Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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FINE ARTS, The. The taste for the beautiful, that is to say, the want felt for a certain order and a certain harmony in things form which affect the senses and the intellect, either in sound, color, form or movement, gave birth to the fine arts. To arrange sounds, forms, colors or movements in a manner which shall produce an agreeable impression upon the senses or the intellect, is the object of the musician, the painter, the architect, the sculptor, the poet, or, to use a general term, of the artist. The domain of the fine arts is commonly restricted to painting, sculpture, architecture and music. Some even give the name of art only to the imitation by mechanical means of all forms in their highest degree of natural or ideal beauty. This is what is called plastic art. This word embraces only such arts as drawing, painting, sculpture and architecture, together with engraving and mosaic work. But this definition is evidently too narrow. When a musician or a dancer awakens in the mind a sense of the beautiful, the one by harmonious cadences, the other by graceful and expressive movements, they are artists in the same sense that the painter, the sculptor or the architect is. It is or little importance what may be the material or the instrument which the artist employs to operate upon the senses and the intelligence, provided he succeeds in pleasing them. The fine arts might, therefore, be defined in a general manner as the application of human labor to the production of the beautiful.


—The fine arts are found among all nations, even the most barbarous, but they are more or less perfect, more or less developed, according to the state of civilization and the peculiar aptitudes of the people. The Greeks seem to have possessed in the highest degree the taste for the beautiful, and the faculties necessary to satisfy this elevated want of the senses and the intellect. Hence Greece was for a long time a wonderful studio, in which painters, sculptors, architects, musicians and poets vied with each other in ministering to the ruling passion of an artistic people. Other nations, like the ancient Mexicans, seem to have been entirely destitute of the feeling of the beautiful. The forms of the Grecian statues and monuments are as beautiful as those of the Mexican statues and monuments are hideous.


—Man could make no great advance in the fine arts until after his more pressing wants were satisfied. Music and dancing probably were the first. Although the art of the architect and the sculptor could not be developed before the trade of the mason or the stone-worker, man needed only the graceful play of the limbs to invent dancing, and the free use of his voice or a reed to invent music. It was possible to develop painting, sculpture, and, above all, architecture, only by the aid of the industrial arts. The trade of building must necessarily have preceded architecture. It was the latter's mission to give to each individual edifice the kind of beauty appropriate to its purpose and to local exigencies. In architecture, as in literature, the same style would not apply equally well to all kinds of work. The architect is bound to give, for example, a religious character to a church, a secular character to be theatre or ball room. The Gothic style up to the present time seems to be that which is most appropriate to the manifestation of religious sentiment. In the Gothic cathedral, the ethereal height of the arches, the vast depth of the nave, and the mysterious subdued light from the windows, join with the profound and solemn accents of the Gregorian chant and the grave and majestic tones of the organ, in awakening the sentiment of veneration. The motley style of the renaissance is better calculated to excite mundane and worldly thoughts. Hence it is the one chosen for theatres and ball rooms. The peculiar propensities of nations have naturally exercised a great influence upon the development of the fine arts. A religious and melancholy people alone could have invented Gothic architecture. In Grecian architecture is found that exquisite elegance which marked all the customs as well as all the works of the privileged Hellenic race. The affected and bizarre customs of the Chinese are also found reflected in their architecture as well as in their dress.


—The necessities of climate and the configuration of the ground have exercised a great influence upon the development of architecture, and they have often determined the character of it. Necessities of another order have also operated upon the development of architecture and other arts. Throughout all antiquity is seen the influence which the fine arts exercised over the mind.


