THE HIGHER LIFE IN ART.* Tam book contains much that
is subtle, delicate, even poetical, in thought and feeling, but it is thought and feeling pushed much further in the direction of literature than in that of art; and the truths about art which are mastered are those more important for general culture, for the moral and mental education of authetic amateurs, than are the truths which would enlighten especially the workman artist. The style meanders gently along, enriched by frequent quotations from the best authors, but with a flavour running through it of pretty conceits, old-fashioned, elaborate bows and gentle manners, which is not without a mild grace and charm. The writing is that of a scholar ani a gentleman, and though the critical faculty is often evinced in a subtle and discriminating form, all allusions to individuals are made with so much of the kindliness of true good-taste, that we are almost conscious of a reluctance in disagreeing with the author. But disagree, we fear, we must, in the manner in which he has treated the central idea of the book. The "higher life," as it is described in it, we conceive not to be in art, as art, at all ; it is the higher life in the poetry and religion which nature inspires in refined, sensitive, and cul- tured minds, be they artistic or unartistic. Had the author not started in his preface by telling us he has, in writing this book, held steadily before him the "following considerations ; first, to write as an artist for artists ;" secondly, that among lovers of art (and there are few who do not love art), "there is a greater
• The Higher Life in Art, with a Chapter 071 Hobgablins. By Wyke Bayliss. London: David Bogue.
need of catholicity of thought," we should have criticised the result as that of an earnest amateur. It might have passed for a pleasant collection of pretty, though, we maintain, not sound thoughts, from a reverent religions mind, on the English school of painting of forty years ago. But as an artist of the present day writing for artists, he has not, we think, reached the beginning of the difficulty. Instead of believing, with Mr. Bayliss, "that there are few who do not love art," we believe there are few who really do. The beginning of the difficulty of this subject is, we hold, that there are far too many artists, so called, in our civilised. world, and far too few genuine lovers of art. By a lover of art, we do not mean a connoisseur, but any man, woman, or child to whom a real work of art speaks genuinely,
awakening as spontaneous a sympathy as do the effects of nature, not solely from the portraiture of nature which is con- tained in works of art possessed of this power, but as the result of a talent in the artist of putting natural effects into a f021m created by the artist's invention, which form has a fitness, a charm, and a power of its own. Now, it is this form, which is entirely ignored in the argument throughout the book, and which is, nevertheless, the heart of the whole matter. No
translation or imitation of nature by human craft can make any forcible impression as a work of art, if its virtue lies chiefly in the faithfulness of its imitation. It would be equally wide of the mark to say that the chief power of Raphael's San Sisto Madonna arises from qualities of imitation and literal translation from nature, and to say that the value of the Pastoral Symphony hangs on the likeness in the music of it to the various sounds in nature. The eye of the artist and the forms and colours in nature together produce a combination in a real work of art, which might be compared to the result of putting two chemicals together which create a third, having in it qualities which neither of the component parts possesses alone, and it is the existence of this result in the painter's, sculptor's, or architect's work which distinguishes the true from the false artist; and we should hold the higher life in art to be that which, with most sincerity and earnestness, worked out this artistic form,—nature having given the materials, and also having conferred on the artist the power to work worthily the materials given. Sir Frederick Leighton, in his address to the Royal Academy students the other day, said truly that the common greatness of all great men was their sincerity, but though all great men have "sincerity of emotion," all sincere men are not great ; and it is in the choice of the form in which the artist expresses his "sincere emotions" that lies the difference between the art which is powerful as an elevating force in the world's culture, and that which, though true art, and capable of awakening sympathy in art-lovers, has no wide-spread influence,—the difference between the work of Phidias, Michael Angelo, and Titian, and the work of their con- temporaries which we see in their native countries, but whose names are scarcely known, and whose art has little influence. Mr. Bayliss says :—
"We have seen that Art is of the nature of a translation. Of all the little lying hobgoblins which invest the Higher Life, there is none more dangerous than that which is perpetually whispering to the artist that his power is creative. There is no such thing as creative power in Art. The poet and the painter can no more create their subject than they can create the colours with which they paint it, or the ink with which they write about it. The beautiful hues of Nature are the painter's, from which to select and arrange, but he cannot go beyond them. The universe is the poet's, but he cannot go outside it, any more than he can add to it a single atom."
