The New Mission of Art
Transcript of The New Mission of Art
THE UNIVERSITYOF CALIFORNIA
C. K. OGDEN
JEAN DELVILLE (PORTRAIT).Frontispiece.
THENEW MISSION OF ARTA STUDY OF IDEALISM IN ART
By Jean Delville
"The mission of Art in the world is so mightythat it should be cherished with care andencouraged to the utmost ol our power,striving with all our being to keep it pure;it would be a deed as great before God asuseful to man to lead Art back to the inex-haustible fount from which it ought never tohave wandered." p.-f.g. lacuria.
"the harmonies of existence."
Translated byFRANCIS COLMER,
with Introductory Notes byClifford Bax and Edward Schure.
London : Francis Griffiths34, Maiden Lane, Strand
ToThe Members of the
" ORPHEUS " ART-CIRCLEthis Translation is
The Prayer of a Magician
O God of Light in whom all worlds are one,An atom from that fierce and fiery placeWherein men stray, behold before Thy Pace
My soul, an eagle mounting to the sun.
The blood-stained idols of an erring race,The clouds of evil that men's hearts have done,Roll on beneath me to that hour when none
That brought to birth no beauty shall win grace.
O God, Who gazing on the perfect wholeSmiles at our loveliness of form or soul
As gradually the prisorjed self escapes,
Beyond all time, division, change, or death,Thou art the immortal essence of all shapes
And earth of Thine eternitya breath !
(Translated by CLIFFORD BAX)
THE PRAYER OF A MAGICIAN
JEAN DELVILLE, BY CLIFFORD BAX
INTRODUCTORY NOTE ON "THE NEWMISSION OF ART," BY EDOUARDSCHURE . . . . . .
I THE OUTLOOK OF MODERN ART
II THE NATURE OF IDEALISM I THETHREEFOLD HARMONY
III THE PRINCIPLE OF BEAUTY
IV THE IMPORTANCE OF THEORY
V THE MYSTERY OF FORM
VI THE SPIRITUALISING OF ART
VII THE ART OF THE FUTURE. .
VIII THE RELATIONS OF CHURCH ANDSTATE TO ART
APPENDIX TO C. VIIIA REVIVAL OFSACRED ART : THE BEURON SCHOOL
IX THE SOCIAL INFLUENCE OF ART
X THE CREED AND THE CRITICS
XI IDEALISM IN ART '. SOME MISTAKENNOTIONS
List of Illustrations
(i) Jean Delville (Portrait) . . FrontispieceFACINGPAGE
(2) L'Ecole de Platon (J. Delville) .. I
(3) L'Ange (Fernand Khnopff) . . 16
(4) L'Homme Dieu (J. Delville) .. 49
(5) Les Soeurs d'Illusion . . . . 64
(6) Promethee (J. Delville) . . 97
(7) The Virgin of S. Maur (BeuronSchool) . . . . . . 112
(8) UAmour des Ames (J. Delville) . . 145
THEAUTHOR of the following treatise
will be known by name to very fewof his English readers, yet the book
reveals a personality so distinguished that
those hitherto unacquainted with M. Delville'swork may care to know something of thewriter. The few to whom he is already knownwill be found among those who, possessing aninterest in the arts, have lived a considerabletime in Brussels or in Glasgow. In the former,because M. Delville is an artist of renown inhis own country : in the latter, because abouteight years ago he was appointed to the chief-professorship in the Glasgow School of Art.He worked there for half-a-dozen years andwith such personal success that when he returnedto Brussels and instituted the " Atelier Delville"a large number of his former pupils went overseato follow him.The world of art is hardly less variously
peopled than the wider world of politics andaffairs. No painter, no writer, can ever pleaseall artists, and M. Delville, especially, by hisunflinching adherence to idealism, has encoun-tered for many years much ridicule or abusefrom the supporters of other schools. It isunfortunate that so small a number of menis capable of avoiding an extreme. No sooneris a certain style grown over-ripe than thenext generation, dismissing the entire school
xiv Jean Delville
as misguided, errs yet more markedly in the
opposite direction. Here in England at themoment we read articles by men who declarethat Burne-Jones knew nothing of his art orthat there is nothing of sublimity in the workof Tennyson. In place of those formerly acceptedand over-praised, they exalt some trifling fellow
who, though deficient in a thousand ways, has
yet no trace of the particular weakness whichovercame the giant they would depose.
