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Beautiful Vs. The Artistic

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The artistic may result from any isolated proof of craftsmanship. Not so with the beautiful. It is general in its effects, and these transcend those of the craftsman. The light that it possesses is like that of a halo. It illumines everything of which it forms a part, its influence on the mind extending to the whole mental environment, giving suggestions to imagination, stimulus to aspiration, and filling every allied department and recess of energy with that subtle force which men attribute to inspiration. It is merely in accordance with a law of nature, therefore, that, as a fact, all such statues, pictures, poems, buildings of past ages as are universally considered to be great conform to the laws of ethics almost as fully as to the laws of aesthetics, —in other words, that one test of greatness in art has always been its influence upon morals. Essay on Art and Morals.


The question, as applied to sights or sounds, suggests at once that when a man, not for a useful but, . . . for an aesthetic end, reproduces these, he must do so mainly because something about them has interested, attracted, and, as we say, charmed him. There is one word that we are accustomed to apply to any form, whether of sight or of sound, that attracts and charms us. It is the word beautiful ... To-day, everywhere, it seems to be conceded that arts of the highest class should reproduce mainly, at least, and some seem to think solely, such phenomena of nature as are beautiful. . . . For a sufficient reason then did the Abbe Du Bos in 1719, in his "Reflexions critique sur la Poésie et la Peinture, " first apply to the arts the term "Les Beaux Arts."—The Essentials of .Esthetics, II.


And people call, and most of them think, the prevailing style beautiful, merely because it happens to be current and popular. They are so constituted that, consciously or unconsciously, they are unable to resist the tide that, apparently, is bearing along every one else. When the same tendencies appear in art it strikes me that the critic who is of value to the world is the man who, in case public opinion be setting in the wrong direction, is able to resist it, is able to look beneath the surface, analyze the effects, detect the errors, put together his conclusions, and have independence enough to express them. When the current theory is riding straight toward the brink, he is the man who fore-sees the danger, screws down the brakes, and turns the steeds the other way—not the sentimentalist irresponsibly swept into folly by the fury of the crowd, or the demagog whooping its shibboleth to the echo, because, forsooth, he must be popular. Essay on Art and Education.


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