—For a long time they were considered as an instrumentum regni, as a means of appealing to and mastering the imagination by terror or respect. The gigantic constructions of the Assyrians and Egyptians—construction, the utility of which we vainly endeavor to discover to-day—had perhaps no other object. These exterior signs of power were then necessary to make a simple-minded people accept the absolute dominion of a race or caste. Those who claimed to be the representatives of divinity upon earth were obliged to show themselves superior to other men, in all that was considered as a manifestation of strength or majesty. The co-operation of the fine arts was indispensable to the display of their power. They needed them to construct their temples and palaces, to ornament them with magnificent decorations, and to fashion their garments and their arms. Architects, painters, sculptors, musicians and poets were not less necessary to them than soldiers and priests in sustaining the imperfect and vicious structure of their dominion. Hence the particular care which governments in all ages have given to the development of the fine arts, and the ostentatious protection which they have accorded them, very frequently to the great detriment of other branches of production. Although, in the past, the fine arts were powerful auxiliaries of politics and religion, as nations have developed intellectually and morally, as their intelligence and sentiments have broadened and become purified, this display has exercised less influence over the minds of the people, and the fine arts have lost their political and religious importance. The taste for the beautiful has ceased little by little to be used as an instrument of domination.


—Economists have put two leading questions on the subject of the fine arts. They have inquired, first, whether the fine arts form a species of national wealth and second, whether the intervention of the government to protect them is necessary.


—Do the products of the fine arts constitute a species of wealth? As regards all that concerns architecture, painting and sculpture, there can be no doubt as to the answer. A building, a statue and a picture are material riches, the accumulation of which evidently augments the capital of a nation. But can as much be said of the products of music and dancing? Can the talent of the musician and the dancer be regarded as productive? Adam Smith says, no; J. B. Say and Dunoyer say, yes. According to Smith's doctrine, the name of products can not be given to things which are ended at the very moment of their formation. To which J. B. Say answers, and rightly, as we think: "If we descend to things of pure enjoyment, we can not deny that the representation of a good comedy gives as much pleasure as a box of bonbons or an exhibition of fire-works. I do not consider it reasonable to claim that the painter's talent is productive, and that the musician's is not so."


—But although J. B. Say recognizes the musician's talent as productive, he does not admit that its products can contribute to the increase of a nation's capital. He states his reasons for this opinion as follows: "It results from the very nature of immaterial products that there is no way to accumulate them, and that they can not serve to augment the national capital. A nation which contains a great number of musicians, of priests and of clerks, might be a nation well endowed as to amusements and doctrines, and admirably well administered, but its capital would not receive from all the work of these men any increase, because their products would be consumed as fast as they were created." (J. B. Say, Traité de téconomie politique, book i., chap. xiii.)


—But does it follow, because a product, material or immaterial, is consumed immediately after having been created, that it does not augment the capital of a nation? May it not augment, if not its external capital, at least its internal capital, or, to make use of Storch's expression, the capital of its physical, intellectual and moral faculties? Would a population deprived of the services of clergymen, administrators, musicians and poets, a population, consequently, to which religious, political and artistic education was wanting, be worth as much as one sufficiently provided with those different services? Would not man, considered at once as capital and as an agent of production, be worth less under the former circumstances than under the latter?


—In his work, De la liberté du travail, M. Charles Dunoyer has completely demonstrated that the consumption of the material or immaterial products of the fine arts develops in man valuable faculties; whence it results that artistic products of the fine arts develops in man valuable faculties; whence it results that artistic production, material or immaterial, can not be considered barren.


—Let us complete this demonstration of the productiveness of the fine arts by means of a simple hypothesis. Suppose her musicians and singers were taken away from Italy, would she not be deprived of a species of wealth, even if these artists were replaced by an equal number of laborers, carpenters and blacksmiths? Italy profits by the work of her musicians and her singers as absolutely as she does from the products of agriculture or of manufacturing industry. In the first place she consumes a part of it herself, and this consumption serves to educate the Italian people by developing their intelligence, by refining and polishing their manners. Then, another part of the products of the fine arts, of which Italy is the nursery, is exported each year. Italy supplies a great number of foreign theatres with its composers, its musicians and its singers. In exchange for their immaterial products, these art-workers receive other products purely material, a part of which they commonly bring back to their own country. What laborer, for instance, would have added so much as Rossini to the wealth of Italy? What seamstress or dressmaker, however capable or industrious, would have been worth as much as Catalani or Pasta from the same point of view? The production of the fine arts can not then be considered barren for Italy.


