A Celebration of Women Writers

"An Appeal of Art to the Lovers of Art." by Mrs. Frederic W. Norris [Mrs. Mary E. Cherry Norris].
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 674-678.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 674] 

AN APPEAL OF ART TO THE LOVERS OF ART.

By MRS. MARY E. CHERRY NORRIS.

MRS. FREDERIC W. NORRIS.
All men are conscious of the manifold diversity and multiplicity of the objects by which they are surrounded. Few and far between are they whose gift is to discern the underlying unity which characterizes the ultimate reduction of this multiform diversity. As this is true in the world of nature, so it is eminently true in the realm of art. In the last analysis we find the divine spark, which is the summum bonum, concealed beneath the drapery of all artistic productions. There lies the divinity of the human soul. The fire which was brought from Heaven and bestowed on mortals has been cherished and kept alive, and men work at their best when they endeavor to explain the potency of that flame. The soul of art is the divinity of humanity–it is the manifestation of God. So closely akin are the members of that band of souls who live in the work of art that at times we can not distinguish one from another.

We look upon a painting and, suddenly, the canvas, the coloring, the framework are lost to sight. Our eyes grow dim and the picture speaks no longer to the eyes; the "dweller in the innermost" hears what the eyes saw, the rhythmic lines of the verse which tells the tale, and the painter is as truly a poet as he who wields the pen. A thought comes down from Heaven–it matters little whether it falls into heart of poet, painter or musician–if the soul of the artist is there the thought will find true expression, and the fragrance of the flower from heaven will be of heavenly sweetness in the soul, whether it is borne in upon us through the gate of the eye or of ear, or whether it comes to us in poetry of line and verse. Is there one heart present that has not heard the song that has come from the heart of the true painter? and has not the discord or the harmony pained or soothed the soul when hearing, as it were, through the eye? And the artist is great if his song or poem has been heard through the colors on the canvas. Once, in an Old World city, a young woman, weary and discouraged and sorely tempted to give up the struggle against the commonplace, came upon a picture by that great allegorical painter, George T. Watts. The picture was entitled "Mammon Dedicated to his Worshipers." What a change came into the life of this girl through the song that picture sung no one save God and the artist can ever know, and so loud was the voice that spoke that the reverberation will never cease, but ever onward roll until all earthly life is past and self is lost in soul.

To be an artist! What does it mean? Can anyone answer the query, or must it ever [Page 675]  remain unanswered? Is it the man who writes to please the people, or is it not rather that man or that woman who looks upon talent as God-given, and who therefore strives to advance art regardless of self, who says within himself, "Can I do aught to lead others upward through this bond, this tie that holds me from out the mire of the commonplace; can I not, by striving to be worthy, give others to drink from the cup of precious ambrosia which is only left in my keeping that I may use it for good? What can I do to prove myself a worthy steward of such a gift?" And can we claim that one branch of art is greater than another so long as the one or the other is a gift in the keeping of an unselfish soul? Is it he who paints with brush, or he who wields the pen; is it she whose voice entrances thousands of listeners as by magic spell; is it he who charms the world with exquisite skill upon piano or organ; he who is master of that other instrument which holds within itself a soul that cries for relief at times from the wooden casket in which it is confined–a soul that is dumb until a master-hand guides the song and interprets to those kindred souls the language of his captive strains? Are the different branches of art, the different departments of music, rivals? or is one but the complement of the other?

