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All the principal nations of the world have contributed to this exhibition, which comprises many thousands of paintings, sculpture, prints and other works of art. Obviously this little book does not attempt the tremendous task of describing all. Indeed, art is lung and life deplorably short; moreover, only experts and advanced students require an exhaustive manual.
On the other hand, it is certain that many people beginning the study of art and desirous of obtaining more knowledge of the great treasures contained in the galleries than they could gain by roaming haphazardly through them would be glad to find an elementary guide, a helpful companion, as it were, to assist them toward an intelligent understanding of the exhibition, pointing out the chief facts, and directing attention in profitable directions.
The principal purpose of the exhibition, it seems to me, is to illustrate the origins, growth and development of American art. The idea is sturdily, splendidly democratic. It brings the people - whole nation - into direct, vital contact with its own art at a time when that art has justly won a distinctive, and in many respects, a high place among the art of other nations whose works are also abundantly displayed at San Francisco.
This idea has been carried out by means of a logical, simple and comprehensive arrangement of typical examples of the schools and the chief individual workers from the earliest days of American painting until the present.
In fact it is a sort of pageant, a progress, a connected pictorial history that we may follow as we pass from room to room; and we will make it our main business in these pages to trace an outline of this flowing stream of our native art.
Yet as we study, or prepare to study, let us also remember that in art it is better to enjoy than to know, and that unless we can appreciate the emotional, sensuous, and spiritual values expressed in form, line, or color, all the facts and the technical jargon with which we may stuff ourselves will be futile and burdensome. So we should not be tied to a stiff and pedantic programme, but seek the primrose paths of artistic pleasure rather than the prosy halls of knowledge.
Nevertheless, an equipment of information will help and not hinder the enjoyment of art. This exhibition is doing a wonderful work in spreading knowledge and appreciation among the people, especially the people of the West, and we may profitably recall what Reinach said in the last pages of his "Apollo": "Far from believing that the social mission of art is at an end, or drawing near that end, I think it will play a greater part in the twentieth century than ever. And I think - or at least hope - that greater importance than ever will he attached to the study of art as a branch of culture. This study is one which no civilized man, whatever his profession, should ignore in these days."