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Art Criticism

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


One is tempted by it toward the easy task of a destructive critic in general, and to the easier task of destroying their reputations in particular. But a man who becomes a destructive critic, except when intellectual slaughter is justified in order to prevent the slaughter of the truth which he represents, is one who has turned from the discussion of principles and is willing to imperil the acceptance of them for the empty, often merely malicious satisfaction of doing personal harm to those whom he should wish to help. In the long run, to live and to let live is the wisest way of serving the truth, whether of mind or of heart.—The Genesis of Art-Form, XV.



The only valid arguments that can be urged against any form of criticism must be connected in some way with a proof that it is destructive and not constructive; or that, if it be the latter, it becomes so by pointing to imitation and not to invention; or, if to invention, only to methods of it which necessitate a departure from the first principles of the art rather than a development of them. Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture as Representative Arts, XXI.


Criticism cannot produce personality, but can guide it to successful performance. It can prevent that total waste of ability which is invariably expended upon worthless products, where either imitation or eccentricity has led taste away from a recognition of standards which are as enduring as the ages, because rationally deduced from principles deeply seated in humanity and in nature. Rules of art cannot create artistic ability; but they can cultivate it. They cannot make a man a genius ; but, if he have genius, they can enable him to give it vent in such ways that it will exert its due influence; and, if he live, as every man does, where he must accommodate his productions to the demands of those about him, the study of aesthetics can elevate conceptions and tastes so as to give a higher aim to the efforts which are directed to the satisfying of them. The born artist may be a ruler of humanity by divine right; but it is art, the requirements of which can be taught and learned, that alone can give him his government, army, palace, throne, crown, and sceptre, and not only these, but the subjects, too, who on account of their appreciation of the significance of these will acknowledge his authority.—Proportion and Harmony of Line and Color, XXVI.


There is less danger, therefore, than is sometimes sup-posed, that scientific pursuits will diminish the facility of one's imagination. There is always a possibility, of course, that a single mode of thinking, if pursued exclusively, will predominate in the mind; but if two modes be pursued together, and especially if one be pursued for the direct purpose of giving efficiency to the other, this aim will cause both to be kept in use, and counterbalance the possibility. As a fact, we find few instances in history in which a liberal education, properly subordinated, has proved an injury to the aesthetic nature. Milton wrote little poetry until he had finished his political work. Goethe and Schiller both profited much from the discriminating scientific criticism to which, as appears in their correspondence, they were accustomed to submit their productions; at all events, they achieved their greatest successes subsequent to it. And with criticism playing all about his horizon, like lightnings from every quarter of the heavens, who shall calculate how much of the splendor of Shakespeare is attributable to this by-play among the circle of dramatists by whom he was surrounded? With new forms rising still like other Venuses above the miasmas of the old Campagna, who shall estimate how much the excellence of the Italian artists has been owing to the opportunities afforded in historic Rome for critical study?—The Representative Significance of Form, XIII.


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