The following pages are the answer to questions which a young man asked himself when, fresh from the university, he found himself adrift in the great galleries of Europe. As he stood helpless and confused in the presence of the visible expressions of the spirit of man in so many ages and so many lands, one question recurred insistently: Why are these pictures? What is the meaning of all this striving after expression? What was the aim of these men who have left their record here? What was their moving impulse? Why, why does the human spirit seek to manifest itself in forms which we call beautiful?
He turned to histories of art and to biographies of artists, but he found no answer! to the "Why?" The philosophers with their theories of aesthetics helped him little to understand the dignity and force of this portrait or the beauty of that landscape. In the conversation of his artist friends there was no enlightenment, for they talked about "values" and "planes of modeling" and the mysteries of "tone." At last he turned in upon himself: What does this canvas mean to me? And here he found his answer. This work of art is the revelation to me of a fuller beauty, a deeper harmony, than I have ever seen or felt. The artist is he who has experienced this new wonder in nature and who wants to communicate his joy, in concrete forms, to his fellow men.
The purpose of this book is to set forth in simple, untechnical fashion the nature and the meaning of a work of art. Although the illustrations of the underlying principles are drawn mainly from pictures, yet the conclusions apply equally to books and to music. It is true that the manifestations of the art-impulse are innumerable, embracing not only painting, sculpture, literature, music, and architecture, but also the handiwork of the craftsman in the designing of a rug or in the fashioning of a cup or a candlestick; it is true that each art has its special province and function, and that each is peculiarly adapted to the expression of a certain order of emotion or idea, and that the distinctions between one art and another are not to be inconsiderately swept aside or obscured. Yet art is one. It is possible, without confusing the individual characteristics essential to each, to discuss these principles under the comprehensive rubric of Art.
The attempt is made here to reduce the supposed mysteries of art discussion to the basis of practical, every-day intelligence and common sense. What the ordinary man who feels himself in any way attracted; towards art needs is not more and constantly more pictures to look at, not added lore about them, not further knowledge of the men and the times that have produced them; but rather what he needs is some understanding of what the artist has aimed to express, and, as reinforcing that understanding, the capacity rightly to appreciate and enjoy.
It is hoped that in this book the artist may find expressed with simplicity and justice his own highest aims; and that the appreciator and the layman may gain some insight into the meaning of art expression, and that they may be helped a little on their way to the enjoyment of art....