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Do I need to explore human history, and how?
Emerson: Art and history as a private and universal adventure
From: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, I: History
A painter told me that nobody could draw a tree without in some sort becoming a tree; or draw a child by studying the outlines of its form merely- but, by watching for a time his motions and plays, the painter enters into his nature, and can then draw him at will in every attitude. So Roos "entered into the inmost nature of a sheep." I knew a draughtsman employed in a public survey, who found that he could not sketch the rocks until their geological structure was first explained to him.
What is to be inferred from these facts but this: that in a certain state of thought is the common origin of very diverse works? It is the spirit and not the fact that is identical. By descending far down into the depths of the soul, and not primarily by a painful acquisition of many manual skills, the artist attains the power of awakening other souls to a given activity.
It has been said that "common souls pay with what they do; nobler souls with that which they are." And why? Because a soul, living from a great depth of being, awakens in us by its actions and words, by its very looks and manners, the same power and beauty that a gallery of sculpture, or of pictures, are wont to animate.
Civil history, natural history, the history of art, and the history of literature- all must be explained from individual history, or must remain words. There is nothing but is related to us, nothing that does not interest us- kingdom, college, tree, horse, or iron shoe, the roots of all things are in man. It is in the soul that architecture exists. Santa Croce and the Dome of St. Peter's are lame copies after a divine model. Strasburg Cathedral is a material counterpart of the soul of Erwin of Steinbach. The true poem is the poet's mind; the true ship is the shipbuilder. In the man, could we lay him open, we should see the sufficient reason for the last flourish and tendril of his work, as every spine and tint in the sea-shell pre-exist in the secreting organs of the fish. The whole of heraldry, and of chivalry is in courtesy. A man of fine manners shall pronounce your name with all the ornament that titles of nobility could ever add.
Cf. Rilke, Letter to a Young Poet | Plato, Whom are we talking to? | Kierkegaard, My work as an author | Emerson, Self-knowledge | Gibson - McRury, Discovering one's face | Emerson, We differ in art, not in wisdom | Joyce, Portrait of the Artist