And now we would speak especially of music. We then look to those who have been the great teachers or leaders of thought–the golden-tongued poets who are among the world's greatest musicians. What says the king of dramatists–that man whose strength of will is felt even now, though his body has long since crumbled into dust, whose commands the greatest of earthly monarchs does not disregard? "Orpheus' lute was strung with poets' sinews, whose golden touch could soften steel and stones, make tigers tame and mighty leviathans forsake unsounded deeps to dance upon the sands." Robert Browning says, "Music (which is earnest of a Heaven, seeing we know strange emotions by it not else to be revealed) is a voice–low voice–calling fancy as a friend to the greensward in the summer time, and she fills all the way with dancing steps which have made painters pale, and they go on while stars look at them, and winds call to them as they leave life's path for the twilight world where the dead gather." Carlisle tells us that "all inmost things are melodies. The meaning of song goes deep. Who is there in logical words can express the effect music has on us? A kind of inarticulate, unfathomed speech which leads us to the edge of the infinite, and lets us for a moment gaze into that. See deep enough and you see musically, the heart of nature being everywhere music if you can only reach it."

Ruskin, in one of his most interesting chapters, lights for us seven lamps which are to illume the pathway for the artist who builds in marble and in wood. Is not he who builds for us fairy palaces of sweet sounds as much an architect as he who builds for the eye to see? Is not the ear one of the portals to the soul within? Let us see whether or not Ruskin's "Seven Lamps of Architecture" may serve for the artist whose life is given to the building of the music palace which will be worthy to receive the royal guest before whom the heavenly hosts are bending in their neverceasing song of "Holy! Holy! Holy!" Ruskin gives us in the chapter of which we have spoken the lamp of sacrifice, the lamp of power, the lamp of beauty, the lamp of life, the lamp of truth, the lamp of memory and the lamp of obedience. Oh music loving souls! let us look for a moment and see whither the lamp of sacrifice would guide us with its rays. What may we offer in sacrifice to advance the growth of the Music kingdom? As in a dream comes back the answer, "Forgetfulness of self and self-success." Yet who is willing to place self in the balance and be outweighed and forgotten for art's sake, and still rejoice in the work that is done? Without sacrifice nothing worthy can be accomplished–this is true in religion and it is true in art. Look well to the weary and oft-time shadowed road, for unless the lamp of sacrifice shines out brightly, the difficulties will appall, and we shall be tempted to turn back; unless this lamp be held aloft, and our eyes with steadfast gaze be fixed thereupon, our own shadows cast before from the lurid light of self will cause us to stumble and to fall into depths of oblivion. Let this light go before us, and then will the shadow of self fall backward. [Page 676] 

The lamp of truth. When one girds himself up for a journey–a life-journey into the art world–let him beware of the serpent of deceit, whose wily tongue once brought discord into Eden's bowers; whose tempting voice marred the harmony of human life. Let him beware of becoming himself a traitor. Let him, already lighted by the lamp of sacrifice, look now for the truth, the ideal which can light every shadow of doubt, and burn in its white fire the last vestige of the veil which would conceal motives. Let him look into his inmost soul and commune long with the dweller in the innermost sanctum. Let him look to it that he enter not into the way of quicksands, where the lamp of truth can not burn; where damp, miasmatic fogs choke the light, and where the traveler will lose his path, and the life be lost in darkness. Let him beware that he follows not a will-o'-the-wisp, deceiving emanation from graves of the moldering dead. Let him look closely that he be not led astray. The truth light wavers not, but, like the pillar of fire which led God's people of old through darkness of the night of bondage, the lamp of truth will guide through all dangers, through roughest ways, to the very altar of God, where the reward will be found for all who have in the art world been faithful.

Let him be fearless, and seek not to cover by flimsy artifice the many failures. Stand firm, and in the white light of truth all faults will be burned away, and at the last he may be worthy of being thought what he now wishes to seem. Truth will shrivel forever and destroy the veil of the seeming.

