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Art As Mental And Spiritual

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Art is a form produced by a man, and a man is not yet a spirit. He may have spiritual instincts tending, in a vague way, toward a recognition and production of the beautiful; but, as a man, with a human mind working in a consciously rational way, he knows nothing about form except as he may perceive it in the external world, of the appearances of which alone he is conscious. Nor can he produce form, except so far as he recombines those factors of it which have already been created for him in this external world. One hears a man talk to himself, and he imitates the general form of the talk in a lyric. He hears men talk together, and he imitates the general effect in a drama. He hears them hum, and he imitates the general effect in a melody. He looks at scenery and a human figure, and he imitates the general effect in a painting or a statue. He notices the methods in nature of protection, support, and shelter, and he imitates the general effect in a building. So far as a man is an artist, i. e., a being who works by intellection as well as by inspiration, it is always nature that furnishes his model. Especially is this true of that which, in art, is beautiful. There is no beauty without form. There is no form except in visible or audible nature. There is no beauty of form that is not suggested in connection with an observation of nature. This applies not only to the general outlines of art-form, but to the de-tails of its elaboration—to rhythm, proportion, tone, color, and the harmony of tone and color. All these, in their perfected phases, are developments of certain great laws of appearance which have to do with the pleasurable or disagreeable effects produced upon the nervous organization of the eye or ear, or, through suggestion, of the mind itself. There are many physical and psychical elements which, in certain circumstances, enter into the requirements of beauty; but of all these a man knows with certainty only so far as he may study their effects in material nature. What then?—Is beauty merely an attribute of matter?—a superficial quality? Is Plato wholly wrong? Has the idea, the spiritual force which he supposes to be the cause of the expression, no influence? Just the contrary may be true. But so far as the idea appeals to the mind, it can become an object of conscious thought only when embodied in material nature . . . and any one who has faith in the Creative Spirit has faith to believe that the arrangements of nature are such that a thoughtful mind will not fail to find illustrated in them exactly those principles and laws which are suited for one's highest mental and spiritual requirements. Art in reproducing the appearances and methods of nature continues and develops their mental and spiritual effects. In the lyric, the play, the novel, the picture, the statue,—and always in the degree in which the imitation of nature is exact, art widens the experience an opinion concerning its workmanship. Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture as Representative Arts, XVI.

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