National Utility Of Art
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
But, if the arts are capable of producing these great and important effects upon individuals, will not their effects be proportionably great on a body of persons, on a nation, among whom they are cultivated and studied ? This doubtless must be, as it ever has been, the result. It almost follows, indeed, as a necessary consequence, that if art or any other pursuit is thus beneficial to the people in general, it must be so to a nation at large, which consists only of a number of persons united together into one community for the intellectual and moral, as well as for the physical benefit of the whole. And if art produces a national beneficial effect, it is surely deserving of national patronage. Through the general cultivation of art, the national taste becomes refined and elevated, and the pursuits of the people are correspondingly raised.
It has been observed by Burke, who was not only a great statesman and philosopher, but one who had also the finest perceptions of all that was noble and beautiful and sublime in art, and who was deeply sensible of the important effects which are produced by causes such as these, "that nations are not primarily ruled by laws." And doubtless there are moral causes, such as those which operate through the dissemination of the arts among a people, which are far more influential on a nation than any laws can be. Indeed, the national effects that art is capable of producing, by refining the pursuits and inclinations of a people, by leading them off from sensual enjoyments, and by raising their feelings and tone of thought, are unquestionably 'of the very highest importance. Plato declares that "even the measures of music are never altered without affecting the most important laws of the State."* Pictures and music are among the most efficient instructors and refiners of the populace, as, in the first place, they are understood by all, to some extent at least, addressing themselves directly to the mind in the universal language of nature; and, in the next place, instruction by this mode is of all others the most pleasing, and is consequently the most acceptable to the mind, the most readily received into it, and the most willingly retained.
The highest character that a nation can possess is, as in the case of an individual, in respect to its intellectual and moral elevation. This will be essentially advanced by its cultivation of the polite arts, and will be greatly dependent on their condition among its people.
As regards the relationship between different nations, the pursuit and admiration of the same liberal arts, which form so strong a bond of friendship between different men, constitute also a mighty though invisible chain to unite together in the ties of common feeling the various kingdoms of the world.
It is, moreover, only when the value and real utility of the arts in various ways, and in a national point, have become fully obvious to the people at large, that we can expect them voluntarily and liberally to contribute to their promotion.