THE PRINCIPLES OF AESTHETICS
DEWITT H. PARKER
PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
This book has grown out of lectures to students at the University of Michigan and embodies my effort to express to them the nature and meaning of art. In writing it, I have sought to maintain scientific accuracy, yet at the same time to preserve freedom of style and something of the inspiration of the subject. While intended primarily for students, the book will appeal generally, I hope, to people who are interested in the intelligent appreciation of art.
My obligations are extensive,—most directly to those whom I have cited in foot-notes to the text, but also to others whose influence is too indirect or pervasive to make citation profitable, or too obvious to make it necessary. For the broader philosophy of art, my debt is heaviest, I believe, to the artists and philosophers during the period from Herder to Hegel, who gave to the study its greatest development, and, among contemporaries, to Croce and Lipps. In addition, I have drawn freely upon the more special investigations of recent times, but with the caution desirable in view of the very tentative character of some of the results. To Mrs. Robert M. Wenley I wish to express my thanks for her very careful and helpful reading of the page proof.
The appended bibliography is, of course, not intended to be in any sense adequate, but is offered merely as a guide to further reading; a complete bibliography would itself demand almost a volume.
CHAPTER I. Introduction: Purpose and Method
CHAPTER II. The Definition of Art
CHAPTER III. The Intrinsic Value of Art
CHAPTER IV. The Analysis of the Aesthetic Experience: The Elements of the Experience
CHAPTER V. The Analysis of the Aesthetic Experience: The Structure of the Experience
CHAPTER VI. The Problem of Evil in Aesthetics, and Its Solution through the Tragic, Pathetic, and Comic
CHAPTER VII. The Standard of Taste
CHAPTER VIII. The Aesthetics of Music
CHAPTER IX. The Aesthetics of Poetry
CHAPTER X. Prose Literature
CHAPTER XI. The Dominion of Art over Nature: Painting
CHAPTER XII. The Dominion of Art over Nature: Sculpture
CHAPTER XIII. Beauty in the Industrial Arts: Architecture
CHAPTER XIV. The Function of Art: Art and Morality
CHAPTER XV. The Function of Art: Art and Religion
THE PRINCIPLES OF AESTHETICS
INTRODUCTION: PURPOSE AND METHOD
Although some feeling for beauty is perhaps universal among men, the same cannot be said of the understanding of beauty. The average man, who may exercise considerable taste in personal adornment, in the decoration of the home, or in the choice of poetry and painting, is at a loss when called upon to tell what art is or to explain why he calls one thing "beautiful" and another "ugly." Even the artist and the connoisseur, skilled to produce or accurate in judgment, are often wanting in clear and consistent ideas about their own works or appreciations. Here, as elsewhere, we meet the contrast between feeling and doing, on the one hand, and knowing, on the other. Just as practical men are frequently unable to describe or justify their most successful methods or undertakings, just as many people who astonish us with their fineness and freedom in the art of living are strangely wanting in clear thoughts about themselves and the life which they lead so admirably, so in the world of beauty, the men who do and appreciate are not always the ones who understand.
Very often, moreover, the artist and the art lover justify their inability to understand beauty on the ground that beauty is too subtle a thing for thought. How, they say, can one hope to distill into clear and stable ideas such a vaporous and fleeting matter as Aesthetic feeling? Such men are not only unable to think about beauty, but skeptical as to the possibility of doing so,—contented mystics, deeply feeling, but dumb.
However, there have always been artists and connoisseurs who have striven to reflect upon their appreciations and acts, unhappy until they have understood and justified what they were doing; and one meets with numerous art-loving people whose intellectual curiosity is rather quickened than put to sleep by just that element of elusiveness in beauty upon which the mystics dwell. Long acquaintance with any class of objects leads naturally to the formation of some definition or general idea of them, and the repeated performance of the same type of act impels to the search for a principle that can be communicated to other people in justification of what one is doing and in defense of the value which one attaches to it. Thoughtful people cannot long avoid trying to formulate the relation of their interest in beauty, which absorbs so much energy and devotion, to other human interests, to fix its place in the scheme of life. It would be surprising, therefore, if there had been no Shelleys or Sidneys to define the relation between poetry and science, or Tolstoys to speculate on the nature of all art; and we should wonder if we did not everywhere hear intelligent people discussing the relation of utility and goodness to beauty, or asking what makes a poem or a picture great.
Now the science of aesthetics is an attempt to do in a systematic way what thoughtful art lovers have thus always been doing haphazardly. It is an effort to obtain a clear general idea of beautiful objects, our judgments upon them, and the motives underlying the acts which create them,—to raise the aesthetic life, otherwise a matter of instinct and feeling, to the level of intelligence, of understanding. To understand art means to find an idea or definition which applies to it and to no other activity, and at the same time to determine its relation to other elements of human nature; and our understanding will be complete if our idea includes all the distinguishing characteristics of art, not simply enumerated, but exhibited in their achieved relations.
How shall we proceed in seeking such an idea of art? We must follow a twofold method: first, the ordinary scientific method of observation, analysis, and experiment; and second, another and very different method, which people of the present day often profess to avoid, but which is equally necessary, as I shall try to show, and actually employed by those who reject it. In following the first method we treat beautiful things as objects given to us for study, much as plants and animals are given to the biologist. Just as the biologist watches the behavior of his specimens, analyzes them into their various parts and functions, and controls his studies through carefully devised experiments, arriving at last at a clear notion of what a plant or an animal is—at a definition of life; so the student of aesthetics observes works of art and other well-recognized beautiful things, analyzes their elements and the forms of connection of these, arranges experiments to facilitate and guard his observations from error and, as a result, reaches the general idea for which he is looking,—the idea of beauty.