For reaction, useful as a corrective influence,is nearly always excessive, and its devotees
quite readily mistake their own backwater forthe full main-stream of art. Incapable of
improving upon the achievements of a bygoneschool, they choose out themes and methodswhich were most likely rejected as unworthyby the painters they despise. The excessive
praise of Whistler is now subsiding, but in its
place has arisen the cult of those who considerclear colour to be the brand-mark of the
commonplace, fair form the delight of an inferiortaste. Nor do these bubble-movements lackbelievers among those who are fearful lest theyshould be stigmatised as unprogressive, formost mencritics or craftsmenare carried
along by the taste of their time, and few arethose who, standing aside from the immediate,work on in the great traditions.Of such is M. Delville. Faults he has, but
not the faults of our time. There is no affectation
Jean Delville xv
in his work : no superficial, catchpenny displayof skill. With him, the picture has againbecome of more importance than the painter.For he is a poet, a thinker, a man who caresgreatly for the welfare of the world.
The eminent French poet who penned theintroductory note to this book has shown howunavoidably a painter communicates his"
to his work, and everyphase of M. Delville's mind is thus reflected.In early youth he was a materialist, and thedusty paintings of that period which hangfrom the walls of his studio would merit praisefrom some of those who call themselves,euphemistically,
rationalists." Indeed, if
anyone should search the great studio he mightdisinter examples of many contemporarymethods. For even in the earliest of his student-
days M. Delville possessed a facility so astonish-ing that before he had been working at theSchool of Art in Brussels for more than a week,the professor set up his canvas as an object-lesson to the assembled students. In after-years the paintings he produced readily reflectedthe rapid changes of his mind.
For he did not rest easy in materialism, and,having experimented with spiritism, in spiteof the usual chicanery he discovered what heconsidered overwhelming evidence of dis-incarnate existence. The pictures whichaccompany this phase are more terrible than
xvi Jean Delville
beautifulvast, lurid, and awful. Duringa few years he followed the faint stars of
spiritism until they had brought him tothe limitless horizon of theosophy, and itis to the inspiration of this world-old wisdomthat his latter and important work is due.His adherence to that scheme of thought hascost him much, for in Belgium the EcclesiasticalParty, which is dominant, regards theosophyas a formidable menace, and has opposed himrepeatedly. But M. Delville was born a fighter,and never flinches in his loyalty to a philosophywhich is strangely abused and misunderstood.A keen student of contemporary science, aneloquent and fiery speaker, one who writesprose with vigour and verse with a rare beauty,he is well able to defend his convictions with a
widely-cultured mind and with a range of abilitythat compels respect.
Unfortunately, he shares with Rossetti adislike of exhibiting his work, but the annualexhibitions at Brussels have occasional examples.A stately picture, called " L'Ecole de Platon
was exhibited some years ago at Milan, whereit won the Gold Prize. Most of M. Delville'swork is on a very large scaleindeed, his
preliminary sketches are usually the size ofmost large pictures. A vast composition,which is named " L'Homme-Dieu," and repre-sents a multitude of men and women surgingup, with gestures half exultant, half despairing,
Jean Delville xvii
to the enaureoled Christ, occupies an entirewall in his " atelier." Yet he has said that hewould like to re-paint it as large again if hecould put it in a church.At present in his private studio, at Forest,
a country suburb of Brussels, he is preparinga series of frescoes which are to decorate thewalls of the Palais de Justice. Perhaps the
designs for this national work are the mostpowerful and most complete examples ofidealistic art which he has yet achieved, andit is safe to predict that the Belgians of thefuture will not regret the choice of thecommissioners.
