The relation of art to use

97. Our subject of enquiry to-day, you will remember, is the mode in which fine art is founded upon, or may contribute to, the practical requirements of human life.

Its offices in this respect are mainly twofold: it gives Form to knowledge, and Grace to utility; that is to say, it makes permanently visible to us things which otherwise could neither be described by our science, nor retained by our memory; and it gives delightfulness and worth to the implements of daily use, and materials of dress, furniture and lodging. In the first of these offices it gives precision and charm to truth; in the second it gives precision and charm to service. For, the moment we make anything useful thoroughly, it is a law of nature that we shall be pleased with ourselves, and with the thing we have made; and become desirous therefore to adorn or complete it, in some dainty way, with finer art expressive of our pleasure.

And the point I wish chiefly to bring before you to-day is this close and healthy connection of the fine arts with material use; but I must first try briefly to put in clear light the function of art in giving Form to truth.

98. Much that I have hitherto tried to teach has been disputed on the ground that I have attached too much importance to art as representing natural facts, and too little to it as a source of pleasure. And I wish, in the close of these four prefatory lectures, strongly to assert to you, and, so far as I can in the time, convince you, that the entire vitality of art depends upon its being either full of truth, or full of use; and that, however pleasant, wonderful or impressive it may be in itself, it must yet be of inferior kind, and tend to deeper inferiority, unless it has clearly one of these main objects,—either to state a true thing, or to adorn a serviceable one. It must never exist alone—never for itself; it exists rightly only when it is the means of knowledge, or the grace of agency for life.

[…]

121. There cannot be any need that I should trace for you the conditions of art that are directly founded on serviceableness of dress, and of armour; but it is my duty to affirm to you, in the most positive manner, that after recovering, for the poor, wholesomeness of food, your next step towards founding schools of art in England must be in recovering, for the poor, decency and wholesomeness of dress; thoroughly good in substance, fitted for their daily work, becoming to their rank in life, and worn with order and dignity. And this order and dignity must be taught them by the women of the upper and middle classes, whose minds can be in nothing right, as long as they are so wrong in this matter as to endure the squalor of the poor, while they themselves dress gaily. And on the proper pride and comfort of both poor and rich in dress, must be founded the true arts of dress; carried on by masters of manufacture no less careful of the perfectness and beauty of their tissues, and of all that in substance and design can be bestowed upon them, than ever the armourers of Milan and Damascus were careful of their steel.

122. Then, in the third place, having recovered some wholesome habits of life as to food and dress, we must recover them as to lodging. I said just now that the best architecture was but a glorified roof. Think of it. The dome of the Vatican, the porches of Rheims or Chartres, the vaults and arches of their aisles, the canopy of the tomb, and the spire of the belfry, are all forms resulting from the mere requirement that a certain space shall be strongly covered from heat and rain. […] Be assured, until the roofs are right, nothing else will be; and there are just two ways of keeping them right. Never build them of iron, but only of wood or stone; and secondly, take care that in every town the little roofs are built before the large ones, and that everybody who wants one has got one. And we must try also to make everybody want one. That is to say, at some not very advanced period of life, men should desire to have a home, which they do not wish to quit any more, suited to their habits of life, and likely to be more and more suitable to them until their death. And men must desire to have these their dwelling-places built as strongly as possible, and furnished and decorated daintily, and set in pleasant places, in bright light, and good air, being able to choose for themselves that at least as well as swallows. And when the houses are grouped together in cities, men must have so much civic fellowship as to subject their architecture to a common law, and so much civic pride as to desire that the whole gathered group of human dwellings should be a lovely thing, not a frightful one, on the face of the earth. […]

 

124. […]. And therefore these are the things that I have first and last to tell you in this place;—that the fine arts are not to be learned by Locomotion, but by making the homes we live in lovely, and by staying in them;—that the fine arts are not to be learned by Competition, but by doing our quiet best in our own way;—that the fine arts are not to be learned by Exhibition, but by doing what is right, and making what is honest, whether it be exhibited or not;—and, for the sum of all, that men must paint and build neither for pride nor for money, but for love; for love of their art, for love of their neighbour, and whatever better love may be than these, founded on these[…] Begin with wooden floors; the tessellated ones will take care of themselves; begin with thatching roofs, and you shall end by splendidly vaulting them; begin by taking care that no old eyes fail over their Bibles, nor young ones over their needles, for want of rushlight, and then you may have whatever true good is to be got out of coloured glass or wax candles. And in thus putting the arts to universal use, you will find also their universal inspiration, their universal benediction. I told you there was no evidence of a special Divineness in any application of them; that they were always equally human and equally Divine; and in closing this inaugural series of lectures, into which I have endeavoured to compress the principles that are to be the foundations of your future work, it is my last duty to say some positive words as to the Divinity of all art, when it is truly fair, or truly serviceable.

[…] therefore I pray you with all earnestness to prove, and know within your hearts, that all things lovely and righteous are possible for those who believe in their possibility, and who determine that, for their part, they will make every day's work contribute to them. Let every dawn of morning be to you as the beginning of life, and every setting sun be to you as it's close:—then let every one of these short lives leave its sure record of some kindly thing done for others—some goodly strength or knowledge gained for yourselves; so, from day to day, and strength to strength, you shall build up indeed, by Art, by Thought, and by Just Will, an Ecclesia of England, of which it shall not be said, "See what manner of stones are here," but, "See what manner of men."