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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Personal Volume

Art and society: their true relation. Address ... at the opening of the annual exhibition of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts

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Art and Society

Their True Relation


Delivered by Sir Robert Stout,

(Chief Justice of New Zealand)

At the Opening of the Annual Exhibition of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts on

Saturday, October 5th, 1918


New Zealand Times, Print.

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Address By

Sir Robert Stout.

At the opening of the annual exhibition of the New Zealand Academy of the bine Arts on October 5th, 1918, Sir Robert Stout delivered an interesting address. He said:—

We are met to-night to open our annual Art Exhibition, and it is usual on such occasions for a few remarks to be made about art. We arc recognising, though the recognition is not yet universal, that in all our actions we should never forget that we are citizens, and we ought to consider what the effect of our actions on the community should be. What may be termed the "community feeling" is growing. "For Ourselves Alone" is not a worthy motto for any true citizen. We are living a social life, and we have duties to each other that must be respected and performed. Have the fine arts any influence on the community as a whole? That is best answered in considering what the community should be. Should it be a collection of people split up into several classes, each class fighting for itself alone—for its own interest—careless how its actions may affect the other classes of the community? If this be the ideal state, then the motto "For Ourselves Alone" is an excellent motto, and properly defines the social aim of such a state.

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An Ideal State.

In one of the best poems of Tennyson, and one perhaps of the best poems of the past hundred years, there is a picture given of what a community should be, and though the poem and the canto of the poem I am going to refer to may be well known, it is, perhaps, not inadvisable to refer to it in this connection. I refer to the Canto 106 of "In Memoriam," where the poet deals with the coming in of the New Year. It begins thus:

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying: cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

This canto is really a sketch of what a good and true community should be.
It is to be a place in which the bells will

Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

That is, it is a community in which
there is to be peace, and in which there
is to be justice. Life is to be noble:

Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Poverty is to go, and sin is to vanish:

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times.

We are to have the love of truth and of right—

Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

And when these are present all the
ghosts of a low civilisation will have vanished.

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Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old.
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Room for the Fine Arts.

This is Tennyson's picture of the ideal community. Have the fine arts any place in this ideal state? They have a most important place. Tennyson's description is really of a community where there are the good, the beautiful, and the true. Without the good, no proper social life is possible. If sin, and want, and care, and party feeling are present, there is no brotherhood; there is an absence of citizenship feeling, and without a worship of truth there is no foundation for any real ethics—we are in the depths of darkness—and without a love of the beautiful we cannot expect to have "sweeter manners" or "purer laws." One test of our civilisation is, how are the fine arts—architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and poetry—esteemed in our community? In reading the past history of man, we recognise that when the cave men were able in a poor way to scratch on a stone or on a horn, or paint on the sides of their cave-dwelling some picture of the animals that dwelt near them, that the cave men had taken a step forward in an upward path towards the good, the beautiful, and the true. They were marching to civilisation. Thousands of years have passed since the beginning of pictorial art, and mankind has made great progress; but even in that branch page 6 of the fine arts we have not readied the goal. We wish that each year and every year that the New Year bells may bring amongst us the sense of goodness, of beauty, and of truth. It is only when these things are "rung in" and become part of us that we have brotherhood and peace.

Past and Present.

