THE DIGNITY OF ART
We are told by philosophers that the essence of art is not the performance of a moral act, but the making of some thing, some work, some object, with a view not to the human good of the agent, but to the requirements and proper good of the work to be done, by using means of realisation predetermined by the nature of the work in question.
Art so appears as something in itself outside the line of human conduct, something very nearly inhuman, whose requirements are nevertheless absolute, for, needless to say, there are not two ways of making an object well, of realising well the work conceived; there is only one, and it must not be missed.
Philosophers go on to say that this constructive activity is principally and above all an intellectual activity. Art is a virtue of the mind, a virtue of the practical mind, and may be described as the peculiar virtue of the working reasons.
But, it may be objected, if art is merely an intellectual virtue of construction, whence come the dignity and prestige it enjoys among mankind? Why does this branch of our activity attract so much human energy? Why has the poet at all times and among all nations been admired equally with the sage?
The answer may in the first place be given that to create, to produce something intellectually, to manufacture an object rationally constructed, is a very considerable achievement in the world: in itself, for man, a way of imitating God. And here I mean art in general, as the Ancients understood it, the virtue of the artisan.
But where especially the maker of works becomes an imitator of God, where the virtue of art attains the nobility of absolute and self-sufficient things, is in that group of arts which by itself constitutes a whole spiritual world, namely the Fine Arts.
Two things are here to be considered. On the one hand, whatever be the nature and the ends in usefulness of the art under consideration, by its object it participates in something superhuman:...