And with a few remarks on this quality, which might appropriately be termed “constructive beauty in art,” we will close this paper on “the Design,” as belonging more properly to the mechanical than the intellectual side of art; as being rather the slow growth of experience than the spontaneous impulse of the artistic temperament. It is a feature in art rather apt to savor of conventionality to such as would look on nature as the only school of art, who would consider it but as the exponent of thought and feeling; while, on the other hand, we fear it likely to be studied to little effect by such as receive with indiscriminate and phlegmatic avidity all that is handed down to them in the shape of experience or time-sanctioned rule. But plastic art claims not merely our sympathy, in its highest capacity to emit thought and sentiment; but as form, colour, light, life, and beauty; and who shall settle the claims between thought and beauty? But art has beauties of its own, which neither impair nor contradict the beauties of nature; but which are not of nature, and yet are, inasmuch as art itself is but part of nature: and of such, the beauties of the nature of art, is the feeling for constructive beauty. It interferes not with truth or sentiment; it is not the cause of unlikely order and improbable symmetry; it is not bounded by line or rule, nor taught by theory. It is a feeling for proportion, ever varying from an infinity of conflicting causes, that balances the picture as it balances the Gothic edifice; it is a germ planted in the breast of the artist, that gradually expands by cultivation.
To those who would foster its development the only rule we could offer would be never to leave a design, while they imagine they could alter for the better (subordinate to the truth of nature) the place of a single figure or group, or the direction of a line.
And to such as think it beneath their care we can only say that they neglect a refinement, of which every great master takes advantage to increase the fascination which beauty, feeling, or passion, exercises over the multitude.
I said of laughter: It is vain;—
Of mirth I said: What profits it?—
Therefore I found a book, and writ
Therein, how ease and also pain,
How health and sickness, every one
Is vanity beneath the sun.
Man walks in a vain shadow; he
Disquieteth himself in vain.
The things that were shall be again.
The rivers do not fill the sea,
But turn back to their secret source:
The winds, too, turn upon their course.
Our treasures, moth and rust corrupt;
Or thieves break through and steal; or they
Make themselves wings and fly away.
One man made merry as he supp’d,
Nor guessed how when that night grew dim,
His soul would be required of him.