Juan Manuel Cajigal on science versus the arts

In 1839 Juan Manuel Cajigal gave a talk on the opening of the School of Drawing to the Economic Society of Friends of the Country in which he spoke of the dispute that raged at that time between science and the arts. We present some extracts from 'Rafael Fernández Heres, El Proyecto Cientifico-Educativo de Juan Manuel Cagigal, Bulletin of the National Academy of History, Caracas 86 (343/344) (2003), 47-82' who took the quotation from 'Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País, Memoria y Estudios 1829-1839 Volume I (Caracas, 1958), 175-176'.

The science versus arts dispute

Is it valid to ask if the sciences deserve preference over the arts or the opposite; and this dispute, like all those of its lineage, still remains undecided without having contributed anything to the advancement of one or the other. Those who have promoted it would have done a very important service, if instead of exciting imprudent rivalries, they had taken pains to direct the spirits towards the same object, which can be no other than to make men happier, making them more educated. And indeed, gentlemen, if social well-being depends on the production of enlightenment, what better means to reach it than the one that results from the meeting of all talents and all professions?

It would be easy for me to enumerate the advantages of such a happy association, but since the narrow limits to which I must limit myself do not allow it, let me at least observe that to instruct youth, it is often convenient to move their hearts; that reflection and feeling are faculties of equal worth; and finally, just as reason embellishes its productions with the charm of images, so too is ardent fantasy liable to go astray if judgment and good taste do not guide it. From this it follows that the sciences and the arts, fruits of study and intelligence, present no other difference than that between reason and feeling; that both faculties are the basis of all the operations of the spirit; and in short, without possessing them to an eminent degree, the scholar will neither be able to immortalise his name, nor the artist transmit his works to posterity.
Now history presents us with examples, few indeed, of men who have cultivated the sciences and the arts with equal success. Phidias, who flourished in the golden age of enchanting Greece, handled the chisel and colours just as he took from the philosophers of his time those sublime traits with which he divinised the inhabitants of Olympus. Michelangelo, after having devoted part of his life to the study of mathematics, knew how to raise painting and sculpture to such a high point of perfection, that his works still excite admiration, and are consulted by those who wish to shine in the same area; and Leonardo de Vinci, with the same hand with which he animated the canvas and the stones, described the artificial devices that he had invented to multiply forces and transmit movement. These examples and others that I could cite, prove even the evidence that the exercise of the arts is not incompatible with that of the sciences. Such incompatibility is in contradiction with the true notions of the understanding, which by its nature abhors all kinds of limits, and whose productions, however many they may be, must be considered as branches of the same trunk or fruits of the same tree.

This discussion, gentlemen, although at first sight it seems foreign to the object that motivates this meeting, is in my opinion of some importance in our current state. Venezuela, due to the amazing fertility of its soil and the accessibility of its coasts, is called to be one of the first nations of the world of Columbus; but it will not rise to the degree of splendour to which it can rise, as long as industry, the inseparable companion of the arts, does not come out of the deplorable state in which it lies. If until now the almost irresistible empire of circumstances has made us look with disdain on everything that has not been intimately linked with the science of Governments, we must therefore work harder, in the shadow of the peace we enjoy, to build the foundations of our future greatness, encouraging those studies that find their application in the necessities of life; and above all we must protect drawing and consider it, not as a frivolous and sterile art that only flatters the senses, but as the basis of all industrial work.

Last Updated February 2023