A vast material presents itself for study of this kind: the artistic attempts of children and primitive men; the well-developed art of civilized nations, past and present, as creative process and as completed work; and finally, the everyday aesthetic appreciations of nature and human life, both by ourselves and by the people whom we seek out for study. Each kind of material has its special value. The first has the advantage of the perspicuity which comes from simplicity, similar for our purposes to the value of the rudimentary forms of life for the biologist. But this advantage of early art may be overestimated; for the nature of beauty is better revealed in its maturer manifestations, even as the purposes of an individual are more fully, if not more clearly, embodied in maturity than in youth or childhood.
Yet a purely objective method will not suffice to give us an adequate idea of beauty. For beautiful things are created by men, not passively discovered, and are made, like other things which men make, in order to realize a purpose. Just as a saw is a good saw only when it fulfills the purpose of cutting wood, so works of art are beautiful only because they embody a certain purpose. The beautiful things which we study by the objective method are selected by us from among countless other objects and called beautiful because they have a value for us, without a feeling for which we should not know them to be beautiful at all. They are not, like sun and moon, independent of mind and will and capable of being understood in complete isolation from man. No world of beauty exists apart from a purpose that finds realization there. We are, to be sure, not always aware of the existence of this purpose when we enjoy a picture or a poem or a bit of landscape; yet it is present none the less. The child is equally unaware of the purpose of the food which pleases him, yet the purpose is the ground of his pleasure; and we can understand his hunger only through a knowledge of it.
The dependence of beauty upon a relation to purpose is clear from the fact that in our feelings and judgments about art we not only change and disagree, but correct ourselves and each other. The history of taste, both in the individual and the race, is not a mere process, but a progress, an evolution. "We were wrong in calling that poem beautiful," we say; "you are mistaken in thinking that picture a good one"; "the eighteenth century held a false view of the nature of poetry"; "the English Pre-Raphaelites confused the functions of poetry and painting"; "to-day we understand what the truly pictorial is better than Giotto did"; and so on. Now nothing can be of worth to us, one thing cannot be better than another, nor can we be mistaken as to its value except with reference to some purpose which it fulfills or does not fulfill. There is no growth or evolution apart from a purpose in terms of which we can read the direction of change as forward rather than backward.
This purpose cannot be understood by the observation and analysis, no matter how careful, of beautiful things; for it exists in the mind primarily and only through mind becomes embodied in things; and it cannot be understood by a mere inductive study of aesthetic experiences—the mind plus the object—just as they come; because, as we have just stated, they are changeful and subject to correction, therefore uncertain and often misleading. The aesthetic impulse may falter and go astray like any other impulse; a description of it in this condition would lead to a very false conception. No, we must employ a different method of investigation—the Socratic method of self-scrutiny, the conscious attempt to become clear and consistent about our own purposes, the probing and straightening of our aesthetic consciences. Instead of accepting our immediate feelings and judgments, we should become critical towards them and ask ourselves, What do we really seek in art and in life which, when found, we call beautiful? Of course, in order to answer this question we cannot rely on an examination of our own preferences in isolation from those of our fellow-men. Here, as everywhere, our purposes are an outgrowth of the inherited past and are developed in imitation of, or in rivalry with, those of other men. The problem is one of interpreting the meaning of art in the system of culture of which our own minds are a part. Nevertheless, the personal problem remains. Aesthetic value is emphatically personal; it must be felt as one's own. If I accept the standards of my race and age, I do so because I find them to be an expression of my own aesthetic will. In the end, my own will to beauty must be cleared up; its darkly functioning goals must be brought to light.
Now, unless we have thought much about the matter or are gifted with unusual native taste, we shall find that our aesthetic intentions are confused, contradictory, and entangled with other purposes. To become aware of this is the first step towards enlightenment. We must try to distinguish what we want of art from what we want of other things, such as science or morality; for something unique we must desire from anything of permanent value in our life. In the next place we should come to see that we cannot want incompatible things; that, for example, we cannot want art to hold the mirror up to life and, at the same time, to represent life as conforming to our private prejudices; or want a picture to have expressive and harmonious colors and look exactly like a real landscape; or long for a poetry that would be music or a sculpture that would be pictorial. Finally, we must make sure that our interpretation of the aesthetic purpose is representative of the actual fullness and manysidedness of it; we should observe, for example, that sensuous pleasure is not all that we seek from art; that truth of some kind we seek besides; and yet that in some sort of union we want both.
This clearing up can be accomplished only in closest touch with the actual experience of beauty; it must be performed upon our working preferences and judgments. It must be an interpretation of the actual history of art. There is no a priori method of establishing aesthetic standards. Just as no one can discover his life purpose apart from the process of living, or the purpose of another except through sympathy; so no one can know the meaning of art except through creating and enjoying and entering into the aesthetic life of other artists and art lovers.
This so-called normative—perhaps better, critical—moment in aesthetics introduces an inevitable personal element into every discussion of the subject. Even as every artist seeks to convince his public that what he offers is beautiful, so every philosopher of art undertakes to persuade of the validity of his own preferences. I would not make any secret of this with regard to the following pages of this book. Yet this intrusion of personality need not be harmful, but may, on the contrary, be valuable. It cannot be harmful if the writer proceeds undogmatically, making constant appeals to the judgment of his readers and claiming no authority for his statements except in so far as they find favor there. Influence rather than authority is what he should seek. In presenting his views, as he must, he should strive to stimulate the reader to make a clear and consistent formulation of his own preferences rather than to impose upon him standards ready made. And the good of the personal element comes from the power which one strong preference or conviction has of calling forth another, and compelling it to the discovery and defense of its grounds.