—The fine arts, then, can contribute directly to augment the capital of a nation, whether material capital or immaterial capital, which resides in the physical, moral and intellectual faculties of the population. They are in consequence productive in the same degree and in the same sense that all the other branches of human work are.


—Artistic production also, like all others, is effected by previous accumulation, the co-operation of capital and labor. In this respect artistic production offers no particular point of interest, except that it gives birth more frequently than any other kind of production, agricultural industry excepted, to natural monopolies. Great artists possess a natural monopoly, in this sense, that the competition among them is not sufficient to limit the price of their work to the level of what is strictly necessary for them to execute it. Jenny Lind possessed a natural monopoly, for the remuneration which she obtained on account of the rarity of her voice, was very disproportionate to what was strictly necessary for her to exercise her profession of a singer. The difference forms a species of rent, in the politico-economical sense of the word, of the same nature exactly as rent derived from land. If nature and art had produced a thousand Jenny Linds, instead of producing but one, it is evident that the monopoly which she enjoyed would not have existed, or that it would have been infinitely less productive. Painters, sculptors and architects possess in their reputation a still more extended monopoly, for it exists and is principally developed after their death. The value of this monopoly depends upon the merit of the artist and upon the quantity of his works. According as the number of works produced by a painter or sculptor is more or less considerable, the price of each one is more or less high. Where the merit is equal, the pictures or statues of the masters who produced the least have a greater pecuniary value than those of the masters whose productions are numerous. Thus, for example, an ordinary picture by the Dutch painter, Hobbema, commonly sells for more than an ordinary picture by Rubens, although Hobbema does not rank so high in art as Rubens. But the former produced only a small number of pictures, while the latter left an enormous number of works. Supposing, also, that the pictures of Ingres and Horace Vernet were equally prized by amateurs, the former would always have a superior pecuniary value to the latter, simply because they are rarer. The differences in the price of objects of art, and the variations which their value in exchange undergoes, notably when fashion takes up again a style which it had abandoned, are curious to study; some valuable ideas are found here in regard to the influence which the fluctuations of demand and supply exercise upon prices, also some interesting information as to the origin, progress and end of natural monopolies.


—After having examined the question of the productiveness of the fine arts, we must now see if this kind of production should be specially directed and encouraged by the government, or should be abandoned to the free action of individuals, like all other kinds of production.


—The Egyptians and all the nations of antiquity condemned to slavery their prisoners of war, and sometimes entire nations whom they had subjugated. They employed these slaves to construct their monuments. We know that the Israelites helped to build the pyramids. But the Egyptian monuments are rather remarkable for their gigantic proportions than for their beauty. It is plain that the object of the people, or rather of the caste which instructed them, was to inspire the mind with awe rather than to charm it. In Greece the products of the fine arts have quite a different character. They bear above all the imprint of liberty. Grecian art was not enfeoffed to a government or a caste. The greatest number of Grecian monuments were built by means of voluntary contributions. The famous temple of Diana at Ephesus, for instance, was erected by the aid of contributions from the republics and kings of Asia, as later was St. Peter's at Rome in part by the money of Christendom. When Erostratus reduced it to ashes, a new subscription was made to rebuild it. All the citizens of Ephesus considered it an honor to contribute. The women even sacrificed their jewels. At Delphos, also, the temple was rebuilt, after a fire, at the public expense. The architect, Spantharus of Corinth, was engaged to complete it, for them sum of 300 talents. Three-fourths of this sum were furnished by the different cities of Greece, and the other fourth by the inhabitants of Delphos, who collected money even in the most distant countries to aid in completing their quota. A certain Athenian added a sum of money for embellishments, which were not included in the original plan. The greater part of the ornaments of the temple were offerings from the cities of Greece or from private citizens. Thirteen statues by Phidias were a gift from the Athenians. These statues were the result of a tenth part of the spoils taken by the Athenians upon the plains of Marathon. A great number of other objects of art commemorated the victories of the different peoples of Greece in their intestine wars.


