This section is from the book "Ideals In Art: Papers Theoretical Practical Critical", by Walter Crane . Also available from Amazon: Ideals in Art: Papers Theoretical, Practical, Critical.
I hope that we shall not be content as a people to remain satisfied with so little of the refining influence of art and beauty in our daily lives. We are beginning to realize the immense loss and deprivation their absence causes, and where they are not felt at all, where their warm rays, like the sun's, never penetrate, there is coarseness, brutality, and degradation. It is a noticeable fact, that harshness and roughness of manner and want of sympathy are usually found with an absence of sensibility to art in individuals. The aesthetic sense, indeed, is like a sixth sense added to the other five, or rather evolved from them. Yet we have, until recently, been in the habit of shutting up our national museums and picture galleries on Sundays as if they were haunts of vice, instead of refining, intellectual and moral influences, and sources of unselfish pleasure. We allow the walls of our school rooms, for the most part, to be gaunt and bare, and give no greater stimulus to the children's and young people's imaginative reason than is to be gleaned from varnished, unillustrated maps and tame lithographs of wild animals.
But it is hardly surprising that the minds and imaginative faculties should be starved, when we know that the bodies so frequently are, as under our compulsory system of education it has been discovered poor children frequently go foodless to school.
Yet if common life was thought worth en-riching by suggestions of heroism, poetry, and romance; if education was considered more as a means of developing the whole nature, than merely as a preparation for a narrow competi-tive commercial existence, might we not, from the storehouses of history and folk-lore, picture our school and college walls with great and typical figures of heroes, and founders and fighters for our liberties and the commonwealth, and make them glow with colour and suggestion? and I believe we should see its after results in a more refined and more spirited, more sympathetic, more united and self-respecting people.
Whether such changes can come before certain greater economic changes, comprehended by socialism, is another matter (I do not believe they can in their fulness), and I have no wish to put the aesthetic cart before the economic horse, although conviction sometimes comes from attempting the impossible - or the right thing at the wrong stage.
The social character of the appeal to the eye is brought home to us by the involuntary impulse which, with a fine work of art before us, or some lovely natural scene, provokes such common exclamations as "Look at that!" "Oh! do look there!" "Did you ever see anything so beautiful!" and the like. This seems to show that people are not content, as a rule, to enjoy the pleasures of vision alone. They cannot look at a beautiful work without wanting others to see it also, and participate in the same emotional excitement and appreciative delight.
Appreciation and sympathy are also, of course, enormously stimulating to artists. They are like the answering ring to the coin of his thought when he casts it forth to the world, which tells him it is of true gold.
Works of art are like questions or problems put by their inventor to the public at large. If they are understood at once then the artist knows he is in touch with his questioner, and that he speaks in a tongue that is comprehended: but this is not always the case.
The conditions of the practice of art itself have undergone changes analogous to the evolutions of society, the sentiment of which it always reflects. From its earlier collective stages and typical forms, when all the arts of design were united in architecture with such beautiful results, to its more individual and personal character in modern days, more especially in painting, we can trace an entire change of spirit. The focus of artistic feeling and expression is no longer centralized on religious ideals, mysteries, or mythologies, but is turned everywhere on the parti-coloured aspects of human life, and the changes of the face of nature. Its methods are no longer traditional but experimental, and its point of view personal, so that the position of a modern painter is not so much that of a musician taking his place in a great orchestra, and contributing his part to a great and harmonious whole, but rather that of a soloist, who claims our entire attention to his performance on a particular instrument - it may be only a tin whistle, or it may be, of course, the violin in the hands of a master.
This condition of things in art has had its effect on the individual practitioner, and the tendency is to set up individual codes of artistic morality, so that each can only be judged with reference to his own standard, and according to the dictates of his own aesthetic conscience or consciousness, and this perhaps may be quite the reverse of that of his brethren.
In every direction, however, the practice of art teaches the value of certain virtues as means towards the attainment of its higher aims and ideals: conscientiousness in workmanship - doing all that is fitting and needful to obtain certain results: the necessity of making certain sacrifices of lesser beauty, for instance, or minor truths, to express the higher beauty and the more significant truth; for it is no more possible to "eat your cake and have it" in art, than it is in the affairs of life generally.
Judgement and temperance have important parts to play in the making of the world of art; and that faithfulness to an ideal, and perseverance through all manner of technical and other difficulties and adverse circumstances, which carry a man through, and oblige him to exercise a certain self-restraint, to reach the goal he has set before himself.
So that the practice of art cannot be said to be without its ethical side, any more than its manifestations can be denied their social bearing and significance.