The form which is constructed in the artist's or the poet's brain is an addition to the universe, we maintain, and is a force differ- ing in its effect from the impressions we derive from nature. We think it is misleading to say, as further on is said, that the word " creative " should be limited to its second- ary sense,—the shaping, or arranging, or combining, or
investing these combinations with new forms ; for nothing is more purely imperative and primary, than the power which created the form in one of Shakespeare's plays, or in such a picture as Titian's "Bacchus and Ariadne." We deny in toto that "Art for art's sake" is a debased synonym for dilettantism, "or that it is the antithesis of the Higher Life." This is our chief quarrel with the book, for we believe such ideas about art to be most unwholesome,—well meant, but most destructive of healthy growth in art. "Art
for art's sake "we believe to be the cultivation of an instinct as healthy and as natural as domestic affections, love of animals, love of flowers, or any good human feeling which belongs as a birth-right to humanity, which we see in. savage races, who ornament their weapons with decorative design, and string their beads together in beautiful combination of colours, and get a rhythm and musical cadence into their reiteration of the few words they use to express their sorrow or joy, an instinct which some civilisations develope, others destroy. Our civilisa- tion has destroyed much of that simple love of ingenious and beautiful arrangements which the savage creates from the emotions which are derived from sight, and, with this natural instinct blunted, we have lost the feelings of genuine enthusiasm which the higher developments of the instinct ought to create. There is nothing so important, if we wish for healthy, genuine art life to be a part of our civilisation, as to encourage "sin- cerity of emotion," and to honour that work which contains in it the rare gift of creating a beautiful form in art for such emotion ; but we shall not the more easily get the simple natural instinct restored to us as a nation, by raising the subject up on stilts, stilts that elevate it not only into an atmosphere of unpleasant transcendentalism, but into an atmosphere which is false. Essential as are moral and religious ideas to the finest fibre of poetical feeling in the painter, as in the poet, morality, religion, and art are three distinct subjects, and if the distinction is not clearly defined in the discussion of either of the three, much practical use cannot be expected to result from such discussion. Nor can Christianity claim Art to be her special servant, as suggested by the following sentence in this book :—" Mathematicians might still be analysing triangles and spheres, if Christ had not died ; but without the hope of life of which he came to assure us, Art would have built no temples at all." Art had built the Parthenon and innumerable temples in Egypt and the East, without that hope. Perhaps the strong- est plea we can urge for art, as art, being indigenous in human nature, is that there has been no creed ever held by any number of people that has not expressed itself through art of some kind. It is, of course, true that art invents no beauty that nature does not outvie ; but the artist invents the form which im- presses her various effects with power, distinctness, and permanence on the human mind. To dishonour this creative quality, either by ignoring it or slighting it, as in this book it is ignored and slighted, is to take out of the subject the element which inspires the artist with the most sincerity, enthusiasm, and reality in his life and work. He is no real artist if he possesses no such inventive quality, but if he does, "to be true unto himself," in working it faithfully, using the beauties of nature as his language, is the "higher life in Art," a life concentrated into simplicity by a single aim, and urged on by the power of working out in a specific form the conceptions of the brain.
Besides what we consider the mistake in the central idea of the book, there is a-particular kind of want of simplicity in the
style which Mr. Bayliss, in common with other writers on art since Mr. Ruskin's time, indulges in. Mr. Ruskin, when he is most didactic, has a teasing way of writing, of which the following quotation from Mr. Bayliss's book strongly reminds us:—" See how much is contained in the word Beauty. First, that which gives pleasure to the eye ; second, that which pleases the mind.
Synthetically, order—symmetry—elegance—grace — excellence —peace—holiness. See also the fullness of the word Truth.
First, exact accordance with fact ; second, conformity of words to thoughts, veracity. Synthetically, correct opinion—fidelity —sincerity—virtue. And observe how the two words draw together in their meaning—the one leading through order, symmetry, grace, excellence, to holiness,—which is virtue; the other leading through accuracy, veracity, fidelity to virtue,—which is holiness." All writers who, consciously or unconsciously, follow Mr. Ruskin's style, would surely do well to remember that it is not when he teases us that he justifies his power over us, but when his style swings away from all tiresome lesson-giving, with a fine impulse of poetry,—when, in his unversed poetry, he sings songs of praise to truth and beauty with a power so subtle and forcible, that they leave us almost as full of his thought as Mr.
Ruskin was himself. Had Mr. Bayliss agreed with Mr. Ruskin in his detestation of tile words "objective," and "subjective," the style would have been pleasanter. Not- withstanding, however, serious drawbacks to the usefulness of this book, arising from an elaborate tone of thought and a want of simplicity in the author's view of art, there is still much that is true, refined, and charming in the thought, and in the writing of it. The chapter on the "Wars of the Hobgoblins" is very amusing, and the three following chapters contain sugges-
tions of reforms in the management of the Royal Academy which might, we should think, be adopted, with much benefit to all concerned. 'We do not, however, agree with the conclusions drawn from the "Story of a Dado." We do not think English artists require encouragement to paint minutely or on a small scale, and we fail in seeing the particular charm Mr. Bayliss seems to find in a picture being so small that it cannot be seen, except when you are close to it. Refinement has nothing to do. with size, one way or the other, and the undue encouragement of the qualities which tell out in an exhibition, and spoil the beauties of the rare exceptions, is to be accounted for by the fact of the existence of public exhibitions on a large scale, where the crowding together of numbers of pic- tures spoils the effect of all, except those which overpower their neighbours by force. The chapters on the "Hobgoblins of the Great Masters" are full of touches singularly true and delicate ; but the idea is surely overdone when it results in taking Lord Byron to morning service, and supposing he com-
posed the lines, "The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold," &c., in church, accounting for the gay colouring of the " cohorts " by supposing he was looking at a stained-glass window. In the chapters called "Loaves from a Sketch-book we find a suggestive little sketch by the author, and some fanci- ful and-gracefully written lines on Chartres Cathedral. The two letters written by brothers, one a painter and one a poet, are flooded with the words " objective " and " subjective."
The result of the argument in them is that the poet reaches a climax in his line which has no parallel in art ; and that, on the whole, the poet cannot learn much from the painter, but that the "next time a figure painter site down to paint a cottage interior, with all its pots and pans, he shall just read over Russell Lowell's little poem of The Courting ;' and that the next time a landscape painter gets well out of the roar of London, and is fairly on his way to Bettws, he shall lean back comfortably in the railway carriage and read the four short odes that he will find at the beginning of Keats's poems." "My Lord the Epilogue" concludes the book with a sketch of the difficulties and want of public success of the works of David Cox during his lifetime, and ends all the theories we disagree with by one we think most true. "What more shall the painter ask than to spend his life in mastering his art, except only that he may have time to master it before he dies. This is the painter's true reward." And surely this is "art for art's sake."