M. Delville was born in 1867 ; he neverstudied his art except in the school at Brussels,although when his student-days were over hespent some two years in Romea city whichhe felt to be strangely familiar, thus offering atheme for speculation to the believer in palin-genesis. His manner of life is simple, as befitsa mystic ; the vegetarian may number himin the list of the enlightened ; and his pleasuresare those of the intellect. Often might a friend,having walked through the little garden, comeinto the house to find him absorbed in a brilliantrendering of some Wagnerian masterpiece, orstudying with the firmest concentration somerecent work on evolution or biology. In thesedays, when life is losing continually more andmore of its ancient dignity, when occultism,
xviii Jean Delville
above all else, has fallen into the hands ofcommercial, unreligious, and vulgar persons,it is an inspiration to receive the friendship of
a man like M. Delville, whose life is worthy ofhis great religion, who retains not a little ofthe grandeur which caused the occultists of oldtime to be so greatly honoured, who realizesthe wonder of existence, the sublimity of theuniverse, and the potential godhead of man.Almost alone he is combatting, year after year,the inane but popular painting of our time,setting forth in daily life and in some of the bestof the Belgian reviews that conception of artwhich he formulates in the present work. Itis with deep interest that we who are his allieswill watch the reception given to it in England.It is a book which proclaims, not a new andunrelated art, but the necessity of applyingsome new inspiration to the incomparabletraditions of the past : a book which opposesall that is commonly praised in the art of ourperiod ; a book which we who are with himcan only regard as the work of a great man whowrites in a trivial and materialistic age.
Introductory Note to44 The New Mission of Art "
By Edouard Schure
THISis the book of a true young man ;
a book of courage and nobility, a signof light in times of darkness. The work
of a thinker, artist, and one inspired, a testimonyto his knowledge, enthusiasm, and faith, it isdesigned to be a work of initiation andrenovation.
It is not the first time that the attempthas been made nowadays to deduce the lawsof Beauty from esoteric teaching, that is,from the eternal philosophy in the depths ofthe soul, in order to cast the horoscope of con-
temporary art. But it is the first time that apainter has done so, one, moreover, unattachedto any party, church, or school, with the delight-ful ingenuousness of a pure soul, a manly spirit,and an upright conscience.
" The Mission of Art," by Jean Delville, isan exposition of perfect Idealism according touniversal Theosophy. This requires explanation.The nineteenth century began with that
great awakening in literature and art which ithas been agreed to term Romanticism. Aninstinctive reaction against academic conven-tions, it was at once a return to nature, anda sincere and splendid advance towards theheights of the Ideal. It produced works of genius,
but it was not given to it to influence our civili-sation by a work of fruitful education or definiteconstruction, because it was not built on firm
foundations. Romanticism was Idealism withoutIdea. By that I do not mean to say that the
poets and creative artists of the first half of the
century, among whom are to be numberedChateaubriand, Lamartine, Vigny, Ingres,Delacroix, and Theodore Rousseau, were not
inspired in their great works by lofty ideas.I merely affirm that they were not governedand guided, in their general conception of Art,
by a clear and broad synthesis. Let me beunderstood. Neither the poet or artist oughtto be professed philosophers, but they need, inorder to exercise their functions to their fullest
extent, to live in an atmosphere of organicphilosophy and a living religionunless theyare strong enough to create a philosophy and
religion for themselves, moulding to it throughstrife and sorrow the children of their thoughtas is the case with the few Titans, Lucifers,and Prometheuses of Art. Romanticism hadneither this atmosphere nor these giant creators-Hence its uncertainty and weakness. Withouta compass, without a rallying point, it wassoon disintegrated and driven out of its course.In proportion as the influence of the Kantianand Hegelian philosophy, by which indirectlyit was governed, began to wane, in proportionas its place was taken by the Positivism of
Auguste Comte and all his disciples, so Roman-ticism wavered and fell back in confusion beforethe triumph of Naturalism and its mongrelfollowers.
Whether the artist wish it or no, whetherhe denies it or not, all art, whatever it maybe, corresponds to a philosophy. Instinctivelyor consciously his method is governed by acertain way of looking at nature and consideringman. Naturalism is the assertion of appearances,the faith in instinct, in the fecundity of physicallife pure and simple, as Zola declares withsuch honest simplicity. The naturalism infavour at present exactly reflects the material-istic teaching of philosophy. Now, not onlyhas this naturalism deplorably narrowed thehorizon of thought, but, as Jean Delville justlyobserves,
"it atrophies the ideal creative powers
in the artist's soul by snapping the links thatbind it to the spiritual world."" Nature,"says the author of The Mission of Art again,"
is a mingling of enchantment and terror, ofecstasy and awe. The monstrous intermingleswith the divine. It is a wonderful chaos ofsecret splendours." The poet, as far as he isat all worthy of the name, will ever return tothought, which implies choice, to sentiment,which presupposes a minimum of moral andspiritual life. But what will the artist, sculptor,or painter do, without any other guide thananimal instinct or love of appearances ? We
have seen the results ; we see them still."
