LECTURE II. THE RELATION OF ART TO RELIGION

31. It was stated, and I trust partly with your acceptance, in my opening lecture, that the study on which we are about to enter cannot be rightly undertaken except in furtherance of the grave purposes of life with respect to which the rest of the scheme of your education here is designed. But you can scarcely have at once felt all that I intended in saying so;—you cannot but be still partly under the impression that the so-called fine arts are merely modes of graceful recreation, and a new resource for your times of rest. Let me ask you, forthwith, so far as you can trust me, to change your thoughts in this matter. All the great arts have for their object either the support or exaltation of human life,—usually both; and their dignity, and ultimately their very existence, depend on their being "μετὰ λόγου ἀληθοῦς," hat is to say, apprehending, with right reason, the nature of the materials they work with, of the things they relate or represent, and of the faculties to which they are addressed. And farther, they form one united system from which it is impossible to remove any part without harm to the rest. They are founded first in mastery, by strength of arm, of the earth and sea, in agriculture and seamanship; then their inventive power begins, with the clay in the hand of the potter, whose art is the humblest but truest type of the forming of the human body and spirit; and in the carpenter's work, which probably was the early employment of the Founder of our religion. And until men have perfectly learned the laws of art in clay and wood, they can consummately know no others. Nor is it without the strange significance which you will find in what at first seems chance, in all noble histories, as soon as you can read them rightly,—that the statue of Athena Polias was of olive-wood, and that the Greek temple and Gothic spire are both merely the permanent representations of useful wooden structures. On these two first arts follow building in stone,—sculpture,—metal work,—and painting; every art being properly called "fine" which demands the exercise of the full faculties of heart and intellect. For though the fine arts are not necessarily imitative or representative, for their essence is in being περὶ περὶ γένεσιν —occupied in the actual production of beautiful form or colour,—still, the highest of them are appointed also to relate to us the utmost ascertainable truth respecting visible things and moral feelings: and this pursuit of fact is the vital element of the art power;—that in which alone it can develop itself to its utmost. And I will anticipate by an assertion which you will at present think too bold, but which I am willing that you should think so, in order that you may well remember it,—the highest thing that art can do is to set before you the true image of the presence of a noble human being. it has never done more than this, and it ought not to do less.

32. The great arts—forming thus one perfect scheme of human skill, of which it is not right to call one division more honourable, though it may be more subtle, than another—have had, and can have, but three principal directions of purpose:—first, that of enforcing the religion of men; secondly, that of perfecting their ethical state; thirdly, that of doing them material service.

33. I do not doubt but that you are surprised at my saying the arts can in their second function only be directed to the perfecting of ethical state, it being our usual impression that they are often destructive of morality. But it is impossible to direct fine art to an immoral end, except by giving it characters unconnected with its fineness, or by addressing it to persons who cannot perceive it to be fine. Whosoever recognises it is exalted by it. On the other hand, it has been commonly thought that art was a most fitting means for the enforcement of religious doctrines and emotions; whereas there is, as I must presently try to show you, room for grave doubt whether it has not in this function hitherto done evil rather than good.