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Art And The Spirit

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


If there be anything which, very often, the higher arts are distinctly not, it is the expression of the spirit of their age. Greek architecture of the fourth century before Christ, and Gothic of the thirteenth after him, may have been this; although even they were developments of what had been originated long before. But all the unmodified examples of Greek or Gothic architecture produced since then-and at certain periods they have abounded to the exclusion of almost every other style of building—have been expressions not of the age in which they were produced, but of that long past age in which their models were produced. The same in principle is true in all the arts. The forms most prevalent in poetry, painting, sculpture, even in music, are always more or less traditional, determined, that is, by the artists of the past. As, in its nature, the traditional is not essentially different from the historic, it is doubtful whether these conditions will not continue in the direct degree in which, in the study of art, this latter is made to dominate; and it is not at all doubtful whether the criticism calling itself historic is not belying its title when .. . it ignores the historic fact that forms, which logically ought to develop according to the spirit of an age, very often, owing to a servitude to conventionality that interferes with a free expression of originality, do not so develop.—Art in Theory, Preface.


Nor is there a statue or a painting which depicts natural life, especially human life, as we are accustomed in our own day to see it—yet notice that this argument could not apply, even remotely, to anything approaching deformity or vulgarity—but every curve or color in it seems to frame at times the soul of one to be loved, not by another, but by ourselves; and, so far as Providence sends spiritual development through imparting a sense of sympathy with friend, brother, sister, father, mother, wife, or child, there, in the presence of art, that development for a while is experienced. —Essay on Art and Education.


To say nothing of religion—what a revival of art there might be, in an age which many deem too materialistic to be at all poetic, if only what is unfolded in these pages with reference to the subconscious and the spiritual could be widely recognized to be true !—The Representative Significance of Form, Preface.


Notice how important is any agency that can lift people who have no theories admitting the possibility of inspiration, into a practical realization of it. This is what art does. Through the results of the subconscious mind, coalescing, as we shall find by-and-by, with those of the conscious mind, it everywhere surrounds the material with the halo of the spiritual, causing the minds that will not even acknowledge the existence of the latter, to enter upon a practical experience of it in ideas, and to accept, when appearing in the guise of imagination, what they would reject if presented in its own lineaments. So in an age like our own, art may do a large part of the work peculiar to religion. The artist though not a seer always has within him the possibility of being the seer's assistant. No wonder therefore that those not versed in making discriminations should identify the poets with the prophets. Perhaps the majority of all expressions to which we attribute inspiration are, in their form, poetical; and there is no truth so exalted, so infinite, eternal, absolute, that the artist, by reproducing the forms about him, cannot suggest it to imagination; nor any truth so spiritual and unfamiliar, or capable of being realized in only so remote a future, that he cannot present this truth in forms in which many minds, however prejudiced and material their tendencies, will not be glad to welcome it.—Idem, VII.


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