—A part of the revenue of the Grecian temples was applied to the support of the priests, and another part to the support and embellishment of the edifices. The priests made the greatest sacrifices to ornament the dwelling place of the gods, and these sacrifices were rarely unproductive, for in Greece, as elsewhere, the best lodged gods were always those which brought in the most. The fine arts were also nurtured by the rivalries of the small states, into which Grecian territory was divided, as to which should have the finest temples, statues and pictures. This emulation, pushed to excess gave rise to more than one abuse. Thus it was agreed, after the invasion of the Persians, that henceforth a contribution should be levied upon Greece to defray the common expenses, and that the Athenians should be made the depositaries of it. Pericles did not hesitate to divert these funds from their proper destination, and employ them for the embellishment of Athens. Such an odious abuse of confidence aroused the indignation of all Greece against the Athenians, and was one of the principal causes of the Peloponnesian war.


—The Romans, less happily endowed than the Greeks, from an artistic point of view, did not make such considerable sacrifices for the encouragement of the fine arts. At Rome, as in Egypt, the arts were chiefly employed to display to the eyes of conquered nations the power and majesty of the sovereign people. The construction of monuments of the arts was still among the Romans a means of keeping their troops in habits of work and of occupying their slaves. The taste for the beautiful did not enter much into these enterprises, and art naturally felt the effects of this, Still, under Augustus, there was at Rome a great artistic movement, a movement which was due in great part to the development of communication between Rome and Greece. Augustus caused to be built the protico of Octavia, the temple of Mars Ultor, the temple of Apollo, the new Forum, and many other monuments of less importance. His friends, L. Cornificius, Asinius Pollion, Marcius Philippus, Cornclius Balbus, and his son-in-law Agrippa, erected at their own expense a great number of monuments. Attributing to himself, as is common among sovereigns, all the merit of the advance which the arts had made under his reign, Augustus said, some time before his death: "I found Rome of clay, and left it of marble." At Rome, as in Greece, the statues were innumerable. The greater part of the chief citizens erected statues to themselves at their own expense. The censors endeavored to deprive them of this trifling satisfaction, by forbidding the erection of statues at Rome without their permission. But as this prohibition did not extend to the statues which ornamented country houses, the rich citizens evaded the ordinance of the censors, by multiplying their effigies in their splendid villas.


—At the time of the downfall of the Roman empire, the barbarians destroyed with stupid rage the finest masterpieces of ancient art. The fine arts then disappeared with the temporary eclipse of civilization. But they soon sprang up again, thanks to the expansion of the religious sentiment supported by municipal liberties. Gothic art owes its birth and progress to the Christian sentiment developed in the emancipated communes of the middle age. A fact which is generally ignored is, that the expense of constructing the greater number of the magnificent cathedrals which adorn European cities, was in great part defrayed by voluntary contributions of residents of the city, nobles, bourgeois, or simple journeymen. Nothing is more interesting, even from the simple economic point of view, than the history of these wonders of Gothic art. At a time when poverty was universal, nothing but religious enthusiasm could have decided people to impose upon themselves the necessary sacrifices for their erection. And nothing was neglected to rouse and excite this enthusiasm. The bishop and the priests furnished an example by sacrificing a part of their revenues to aid in constructing the cathedral; indulgences without end were promised those who contributed to the holy work, either by their time or their money. When there was need of it, miracles happened to animate the languishing zeal of the faithful. By casting a glance over the history of the principal cathedrals, one will be convinced that diplomatic skill was no less needed than artistic genius satisfactorily to accomplish those great religious enterprises. At Orleans, for instance, Saint Euverte having undertaken the construction of the first cathedral in the fourth century, an angel revealed to this pious bishop the very place where it should be built. In digging the foundations of the edifice the workmen found a considerable amount of treasure; and the very day of the consecration of the church, at the moment when Sain Euverte was celebrating mass, a resplendent cloud appeared above his head, and from this cloud issued forth a hand, which blessed three times the temple, the clergy and the assembled people! This miracle converted more than seven thousand pagans, and gave a great reputation to the church of Orleans.


