Imágenes de páginas

imposing height of the groined nave ceiling of Milan, The height, the space, the gloom, the glory," impress this man; the actual magnitude in feet and inches of Cologne, and the ingenuity of the geometrical tracery astonish that; a third admires the picturesque effect of some English cathedral or abbey church amid the trees, and quotes from an American art critic something about “ The gleaming needles of Salisbury's long arcades"; a fourth observer is awe-struck when he is convinced that parts of Tournai or of Winchester are really many hundred years old. But of a thousand such travellers not one is found to care for and study the sculpture, the mosaics, the paintings, the general design, of any of the great churches. Of. a thousand travellers who bring home little prints in oil colors of Swiss or Scotch lakes, or “ Rhine Roses,” or photographs taken from very inadequate engravings of Titian and Veronese pictures at Venice, or, best of all, photographs of the Apollo, the Venus, the Laocoon, there will not be found one to collect photographs of architectural detail. In the language of American society, architecture is wholly separated from the fine arts,” and is not included in the general signification of that phrase. And this would be right, and indeed necessary, if the buildings we have in America were alone in question. But in a society which understands the possibilities and needs of. art, the importance of a great and universal school of architecture must be seen. But little real study of the arts of the past is possible, without close and accurate study of architecture as the consummation of all art.

The indifference to these important fine arts which we have described may be thought by some observers less general than it seems to us. Some persons may think that real feeling which seems to us merely affectation; they may think that knowledge which seems to us merely words haunting a retentive memory. But there can be no doubt that the sin of neglect we charge upon the Americans as a nation is rightly so charged, while the highest tribunal in America concerns itself so little with these arts. What is the highest tribunal in America ? It is the small company of men who unite to native insight and originality European culture, social training, and familiarity with all the great intellectual achievements of past time. How little these care for art! How few of them care for art at all ! Men that no one can speak of but with respect, whose least word about a work or a school of literature is worthy to be treasured up, whose grasp of all intellectual subjects is strong, either fail to mention the arts of visible beauty, or so mention them that the painter or the architect perceives that they are uninformed. Uninformed, not incapable of judging ; - the good judge of literature is to some extent a judge of art, if only he is informed about art. Not only uninformed but misinformed, it were better to know nothing and to judge by one's natural sympathies only (as the good judge of literature is to some extent a judge of art) than to be wholly lod astray by the claims of bad painters who are good and beloved men, or by the imaginative spirit that shows beauties where they have been said to be. It is like Wordsworth's sonnets to Haydon. Wordsworth was a literary critic whom no one can disregard, & critic of wonderful powers ; Haydon was a very bad and pretentious painter; but Wordsworth thought him great. There have been no such glaring errors as this in our literary history, but similar errors are of daily occurrence. And it is the more to be regretted that our highest tribunal so disregards and ignores the arts of invisible beauty, and, as a consequence, is so mistaken in its judgment on them, because the casual words of many of its members have been sound and just upon the general nature of some representative or decorative art. We are compelled to see, we cannot help seeing, that the expression of thought and the representation of beauty by visible forms of art must become familiar to the leaders of our national mind, before they can lead the national mind aright in this important direction.

By the phrase "popular regard for art," we mean, of course, the regard for art of the whole people. The people's regard for any important intellectual or moral matter, to be wise, must be both of teacher and of disciple. The thoroughly competent critic is only found where the ready, capable, sensitive public is found. The public is only intelligently and justly instructed where the thoroughly competent critic exists.

In art, this matter of the popular regard is of enormous importance. It is of an importance even greater than the actual production of works of art at any one time. And this for two reasons. First, the highest usefulness of art is its power to educate. If the people are ready to receive the artist's work, study it closely and lovingly and learn from it, every artist is then an addition to the nation's wealth the moment his work begins. But if the people will not receive nor heed nor understand bis work, the tendency of his life is to injure the people by attempts to catch their attention, or to injure himself by angry defiance of the people, and in both cases to waste his life and help his brother artists to waste theirs by subsidence into aimless, lounging, trivial habits and ways of work. Second, the actual production of works of good art is rendered unduly difficult by a lack of popular regard for art. The art intellect, if not rightly set to work and rightly encouraged, is not set to its proper work at all.

Where the people disregard art, a certain amount of clever art is possible ; caricature may flourish, though even this does not reach power without losing refinement; landscape, full of good natural feeling, but of dim and partial insight into nature, is possible ; representation of facts of the day and book illustration, both of fair quality and of some interest, may exist. All these are likely to exist in a Christian country in the nineteenth century. But great art is the expression of great thoughts; and great thoughts find no adequate expression, find only a partial and incomplete existence, if the people are not accessible to them.

