Arts Adaption To Refine And Ennoble The Mind
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
The most important and the most exalted of all the advantages derived from the study of art, considered as an intellectual pursuit, must, however, be acknowleged to consist in its practical adaptation and extensive power to refine and en-noble the mind, and to furnish it with ideas of the most sub-lime and lofty nature, and by this means to open to it a new source of enjoyment, and an extended sphere of operation. It not only thus invigorates the soul, but contributes to raise it above sensual pursuits and enjoyments, and to render them gross and inattractive. It thus also indirectly promotes virtue, by directly making vice distasteful.
The study and cultivation of art appear, moreover, to be extensively beneficial to the mind, as tending to detach it from subjects which are gross and material, and to lead it to those which are spiritual and ideal. This is especially required in an age when the pursuit of business and of wealth engages so large a share of the attention of mankind. Even the study of science requires in many cases this correction. The contemplation of art, especially as it is followed by our greatest artists in each department, directly leads us to admire the good and the pure, and to despise those individuals and qualities which are of an opposite nature. The exaltation and praise of virtue are, indeed, the legitimate province of art, as are also the re-probation and denunciation of vice. By being habitually led to admire and to delight in the grand and the beautiful, which is the immediate result of the study of art, the mind becomes raised and purified, and sensual pursuits lose their gratification and their influence.
The cartoons of Raphael, in which we see represented the most momentous events that have affected mankind, afford to us the noblest examples of works of art calculated to produce these grand results, and of a mind capable of imagining and describing an important transaction in this manner. In the contemplation of these truly divine masterpieces of art, we are overwhelmed by the apparent greatness and stupendous nature of the event; our ideas of the subject, and of the individuals represented, are raised far above what we should be naturally led to conceive of them; we regard them as beings of an order superior to our own. It is indeed the power of describing with such grandeur and effect, and of ennobling a subject thus, that renders the highest walk in the arts capable of such great and important ends, and which entitles it to that high station among those intellectual pursuits which are especially worthy of engaging the attention, and occupying the study of the wisest among mankind.
The pleasures of taste and the admiration of nature, not only afford to every one an agreeable relaxation, and serve to re-fresh the mind, but have moreover the effect of purifying it, and of elevating it above sensual pursuits and enjoyments, and form a delightful and improving occupation after other severer studies, while they conduce to adorn and stimulate the latter. By this means a constant variety of interest is supplied from different objects in nature; a source of enjoyment which may at all times be had recourse to, and may be partaken of without expense or trouble.
The arts, indeed, as regards their effect in refining and elevating the mind, constitute a kind of natural inspiration. They subdue to the higher influences the grosser passions, and afford to the soul the purest and the most ecstatic pleasures. And the arts are, moreover, associated in the divine records with the enjoyment of the purest and highest pursuits, appropriated by God himself as the reward of his true followers. Indeed, the very delights of Heaven are of this pure and noble nature, and are fitted only for beings who are thus exalted and refined. And it is in that state alone that our contemplation of the grand and the beautiful can be completely indulged, and our loftiest joys, especially those which are intellectual, perfected to the full, which will be mainly accomplished through gratifications of this sublime order.
A due perception of the grand and the beautiful, a correct exertion of taste, is indeed the ultimate object, the highest aspiration of a large and most important part of education. For this purpose we study the ancient classics. This is the true value of the great poets and orators of Greece and Rome. But a picture may afford as much food to the mind as a book, and a gallery of choice works of art, as a library of ancient authors. Michael Angelo will thus be found as inspiring as Homer ; and the productions of Raphael may refine the mind equally with the strains of Virgil. The ultimate effect on the mind of either study will be the same. Hence, collections of painting and sculpture may be regarded as schools for the soul, as well as for the eye or the hand. Music, by its refining influence, may do as much for the morals of a people as many volumes of ethics, and the most striking sermons may be delivered from the stage. In each case, however, it is necessary, in order to derive advantage, that we not only see and hear, but under-stand and feel what is communicated to us, Without the due study of art, neither its nature nor its capacities can be fully understood. We not only, unless so qualified, do not perceive its mode of operation, but the powers that it possesses. The more the mind is cultivated, the more will it appreciate the excellences of art; and the higher those excellences are, the more essential is cultivation duly to appreciate them.
As wild beasts are said to be tamed by the strains of music, so the passions are subdued and mollified by the influences of art; and instead of contributing to debase the mind, are availed of to move us in the contemplation of this ennobling pursuit. By cultivation not only do the higher powers of the soul acquire strength and activity, but the lower influences of the body become by this means subjugated to them.