every follower of the fine arts will be up in arms at
such a suggestion. He will repudiate the idea of anything
abnormal or less than manly in the occupation he loves
so well. The imputation of insanity attaching to genius
is one that has gained some credence through Lombroso
and Nordau, and has ranged the world of thinking people
in two camps. Probably the truth lies midway between
in the first place, it seems to me that both Lomborso
and Nordau are extremists, and very often the simplest
aspects of a case are contorted in support of their
own view. They themselves are not quite balanced; their
single idea has run away with them. But let us ask what
are the aims of writing and the fine arts, and what
are the conditions under which they are produced.
roughly speaking the aim and business of the fine arts
is to represent life. Not merely to reproduce the most
exact image or picture of life, but to reproduce it
with something added. That something is the personal
quality if the artist himself, his thoughts and his
feelings about life. If, then, we consider the whole
body of art, all the product of the literatures and
the fine arts of all peoples, we may say that it is
a very fair representation of life, and in every case
a fair representation of revelation of the different
races as well. Not only will each nation record the
life of the world as it existed then and there; it will
also reveal its own bias of judgement and emotion about
that life. Also the art of a nation will fail here and
there, just as life fails, but in the long run it will
not fail; it will form a faithful counterpart and picture,
so far as it goes, of the life of that nation.
the question arises, How can anything so trustworthy
be the product of insanity? Sanity surely implies a
capacity for seeing things as they are, and if art is
born of insane conditions, it must in the long run represent
things as they are not. If the fine arts are the product
of insanity, then truly is man following a vain shadow.
the fine arts have always embodied for men, not only
reflections about life, but aspirations and ideals.
Art has held the mirror up to nature; but it has always
been a magic mirror, a mirror of the artist's own make,
in which we might behold the world truly and accurately
with a certain glamour or bloom added. It has shown
us very truly what life is, but it has also shown us
what life might become. There has ever been a prophetic
quality in art. It has always been able to foreshadow
standards of conduct and culture; and civilizations
have always tended to make themselves over, to grow
and develop, on the lines of progress laid down by their
poets, seers, and artists. How then can we possibly
admit that art is sprung from insanity? Would it not
be nearer the truth to say that art is one of the most
sane and normal things in the world?
being so, if it be so, what excuse have we for saying
that genius is touched with insanity; that the artist
is never quite a normal being; or that art is the product
of disease, and the healthy man would, after all, never
wish to write or paint or make music? Can there be the
least foundation for such a conclusion?
believe there is art which is born of unwholesome conditions;
and I believe there is writing which is certainly not
the product of perfect sanity; but I do not believe
that the best writing and the best art are so produced.
Any of the arts requires in those who profess it an
amount of technical skill which is very exacting. Naturally,
therefore, all art, or at least every fine art, very
easily tends to specialization.
primitive and simple times the fine arts would not be
so far divorced from common life as they are now. Being
in the first place merely means of expressing universal
sorrow or joy, love or hate, hope or fear, they would
be used by everyone. But gradually, as one or another
individual in a community gained facility and power
and unusual excellence as a poet or a musician, he would
devote himself exclusively to that fascinating pursuit.
And so well was he esteemed, that, like our friend Ung
in the ballad, he need do nothing but makes songs and
music. He need share no longer in the most ordinary
and necessary work of the world. Now there is, of course,
in such specialization an element of danger. The man
highly specialized is a variant, not a normal type.
We should logically conclude, then, that the artist
or the writer who is too exclusively engrossed in his
art is not the person from whom the best work is to
be expected. His art may be so overladen with technique
that the great human emotions may be lost. The man has
been swallowed up in the artist.
believe a critical consideration of art and letters,
with this point in view, would bear out the conclusion.
We should find that the great works of art and literature,
the works which the world has cared to preserve with
loving gratitude, have been produced by men whose interest
in life was greater than their interest in their art.
They were men first and artists afterwards. Technically
speaking there have been many English poets far superior
truth is, therefore, that the art is not the product
of a diseased condition in the individual, but rather
the product of great sanity and normal health; at the
same time the over-zealous and ill-regulated devotee
of art may very easily run himself into an abnormal
state bordering on disease.
is all in this, if I am not mistaken, a wholesome case
of instruction for the artist, and a very palpable warning
against over-exclusive devotion to a single line of
development. It is so easy in an enthusiasm for art
to be careless about all else; so easy to neglect a
due culture of all our powers; so easy to push our development
in a single direction until we lose poise and become
warped and distorted through specialization. A great
care for our art, yes; but an exclusive and slavish
devotion to it, by no means! The man must be greater
than the artist; and when this is not so only a second-rate
art can be the result. So that if you are a writer or
a painter or make music your mistress, it is of the
utmost importance that you should be something of an
athlete and a philosopher as well. For the art of a
people must provide the moral aims and aesthetic ideals
for that people; it must, therefore, be the product
of the very best spirits and minds of the race.
no other class in a community, then, does the obligation
of noble living rest with so unremitting a strain as
on its artists, its writers and painters, its architects
and music-makers. Great sanity alone can give birth
to great art. Sanity of mind, sweetness of temper, strength
of physique; an insatiable curiousity for the truth
at all costs; an unswerving loyalty to manly goodness
in the face of all difficulties; and an unashamed love
of beauty in every guise; these are some of the prime
qualities which go to make an artist.
almost seems that to be an artist one must first attain
a perfect personality. That is difficult. But then art
is a difficult matter; it is the embodiment of perfection.