—At Chartres, Bishop Fulbert devoted in the first place three years' income and the income from the abbey, to the construction of the cathedral (1220); afterward he collected a considerable sum to continue the work. The pious Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror, was associated with him in his work, and gave the greater part of the lead roofing of the cathedral. A physician of Henry I. built at his own expense one of the lateral portals. Those who had no money gave their work. Workmen of every description voluntarily took part in this enterprise. A great number of the inhabitants of Rouen and of other dioceses of Normandy, provided with the blessing of their archbishop or their bishop, joined the workmen. The troop of pilgrims chose a chief, who apportioned to each his work.


—At Strasburg, great indulgences were promised to the faithful who should contribute to the building of the cathedral. Gifts flowed in from all parts. Still the construction of that magnificent cathedral lasted for nearly four centuries. Commenced in the twelfth century, it was not finished till the fifteenth. The construction of the cathedral gave a great reputation to the stone-workers of Strasburg. These workmen, who furnished the greatest architects of the time, formed in the German empire, as well as in France, a body distinct from that of ordinary masons. Up to the time of the French revolution, they continued to have charge of the repair and preservation of the Strasburg cathedral.


—The cathedrals of Europe, therefore, the most magnificent and most original monuments which it possesses, are due, in a great part, to the zeal and the faith of individuals. Sometimes, doubtless, this faith and zeal were excited by pious frauds; sometimes also the pride of the bourgeois and the workmen were appealed to, to induce them to construct a more spacious and more beautiful cathedral than that of a neighboring and rival city; but in general no recourse was had to coercive measures; there was no levying of taxes to be specially devoted to the construction of churches, the sacrifices which the clergy generously imposed upon themselves and the voluntary gifts of the faithful were sufficient, and assured the multiplication of masterpieces of the Gothic art in an age of universal misery and barbarism.


—In Italy the constitution of a multitude of small municipal republics was singularly favorable to the development of the fine arts. Rivals in commerce, the Italian republics were also rivals in the arts. The rich merchants of Genoa, of Pisa, of Florence and of Venice made it a point of honor to protect the arts and to endow their cities with magnificent monuments. This spirit of emulation seized the popes, and Rome disputed with Florence for the great artists of Italy. The basilica of St. Peter's was commenced; but as the ordinary resources of the papacy were insufficient to complete this immense enterprise, recourse was had to a special issue of indulgences; unfortunately this particular kind of paper, having been made too common, depreciated in value, and ended by being refused in a great number of Christian countries. So the gigantic basilica was never completely finished. With the political and commercial decline of the republics, which spread like a network over Italian soil, commenced that of the fine arts in Italy. The encouragement of despotism has never availed to restore them to the splendor which they had in the time of the municipal republics of the middle age and of the renaissance.


—In France, Louis XIV, thought that in his own interests it was his duty to protect the arts. Prompted thereto by the great king, Colbert founded the academy of fine arts. Unfortunately, the great king and his minister did not adhere to this creation. Louis XIV. spent enormous sums upon his royal dwellings. Under his reign the fine arts became the auxiliaries of war in crushing nations.