In so far as aesthetics is studied by the objective method it is a branch of psychology. Aesthetic facts are mental facts. A work of art, no matter how material it may at first seem to be, exists only as perceived and enjoyed. The marble statue is beautiful only when it enters into and becomes alive in the experience of the beholder. Keys and strings and vibrations of the air are but stimuli for the auditory experience which is the real nocturne or etude. Ether vibrations and the retina upon which they impinge are nothing more than instruments for the production of the colors which, together with the interpretation of them in terms of ideas and feelings, constitute the real picture which we appreciate and judge. The physical stimuli and the physiological reactions evoked by them are important for our purpose only so far as they help us to understand the inner experiences with which they are correlated. A large part of our work, therefore, will consist in the psychological analysis of the experience of art and the motives underlying its production. We shall have to distinguish the elements of mind that enter into it, show their interrelations, and differentiate the total experience from other types of experience. Since, moreover, art is a social phenomenon, we shall have to draw upon our knowledge of social psychology to illumine our analysis of the individual's experience. Art is a historical, even a technical, development; hence the personal enjoyment of beauty itself is conditioned by factors that spring from the traditions of groups of artists and art lovers. No one can understand his pleasure in beauty apart from the pleasure of others.
In so far, on the other hand, as aesthetics is an attempt to define the purpose of art and so to formulate the standards presupposed in judgments of taste, it is closely related to criticism. The relation is essentially that between theory and the application of theory. It is the office of the critic to deepen and diffuse the appreciation of particular works of art. For this purpose he must possess standards; but he need not be, and in fact often is not, aware of them. A fine taste may serve his ends. Not infrequently, however, the critic endeavors to make clear to himself and his readers the principles he is employing. Now, on its normative side, aesthetics is ideally the complete rationale of criticism, the systematic achievement, for its own sake, of what the thoughtful critic attempts with less exactness and for the direct purpose of appreciation. It is beyond the province of aesthetics to criticize any particular work of art, except by way of illustration. The importance of illustration for the sake of explaining and proving general principles is, however, fundamental; for, as we have seen, a valuable aesthetic theory is impossible unless developed out of the primary aesthetic life of enjoyment and estimation, a life of contact with individual beautiful things. No amount of psychological skill in analysis or philosophical aptitude for definition can compensate for want of a real love of beauty,—of the possession of something of the artistic temperament. People who do not love art, yet study it from the outside, may contribute to our knowledge of it through isolated bits of analysis, but their interpretations of its more fundamental nature are always superficial. Hence, just as the wise critic will not neglect aesthetics, so the philosopher of art should be something of a critic. Yet the division of labor is clear enough. The critic devotes himself to the appreciation of some special contemporary or historical field of art—Shakespearean drama, Renaissance sculpture, Italian painting, for example; while the philosopher of art looks for general principles, and gives attention to individual works of art and historical movements only for the purpose of discovering and illustrating them. And, since the philosopher of art seeks a universal idea of art rather than an understanding of this or that particular work of art, an intimate acquaintance with a few examples, through which this idea can be revealed to the loving eye, is of more importance than a wide but superficial aesthetic culture.
In our discussion thus far, we have been assuming the possibility of aesthetic theory. But what shall we say in answer to the mystic who tells us that beauty is indefinable? First of all, I think, we should remind him that his own thesis can be proved or refuted only through an attempt at a scientific investigation of beauty. Every attempt to master our experience through thought is an adventure; but the futility of adventures can be shown only by courageously entering into them. And, although the failure of previous efforts may lessen the probabilities of success in a new enterprise, it cannot prove that success is absolutely impossible. Through greater persistence and better methods the new may succeed where the old have failed. Moreover, although we are ready to grant that the pathway to our goal is full of pitfalls, marked by the wreckage of old theories, yet we claim that the skeptic or the mystic can know of their existence only by traveling over the pathway himself; for in the world of the inner life nothing can be known by hearsay. If, then, he would really know that the road to theoretical insight into beauty is impassable, let him travel with us and see; or, if not with us, alone by himself or with some one wiser than we as guide; let him compare fairly and sympathetically the results of theoretical analysis and construction with the data of his firsthand experience and observe whether the one is or is not adequate to the other.
Again, the cleft between thought and feeling, even subtle and fleeting aesthetic feeling, is not so great as the mystics suppose. For, after all, there is a recognizable identity and permanence even in these feelings; we should never call them by a common name or greet them as the same despite their shiftings from moment to moment if this were not true. Although whatever is unique in each individual experience of beauty, its distinctive flavor or nuance, cannot be adequately rendered in thought, but can only be felt; yet whatever each new experience has in common with the old, whatever is universal in all aesthetic experiences, can be formulated. The relations of beauty, too, its place in the whole of life, can be discovered by thought alone; for only by thought can we hold on to the various things whose relations we are seeking to establish; without thought our experience falls asunder into separate bits and never attains to unity. Finally, the mystics forget that the life of thought and the life of feeling have a common root; they are both parts of the one life of the mind and so cannot be foreign to each other.