This is, after all, the mission of the tine arts, and the object of having Fine Art Galleries amongst us. It is to create the artistic or aesthetic sense. We are still surrounded with unlovely things that might be made beautiful; we are surrounded with false things that might be made true, and with bad things that might be transformed into good things. In our Dominion our artistic outlook is good. We are only a young nation; we are only seventy-eight years old, and yet what improvement in art has taken place amongst us! I can remember what was, I suppose, the first general exhibition in New Zealand—the Exhibition of 1865. It was a very fine Exhibition. It was beautifully arranged and well organised, and the late Sir Janies Hector deserved every credit for its success. But compare our nation now with our nation then. In reference to architecture, what had we then? Very few buildings of beauty, sculpture was rare, paintings scarce; there was some music, but hardly any poetry or high literature. What was termed the "soap-box" pattern of a house has been replaced by the beautiful bungalow that you may see in all parts of the Dominion. We have now Art Galleries. A magnificent one is now being erected at Wanganui through private munifi- page 7 cence; we have a good one in Auckland, we have one in Dunedin, one in Christchurch, and we have our small institution here. We have also sculpture in various parts of the Dominion, and we are getting a literature—poetry and imaginative literature—that is not to be despised. It is true that, in the old days—in the time of the Exhibition of 1865—we had amongst our pioneers some who were able artists. I need only mention the pictures of Gully, Barraud, and J. C. .Richmond, and the beautiful sketches of Sir Dillon Hell, Sir William Fox, and others that were in the 1860 Exhibition. In the Art Gallery of the Exhibition the exhibits were mainly sketches and landscapes. There were few portraits, and we had not yet developed what may be termed the dramatic in art. That has come now, and what will be the effect of our advance in the fine arts on our future people? We must realise what has been often pointed out, that the environment, as it is termed, has a great influence on our social life. If one is trained in a beautifully-kept city, we expect greater things from the citizen than from one brought up in a slum. We must hope for a further development of culture in our Dominion, and this hope will be realised if our fine arts are encouraged and extended. We have lots to do. We still have poor streets, poor buildings, and ugliness where there might be beauty, even at little expense. We have not yet the universal worship of the good, and the beautiful, and the true. Ladies and gentlemen, when we see an Art Gallery, we should think of its mission, think of what its fruition may be, and realise that to make our nation great page 8 we must have idealism, and ever remember that the race lives not by bread alone.

A Plea for Beauty.

We are in the midst of a great [unclear: wai], and its aftermath will soon be with us. We have heavy burdens to bear, and there is, I fear, much economic trouble ahead of us. We shall have to struggle to produce more wealth, but do not let us imagine that that is our only duty May I take an illustration from a Hebrew poem. Psalm CVI. describes the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to Palestine, and what they endured. They desired, as we desire, pleasure and material things, but the Hebrew poet said (I quote the Scots metrical version):

He gave them what they sought, but to
Their soul He leanness sent.

It is ever a poor exchange, even, as we are told, if we gain the whole world if the soul of the nation is slain. Let us, therefore, take care that in our struggle for material things—and that struggle is needed—that the things of the spirit are not overlooked. If the beautiful, if the good, if the true are not desired and not longed for, and struggled for, then we have got leanness of soul, and all our wealth will profit us little. Our Art Galleries should raise our desires to high and noble things. Sursum corda. Let us lift up our hearts. We live in a beautiful world: let us appreciate beauty, and surround ourselves with those things that count and last, which neither moth nor rust can corrupt, and which thieves cannot steal—for we have made them part of ourselves.

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Index to Pamphlets Written by the Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Stout K.C.M.G.

  • Address to the Grand Jury at Masterton
  • Address in the House 1895
  • Address at Marton 1887
  • Annexation and Federation, Address on, 1884
  • Abolition of Provinces Bill, Address on. 1875
  • Address at Otago University, 1913
  • Brotherhood', a vision of the Future
  • Church of England Reserve at Porirua, statement
  • Court of Appeal .of N. Z. and comments of the Privy Council
  • Crime in N.Z. 'Address to jury at Nelson
  • Christmas, 1914.
  • Crux of Ritualism.
  • Can Morals be taught in secular Schools
  • Caversham Electoral District, Address to electes
  • Dunedin East Election
  • Discharged Prisoners' Aid
  • Evolution of Mind, The
  • Evolution and Origin of Life
  • Education, Address on.page break
  • Future, The
  • Financial Statement delivered in the House 1893
  • Financial Debate, Speech in the House 1894
  • Irish question, The
  • Impressions and Recollections of a visit to Europe and the United Kingdom
  • Leasing State Lands, Speech in the House 1875
  • Legislative Council, Memo regarding powers of
  • National Council of Women of N.Z.
  • New Zealand
  • Notes on the progress oj U.Z.
  • Our first Premier-James Edward Fitzgerald
  • Public Education in U.Z.
  • Politics and Poverty
  • Peace or War
  • Religion and the state
  • School journal
  • State Education
  • Speech in the City Hall, Auckland 1896
  • Social Future of Labourerspage break
  • Technical Education, Address on, 1885
  • Trip from Dunedin to Samoa
  • True Democracy
  • University Education
  • University Reform, Address on 1917
  • Wanganui Astronomical society, Annual Meeting 1967
  • Wellington Patriotic Society, Speech at Dinner