Page images
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors]

BEFORE considering any of the aims and purposes of poetry, or any of its essential characteristics, it will be helpful to consider it in its place, as one of the fine arts. If we then ask ourselves what the fine arts are to do for us, what place they are to hold in a civilized nation, we shall perhaps be able to look at poetry in a broader way than we otherwise could; we shall be able to think of it, not merely as a pleasant and amusing diversion, but as one of the potent factors in history.

If we try to find a place for the fine arts among our various human activities, we might begin by making a rough classification of our subject in this way: the most primitive and necessary occupations we engage in, such as fishing and agricul. ture, trading, navigating, hunting, etc., we call industries. These marked the earliest stage of man's career in civilization. Then he comes to other occupations, requiring more skill and ingenuity; he weaves fabrics, he makes himself houses, he fashions all sorts of implements for the household and the chase. He becomes a builder, a potter, a metal worker, an inventor. He has added thought to work and made the work easier. And these new occupations which he has discovered for himself differ from his earlier ones, chiefly in this, that they result in numerous objects of more or less permanence, cunningly contrived and aptly fitted to use. They are objects of useful or industrial art.

We must note two things about this step forward which man has taken toward civilization : in the first place he had to have some leisure to do these things, and in the second place the objects he has made reveal his ingenuity and forethought. They are records of his life. And it will happen that, as his leisure increases, his implements will become more and more elaborate and ornate. Every workman will have his own way of fashioning them, using his own device and designs, so that they will become something more than rude relics of one historic age or another: they will tell us something of the artificer himself; they will embody some intentional expression of human life, and come to have an art value. In so far as they can do this, they contain the essential quality of the fine arts. And the more freely the workman can deal with his craft, the more perfectly he can make it characteristic of himself, the greater will its artistic quality become.

The only purpose of the primitive industries was a utilitarian one. The prime object of the industrial arts is also a utilitarian one; but they have a secondary object as well, they aim at beauty too. They not only serve the practical end for which they were intended; they serve also as a means of expression for the workinen. Now just as we passed from the industries to the industrial arts, by the addition of this secondary interest, this human artistic expressional quality, so by making this quality paramount, we may pass from the industrial' arts to the fine arts, where expression is all important and utility is almost lost sight of. It is the distinguishing mark of the fine arts that they give us a means of expressing ourselves in terms of intelligible beauty.

I have made this distinction between the fine and the industrial merely for the sake of clarifying our ideas, and getting a notion of what is the essence of all art. But really the difference is not important and, having served its turn, may be forgotten. There is an element of art, of course, in everything that we do; the manner of the doing, that is the art. The quality of art which we should appreciate and respect may quite as truly be present in a Japanese tobacco box as in a Greek Tragedy. The Japanese, indeed, offer an instance of a people who have raised the handicrafts quite to the level of the fine arts. All those fascinating objects of beauty, which they contrive with so much skill, are often, one may guess, only as many excuses for the workman to exhibit his deftness and his taste. This black oak cabinet inlaid with pearl, or that lacquer bowl, may perhaps be counted useful objects; but I fancy that before all else they were just so many opportunities for the artist; and when he fashioned them he had in mind only the creation of something beautiful, and

thought very little of the use to which they might be put. He was bent on giving play to his imagination, and you may be very sure he was glad in the work of his hands and wrought all those intricate effects with loving care. Surely the result is much more deserving of respect than a mediocre epic or a second-rate painting. It is not what we do that counts, but how well we do it. There is no saying one kind of work is art, and another kind is not art. Anything that is well done is art; anything that is badly done is rotten.

I do not wish, either, to confine the word useful,” in its application, to our material needs. Everything we do ought to be useful, and so it is, if it is done well. Tables and chairs are useful; but so are pictures and cathedrals and lyrics and the theatre. If we allow ourselves only what are called the necessities of life, we are only keeping alive one-third of being; the other two-thirds of our manhood may be starving to death. The mind and the soul have their necessities, as well as the body. And we are to seek these things, not only for our future salvation, but for our salvation here and now, that our lives may be helpful and sane and happy.

It is often easy to see how a fine art may grow from some more necessary and commonplace undertaking. The fine art of painting, for instance, arose of course from the use of ornamental lines and figures, drawn on pottery, or on the walls of a skin tent, where it served only to enhance the value of the craftman's work, and please his fancy. Gradually, through stages of mural

« PreviousContinue »