The reader may perhaps fail to perceive the bearing of this long discussion of symbols and sacraments upon the subject of art and architecture, but in the mind of the author the correlation is plain. There can be no great art without religion: religion begins in consciousness as a mystic experience, it flows thence into symbols and sacraments, and these in turn are precipitated by the artist into ponderable forms of beauty. Unless the artist himself participates in this mystic experience, life’s deeper meanings will escape him, and the work of his hands will have no special significance. Until it can be said of every artist
“Himself from God he could not free,”
there will be no art worthy of the name.
I take great pleasure in availing myself of this opportunity to speak to you on certain aspects of the art which we practise. I cannot forget, and I hope that you sufficiently remember, that the architectural future of this country lies in the hands of just such men as you. Let me dwell then for a moment on your unique opportunity. Perhaps some of you have taken up architecture as you might have gone into trade, or manufacturing, or any of the useful professions; in that case you have probably already learned discrimination, and now realize that in the cutting of the cake of human occupations you have drawn the piece which contains the ring of gold. The cake is the business and utilitarian side of life, the ring of gold is the aesthetic, the creative side: treasure it, for it is a precious and enduring thing. Think what your work is: to reassemble materials in such fashion that they become instinct with a beauty and eloquent with a meaning which may carry inspiration and delight to generations still unborn. Immortality haunts your threshold, even though your hand may not be strong enough to open to the heavenly visitor.
Though the profession of architecture is a noble one in any country and in any age, it is particularly rich in inspiration and in opportunity here and now, for who can doubt that we are about to enter upon a great building period? We have what Mr. Sullivan calls “the need and the power to build,” the spirit of great art alone is lacking, and that is already stirring in the secret hearts of men, and will sooner or later find expression in objective and ponderable forms of new beauty. These it is your privilege to create. May the opportunity find you ready! There is a saying, “To be young, to be in love, to be in Italy!” I would paraphrase it thus: To be young, to be in architecture, to be in America.
It is my purpose tonight to outline a scheme of self-education, which if consistently followed out I am sure will help you, though I am aware that to a certain order of mind it will seem highly mystical and impractical. If it commends itself to your favor I shall be glad.