They have blown up Parnassus," says theyoung artist initiate who has written thisbook,
"and from the fragments of the sacred
hill they have begun to hew unsightly abor-tions/'
If naturalism in art corresponds to material-istic pantheism in philosophy, impressionism,its bastard offspring, corresponds to absolute
scepticism and tosses between extremes likea wreck drifting upon the sea. Impressionismsprings from a dim perception of the insufficiencyof naturalism as a source of inspiration. Itthrows itself into impression to escape fromthe tyranny of appearances. But, lackingintellectual principles, it escapes it only to fallunder the tyranny of sensation and extravagantfancy. Sometimes it delights in a brutal realismturning the painter into a photographer, andcausing the stage to become nothing more thana cinematograph of life. Sometimes it getslost in a vague mysticism without form andwithout idea. Nay more, for hungering afteroriginality, wishing to shock the eye and twistthe nerves, it plunges finally into a perversepursuit of the Ugly.
Shakespeare, that learned occultist, whounderstood nature and the human soul so well,beside whom our poor psychologists are butignorant apprentices, Shakespeare gives to thediabolic powers that hover about mankind to
urge it on to evil a terrible weapon. That
weapon is the aesthetic creed of the Ugly." Fair is foul, and foul is fair,Hover through the fog and filthy air." *
So sing the witches in Macbeth dancing uponthe heath, where soon they will weave roundthe hero a dark spell, which will cause the red
spectre of murder to rise in his soul." Fair is Foul ! " This arcanum of witchcraft,
which is the black magic of evil, has been usedas a proverb by the whole school of amorphismand debased and decadent sestheticism, whichmakes a wrong and distorted application of itwithout understanding its baneful effects.Naturalism, realism, impressionismvariations,shades, perversions of the same evilabsenceof principles and ideal in the artist. By expellingthe ideal from art, the pretended naturalismhas misunderstood and profaned nature.Because, considered on its magnificent entirety,nature is an evolution towards Beauty as
humanity is an ascent towards the Ideal.Only one ought to divine the inner meaning ofnature and humanity, and not servilely copytheir appearance and deformity. Yes, Artimitates Nature, but does so in order to completeit. And that is how it happens that Nature,insulted and profaned by short-sighted carelessadvocates of naturalism, has avenged herself
by causing them to mistake Ugliness for Beauty.* Macbeth I. i.
Thanks to this confusion, the better of themhave become dangerous madmen, and the othersmischievous fools. And as a result contemporaryart has lost its strength, and become over-whelmed by the disorder and anarchy whichwe see.
But in the midst of this witches' Sabbathof grotesque and droll apparitions, there arose,some twenty years ago, an idealist reaction ofwhich few people, even to-day, suspect theinfluence and import. For, to estimate the forceof this undercurrent, it must be known whenceit comes. Jean Delville explains it very rightly,and there is not the least exaggeration in thefollowing words as decided as they are carefullyweighed :
" The idealist truth is about toconquer the modern world with a methodicalpositive certainty, which nothing can resist,since it is the luminous sign of the true evolutionof the spirit, the mediating power which mustre-establish the equilibrium between the past,present, and future."How has that movement been carried on in
the domain of the plastic arts ? To the honourof art and artists it must be said that it wasthrough the painters that this glorious upwardtendency was first set on foot, and that simul-taneously in England and France. Everyone isnow acquainted, through the remarkable bookof M. Robert de la Sizeranne, with the renais-sance of Contemporary English Painting, of
which the chief representatives are Rossetti,Watts, Holman Hunt, Herkomer, Millais, andBurne-Jones. At the same time two French
painters of genius were assembling a youngand fearless group around the banner of idealistart. I speak of Puvis de Chavannes and GustaveMoreau. The former effected it by his broadsimplicity, persuasive steadfastness, and winninggentleness ; the latter with more pride and
peculiarity, but with a rare concentration and
intensity, appreciated only in one of the elect.In spite of all national and individual differences,there may be observed among all these Frenchand English painters a common effort. Areturn to the severity of line, a search fordistinctive characteristics, of beauty throughharmonious composition, a profound aspira-tion towards poetry, and a worship of the ideal.
