answer these questions we had better ask ourselves again
for the thousandth time, What is the nature and purpose
of the fine arts? In the first place, it will recur
to us, the fine arts are a natural product of human
imagination finding expression in various forms through
various media. Such a product inevitably embodies the
characteristics of the creative impulse to which it
owes its origin; and if we would enquire what are the
invariable and inevitable essentials of art-of all the
arts, of music, poetry, painting and the rest-we must
ask what are the invariable and inevitable characteristics
of human nature. For whatever features human nature
presents we shall surely find in any work of human nature.
Now one of the most salient features of human nature
is this, that it has not one but three distinct ways
of appreciating the outer world. It perceives things
about it by means of the senses; it apprehends certain
stated facts as true and others as false; and it looks
on the universe always with a partial spirit-has preferences
likes and desires. To put it in plain terms, we are
made up of body, mind, and spirit, indissolubly linked
not only will all art, therefore, show traces of this
threefold nature of man; it will, of course, appeal
to each man in each of these three ways. Art must convince
our reason, it must enlist our sympathy, it must charm
our sensuous nature.
accomplish the first of these objects art must be true-true
to life, as we say. It must preserve such a semblance
of reality that even when it is incredible we shall
be half inclined to believe it. And this verity, on
which so-called realists insist so strongly, while it
is not the end of art, is certainly the beginning. More
than this, the subject-matter of art must be truth.
It is just as much the purpose of art to discover and
disseminate truth as it is of science and philosophy.
No art can be worth while which makes no attempt to
satisfy the curious mind of man.
accomplish its second purpose, the arousing of our emotions,
art must itself be impassioned. However profoundly true
an artist's convictions may be, however wise his philosophy,
however comprehensive his acquaintance with science,
he will forever fail to engender the stir of action
in his fellowmen, if he cannot impart warmth to his
productions and the vital force of love, or hate, or
fear, or courage, or wonder, or whatever passion he
will. And so looking upon his work we may admire his
skill, and agree with his conclusions about life, but
we shall never be really influenced, nor be moved to
alter our own conduct a hair's breadth on that account.
And his work, though brilliant, will be faulty and futile.
accomplish its third purpose and bring us palpable pleasure,
art must be beautiful; this is the business of technique.
And while this requisite is likely to be over-emphasized
by the artist himself, it is quite as likely to be undervalued
by the layman.
is particularly the case in our own day in regard to
art. A distracted and uncertain age, astonished with
the many revelations of science, must necessarily find
itself engrossed more with the matter than with the
form of art. We demand of art an answer to our innumerable
problems. This answer it is the business of art to give.
But in our haste we forget that no answer, however conclusive
to our reason, which is not at the same time consummate
in language and stirring with ardor can ever be final.
We ask what literature has to say, and care very little
how it is said; in fact, we demand from literature what
more strictly belongs to science. And since poetry is
the one sort of literature in which the form is made
of equal importance with the substance, we are inclined
to be indifferent to poetry altogether.
the temper of any period is, perhaps, never wholly normal;
it always shows a bias in one direction or another.
One age may insist on the excellence of the physical,
the necessary element of sensuous enjoyment, the paramount
need for beauty in the world; the next may issue quite
as strenuously on the eternal dominance of spiritual
and religious qualities in life; while the third is
engrossed with eager thought, with science, with metaphysics.
So that at no time do we have mankind engaged in the
effort to establish a balance between these three diverse
yet inseparable phases of our nature. And yet this is
the one thing we must attempt if we would help ourselves
forward on the interminable path to perfection.
we shall have established the worthiness of such an
ideal, when we shall have begun to make it prevail among
men, then we shall have at hand not only a canon of
criticism, but a canon of conduct and culture as well.
Even now we may begin to apply such a standard of criticism
to every kind of art, indeed to all our civilization,
whenever we have need to bring any work within the range
of judgement. We shall no longer be slaves of personal
caprice, dependent wholly on our individual point of
view, often all the more vehement because it is irrational.
Nothing human, indeed, will be alien to us, but, on
the other hand, nothing human will seem excellent which
does not make at least some pretense to represent human
nature in its entirety, which does not tend to foster
and encourage that threefold ideal. Men and manners,
art, industry and religion, every guise in which our
activity shows itself on this earth, will be subject
to this unique, irrefutable canon.
a new and deservedly popular novel comes up for discussion,
we shall say of it, perhaps, "Yes, it has great
beauty and strength; it moves us profoundly; and yet
after all it does not give us any sound or comprehensive
judgement upon life; it is ineffectual in its philosophy."
Here would be an instance of a work of art lacking on
the mental side. Or again it might have a different
fault. It might be profoundly keen and discriminating
in its psychology, stirring in its appeal to our sympathy,
and yet after all so slovenly and ill done as to be
wholly wanting in beauty. There would be an instance
of neglect of the physical side of art.
to a painting or a statue or a piece of music. Our first
question must always be, How does it respect the great
law of normal human development, how nearly does it
come to representing normal poise? Or of human character,
when we come to discuss its merits and defects, we shall
be able to say this one was at fault here, another was
at fault there, because of a lack of force or a lack
of emotion and will or a lack of reasoning capacity.
is the business of art to charm and entertain us; it
is the business of art to move and inspire and ennoble
us; and lastly it is the business of art to enlighten
us. To see that art does this is the business of criticism.