The Friendship of Art

by Bliss Carman

The Artist's Joy


    BROWNING in his poem, “One Word More,” has the well-known line:

                        “Gain the man’s joy, miss the artist’s sorrow.”

    What is the artist’s sorrow? Can you ask? After all, it is a sorrow not so different from other men’s. In one word, it is disappointment; and disappointment of a kind we all have felt, — the sense of thwarted and baffled expression. Fancy the artist, with his fair and enthralling ideal at first mistily afloat in his brain, then gradually growing clearer and clearer as he broods over it in serene happiness, and finally beginning to take created form. Is there any greater or purer pleasure than his? How fresh, how alluring, how untarnished [Page 205] is the beauty of that thought! And with what untold delight he broods upon it, expectant of the unique revelation never yet vouchsafed to man, and which he alone is to communicate to his fellows! No, not a vain or conscious brooding; for I doubt if any artist pauses to think of himself. His joy is too instinctive, too elemental; he cannot himself quite tell why he is so happy; if you should ask him, he would be at a loss to explain. But happy he is, bearing about in his dark mind the imperishable splendour. His whole being, his character, his personality, nay, his person, are illumined as with the sacred fire. He irradiates the glad glory of the elect. He has been enkindled with a coal from the altar of the very god. He is not consciously better than others; he is consciously only a normal man, and saddened only because others can be sad. In this rapt state he walks the earth, his head in the clouds — child of eternity and progenitor of unimagined beauty. [Page 206]

    But wait an hour! Wait until the vanishing, evanescent ideal is nearer his grasp. Wait until he tries to embody it in palpable form — in terms of colour or sound or shape. Ah, then you shall see a shadow of gloom overspread his face. That magic thought, so new and lovely, which seemed at first so easy to express, refuses to be made manifest. Toil as he may, the artistry is still at fault. The report he can give of his wonderful vision is in no wise a faithful representation. Perhaps by a sudden flash, as of enchantment, he is able to render some phrase of his ideal almost perfectly; but then, alas, the enchantment does not hold! The next instant he fails again, and the harder he tries the more futile do his attempts become. O artist, save thy tears! Vex not thy heart at this bitter sorrow, for it is the common fate of all thy guild — never to be satisfied with the effort.

    Yes, and this is the common sorrow of all of thy fellow mortals, too. Are we not, every one, beset by this very hindrance, the impossibility [Page 207] of expression? And does not this difficulty explain much of our disappointment and discontent with life? What a relief and pleasure it is to feel one’s self thoroughly and adequately represented or expressed, even for a moment! When the complete idea in our mind, which may have been lying unexpressed for a long time, suddenly some day finds its very self embodied in a perfect phrase or line or sentence of literature, how glad we are! How we welcome that artist, and how grateful we are to him for giving voice to our very thought! And when some sentiment or emotion finds a like embodiment, what a feeling of satisfaction we have! And in these cases, it is only the expression of another which we have borrowed. How much more, then, are we delighted when the expression is spontaneous, when we can unaided find the fit and perfect form in which to embody the breath of our own being, the word of the spirit.

    This same satisfaction, less in degree but [Page 208] not the least different in kind, is ours in daily human intercourse, when we move happily and among our fellow men, — when we feel ourselves perfectly understood. It seems to me that we should come a shade nearer happiness in life if we constantly reminded ourselves of this truth: that life as we live it is an art, — is one of the greatest of the fine arts, — that, indeed, it is the one art which embraces all others. We should, I think, keep in mind the joy and the sorrow of the artist, and remember that our own happiness and discontent are largely similar to his. We should not forget that in the arts of speech and gesture and dress — in the arts of human intercourse — we are every instant using exactly the methods of all the other fine arts, and are making, for good or ill, undeniable revelations of ourselves. It is inevitable that we should be making hourly impressions on our friends. And does it not become an evident duty that those impressions should be true, that they should actually represent us, [Page 209] that they should at least be brought under our conscious control, and made expressive as well as impressive? If we allow a discrepancy between the impression we make on others and the expression we intended to embody, certainly nothing but unhappiness can result. For the joy of life depends in no small measure on living adequately, in filling our sphere, in leaving no chinks between the veritable self and the great, beautiful, fascinating dominion of the senses. A being placed on this earth is fitted, you may be sure, both by inheritance and training, for living in accord with his surroundings. To bring himself into this close and satisfying relation is the clear duty and first privilege of all. And it can be done only through expression, only by honestly making the inward self real to the outward world.

    If we neglect to secure for ourselves true, sincere, pleasing, and reliable expression, which shall enable us to reach the utmost bounds of our being, it is as if a seed should [Page 210] never grow to fill its outer shell. We should then hopelessly rattle about in a vast, reverberating, empty world. I should, indeed, like to be the master of some fine art. I can fancy no more luxurious gladness in life. At least I should insist on cultivating the lesser arts of expression, — the personal arts, the arts of life. [Page 211]