Theory Of The Arts
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
As man is the highest of God's creatures, so the noblest of God's works is the mind of man. Those of our capacities which are the most exalted adapt us for the study of the beautiful and the grand. Nevertheless, the different pursuits in which any person may be engaged, are in their nature as various as are the faculties with which he is endowed. The object of one study is to invigorate the mind ; that of another to refine it : one has for its end to render it acute ; another to store it with knowledge. Each of these pursuits may be therefore very different in their nature one from another, but each may be at the same time of corresponding, if not equal utility in its proper sphere. Real utility, indeed, depends on the actual advantage which is derived from the undertaking, whether this be the cultivation of the mental powers, the enlargement of our capacities, or the improvement of the heart. None but the sordid and the base would confine it to what merely occasions an increase of wealth.
Considering the subject in this comprehensive manner, and which is, I conceive, the only correct mode in which it ought to be dealt with, it may be advanced as an incontrovertible maxim that the real value of each pursuit or occupation depends entirely on its actual utility. Any study, indeed, if it serves to improve and to enlarge the mind,—to extend its capacities, and to lead to the full development of its faculties, especially of the highest that it possesses,—is surely of as much importance, of equal utility in the strictest sense, with those pursuits which conduce to our mere physical or pecuniary advantage. To an intellectual being, the care and improvement of his understanding ought to be an object as much above his bodily concerns and mere sensual gratification, as his high nature as an intelligent and moral creature is superior to his condition as a mere animal.
But, in many respects, the enlargement and cultivation of the mental powers is the surest and most direct mode for the attainment even of pecuniary profit and advancement, in a highly civilized state of society; one of the distinguishing characteristics of which is the superior importance that is attached to the possession of exalted endowments of this class, and the solid advantages which they procure for the possessor. In an intellectual and moral point, moreover, the improvement of the mind and the softening of the heart, will be admitted to be results of the utmost value in any pursuit. When they both are promoted, as they essentially are by the study of art, how desirable and how useful must such an occupation prove ! By this means, however, not only are pleasure and instruction both afforded, but the very instruction itself is rendered a source of pleasure.
Art is sometimes unreasonably disparaged, and is degraded below its true and proper position, by speaking of it as in its nature merely ornamental, and contrasting it with what is useful. In strict truth, however, art, if fairly examined, is not only useful as well as ornamental, but fully as useful as it is ornamental. And its use is, moreover, of the highest and most genuine kind, contributing not indeed to our sensual indulgence, or our corporeal wants, to which the meaning of utility is often limited; but ministering to our purest and noblest requirements, those which are intellectual and moral. Altogether erroneous is it therefore to consider art as merely ornamental, or as conducing only to luxurious enjoyment, and therefore superfluous. As I have endeavoured to show, the noblest faculties of the mind owe their improvement to its cultivation, and that in the highest degree, and the most extended manner. Nor can the occasional abuse of this or any other pursuit be ever fairly resorted to as an argument for its disuse. While works of mere pecuniary utility apply only to the requisites of the body, works of taste and genius, such as those which are embraced within the province of art, apply them-selves to the exigencies of the mind. Animals partake of the pleasures of the one ; men and angels only are capacitated for the enjoyment of the other. The utility of the one is in its nature limited; that of the other is without limit. The delights of the one belong only to earth ; the raptures of the other are adapted to raise us into the very spheres of Heaven.