The lamp of power. Is our traveler lighted by its rays? Neither intricacy nor quantity (if I may use that word just here) denote power. Neither does an artist's power depend upon surrounding circumstances. Not to be governed by, a true artist must govern circumstances. Methinks Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Chopin and Wagner could show more power, more greatness, as artist souls in weaving poetry from the old-time spinet than can many a so-called artist of the present time hammer from the keys of the finest instrument of modern days. Why is this? Is it not that the lamp of power was alight within the soul, and the artist felt his power to be master of the machine before him? He was the soul–the instrument but the accessory. The artist held the secret, the "open sesame" to the garden of God, where rarest pictures are painted in colors of sweetest sound. He could enter and gather for us the heaven-born blossoms, at times bright roses of love, and again a wreath of cypress or of yew, and his own hands could weave the crown of laurel which should be given at the end. The lamp of power can be lighted only by true and reverent love of art, and if the artist's soul is lighted thus, he dare not stop to ask excuse or make apology, or tremble for fear of self-failure. If he loves his art, he shall carry safely the lamp of power. If one has a message from Heaven, it will find expression. Let the traveler think more of what that message may do for mankind, and less of the messenger; more of its effect or power to uplift, and less of the praise that the world will give. Oh, the commonplace to which a so-called artist stoops when he offers excuse for work unworthily done! Lovers of art should bear the message that God through them sends to mankind, with forgetfulness of self, and free from burden of excuse and apology should carry with stronger hand the lamp of power, which will light them toward the inner sanctuary, where they are called upon to act as priests before the starving, thirsty multitudes. He who can not forget self (which is weakness and sin) and grow toward strength and lower gigantic, has no right at the high altar. If he fears what the world will say, let him go back and grovel with the commonplace.

Beauty–the central lamp, as Ruskin gives the order. On the one hand are sacrifice, truth, power; on the other, life, memory, obedience. And what is it to be lighted by all the other lamps, but to stand in the center and in the full light of the central lamp of beauty? If this be so, will not the artist strive for higher motives, and leave no earth-worshipers the caricatures of holy sound in way of catch tunes and trick music, which appeals to the lower nature; and will he not strive after more uplifting, heaven-born thoughts, leaving to earth-children the music that can only set the feet [Page 677]  a-dancing, while he carries reverently the divine spark which shall grow to light him toward the source of all that is beautiful? Oh lovers of soul music! Do not deaden this holy light by letting the dancers cast their shadow over you. The gates will never open unless the lamps of beauty shine down and wither all the false growths about the entrance. Uproot all flowers that have no fragrance. The music-flowers must give forth sweet fragrance, or be unworthy a place in the garden about the palace of music. That style of composition which is unworthy a place in the most reverent love of art, should be cast aside as false. The flowers that God has planted in each artist's soul must be watered with tears of reverent love and pure devotion, and the sunshine of sacrifice and of truth and of power and of beauty must shine direct, not through the colored glass of popular fancy.

And next comes the lamp of life. What can this be to us in the world of music? We listen to some wonderful performance in the way of vocal gymnastics or of finger dexterity, and critics say, "admirable execution!" "Remarkable technic!" and we are silent or give assent because conventionality makes demand. Again, a true artist sits at the instrument, perchance breaking many set laws and rules, but now and again striking chords that flash like white light from highest Heaven into our own souls. The instrument may be poor, the voice imperfect, but the soul of the artist is there, living near to the source of light and life, and the life speaks forth. Would that more of those who struggle for the name of artist might begin within to fan into life the divine spark, if it be there, and if not, then cease to ply at art–go back–there is no room for triflers in this palace. All the outside polish of a common stone can not discover a diamond; all the technic and outside finish can not create an artist. The true artist is a living thought of God, and though his path may oftentimes lead over rough ways, it is ever lighted by the lamps of life, which can not die.

The lamp of memory. Ruskin says: "It is in becoming memorial or monumental that true perfection is attained." An architect conceives within his soul some vast structure; carefully he selects material that will endure, and carefully he builds; each pillar is in place, and the dome crowns all. The completed structure, though it appeals but to the eye while we are bound down to earth sense only, is like some grand oratorio that the soul may hear–music that has been caught and frozen into form. Like the architect, the musician longs to leave behind him just such noble work that may be a worthy memorial. As the architect scorns all tawdry ornament which detracts from the dignity of the building, so does the music builder scorn all light, trashy combinations of sound which may tickle the ears of the groundling, but which can not stand as memorial work. All true work must be memorial. The thought of the ideal demands that the lamps of future memory guide toward the leaving a worthy monument of the artist's better self. The ideal that walks ever by the side of and outlives physical man; the ideal that compares with the real as eternity compares with time; the ideal self can never forget, even when long centuries have passed, and men have forgotten the dust that once was infused with life by that ideal.