The motive impelling to any kind of undertaking is usually complex, and that which leads to the development of aesthetic theory is no exception to the general rule. A disinterested love of understanding has certainly played a part. Every region of experience invites to the play of intelligence upon it; the lover of knowledge, as Plato says, loves the whole of his object. Yet even intelligence, insatiable and impartial as it is, has its predilections. The desire to understand a particular type of thing has its roots in an initial love of it. As the born botanist is the man who finds joy in contact with tree and moss and mushroom, so the student of aesthetics is commonly a lover of beauty. And, although the interest which he takes in aesthetic theory is largely just the pleasure in possessing clear ideas, one may question whether he would pursue it with such ardor except for the continual lover's touch with picture and statue and poem which it demands. For the intelligent lover of beauty, aesthetic theory requires no justification; it is as necessary and pleasurable for him to understand art as it is compulsive for him to seek out beautiful things to enjoy. To love without understanding is, to the thoughtful lover, an infidelity to his object. That the interest in aesthetic theory is partly rooted in feeling is shown from the fact that, when developed by artists, it takes the form of a defense of the type of art which they are producing. The aesthetic theory of the German Romanticists is an illustration of this; Hebbel and Wagner are other striking examples. These men could not rest until they had put into communicable and persuasive form the aesthetic values which they felt in creation. And we, too, who are not artists but only lovers of beauty, find in theory a satisfaction for a similar need with reference to our preferences.[Footnote: Compare Santayana: The Sense of Beauty, p. 11.]
More important to the average man is the help which aesthetic theory may render to appreciation itself. If to the basal interest in beauty be added an interest in understanding beauty, the former is quickened and fortified and the total measure of enjoyment increased. Even the love of beauty, strong as it commonly is, may well find support through connection with an equally powerful and enduring affection. The aesthetic interest is no exception to the general truth that each part of the mind gains in stability and intensity if connected with the others; isolated, it runs the risk of gradual decay in satiety or through the crowding out of other competing interests, which if joined with it, would have kept it alive instead. Moreover, the understanding of art may increase the appreciation of particular works of art. For the analysis and constant attention to the subtler details demanded by theory may bring to notice aspects of a work of art which do not exist for an unthinking appreciation. As a rule, the appreciations of the average man are very inadequate to the total possibilities offered, extending only to the more obvious features. Often enough besides, through a mere lack of understanding of the purpose of art in general and of the more special aims of the particular arts, people expect to find what cannot be given, and hence are prejudiced against what they might otherwise enjoy. The following pages will afford, I hope, abundant illustrations of this truth.
Finally, aesthetic theory may have a favorable influence upon the creation of art. Not that the student of aesthetics can prescribe to the artist what he shall or shall not do; for the latter can obey, for better or worse, only the inner imperative of his native genius. Yet, inevitably, the man of genius receives direction and cultivation from the aesthetic sentiment of the time into which he is born and grown; even when he reacts against it, he nevertheless feels its influence; a sound conception of the nature and purpose of art may save him from many mistakes. The French classical tradition in sculpture and painting, which is not merely academic, having become a part of public taste, prevented the production of the frightful crudities which passed for art in Germany and England during the present and past centuries. By helping to create a freer and more intelligent atmosphere for the artist to be born and educated in, and finer demands upon him when once he has begun to produce and is seeking recognition, the student of aesthetics may indirectly do not a little for him. And surely in our own country, where an educated public taste does not exist and the fiercest prejudices are rampant, there is abundant opportunity for service.
DEFINITION OF ART
Since it is our purpose to develop an adequate idea of art, it might seem as if a definition were rather our goal than our starting point; yet we must identify the field of our investigations and mark it off from other regions; and this we can do only by means of a preliminary definition, which the rest of our study may then enrich and complete.
We shall find it fruitful to begin with the definition recently revived by Croce: [Footnote: Benedetto Croce: Estetica, translated into English by Douglas Ainslie, under title Aesthetic, chap. i.] art is expression; and expression we may describe, for our own ends, as the putting forth of purpose, feeling, or thought into a sensuous medium, where they can be experienced again by the one who expresses himself and communicated to others. Thus, in this sense, a lyric poem is an expression—a bit of a poet's intimate experience put into words; epic and dramatic poetry are expressions—visions of a larger life made manifest in the same medium. Pictures and statues are also expressions; for they are embodiments in color and space-forms of the artists' ideas of visible nature and man. Works of architecture and the other industrial arts are embodiments of purpose and the well-being that comes from purpose fulfilled.
This definition, good so far as it goes, is, however, too inclusive; for plainly, although every work of art is an expression, not every expression is a work of art. Automatic expressions, instinctive overflowings of emotion into motor channels, like the cry of pain or the shout of joy, are not aesthetic. Practical expressions also, all such as are only means or instruments for the realization of ulterior purposes—the command of the officer, the conversation of the market place, a saw—are not aesthetic. Works of art—the Ninth Symphony, the Ode to the West Wind—are not of this character.
No matter what further purposes artistic expressions may serve, they are produced and valued for themselves; we linger in them; we neither merely execute them mechanically, as we do automatic expressions, nor hasten through them, our minds fixed upon some future end to be gained by them, as is the case with practical expressions. Both for the artist and the appreciator, they are ends in themselves. Compare, for example, a love poem with a declaration of love.[Footnote: Contrast Croce's use of the same illustration: Esthetic, p. 22, English translation.] The poem is esteemed for the rhythmic emotional experience it gives the writer or reader; the declaration, even when enjoyed by the suitor, has its prime value in its consequences, and the quicker it is over and done with and its end attained the better. The one, since it has its purpose within itself, is returned to and repeated; the other, being chiefly a means to an end, would be senseless if repeated, once the end that called it forth is accomplished. The value of the love poem, although written to persuade a lady, cannot be measured in terms of its mere success; for if beautiful, it remains of worth after the lady has yielded, nay, even if it fails to win her. Any sort of practical purpose may be one motive in the creation of a work of art, but its significance is broader than the success or failure of that motive. The Russian novel is still significant, even now, alter the revolution. As beautiful, it is of perennial worth and stands out by itself. But practical expressions are only transient links in the endless chain of means, disappearing as the wheel of effort revolves. Art is indeed expression, but free or autonomous expression.