Criticism, which is not usually the haltingfollower of genius, decided, after a hesitationdue to its dignity, to tread in the path of theartists. Nevertheless art criticism, and I speakof the better kind, has brought to light the
failings of philosophers and thinkers who oughtto shed light on the idealist renaissance, andwho contribute rather to obscure it.We will take only two aesthetic writers, two
of the most celebrated and most talked of :Ruskin and Tolstoi. In spite of their manynumerous merits, neither of them perceives theessential.
With his refined sense of art and its educa-tional mission, it is not a utilitarian and vacillat-
ing eclectic like Ruskin who can point out tous the future path of art. In spite of his religionof beauty he cannot do it, because he does not
comprehend its sublime origin, its generationthrough the Ideal and the Mother-Idea. Historch burns neither with sufficient clearnessnor at a proper altitude.
Nor, indeed, is it the great and venerablerecluse of Iasnaia Poliana who can guide usin this direction. Tolstoi, in fact, admits noother principle of art but the moral. He doesnot understand the essential value of Beauty,the harmony of Idea and Form, that is to say,the supreme principle of Art and its true powerof expansion. Was it in truth worth the trouble,after writing great novels and powerful worksconcerned with morality to stoop to denySophocles, Beethoven, and Wagner, and toreduce art to a sermon for the use of Russian
peasants ? And to think that there are Westerncircles where these Boeotian fancies are receivedlike Holy Scripture ! It is but another strikingproof of our intellectual abasement, of the
futility of our art, and the poverty of ourcriticism. Inspiration cannot be commanded,and genius is the most beautiful gift of God.It comes when it wills, and when it must. Butit can be prevented from coming by destroyingthe hearths and temples of humanity, as it
may be attracted by preparing for it a cradleand a refuge.How, then, is the right way to be discovered ?
Which is the safe path ? Where lead thosefertile uplands whose pinnacles are bathed in
dazzling light ? Salvation will follow from two
thingsthe first of which is concerned withindividuals, and the latter with our institutionsof public educationin the knowledge of howto discipline the Soul and of a return to Prin-
ciples. By these words I am far from summingup the noble exposition of Jean Delville, butI shall at least have imprinted a motto on thebanner he unfolds and indicated the goal atwhich he aims.
" The artist needs," says this young painter,convinced of the power of the Soul and theIdea,
more learning and sensibilityhe mustreceive initiation. He owes this to himselfin order to develop his intellectual and spiritualbeing." And later : " The people are onlytruly great before God and before Art by reasonof the spirituality which emanates from theirworks. . . . My hope is to see the pointof view of artists raised, and of seeing themdefinitely engaged themselves in the evolutionof the human ideal, so that their individualpsychology, becoming more luminous, shallglow more brightly in their works."
So much for discipline ; let us come toprinciples. I said above that Romanticism had
xxviii Introductorybeen Idealism without Idea, that is, withouteternal and universal Principles. The new Artwill be Idealism with Idea. That is to say, itwill proceed from the perfect science which isitself derived from complete knowledge ofOneself, in a word from that Theosophy whichis such a transcendent Biology.
In opposition to the conventional and fossil-ising eclecticism of academies, to an animal-like naturalism, to an ephemeral impressionism,Jean Delville places Idealist Art entire andabsolute, which conforms to the two greatscientific laws of selection and synthesis. Hecondenses it into three principles :
(i.) Spiritual Beauty (La Beaute spirituelle) ,which requires lofty conception, Idea ;
(ii.) Plastic Beauty (La Beaute plastique),by which is meant the perfection offorms with a character at once typicaland individual
(iii.) Technical Beauty (La Beaute technique),which is the realizing of the twoformer in a perceptible form.
