Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Words of Wisdom: An Historic View on the Value of Art

The following sensible reflections on the permanent value and enjoyment of true works of art are taken from the columns of the New York Nation:

"Is art a luxury, like wine or silks or laces? Does it minister only to the pleasure or ostentation of the rich, without benefiting the community at large? Decidedly we say no. The first great distinction between a work of art and those luxuries with which it is falsely classed is, that it is not consumed by the man who buys it. If I buy a bottle of wine and drink it, it has pleased my palate, given me an hour of pleasant exhilaration, and it is gone. The money or the labor it cost is destroyed absolutely in procuring me that hour of pleasure. If I buy a silk dress for my wife the pleasure lasts a little longer, and, if she is a handsome woman, spreads a little further, but the dress wears out, and there is an end of it. But if I bring into the country a beautiful picture or a noble statue, I have brought something that will last for hundreds of years after I am dead, and will contribute to the higher pleasures of generations yet unborn. So far from destroying the labors of others for my personal and temporary gratification, I have paid for the enjoyment of thousands, and in so far am a public benefactor. We all recognize the public spirit of him who erects a fountain or gives a garden to the people, and doubtless we are not called upon to admire in the same way the generosity of him who puts a picture in his parlor. Doubtless he puts It there for his own pleasure. Yet, as far as the public is concerned, the benefit is but deferred. Be he as selfish as he may, he cannot keep it shut up forever; he will die, and the picture will live. Even in his lifetime many will see it, and a work of art truly belongs to him who enjoys it, not to him who owns it. Sooner or later it will change hands, it will be seen in public exhibitions, it will be sold, and the history of all great works of art is, that at last they become the property of the public, and are placed in museums for the pleasure of all. Luxuries are for the moment, but "a thing of beauty is a joy forever." The first quality in which a work of art differs from a luxury is its permanence; the second is its productiveness. It not only gives pleasure to thousands and for ages, but it gives much more than pleasure—it gives education. The history of art is the history of civilization. Art, in one form or another, is the great beautifier and ennobler of life, and a nation without art—without poetry or painting, architecture or sculpture or music— is a nation of barbarians, though it possess the steam-engine and electricity."¹

¹"Art No Luxury", The Deseret Weekly, Vol. 39, June 29, 1889, pp. 350-351, as retrieved from {http://books.google.com/books?id=02DUAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA351&lpg=PA351&dq=%22art+differs+from+a+luxury+is+its+permanence%22&source=bl&ots=Xd7ZLAvaLh&sig=tguTdm4K2FZFVyE3Tbj-LOsGaco&hl=en&ei=CBjiTLz9KMmr8AaBmMXeDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CBUQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=%22art%20differs%20from%20a%20luxury%20is%20its%20permanence%22&f=false}, November 16, 2010.


David Gluck said...

Thanks for posting this, very inspiring.

martinealison said...

Cela fait du bien à lire et à relire... tellement vrai et cela fait aussi tellement du bien.
A bientôt,
Je reviendrai me promener dans ce délicieux jardin qu'est votre blog, merci.

Semphora said...

it seems to me, there is a certain ironie in that you choose to accompanie this text with a picture, that can hardly be described as educational