The freedom of aesthetic expression is, however, only an intensification of a quality that may belong to any expression. For, in its native character, expression is never merely practical; it brings its own reward in the pleasure of the activity itself. Ordinarily, when a man makes something embodying his need or fancy, or says something that expresses his meaning, he enjoys himself in his doing. There is naturally a generous superfluity in all human behavior. The economizing of it to what is necessary for self-preservation and dominion over the environment is secondary, not primary, imposed under the duress of competition and nature. Only when activities are difficult or their fruits hard to get are they disciplined for the sake of their results alone; then only does their performance become an imperative, and nature and society impose upon them the seriousness and constraint of necessity and law. But whenever nature and the social organization supply the needs of man ungrudgingly or grant him a respite from the urgency of business, the spontaneity of his activities returns. The doings of children, of the rich, and of all men on a holiday illustrate this. Compare, for example, the speech of trade, where one says the brief and needful thing only, with the talk of excursionists, where verbal expression, having no end beyond itself, develops at length and at leisure; where brevity is no virtue and abundant play takes the place of a narrow seriousness.
But we have not yet so limited the field of expression that it becomes equivalent to the aesthetic; for not even all of free expression is art. The most important divergent type is science. Science also is expression,—an embodiment in words, diagrams, mathematical symbols, chemical formula, or other such media, of thoughts meant to portray the objects of human experience. Scientific expressions have, of course, a practical function; concepts are "plans of action" or servants of plans, the most perfect and delicate that man possesses. Yet scientific knowledge is an end in itself as well as a utility; for the mere construction and possession of concepts and laws is itself a source of joy; the man of science delights in making appropriate formulations of nature's habits quite unconcerned about their possible uses.
In science, therefore, there is much free expression; but beauty not yet. No abstract expression such as Euclid's Elements, Newton's Principia, or Peano's Formulaire, no matter how rigorous and complete, is a work of art. We admire the mathematician's formula for its simplicity and adequacy; we take delight in its clarity and scope, in the ease with which it enables the mind to master a thousand more special truths, but we do not find it beautiful. Equally removed from the sphere of the beautiful are representations or descriptions of mere things, whether inaccurate or haphazard, as we make them in daily life, or accurate and careful as they are elaborated in the empirical sciences. No matter how exact and complete, the botanist's or zoologist's descriptions of plant and animal life are not works of art. They may be satisfactory as knowledge, but they are not beautiful. There is an important difference between a poet's description of a flower and a botanist's, or between an artistic sketch and a photograph, conferring beauty upon the former, and withholding it from the latter.
The central difference is this. The former are descriptions not of things only, but of the artist's reactions to things, his mood or emotion in their presence. They are expressions of total, concrete experiences, which include the self of the observer as well as the things he observes. Scientific descriptions, on the other hand, render objects only; the feelings of the observer toward them are carefully excluded. Science is intentionally objective,—from the point of view of the artistic temperament, dry and cold. Even the realistic novel and play, while seeking to present a faithful picture of human life and to eliminate all private comment and emotion, cannot dispense with the elementary dramatic feelings of sympathy, suspense, and wonder. sthetic expression is always integral, embodying a total state of mind, the core of which is some feeling; scientific expression is fragmentary or abstract, limiting itself to thought. Art, no less than science, may contain truthful images of things and abstract ideas, but never these alone; it always includes their life, their feeling tones, or values. Because philosophy admits this element of personality, it is nearer to art than science is. Yet some men of science, like James and Huxley, have made literature out of science because they could not help putting into their writings something of their passionate interest in the things they discovered and described.
The, necessity in art for the expression of value is, I think, the principal difference between art and science, rather than, as Croce [Footnote: Estetica, quarta edizione, p.27; English translation. p.36.] supposes, the limitation of art to the expression of the individual and of Science to the expression of the concept. For, on the one hand, science may express the individual; and, on the other hand, art may express the concept. The geographer, for example, describes and makes maps of particular regions of the earth's surface; the astronomer studies the individual sun and moon. Poets like Dante, Lucretius, Shakespeare, and Goethe express the most universal concepts of ethics or metaphysics. But what makes men poets rather than men of science is precisely that they never limit themselves to the mere clear statement of the concept, but always express its human significance as well. A theory of human destiny is expressed in Prospero's lines—
We are such stuff As dreams are made of, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep;
but with overtones of feeling at the core. Or consider the passion with which Lucretius argues for a naturalistic conception of the universe. And the reason why poets clothe their philosophical expressions in concrete images is not because of any shame of the concept, but just in order the more easily and vividly to attach and communicate their emotion. Their general preference for the concrete has the same motive; for there are only a few abstractions capable of arousing and fixing emotion.
Even as an element of spontaneity is native to all expression, so originally all expression is personal. This is easily observable in the child. His first uses of words as well as of things are touched with emotion. Every descriptive name conveys to him his emotional reaction to the object; disinterested knowledge does not exist for him; every tool, a knife or a fork, means to him not only something to be used, but the whole background of feelings which its use involves. Our first perceptions of things contain as much of feeling and attitude as of color and shape and sound and odor. Pure science and mere industry are abstractions from the original integrity of perception and expression; mutilations of their wholeness forced upon the mind through the stress of living. To be able to see things without feeling them, or to describe them without being moved by their image, is a disciplined and derivative accomplishment. Only as the result of training and of haste do the forms and colors of objects, once the stimuli to a wondering and lingering attention, become mere cues to their recognition and employment, or mere incitements to a cold and disinterested analysis and description. Knowledge may therefore enter into beauty when, keeping its liberality, it participates in an emotional experience; and every other type of expression may become aesthetic if, retaining its native spontaneity, it can acquire anew its old power to move the heart. To be an artist means to be, like the child, free and sensitive in envisaging the world.