—In his learned Histoire de la vie et de l'administration de Colbert, M. Pierre Clément estimated at 165,000,000 livres, money of the period, the sums which Louis XIV. expended in buildings, and in the encouragement of the fine arts and manufactures. The details are as follows:

Total expense of Versailles: Churches, Trianon, Clagny, St. Cyr: the Marly machine; the river Eure; Noisv and Molineaux... 81,151,414
Pictures, stuffs, silverware, antiques... 6,386,674
Furniture and other expenses... 13,000,000
Chapel (constructed 1699-1710)... 3,260,241
Other expenses of all kinds... 13,000,000
Total for Versailles and surroundings... 116,796,429
Saint Germain... 6,455,561
Marly (not including the machine which figures in the Versailles item)... 4,501,279
Fontainebleau... 2,773,746
Chambord... 1,225,701
Louvre and Tuileries... 10,608,969
Arch of Triumph of St. Antoine (demolished in 1716)... 513,755
Observatory of Paris (constructed 1667-72)... 725,174
Royal Hotel and Church of the Invalides... 1,710,332
Place Royal of the Hotel Vendôme... 2,062,699
The Val-de-Gràce... 3,000,000
Annunclades of Meulan... 88,412
Canal of the two seas (not including what was furnished by the estates of Languedoc)... 7,736,555
Manufactories of Gobelins and Savonnerie... 3,645,943
Manufactories established in many cities... 1,707,990
Pensions and gratuities to men of letters... 1,979,970
Grand total... 165,534,515


By taking as a base, adds M. Clément, the mean value of the mark of silver in Louis XIV's time and in 1846, we shall find that the approximate value of the above is about 350,000,000 marks. But when we remember the wonders of Versailles alone, it is probable that all the buildings of Louis XIV., if executed in our day, would cost not far from a billion.


—Still these ostentations expenditures contributed in no way to the progress of the fine arts. Under Louis XIV. art was only a reminiscence of antiquity or of the renaissance. In the eighteenth century, taste in art, fettered by the immutable rules of the subventioned academies, became more and more corrupt. The revolution destroyed official protection, but it was wrong in not stopping there; the vandals of that time placed their sacrilegious hands upon the masterpieces of the past, as if they were suspected of royalism. On the other hand, the ridiculous imitations were reproduced no less ridiculously in the arts. To the corrupt taste of Watteau, Boucher and Vanloo, succeeded the false taste of the school of David. Napoleon did not fail to re-establish official protection. "I wish," he wrote to his minister of the interior, Count Cretet, "I wish the fine arts to flourish in my empire." But the fine arts did not hasten to obey the injunction of the despot, and the imperial epoch was anything but artistic.


—It is a common opinion that modern civilization is not favorable to the progress of the fine arts. As proof in support of this opinion, are cited the English and Americans, who, at the head of industrial civilization, are in a state of inferiority from an artistic point of view. But it is forgotten that all nations are not endowed with all aptitudes, any more than all soils are provided with fertility of all kinds. While certain northern nations obtained as their heritage industrial genius, artistic aptitudes fell to the lot of the southern nations. Certain nations have been for centuries the studios of the fine arts, as others have been the workshops of manufacturing industry. As international exchange becomes more developed, this division of labor will be more marked, and it will facilitate more and more the progress of the fine arts as well as that of the industrial arts. The progress of the arts will be accelerated also by the spread of comfort, which will augment their market, and by the progress of industry, which will place new material and new instruments at their disposal. Fewer palaces, perhaps, will be built, fewer battle pieces painted than in the past, but railway stations and palaces for industrial expositions will be constructed; the splendid and grand landscapes of the new world, which steamships render more and more accessible to European artists, will be painted; and statues will be erected to useful men instead of to conquerors. On the other hand, the use of light materials, of iron and glass for example, renders possible to-day artistic combinations unknown to the ancients. The employment of new instruments, invented or perfected by industry, will give birth to progress in other ways. Has not the multiplication of musical instruments already given an immense impetus to instrumental music? In an artistic sense, as in all others, modern civilization is probably destined to surpass ancient civilization. But if liberty was the essential condition of the progress of the arts in the past, it will be no less so in the future. Like all other branches of production, and more still because of the character of spontaneity which is peculiar to them, and which has given to them the name of liberal arts, the fine arts will progress the more rapidly the sooner they are freed from all protection and all shackles.


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