It is not enough to be acquainted with eachof these principles in its extent and depth, andwishing to apply all three to a work of art. Itshierarchy and genesis must likewise be known.It must be grasped that the first among themspiritual beautyis the essential, central,and generating principle in particular. Thisit is that engenders the second, as the second
engenders the third. It is from Idea, by way ofSentiment and Sensation, that a work of artarises in the artist's spirit. On the receptivehearer, the intelligent spectator, the contraryeffect is produced. He will rise from Sensationto Sentiment, and from that to the Idea, andhe will only attain the true aesthetic emotionat their final point, when he embraces Sentimentand Sensation in the primordial and final unityof the Idea. So that it is ever the Idea whichremains the generating point of Beauty. It
engenders the Form which moulds Matter, asthe Spirit creates the Soul, and the Soul fashionsthe Body. It is because Materialism holds a
contrary view that it is radically false, philoso-phically, artistically, and socially unsound.What makes every real work of art of interestis that it reproduces the mystery of Creationwhich operates in the Microcosm as in theMacrocosm, in Man as in the Universe. It showsus likewise the Involution of spirit within matter,and the Evolution of matter in the directionof spirit. But the artist has no need of theseformulae. It is enough for him to recognizeby intuition and experience the hierarchy ofthe generating Principles of Beauty. For sothe great ones worked and ever will work.To demonstrate the fecundity of these vital
principles would necessitate a long developmentand all the detail of technical applications toarchitecture and music, those symbolic and
generalizing arts, to sculpture, painting, and
poetry, those living and human arts, and finallyto their synthesisthe drama. In fact to createa transcendent system of aesthetics it would be
necessary to return again to Number, at oncethe source of Form and Harmony.Jean Delville wished only to give in this
book the higher principles of the plastic arts,those which the painter and sculptor need toilluminate their consciousness and put lifeinto their work. He has done so as an artistand philosopher. Some idealists, perhaps, willnot hold the same view with regard to certain
special points. For my part, while sharing hisphilosophy, I should be less severe than he on
landscape-painting, and I should hesitate tobanish from art national colour, while wishingthat it should be through inspiration as universalas possible. But all without exception willadmire with me the Mother-Ideas which flashwith such brilliance throughout these pages,and the mighty regenerating breath thatemanates from them. There is one admirable
the nude, which brings us faceto face with the enigma of life, which incor-porates universal ideas, and reveals to us themeaning of nature." Michael Angelo, Leonardode Vinci, and Raphael, would shake him byboth hands. There are others in the vein ofJuvenal upon
" the adultery of art withmaterialism," upon
aesthetes without aesthetics,
dandified triflers, wild irresponsibles, incom-
petent impostors, and sneering eclectics." Thisbook seems written in a single burst, under an
impulse so prolonged and impervious that theauthor never even thought of dividing it into
chapters.* I do not know what is most strikingin this work, at once so youthful and so mature,so nervous and so powerfulwhether the artist'ssoul, so enthralled by eternal Beauty whichcan be felt palpitating in every line, or the
spirit of the initiated philosopher, which risesso easily and naturally towards divine principles,or the proud courage of the young warrior ofthe ideal, who flings himself into the midstof the combat, fearless of blows and wounds,with the flaming sword of speech and the shieldof faith. If we were timorous enough to recom-mend prudence to him, he would reply proudly :" The artist who is not conscious of a divinepower making his human power fruitful ofBeauty, and who, in the depths of his being,does not feel the God of Love and Harmonyvibrate with which worlds and races of menvibrate, the same is unworthy of civilisation."
Artists and poets, youthful believers in Lifeand the Ideal, read this book. You will discovertherein new paths leading to the secret placesof Beauty and torches to light your way. Itannounces the dawn of an era " when Art willbe consecrated by Metaphysics and Initiation."
* This has been done in the present edition.
On the one hand this breviary of Beautyis a plain synthesis of the whole evolutionaryprocess in aesthetics during the nineteenth
century. It represents its closing period. Onthe other it brings before our eyes somethingthat seems like a white road, between a colon-nade of marble, leading from a huge pylon andflanked by propylaea towards the Temple ofperfect Artwhich, let us hope, will be thatof the twentieth century.
THISbook does not claim to be a literary
essay or a treatise of philosophical analysis.It does not aim, as so many others
have done, at giving a cut-and-dried recipe fora masterpiece by means of the theory ofuniformity, but it desires to urge the unfettered
personality of the artist towards a higherComprehension of Art and a purer Conceptionof Beauty.
In writing it I believe that I have fulfilled
my plain and honest duty as an artist.I think that in an age, and in a country,
in which materialism in art is still supreme thisbook comes in good time, and will awaken theconscience dulled by various pursuits to thetrue power of Art, that is to say, its mission to
humanity.Materialism is the artist's foe, because it
wastes or destroys in him the ideal and creativepowers of his being. The genius of art is notto be reconciled to the ignoble attitude ofmaterialism.The laws of life are not merely physical laws ,
they do not dwell in the instinct, but in the spirit,whence they cause the being to be evolved.The experimental proofs of the existence and
survival of the soul have been scientificallyestablished.Modern Esthetics ought not to neglect the
consequences of those proofs. It is indispensable
that the artist should know that ideas, figures,sentiments, emotions, sensations, are by nomeans simple movements of organic matteror mechanical vibrations. He must understandthe ideal part that his soul and his spirit playin the divine mystery of Nature.There has been much philosophising about
art. For the most part, superficial writers onaesthetics have only dealt vaguely with this
profound and difficult subject, which requiressomething beyond taste and learninginitiation !
