acquire hardening of the arteries chasing after fur-clad will-o'-the-wisps. The quest for happiness in those channels is too often disappointing. Rhythmic vitality must come from within.
Take an interest in things around you. Keep in touch with all that goes on. Let your heart beat with the pulse of the world. Make yourself interesting. Mingle with interesting people. That is rhythmic vitality in living.
I have left expression for the last, because on it depends to a large extent the success or failure of your other qualities. The impression you convey is involved here—your message, your personality. Will it make people want to take a second look at the picture? And it is all in your hands, like the rest. What it means is that you as an entity shall convey a message. Not in what you say, but in what you are. You do anyway—often the most strongly when you least want to. Whether that message shall be favorable or otherwise lies with you. But re-member what I said about unity. Not by a pose, not by sham may the desired result be achieved. You must be yourself. You must ring true. Be honest with yourself first of all. Study your weakness and your strength. Then set about to build up the message of your being. If it is right it will greatly help in achieving the other features of your work of art.
Does the task of making of your life a work of art seem difficult?
That is as it should be.