Under these conditions, nature as well as art may be beautiful. In themselves, things are never beautiful. This is not apparent to common sense because it fails to think and analyze. But beauty may belong to our perceptions of things. For perception is itself a kind of expression, a process of mind through which meanings are embodied in sensations. Given are only sensations, but out of the mind come ideas through which they are interpreted as objects. When, for example, I perceive my friend, it may seem as if the man himself were a given object which I passively receive; but, as a matter of fact, all that is given are certain visual sensations; that these are my friend, is pure interpretation—I construct the object in embodying this thought in the color and shape I see. The elaboration of sensation in perception is usually so rapid that, apart from reflection, I do not realize the mental activity involved. But if it turns out that it was some other man that I saw, then I realize at once that my perception was a work of mind, an expression of my own thought. Of course, not all perceptions are beautiful. Only as felt to be mysterious or tender or majestic is a landscape beautiful; and women only as possessed of the charm we feel in their presence. That is, perceptions are beautiful only when they embody feelings. The sea, clouds and hills, men and women, as perceived, awaken reactions which, instead of being attributed to the mind from which they proceed, are experienced as belonging to the things evoking them, which therefore come to embody them. And this process of emotional and objectifying perception has clearly no other end than just perception itself. We do not gaze upon a landscape or a pretty child for any other purpose than to get the perceptual, emotional values that result. The aesthetic perception of nature is, as Kant called it, disinterested; that is, autonomous and free. The beauty of nature, therefore, is an illustration of our definition.
On the same terms, life as remembered or observed or lived, may have the quality of beauty. In reverie we turn our attention back over events in our own lives that have had for us a rare emotional significance; these events then come to embody the wonder, the interest, the charm that excited us to recollect them. Here the activity of remembering is not a mere habit set going by some train of accidental association; or merely practical, arising for the sake of solving some present problem by applying the lesson of the past to it; or finally, not unpleasantly insistent, like the images aroused by worry and sorrow, but spontaneous and self-rewarding, hence beautiful. There are also events in the lives of other people, and people themselves, whose lives read like a story, which, by absorbing our pity or joy or awe, claim from us a like fascinated regard. And there are actions we ourselves perform, magnificent or humble, like sweeping a room, which, if we put ourselves into them and enjoy them, have an equal charm. And they too have the quality of beauty.
Despite the community between beautiful nature and art, the differences are striking. Suppose, in order fix our ideas, we compare one of Monet's pictures of a lily pond with the aesthetic appreciation of the real pond. The pond is undoubtedly beautiful every time it is seen; with its round outline, its sunlit, flower-covered surface, its background of foliage, it is perhaps the source and expression of an unfailing gladness and repose. Now the painting has very much the same value, but with these essential differences. First, the painting is something deliberately constructed and composed, the artist himself controlling and composing the colors and shapes, and hence their values also; while the natural beauty is an immediate reaction to given stimuli, each observer giving meaning to his sensations without intention or effort. Like the beauty of woman, it is almost a matter of instinct. In natural beauty, there is, to be sure, an element of conscious intention, in so far as we may purposely select our point of view and hold the object in our attention; hence this contrast with art, although real and important, is not absolute. Moreover, beauty in perception and memory is the basis of art; the artist, while he composes, nevertheless partly transcribes significant memories and observations. Yet, although relative, the difference remains; art always consists of works of art, natural beauty of more immediate experiences. And from this difference follows another—the greater purity and perfection of art. The control which the artist exerts over his material enables him to make it expressive all through; every element conspires toward the artistic end; there are no irrelevant or recalcitrant parts, such as exist in every perception of nature. Last, the beauty of the painting, because created in the beholder through a fixed and permaneat mechanism constructed by the artist, is communicable and abiding, whereas the immediate beauty of nature is incommunicable and transient. Since the sthetic perception of nature has its starting point in variable aspects that never recur, no other man could see or feel the lily pond as Monet saw and felt it. And, although in memory we may possess a silent gallery of beautiful images, into which we may enter privately as long as we live, in the end the flux has its way and at death shatters this treasure house irrevocably. Hence, only if the beauty of the lily pond is transferred to a canvas, can it be preserved and shared.
The work of art is the tool of the aesthetic life. Just as organic efficiency is tied to the nerve and muscle of the workman and cannot be transferred to another, but the tool, on the other hand, is exchangeable and transmissible (I cannot lend or bequeath my arm, but I can my boat); and just as efficiency is vastly increased by the use of tools (I can go further with my boat than I can swim); so, through works of art, aesthetic capacity and experience are enhanced and become common possessions, a part of the spiritual capital of the race. Moreover, even as each invention becomes the starting point for new ones that are better instruments for practical ends; so each work of art becomes the basis for new experiments through which the aesthetic expression of life attains to higher levels. Monet's own art, despite its great originality, was dependent upon all the impressionists, and they, even when they broke away from, were indebted to, the traditions of French painting established by centuries. Through art, the aesthetic life, which otherwise would be a private affair, receives a social sanction and assistance.
That permanence and communication of expression are essential to a complete conception of art can be discerned by looking within the artistic impulse itself. However much the artist may affect indifference to the public, he creates expecting to be understood. Mere self- expression does not satisfy him; he needs in addition appreciation. Deprived of sympathy, the artistic impulse withers and dies or supports itself through the hope of eventually finding it. The heroism of the poet consists in working on in loneliness; but his crown of glory is won only when all men are singing his songs. And every genuine artist, as opposed to the mere improviser or dilettante, wishes his work to endure.[Footnote: See Anatole France: Le Lys Rouge. "Moi, dit Choulette, je pense si peu a l'avenir terrestre que j'ai ecrit mes plus beaux poemes sur les feuilles de papier a cigarettes. Elles se sont facilement evanuies, ne laissant a mes vers qu'une espece d'existence metaphysique." C'etait un air de negligence qu'il se donnait. En fait, il n'avait jamais perdu une ligne de son ecriture.] Having put his substance into it, he desires its preservation as he does his own. His immortality through it is his boast.
