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THE FINE ARTS
AND THEIR USES
GENERAL VIEW OF THE FINE ARTS AND OF THEIR
MOST of our actions, mental as well as physical, have a great tendency to become mechanical under the influence of repetition. We experience a sensation or an emotion, and treat it as a matter of course, without inquiring whether it is noble or ignoble, whether or not it is an indication of mental or moral health, or indeed why we experience it at all. It is well for us to endeavour occasionally to analyse the exciting causes of our ideas, so that by carefully regulating those sources, the ideas themselves may flow with a greater purity and increased nobleness and value. Not the least important among the external causes of ideas and emotions are what are commonly called the "Fine Arts;" important because they appeal, or are supposed to appeal, to the more refined and
cultivated feelings and fancies of which our nature is capable. It is obvious that each art is calculated to convey its own especial class of ideas, though few persons take any trouble to ascertain what or how worthy the latter may be.
The reason of the special neglect of what may be called the psychology of the fine arts, lies in the circumstance that they are all characterised by certain special and elaborate material features, by means of which the ideas of the artist are expressed. Whatever thoughts or feelings may be connected with them appear, not directly, but through some mode of external realisation. Even in Poetry, where the author's conceptions come most fully to the surface, language, though the simplest and most direct means of expressing our thoughts, assumes special forms; and the manner of employing it, the mastery and management of it, become important characteristics of the art. In the case of the other arts, the materials used are not such as, like language, exist for the express purpose of conveying ideas-they have to be adapted to the service. The various features of Nature-form, colour, sound, vital energy-are utilised as languages, and it is found that certain classes of ideas are thus expressed more fully than they could be conveyed by any other means. But these languages are extremely difficult to acquire, and the use of them-that is to say, the process of imitation or adaptation of natural materials for the purposes of expression-demands keenness of perception and manual skill, which are somewhat rarely to be met with.
And however similar the arts may be in
object, in practical method they are widely different: so that proficiency in the mechanical part of any single art is not usually attained without long study and laborious effort, and the artist, to the end of his days, will find therein much still to be learned, much still to be achieved. The mastery of this alone. involves mental and physical qualities in the artist sufficient to place him apart from other men. When it is further considered that the ideas proper to the fine arts are in many cases so subtle that they can only be conveyed by an exquisite perfection of materials and method, it is not surprising that technical merits are so generally regarded as the exclusive tests of an artist's greatness. His command of the language comes to be dwelt upon with little or no reference to the subject of which he treats. So much is this the case, that Art has always had a tendency to assume an exclusive and esoteric position, to take a jealous, half-defiant stand upon its technicality, and to associate itself with a small professional clique, whose dicta less-favoured individuals are not allowed to dispute.
It certainly cannot be too clearly recognised that purely technical matters require a special education for a correct estimate of their difficulties, and a due appreciation of the manner in which those difficulties have been faced or overcome. Nothing is more foolish than for any one to attempt to criticise departments of Art which he does not understand, or to lay down rules as to how an effect should be produced, without any personal experience of the difficulties involved, the limitations enforced by the