With the language of beauty in full resonance around him, art was not difficult to the painter and sculptor of old as it is with us. No anatomical study will do for the modern artist what habitual acquaintance with the human form did for Pheidias. No Venetian painted a horse with the truth and certainty of Horace Vernet, who knew the animal by heart, rode him, groomed him, and had him constantly in his studio.
Every artist must paint what he sees, rather every artist must paint what is around him, can produce no great work unless he impress the character of his age upon his production, not necessarily taking his subjects from it (better if he can), but taking the impress of its life.
The great art of Pheidias did not deal with the history of his time, but compressed into its form the qualities of the most intellectual period the world has seen; nor were any materials to be invented or borrowed, he had them all at hand, expressing himself in a natural language derived from familiarity with natural objects.
Beauty is the language of art, and with this at command thoughts as they arise take visible form perhaps almost without effort, or (certain technical difficulties overcome) with little more than is required in writing—this not absolving the artist or the poet from earnest thought and severe study.
In many respects the present age is far more advanced than preceding times, incomparably more full of knowledge; but the language of great art is dead, for general, noble beauty, pervades life no more. The artist is obliged to return to extinct forms of speech if he would speak as the great ones have spoken.
Nothing beautiful is seen around him, excepting always sky and trees and sea; these, as he is mainly a dweller in cities, he cannot live enough with. But it is, perhaps, in the real estimation in which art is held that we shall find the reason for failure. If the world cared for her language, art could not help speaking, the utterance being, perhaps, simply beautiful.
But even in these days when we have ceased to prize this, if it were demanded that art should take its place beside the great intellectual outflow of the time, the response would hardly be doubtful.