Exegi monumentum aere perennius Regalique situ pyramidum altius * * * * * Non omnis moriar.
Art is not mere inspiration, the transient expression of private moods, but a work of communication, meant to endure.
There are certain distinguishing characteristics of aesthetic expression all of which are in harmony with the description we have given of it. In the first place, in art the sensuous medium of the expression receives an attention and possesses a significance not to be found in other types of expression. Although every one hears, no one attends to the sound of the voice in ordinary conversation; one looks through it, as through a glass, to the thought or emotion behind. In our routine perceptions of nature, we are not interested in colors and shapes on their own account, but only in order that we may recognize the objects possessing them; in a scientific woodcut also, they are indifferent to us, except in so far as they impart correct information about the objects portrayed. Outside of art, sensation is a mere transparent means to the end of communication and recognition. Compare the poem, the piece of music, the artistic drawing or painting. There the words or tones must be not only heard but listened to; the colors and lines not only seen but held in the eye; of themselves, apart from anything they may further mean, they have the power to awaken feeling and pleasure. And this is no accident. For the aesthetic expression is meant to possess worth in itself and is deliberately fashioned to hold us to itself, and this purpose will be more certainly and effectively accomplished if the medium of the expression has the power to move and please. We enter the aesthetic expression through the sensuous medium; hence the artist tries to charm us at the start and on the outside; having found favor there, he wins us the more easily to the content lying within.
If the medium, moreover, instead of being a transparent embodiment of the artist's feelings, can express them in some direct fashion as well, the power of the whole expression will gain. This is exactly what the sound of the words of a poem or the colors and lines of a painting or statue can do. As mere sound and as mere color and line, they convey something of the feeling tone of the subject which, as symbols, they are used to represent. For example, the soft flowing lines of Correggio, quite apart from the objects they represent, express the voluptuous happiness of his "Venus and Mars"; the slow rhythm of the repeated word sounds and the quality of the vowels in the opening lines of Tithonus are expressive in themselves, apart from their meaning, of the weariness in the thoughts of the hero, and so serve to re-express and enforce the mood of those thoughts. When we come to study the particular arts, we shall find this phenomenon of re-expression through the medium everywhere.
A second characteristic distinguishing aesthetic expressions from other expressions is their superior unity. In the latter, the unity lies in the purpose to be attained or in the content of the thought expressed; it is teleological or logical. The unity of a chair is its purpose, which demands just such parts and in just such a mechanical arrangement; the unity of a business conversation is governed by the bargain to be closed, requiring such words and such only, and in the appropriate logical and grammatical order. The unity of an argument is the thesis to be proved; the unity of a diagram is the principle to be illustrated or the information to be imparted. Compare the unity of a sonnet or a painting. In a sonnet, there is a unity of thought and sentiment creating a fitting grammatical unity in language, but in addition a highly elaborate pattern in the words themselves that is neither grammatical nor logical. In a painting, besides the dramatic unity of the action portrayed, as in a battle scene; or of the spatial and mechanical togetherness of things, as in a landscape; there is a harmony of the colors, a composition of the lines and masses themselves, not to be found in nature. And, although the general shape and arrangement of the parts of a useful object is dominated by its purpose, if it is also beautiful—a Louis Seize chair, for example—there is, besides, a design that cannot be explained by use. In artistic expressions, therefore, there exists a unity in the material, superposed upon the unity required by the purpose or thought expressed. And this property follows from the preceding. For, since the medium is valuable in itself, the mind, which craves unity everywhere, craves it there also, and lingers longer and more happily on finding it; and, since the medium can be expressive, the unity of the fundamental mood of the thought expressed will overflow into and pervade it. Hence there occurs an autonomous development of unity in the material, raising the total unity of the expression to a higher power.
THE INTRINSIC VALUE OF ART
Our definition of art can be complete only if it enables us to understand the value of art. The reader may well ask what possible value expression can have when it becomes an end in itself. "I can understand," he may say, "the value of expression for the sake of communication and influence, but what value can it have of itself?" At this point, moreover, we are concerned with the intrinsic value immediately realized in the experience of art, not with further values that may result from it. Art, no less than practical expression, may have effects on other experiences, which have to be considered in measuring its total worth; but these we shall leave for investigation in our last chapters, after we have reached our fullest comprehension of art; we are interested now, in order to test and complete our definition, in the resident value only. As a help toward reaching a satisfactory view, let us examine critically some of the chief theories in the field. First, the theory, often called "hedonistic," that the value of art consists in the satisfactions of sense which the media of aesthetic expression afford—the delight in color and sound and rhythmical movement of line and form. The theory finds support in the industrial arts, where beauty often seems to be only a luxurious charm supervening upon utility; but also in painting and sculpture when appreciated in their decorative capacity as "things of beauty." There is a partial truth in this theory; for, as we have seen, the sensuous media of all the arts tend to be developed in the direction of pleasure; and no man who lacks feeling for purely sensuous values can enter into the fullness of the aesthetic experience. But the theory fails in not recognizing the expressive function of sensation in art. As Goethe said, art was long formative, that is, expressive, before it was beautiful, in the narrow sense of charming.[Footnote: "Die kunst is lange bildend eh sie schon ist." Von Deutscher Baukunst, 1773.] In order to be beautiful, it is not enough for a work of art to offer us delightful colors and lines and sounds; it must also have a meaning—it must speak to us, tell us something.
