This book is the result of an endeavor to trace to their sources in mind or matter the methods employed in the composition of the art-forms. As an incidental, yet, as it seemed, necessary step to the accomplishment of this endeavor, the action of the mind in these methods has been identified with its action in scientific classification ; the methods have been arranged according to the logical order of their development ; they have had added to them, so as to render the whole presentation complete, a number hitherto recognized, if at all, only indirectly; and their character and effects have been shown to be exemplified not alone in painting, sculpture, or architecture, to which it has been customary to confine consideration in essays of this kind, but equally in all the arts.The theoretical, too, has been so connected throughout with the practical---each principle unfolded has been so amply illustrated---that it is hoped that the work will meet the requirements of that large number of readers who, while interested in the one or the other of these phases of the subject, are not interested in both. Such a partial interest with reference to that which it is important to understand in full, all must recognize to be unfortunate; so much so that any attempts, as in these pages, tending, however slightly, to remedy it ought to be welcomed. It is equally unfortunate too for critic and producer. In every age, of course, men of genius are prompted instinctively, entirely aside from any knowledge that they may have of aesthetic laws, to recognize and embody aesthetic effects. But where are such men who fail to find themselves surrounded by the products of their inferiors? and who is able wholly to resist the influence of these? If it be true that art, like religion, is fountained in inspiration, it is true also that different sources of this differ in quality and that the stream which flows from the high region of the masters has a purity not characterizing that which rises in the low plane of their imitators. Poetry, painting, sculpture, and architecture were none of them of the same rank in the first century before Christ as in the fourth or in the eighteenth after Him as in the sixteenth.
Nor is the taste of any age, however it may stimulate ability or aspiration to produce, above the sway of fashions, good and bad, that, in proportion as they keep truth fettered, render excellence impossible. In order to attain this, the leader in art, as in religion, must break away from them, in fact from all the shackles of conventional traditionalism---one might almost say of historic criticism, broadly beneficial as this has been in many a direction, ---and, searching back of them, must find within himself and in the world about him, those first principles that underlie the nature of both thought and things.
Such are the Conceptions in which this book has had its origin; and in the degree in which the conclusions reached in it are accurate, and appeal as such to the reader's judgment, it will make evident that the effects for which the artist seeks are due to laws that operate far more inflexibly than sometimes is supposed; it will suggest that originality, while wider in its scope than those imagine who confound the methods of the master-artist.
with their manner, has too its limits; and it will reveal beyond a doubt why many works of so-called art produced to-day, because devoid of almost every element of art, can never be of permanent interest, as well as why, for reasons just the opposite, so many of those that are now the classics of the past have charms that never can be lost.