And with respect to this I wish it to beobserved that the use in this book of the termsspirit, soul, idea, instinct, astral, mental,
spiritual, divine, etc., is by no means theresult of an artificial or chance terminology.These words signify conditions and facultiesof being, of perceptible realities, and I amwell acquainted with the part which theseunseen powers and conditions play in the
mysterious moulding of the aesthetic concept.For more than ten years I have devoted precioushours to the illuminating study of occult
psychology, not merely in a speculative, butin an experimental, direction. I am consciousof the value and importance of these words.
This book, then, is not the result of fancy.It is dedicated chiefly to the artists of Belgium,above all to those who are young, since theyare nearer the future. And I could say to
them that if there is more art in Nature thanin a School, there is also more art in the Ideal
than in Nature.The soul of a nation, capable at times of
strength and grandeur, is nevertheless slowin following the great evolutionary tendenciesof the human spirit. The national materialismstill weighs too heavily upon it. But a peopleis only truly great before God and before Artin consideration of the spirituality which isexhibited in its works.The races which produce great artists are those
where not only physical beauty is met with,but where beauty is found in the heart andin the soul.
Unless I am much deceived, national soulis, I believe, superior to the national character
(temperament). At bottom of every race thereis something very pure, very bright, and verystrong. But it still slumbers, as thoughtstupefied by the fog of materialism whichsurrounds it.The age possesses good painters, good
sculptors. It has no great artists.
Why?Because its artistic powers, that is to say,
its vigorous capacity for painting and sculpture,have not been put at the service of the Ideal,Spirit, and Beauty.
And, in saying that, observe that I am notattempting to extol a literary or philosophical
art, which would be foolish and wrong. Longago artists like Chenavard and Wiertz showedthe hollowness of their extravagant art, as wellas the decayed schools in which Form was nolonger a matter of importance.
I dream of seeing the standpoint of artistsraised, and of seeing them return once for all tothe evolution of the human ideal, so that theirindividual knowledge of the soul, becoming moreluminous, may glow with purer lustre in theirworks. Has any one seriously reflected on thefresh and luxuriant blossoming of art, which
may originate, on the threshold of the twentiethcentury, from the idealist mode of thought ?That is the aim of my very humble effort : to
awaken latent faculties, so as to broaden, bymaking it more spiritual, the basis of artisticgrowth.
Perhaps it is well that this ardent desire for
regeneration should come from a simple artist.
Perhaps, tooand it is my own opinionit would have been more effectual if anotherthan Isomeone of more authorityhadendeavoured to initiate this.
I have waited for that man. He has notcome. I have endeavoured humbly to be thatman, since no one would raise his voice in thename of pure Beauty.Who, then, will venture to reproach me with
having been impatient in my desire for the Idealthrough Nature, and Beauty through Light ?
I do not know what welcome will be givento this book that pleads for Spirituality byartists or the general public.But I venture to say, without pride and
conscious of my inferiority, that neither Ruskin,with his inconsistent and refined eclecticism,nor Tolstoi, in spite of his good intentions,rendered futile by such sad lack of aestheticculture, and not even Peladan,* so lucid inhis metaphysics, but whose idealism is tooaristocratic, or occasionally too lenient to
antiquated conventions, have presented a clear
conception of Art as being evolved agreeablyto all the creative energies, both psychic andnatural, of the harmonies of existence.
If some narrow-minded critics, governed bypaltry prejudice, should declare that it is notwell for the artist to take up the pen, commonsense must ask them who then has the rightto impose limits on the way in which thefaculties should be manifested.
If others likewise, confining their interest
to some particular locality, and disliking theuniversal principle of Idealism, protest, in the
name of what they call"
national art," whatdoes it matter !The Future will reply to them.
*Josephin Peladan, a novelist and writer on art. He is an idealist,
but broad-minded in his views. His chief works are : " I.e Vice Supreme"
" Comment on devient Mage,"" Comment on devient Artiste," and the
Babylon,"" La Prometheide," and " CEdipe et le Sphinx."