Oh lovers of music, strive to have worthy monuments of your work! Hold in uplifted hands the lamp of memory, that its rays may be sent forward toward a grand memorial erected in honor of the God-given gift that is yours.

Obedience! Is not the lover of art a worshiper at art's high altar? Will he not listen ever closely for the voice that commands his homage, and will not one who so loves follow without question, even through weary years of loneliness and toil? To obey, even though it seems to tear the heart from all the ties of earth-loves! Surely 'tis a solemn thing to enter the gate–to cross the threshold of the palace of art–for one may not play at going in and out. There is no turning back without sacrilege. A gift once laid upon the altar can not be recalled, and obedience is the law in the art world–obedience to the masters. One may not trifle with an art sublime. Far better take up some petty trade and be faithful thereto than seek to be an artist if the whole soul be not in deepest earnest. "Better pursue a frivolous trade in [Page 679]  serious meaning than a divine art frivolously." Look to it that there be loyal obedience, even unto death if need be!

The rays from the lamp of obedience must mingle with the other guiding lights and in the blending of the seven we shall find the perfect sevenfold light which will make the darkness as the noonday. As to the architect, so to the musician; these lamps must be the guides. When the way is dark, and gray clouds gather thick and fast, and the heart is weary, does the artist sit down in the dark and moan and weep and become entangled in the folds of the commonplace, whose limbs reach out among all ranks to drag down to earth those who fain would rise above? If so, let him not claim brotherhood with those who are yet aspiring. He has sold his birthright for a mess of pottage that will never satisfy the craving of his soul, whose hunger may be appeased only when the new birth comes to him, when he shall be born into that life of which true artists while on earth catch faint glimpses in a dream.

From the time the morning stars first sang together, from the time when Miriam rejoiced triumphant in singing with her maidens,

"Sound the loud trumpet o'er Egypt's dark sea,
Jehovah has triumphed, his people are free,"
down through the ages until the beloved disciple, seeing through cycles of time, tells us of the song which has been sung in highest Heaven by the glorified worshipers, the song no man could learn save those redeemed from earth–from that time gradually unfolding its pages, developing into an art of wondrous and mysterious beauty, music, like some strange flower opening its leaves to the light, has gradually opened petal after petal, and we stand in awe as we catch faint glimpses of what the entire flower may be when all is perfected.

Perchance–who knows–this great music-thought of God may be advancing and growing greater as the ages pass, in order that it when perfected may be earth's greatest offering to Him whose first coming was heralded by music of the heavenly host, on Bethlehem's plain, when was sung,

"Glory to God in the highest,
On earth peace and good will to men."


[Page 674] 

Mrs. Frederic W. Norris is a native of the Island of Ceylon, East Indies, and is a real daughter of the Orient. Her parents were the Rev. S. Henry Cherry and Henrietta Ebell Cherry. She was educated under the continued supervision of her uncle, Prof. Adrian J. Ebell, M. D., Ph. B., late President of the International Academy of Science, Berlin. She has traveled in Europe and America, her home being in New York City until her marriage in 1890. She married the Rev. Frederic W. Norris, a clergyman of the Protestant church, who is now in charge of St. Mark's Cathedral, Salt Lake City. Her profession is Shakespearean studies and vocal culture. She occupies the greater part of her time in visiting the poor and sick, in whose behalf she employs the gifts of recitation and song with which she adorns her profession. In religious faith she is an ardent and faithful Christian. Her postoffice address is St. Mark's Rectory, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom