Universal Experience Of Its Value And Effect
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
As art appeals to the minds of people of all ages and all times alike, so in a corresponding manner the experience of its potency and of its value is felt by all. And this is the case as regards each of the arts. Moreover, as men universally, and what-ever be their character or their occupation, seek after pleasure ; and as the delights which art of each kind affords are among the pleasures which are most extensive and most generally sought after, so the influence of art is as universal as are the experience and appreciation of its charms. Not only, indeed, to the painter, but to the student of art of each kind, to the poet, to the musician, the orator, the sculptor, the architect, the actor, the landscape gardener, the designer of costume, and, above all, to every person of taste and education, a new world is opened by the cultivation of art, and new scenes and fresh feelings are called forth, if not actually created by means of this pursuit. He who judiciously and ardently devotes himself to the study of art, sees with different eyes, hears with different ears, and experiences different sensations to what he did before his powers were developed by artistical cultivation.
It is, however, scarcely necessary to calculate upon the effects which the arts in general are capable of producing upon a nation, and upon mankind at large, when we have the most splendid examples in history to which we can refer at once to establish by experience the truth of what I have been maintaining. The most celebrated of the States of antiquity were not more distinguished from all other nations by their greatness and power, than by the perfection to which among them the arts were carried. When their glory was in its meridian splendour, it was then that the arts mainly flourished, and were most extensively diffused among them. When the arts became neglected, the State also degenerated and decayed. Nor is this matter of mere speculation only, or of chance coincidence ; but the result admits of easy solution, and the mutual relation between the cause and the effect are satisfactorily and plainly to be traced.
In the States of old, indeed, the uses of art, both direct and indirect, were mighty as well as various. The arts were made to contribute not only to the refinement of the people, but to the observance of the laws, and the inculcation of religion and morality. Nor are they in any respect less capable of exerting the same influence now.
All nations and all time unite, indeed, in attesting the power and the influence of art, corresponding with the universality of its application to the minds and the feelings of each. Speaking in a voice intelligible to those of every country alike, it appeals at once to their common understanding. Addressing them in the language of nature, the response is the same wherever its tones are heard. Probably on no other subject of human interest has there been so remarkable a coincidence of sentiment, proceeding from the utmost variety, nay, even contrariety of characters,—men differing in position, feeling, endowment, and interest,—as on the subject of art, or respecting which the homage paid to its influence and its power has been so universal. Indeed, not only by the civilized but by the barbarous this has been acknowledged, and perhaps the rude, even more than the refined, have testified the extent of this power. The charms of music have moved the hearts not merely of savages but of brute beasts ; and even reptiles have been thus excited, The love of artistical decoration too, and the strains of poetry and eloquence, have been observed among the rudest people. From the earliest dawn of civilization to its present high condition, and amidst the huts and tents of wild hordes of hunters and bushmen, as well as in the halls and palaces of the nineteenth century, the influence of art has been felt and owned, and its potency has been proclaimed.