The Friendship of Art

by Bliss Carman

The Creative Spirit


    IT is not only in letters and the arts that we must look for manifestations of the creative spirit, but in the more usual activities of life as well. Otherwise we are in danger of misconceiving the character of literature, and making the arts seem hardly an essential feature of our civilization. If we would have the arts to flourish, we must insist on recognizing their inherent vitality in the common life of the nation. If we would make literature that shall be worthy of the name, we must ourselves be convinced that it is something more than an artificial amusement with no real hold on the heart of a people.

    The creative spirit appears not less in life [Page 138] than in letters. Indeed it appears a hundred times more actively and easily there; for our national life at the beginning of this twentieth century, be what it may, is nothing but the result of that spirit working in the channel most natural to it. In our time and generation the channel through which the creative spirit most readily finds vent is the practical one, the industrial and commercial one. It is true the creative spirit has always found these different avenues for itself, through which it would attempt to reach perfection and completely realize its ideal. The Time Spirit is the creative spirit, and as it moves through the ages it accomplishes itself in various ways, producing not the beauties of the arts alone, but the multitudinous revelations of common life as well.

    It is through the creative spirit that we know ourselves a part of that which is abiding in the universe, which underlies the eternal fluidity of change, and for ever repeats itself in the guise of myriad forms. In the [Page 139] early spring flowers, in the luxuriance of harvest, in the reddening fruits of autumn, in the leaves of the pine, in the flux of the laborious tide, in the floating mist over the mountain crest, the creative spirit lives and moves and has its being — as in the doubting, hoping, eager, unaging heart of man. No small portion of our sympathy with nature is no doubt an instinctive recognition of this power in ourselves, this capacity for creation. As the beliefs of an older pantheism peopled groves and trees and rivers, each with its own divinity, so our latest convictions endow the universe with a single personality revealed in innumerable modes and aspects. Whether the divine activity finds vent for itself through the right hand of a painter, or in the unfolding of a fern, is a difference of circumstance — not a difference of power. In each instance the creative spirit is seeking fulfilment.

    Both in art and in nature the conditions under which the creative spirit works are the same; the laws through which alone it can [Page 140] operate are in their foundations the same. Man, the workman in the world, is a pygmy creator. It matters not at all whether her draws or digs or makes music or builds ships, in the work of his hands is the delight of his heart, and in that joy of his heart lurks his kinship with his own Creator, from whom, through the obedient will and plastic hand of the artists, all art and beauty are derived.

    The condition under which creation take place is invariably threefold; for the simple reason that the creature represents the creator, and the creator himself is characterized by a threefold nature.

    The universe presents itself to us as potentially beautiful, or moral, or true, according to our point of appreciation. Considered merely in the light of reason, things are either true or false; judged by the heart, we think them goodly or evil; while to our senses they appear either fair or ugly. If we are thus aware of the world about us, much more keenly are we aware of a similar threefold [Page 141] consciousness within ourselves. So the deed partakes of the doer, the work of the worker, the thought of the thinker. It is no empty metaphor to say of a work of art that it lacks soul; since the thing may indeed be wanting in that direction, just as it may be insufficiently supplied with charm or with reasonableness; and all three qualities are essentially requisite. Only when they coexist in nearly equal proportion is perfection, or anything approaching perfection, possible in a work of art.

    The good artist comes to his work equipped with an unusual delicacy of the senses, so that he is alive to every shade of beauty in the outward world. He comes to his work with an unusual depth of feeling, too — with an intense, emotional nature, capable of great sympathy, great loving-kindness, and great force of character. And lastly, he comes to his work with a keen understanding of life and nature, and a breadth of intellectual culture beyond that of most men. With a personality [Page 142] naturally well balanced in these three ways, and thoroughly cultivated by careful attention to each aspect of his character, he is ready to receive the inspiration of the Spirit which brooded upon the face of the waters, and to hear the Word which was in the beginning.

    Not otherwise, for all our striving, can the greatest work be accomplished; and even the humblest result of the unknown craftsman, wherever a trace of excellence exists, shows some evidence of this poise of powers, this divine triplicate balance of forces.

    The artist is enamoured of life, absorbed in its colour, its variety, its drenching beauty; and always a love of life, a love of nature, a love of his fellows, gives him elation, happiness, and courage; while at the same time he is capable of sitting unmoved in meditation before the passing spectacle of existence, and observing it in the white cold light of science. Unflinching logic, unbounded love, unmitigated delight, any one of which in excess [Page 143] alone would quickly work the ruin of a personality, will, when duly balanced in one fortunate person, operate together for the happiest issue of that life. Only from such an individuality may we expect significant and enduring achievement of art.

    From such considerations a scheme of education for the artist is easily deducible. And since he is only the normal man seeking an outlet for activity in one direction rather than in another, we gain at the same time a useful criterion for education in general. It is not enough that the artists should be trained in technique; that is the least of his requirements. We must ensure him the sound mind in the sound body, and, one may add, the loving heart as well. He must be made strong, agile, deft, alert, sensible to impressions; he must be given the open mind which loves lucidity; he must be imbued with the sweetness of temper, gracious as the morning yet perdurable as the hills.

    To such a man the work of his own hands [Page 144] is a constant pleasure; his passage through the world an entrancing revelation; and his comradeship with men and women an untarnished happiness. [Page 145]