Domestic Encyclopædia (1802)/Art
ART, as defined by Lord Bacon, is a proper disposal of natural objects, by human thought and experience; so as to answer the several purposes of mankind; in which sense the word Art stands opposed to Nature: it is also used for a system of rules, serving to facilitate the performance of certain actions, and is then opposed to Science, or a system of theoretical principles.
Arts are generally divided into useful or mechanic, liberal or polite. The former consist of those in which manual labour has a greater share than intellectual exertion; and by which we are provided with the necessaries of life; whence they are denominated trades, as baking, brewing, carpentry, &c. The latter are such as depend on the application of mental abilities, and the active powers of a fertile imagination. Of this nature are, poetry, painting, music, and the like.
As a considerable degree of art is exerted in preparing food, manufacturing clothes, and erecting habitations, we may consider many of the useful arts to be nearly coeval with the human race.
In every country where the people are barbarous and illiterate, their progress, in this respect, is extremely slow.
The exertion of a national spirit, upon any particular art, excites activity in the prosecution of others. By incessant application, the Romans excelled in the art of war; and, having in the progress of society, acquired a taste for literature, their natural genius and talents were roused, and many of those who distinguished themselves in the Roman State, became authors.
The progress of the arts and sciences towards perfection, is also greatly promoted by emulation. Mathematics, for instance, appear to be on the decline in Europe; for, since the immortal Newton has far surpassed all the ancients, there appears to be little hope for the moderns, either of excelling, or equalling, his creative genius.
In countries thinly inhabited, it is not uncommon to find one person exercising several professions, and this is productive, in some degree, of good effects. Various operations being carried on by the same individual, his mind becomes invigorated, because a combination of talents is required to perform the task; but, when the mental powers are restricted to a single object, all thought and invention are excluded, and the operator is, in a manner, converted into a dull and inanimate machine.
From the useful, naturally resulted the cultivation of the liberal arts. Persons who enjoyed every convenience from the former, turned their attention towards the latter: hence arose Sculpture, Statuary, Painting, Literary composition, &c.
The decline of the fine arts in Rome, is ascribed, by Petronius Arbiter, to a cause which ultimately proves the destruction of mankind, wherever it prevails—such is opulence, with its never-failing concomitants, avarice and luxury. It has therefore been justly remarked, by acute observers, that during the rise and progress of empires, the military arts chiefly flourish; when arrived at their height, the liberal arts; and when in a declining state, the arts of luxury.
The fine arts are only relished by persons of taste, who can spare large sums for supporting them: thus it will be found, that they seldom, or never, flourish in countries where they do not obtain the liberal patronage of the sovereign, or men in power. On the other hand, the useful arts are always encouraged in every well regulated State. In short, the unexampled success of both, in this comparatively happy island, may be justly attributed to the sanction and munificence which men of talents and genius (whether natives or foreigners) uniformly experience from our gracious Sovereign, as well as from the nobility, almost without exception. No nation can boast of a greater number of connoisseurs and patrons, in the wealthy classes of society, than the British.
When a people are once roused from their indolence and lethargy, by whatever fortunate event or change of circumstances, the progress of the arts is generally rapid. Prosperity, contrasted with former penury, creates in the mind a spring which is vigorously exerted in new pursuits. The Athenians, while under the tyranny of Pisistratus, made but a mean appearance; but, on regaining their independence, were converted into heroes. This prosperity produced its usual effects, and Athens became the chief theatre of the arts and sciences.—The Corsicans, when engaged in a perilous war for the defence of their liberties, displayed a vigorous national spirit: they founded an university, a public library, and a public bank.—The Royal Society of London, and the Academy of Sciences in Paris, were both instituted after civil wars, which had animated the people, and excited their activity and emulation.