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Art and First Principles


M÷F you would build the super-structure high you must
lay your foundations deep" was a pronouncement
of the great Augustine. That there has been a
marked tendency to depart from fundamental truths.
and a disposition to discount the values of the past
as they relate to present day needs, is not a falla-
cious sentimentalism nor a proposition that would
readily find challenge.

Modern taste in art today rests content with products of a very inferior order, and, what is deplorable, it is fostered by the fact that conservative institutions have thrown wide their doors to exhibitors who have nothing to say and little or no regard for the traditions that have been associated with the culture of the ages, and obviously no capacity for sympathy with the beauties of the great masters.

To the average mind such displays, under the most flexible judgment, affords no higher interest than idle curiosity for what at best represents a very ordinary, if not vulgar, trend of thought. And to the trained and educated mind that justly measures the gradation through which art, in whatever form it takes, must eventually pass in its development, these exhibits, aside from the affront they offer to intelligence are a travesty upon the virtue of the cause for which it lives. Furthermore, this tolerance, this patronage of exhibits, masquerading in the name of art, strengthens at once and better than anything else could do convictions born of mediocrity, and the very power that should serve to check the current of retrogression becomes the force to stamp with the seal of approval the trend of modern taste.

Public education, it is true, is the co-operative agent in this field, possessing similar, if not greater responsibility. But, unlike

the former, her ministry by an unfortunate decree of destiny is to function in a dual capacity. While she holds aloft the standard of truth, she must at the same time follow closely the pulse of modern demands and failing to check the counter-currents she must with renewed courage breast the wave of opposition and be ready if possible to stem the tide at the critical hour.

Whatever else has heretofore distinguished true art, it has never in any age nor in any place been without that sense of a great guiding spirit, that high idealism, which is in fact its very essence. It is likewise true that the culture of the present hour is suffocated with materialism and engulfed in commercial influences at the expense of every idealistic consideration. Indeed the very forces. that have had their incipiency in an aspiration to enlighten, to lift up and to encourage have been ejected from their proper plane and are functioning in a sphere to which they have no affinity. This is in absolute denial of the inherent purpose of art and lamentably defeats its ends. It is a hopeless task at times to embellish the mind and raise it to a plane above the material and at the same time, for example, reinforce the financial treasury. The constant call for products that must be translated now or soon into currency has reached a point where nothing seems to be worth while except the things that fall within the compass of our own necessities, and all the while painfully apathetic to the fact that necessity cries aloud for the very thing which out of long callousness it has been the policy to withhold.

The great force of education today should be directed toward a correct appraisal of values to the end that our judgment may not be shackled by the opinions of others--that we may not applaud merely for the reason that it is fashion to applaud, nor to censure because tradition has taught us to do so. For in the acquisition of such knowledge lies the real hope for the expansion of those powers of usefulness, and the attainment of that wider scope of social betterment, of which we hear such futile discussion.

Art throughout every important epoch of history has been hailed as the handmaid of religion. How true this is the record will testify.

It was the deep-seated conviction of the truth of an eternal life beyond the present that reared the stupendous tombs and temples of ancient Egypt and stimulated the mind of that remote period to the completion of its stupendous tasks. This alone offers a striking example of what may be accomplished under the inspiration of an exalted ideal and a living faith.

And later, out of allegiance to a similar ideal and consecration to a principle, we see the goddess of beauty shaking off some of the shroud of superstition with which she was mantled in earlier days clothed still, it is true, in the loftier paganism which survived in the Grecian culture, she was the fountain of noblest inspiration to the art builders of Greece who enshrined her in exalted homage upon their altars, and the magnificient national sculpture born out of that union and whole hearted worship reared a monuent of epochal perfection that taxed the very highest inspiration of the master workers of all subsequent periods to equal.

As we depart from the pagan schools toward the new and higher civilization we find the Christian artist vitalized under the inspiration of eternal truths; and as he pictures upon the roughened walls of the buried catacombs the life history of the world's great Liberator-crystallizing truth and serving education where no other means was available he marks the initial effort in the development of mural decoration in Christian art that later found perfect expression in the masters of Florence.

And with the triumph of Christian truths and exit from the subterranean channels into the light of day, there swept like an avalanche over the face of Europe a wave of spiritual enthusiasm that gave birth in a miraculously brief period to those wonderful basilicas of mosaic splendor, the beauty of which has scarcely been rivalled--and later the matchless cathedrals of the Gothic period.

But where shall we find expression that will picture the union of art and religion consummated between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, the age of Giotto and Fra Angelico, of Leonardo, Michel Angelo and Raphael? Nowhere, unless upon the walls of the Sistine Chapel and in the halls of the Vatican, in the cells and corridors of the Convent of San Marco and in the Monastery at Milan.

With the revolt and general upheaval of the Sixteenth Century, and the decline of spirituality which followed, we find art robbed of the inspiration which distinguished and gave life and strength to the ancient schools and struggling under the yoke of a materialistic influence from which she has never successfully rallied.

The wave of criticism upon culture generally today, which is essentially destructive, has swept the land and has also played its role, and if in the confusion and babel of contradiction the inevitable chaos did not answer, it was close upon the trail. As a matter of fact, the structure has been shattered at its base, and what possible sequence other than ultimate disorganization is there in the policy that would thrust aside principles that have been tested through the action of time, yielding in the process monuments of sterling values in testimony?

At no time in history has natural impulse, destitute of the inspiration of guiding principles, proven a sufficient impetus for the development and preservation of a national art, and if we may be permitted to measure the future by what has preceded it, reconstruction will commence only when root principles have been restored and fundamental truths acknowledged.

Education in Recent Sociology





S social philosophy usually but an excrescence or interpretation of underlying popular sentiment? Does the philosopher and thinker lead public opinion, or merely reflect it? One writer expressed the view recently that the doctrines of the scientist are both effect and cause of the social environment, a thesis which he illustrated by reference to two famous biological scientists, Weismann and Galton.1 In denying the hereditary transmission of acquired characteristics, Weismann, it is claimed, reflected the social distinctions of his native Germany. His theory too has contributed much to the tide of imperialism of our day; in fact, it has been so twisted as to have become a bulwark of reaction. Galton, the Englishman, glorified hereditary talent. Certainly no modern country has extended official recognition to talent as has England, and at the same time, no western country has so kept up the forms due to birth. This writer asserts that a neo-aristocratic philosophy has arisen which has its roots in the doctrine of Weismann and Galton. Perhaps we should expect the opinions of even scientists to be colored by the social environment. Did not the clear-headed Aristotle deny a soul to the slave?

Whatever be the merits of this interpretation of Weismannian and Galtonian theories, there would seem to be something distinctly American in the writings of our sociologists. They reflect American aspirations and ideals, at least when these are at their best. They furnish us with deeper meanings and possibilities of democracy. Of the writers discussed in this series of articles

1 See Current Opinion, September, 1920.

2 See previous articles in “Education" on the sociological writings of Lester F. Ward, Charles H. Cooley, Arthur J. Todd, Charles A. Ellwood, Edward A. Ross, and Edward Cary Hayes.

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