ART IN AMERICA
The foreigner traveling in the United States finds a thousand things to admire. Here more than anywhere else, intelligence and human labor have produced marvels. It would be quite superfluous to express admiration of that industry, so wonderfully organized, so well served by machines whose perfection and power astound the imagination. It would be quite useless to recall the wonderful things accomplished in this country, which scarcely a hundred years ago was still virgin, the formidable network of railways and telegraph wires which is increasing every day and the progress of every kind which makes material life in America so easy. But one idea saddens the traveler in his admiration; the existing situation in America shows the lack of balance in the use of human powers, the urge which has made of the United States so considerable a nation has taken only one direction. It has triumphed over matter, but it has neglected all those things which charm the mind. America today is like a giant a hundred cubits tall, who has attained physical perfection, but in whom something is lacking: a soul. The soul of a people is art, the expression of thought in its most elevated aspects.
When you read the chapter devoted to the theatres, you were able to see how much the dramatic art is neglected in the United States and in what deplorable condition it finds itself. To have good artists, good companies, and authors, stable institutions are necessary, long training, a tradition which comes only slowly into existence. In New York, there is no permanent opera, no permanent opéra comique, nor even any operetta theatre which is sure of two years of life. There is no theatre for classical authors or for any modern authors who might be expected to endure long enough to create a school of art. The theatre lives in America from day to day. The directors and the companies are nomads. Most of the artists are just visitors borrowed from the Old World, coming for one season only and then leaving.
What I say about the dramatic art applies equally well to the other arts. Neither music, nor painting, nor sculpture has found in America conditions suitable for development. There are painters, I will be told, and sculptors; I don’t deny it. I could cite several who have much talent: Bierstadt, Stunt, Ball, Carlisli, Mismie, Ream, and many others.9 Every meadow has some flowers in it! I see flowers to be sure, but I do not see a garden. In other words, I see some painters, but I see no American school of painting. The United States owes it to itself to remedy this great lack. So great a people should have every greatness. It should add to its industrial power the glory which the arts alone are capable of giving a nation.
What are the proper means to develop the fine arts in America? If I had to answer this question, I would say to the Americans: You have all of the necessary elements, intelligent and gifted men, artistic temperaments are not lacking. The proof is in the works of these Americans whose names I quoted just a little while ago and who without encouragement, in unfavorable surroundings, have succeeded in producing works of art. You have money, you have distinguished amateurs, collectors whose galleries are justly famous. Utilize all of these elements and you will succeed. Since it is an announced principle in America that the State should not interfere by subventions, you must organize things yourselves. In Europe, the national government supports only some of the large theatres in the capital; it is the cities which support theatrical enterprises and museums in the small towns. The municipal councilors do a great deal for art in our country; not only are they concerned with theatres and museums, but very often they maintain conservatories and art schools for young people who show artistic talent. Imitate this example, and if the municipal councils are not willing to help you, create organizations to protect the arts, similar organizations in all of the great centers. Collect funds. This will be easy for you> and let private initiative play the protective role in your country which the governments play in Europe.
To improve the dramatic art, endow theatres. Have permanent directors, insured against bankruptcy. You need two theatres for music and one for literary works. You need especially a conservatory where you can develop excellent students if you get the right faculty; that is to say, by calling and retaining in your country artists of merit from Europe. The day when you will have established permanent theatres and organized a conservatory as I have just suggested, you will have done a great deal for dramatic art, for American composers and authors, but you will not harvest the fruit of your efforts immediately. Ten years, perhaps twenty years will be necessary for the establishments that you will have founded to produce the excellent results which you have a right to expect. But what are twenty years? Twenty years for your students to become masters, twenty years for you to become no longer mere tributaries of European art, twenty years for the theatres of the Old World to come asking you for artists as today you ask them!
What I have said for the theatres, I could repeat for the other branches of the arts. Create public museums; it is by visiting museums that men of genius often discover in themselves that creative faculty which God has given them or even those faculties of imitation which often come close to genius. By looking at masterpieces, taste is formed and purified.
Create art schools and choose your professors from the best of our academies. The modern masters would not consent to live permanently outside their own countries, but it is not necessary to have the greatest painters nor the greatest sculptors, other people have the qualities necessary for teaching. You should go to them. Do not spare money. This is the only way in which you will be able to form a school of American art which may figure in the history of art beside the Italian, Dutch, Spanish, and French schools.
A hundred years have been sufficient for America to reach the height of industrial greatness. When this people, which has given such admirable proofs of will power, activity, and perseverance, shall decide to win a place among the artistic nations, it will not be long in realizing this new dream.