Two conditions are necessary for great achievements in any intellectual field, -the power in the few to produce, the demand among the many for production. And this is especially true of those fields where sentiment is joined with pure intellect, as much as it is in the fine arts generally. Now if a great artistic genius is born into the world in the midst of a people regardless of art, there must follow one of these results: either he will spend his God-given power in pandering to prince's or people's vanity; or, if of purer nature, he will be driven crazy for want of sympathy; or, if of stronger nature, he will be driven in upon himself and his finest impulses crushed; or he will be put at once to other work than his own,- engineering, mechanical occupation, struggles for money in mart or counting

house, some task to which the divine inspiration avails nothing. We of America have no knowledge how much great art-power we have wasted because of having failed to use it. We can never know. The greatest genius is clever at many things; our possible Titians and Leonardos have invented machinery, or made enormous fortunes in newly discovered ways of their own. Lesser genius is less generally efficient, but can do good service in many ways; our Angelicos, our Hogarths, our Rubenses, are at work all over the land, - hard at work, be sure, -employed, but not well, because not properly employed.

Whatever the born artists have done, it has surely not been their fitting work. No great work of art has been produced in America, -no work of art that, by any just kindness and honest liberality in the use of the word, we dare call great. Two or three works of art have been exhibited which it would be right to call good, meaning by that epithet well-meant, instructive, successful in a partial and bounded way. Of clever works of art, works that possess some unusual and pleasing technical qualities, or cleverly appealing to temporary popular feeling, the catalogue is not long. By far the largest number of pictures, drawings, and works of sculpture exhibited at any exhibition it is impossible to include in either of these three classes. Nearly all our buildings, even those on which the most money and thought have been spent, are without even those salient qualities that would entitle them to be called clever designs. Our manufactured articles which are capable of being made beautiful are generally made ugly, whatever of cost or care is given to most of them going to purchase deformity; our glassware, for instance, plate, jewelry, bookbinding. The art of engraving, in all its branches, is so dependent upon the higher art of painting as to claim no special notice here.

The “ Niagara,” for instance, is a good picture; the scene is truthfully represented, and with great skill; it is hard to point out a possible improvement in the faithfulness of portraiture; the painting of some parts of it has probably never been surpassed ; the technical skill evinced is of a high order. The “Freedman” is a good statue, healthy and natural in sentiment, well and gracefully composed, evincing considerable knowledge of anatomy, and perfect control over all the technical resources of the sculptor. The exterior of the New York Academy of Design building is good architecture. The design is based upon the needs and purposes of the building, and is graceful and simple; the use of shade and color of material is to the best advantage; the carving with which the edifice is profusely decorated is in nearly every instance good in itself and in harmony with the whole. An exhaustive list of works of good art, though it might be difficult to compile, strict justice to all and measure of comparative merit not being easy of attainment, would be easily and quickly read.

“The Heart of the Andes" is a clever picture. It is rather true-seeming than true; its lines are not those of nature, nor of a nature-inspired composition; it is crowded and dioramic,

impresses by quantity and multitude rather than by excellence. It is well fitted to draw many visitors and to furnish an engraving of ready sale. “The Rocky Mountains" is clever; showing less technical skill than “The Heart of the Andes," it is perhaps a more natural composition. In it many of the characteristics of the scene, including its human visitors, are cleverly hinted at. It differs essentially from the former picture in some effects, resulting from the fact that it is the best work, in important respects, of its author, while the Andes is one of its painter's less successful pictures. “ The Greek Slave” is a clever statue, appealing to a very ready sentiment, pity for the far-away unfortunate ; to an everywhere-present feeling of beauty, that for a delicate female form; to a readily excited sense of dexterity, in the perfect manipulation; even to a technical knowledge of art, in the approximate truth of its anatomical forms. “The Indian Girl” is a clever work of sculpture, including a reproduction of the better known and more striking physical characteristics of certain Indian tribes, a figure modelled with good ordinary skill and study of commonplace models, and an appeal to a ready sympathy of the beholder for the benighted souls supposed to be striving toward the light of Christianity. Clever buildings do not make the tour of the country, nor are we as yet interested enough in art to buy photographs of our national achievements in architecture; but there is one in Albany, the new Cathedral; there is one in New York, Trinity Chapel; there are some of less importance

« AnteriorContinuar »