The second theory which I shall examine is the moralistic or Platonic. According to this, art is an image of the good, and has value in so far as through expression it enables us to experience edifying emotions or to contemplate noble objects. The high beauty of the "Sistine Madonna," for example, would be explained as identical with the worth of the religious feelings which it causes in the mind of the beholder. The advantage of art over life is supposed to consist in its power to create in the imagination better and more inspiring objects than life can offer, and to free and control the contemplation of them. This is the narrower interpretation of the theory. When the notion of the good is liberalized so as to include innocent happiness as well as the strictly ethical and religious values, beauty is conceded to belong to pictures of fair women and children, and to lyrics and romances, provided there is nothing in them to shock the moral sense. Aesthetic value is the reflection—the imaginative equivalent—of moral or practical value.
The prime difficulty of this theory is its inadequacy as an interpretation of the whole of actual art; for, in order to find support among existing examples, it is compelled to make an arbitrary selection of such as can be made to fit it. Actual art is quite as much an image of evil as of good; there is nothing devilish which it has not represented. And this part of art is often of the highest aesthetic merit. Velasquez's pictures of dwarfs and degenerate princes are as artistic as Raphael's Madonnas; Goethe's Mephistopheles is one of his supreme artistic achievements; Shakespeare is as successful artistically in his delineation of Lady Macbeth as of Desdemona. Now for us who claim that the purpose of art must be divined from the actual practice of artists, from the inside, and should not be an arbitrary construction, from the outside, the existence of such examples is sufficient to refute the theory in question. If the artist finds a value in the representation of evil, value exists there and can be discovered.
If, indeed, the sole effect of artistic expression were to bring to the mind objects and emotions in the same fashion that ordinary life does, then the value of art, the image of life, would be a function of the value of the life imaged. And just as one seeks contact with the good in real life and avoids the evil, so one would seek in art imaginative contact with the good alone. But expression, and above all artistic expression, does something more than present objects to the imagination and arouse emotions. Art is not life over again, a mere shadow of life; if it were, what would be its unique value? who would not prefer the substance to the shadow? The expression of life is not life itself; hence, even if the evil in life be always evil, the expression of it may still be a good.
Another theory, often called the "intellectualistic" theory, claims that the purpose of art is truth. "Beauty is truth; truth, beauty." The immediate pleasure which we feel in the beautiful is the same as the instant delight in the apprehension of truth. There is no difference in purpose or value between science and art, but only a difference in method—science presents truth in the form of the abstract judgment; art, in the form of the concrete image or example.
The difficulty with this theory is the uncertainty as to what is meant by truth; hence the many shapes it assumes. But before going deeply into this question, let us consider some of the simple facts which seem to tell for and against the theory. There can be no doubt that many examples of the representative arts—painting, sculpture, novel, and drama—are praised for their truth. We demand truth of coloring or line in painting, of form in sculpture, of character and social relation in the drama or novel. On the other hand, we admit aesthetic value to fanciful painting and literature, and to expressions of beliefs which no one accepts at the present time. We appreciate the beauty of Dante's descriptions of the Inferno and of the conversations between him and its inhabitants without believing them to be reports of fact. No one values the Blue Bird the less because it is not an account of an actual occurrence. Even with regard to the realistic novel and drama, no one thinks of holding them to the standards of historical or scientific accuracy. And, although we may demand of a landscape painting plausibility of color and line, we certainly do not require that it be a representation of any identifiable scene.
If by truth, therefore, be meant a description or image of matters of fact, then surely it is not the purpose of art to give us this truth. The artist, to be sure, may give this, as when the landscapist paints some locality dear to his client or the portraitist paints the client himself; but he does not need to do this, and the aesthetic value of his work is independent of it; for the picture possesses its beauty even when we know nothing of its model. In the language of current philosophy, truth in the sense of the correspondence of a portrayal to an object external to the portrayal, is not "artistic truth."
The partisans of the intellectualistic theory would, of course, deny that they ever meant truth with this meaning. "We mean by truth," they would say, "an embodiment in sensuous or imaginative form of some universal principle of nature and life. The image may be entirely fictitious or fanciful, but so long as the principle is illustrated, essential truth, and that is beauty, is attained." But if this were so, every work of art would be the statement of a universal truth, as indeed philosophical adherents of this theory have always maintained—witness Hegel. Yet what is the universal truth asserted in one of Monet's pictures of a lily pond? There is, of course, an observance of the general laws of color and space, but does the beauty of the picture consist in that? Does it not attach to the representation of the concrete, individual pond? I do not mean that there may not be beauty in the expression of universals; in fact, I have explicitly maintained that there may, under certain conditions; I am simply insisting that beauty may belong to expressions of the individual also, and that you cannot reduce these to mere illustrations of universal ideas. Because of its completeness and internal harmony, the philosopher may find the simplest melody a revelation of the Absolute; but even if it were, its beauty would still pertain to it primarily as a revelation of the individual experience which it embodies. Again, by reason of the freedom from the particular conditions out of which it arises acquired by a work of art, its individual meaning easily becomes typical, so that it often serves as a universal under which individuals similar to those represented are subsumed—as when we speak of "a Faust" or "a Hamlet"; nevertheless, the adequate expression of the individual is at once the basis of its beauty and of its extended, universalized significance. It is when works of art are profoundly individual that we generalize their meaning. In art the individual never sinks to the position of a mere specimen or example of a universal law. The intellectualistic theory is partly true of symbolic art, but not wholly, for even there, the individuality of the symbol counts. And yet, as we shall see, there is another meaning of artistic truth, which is legitimate.
Aesthetic value, therefore, is not alone sensuous value or ethical or scientific or philosophical value. A work of art may contain one or all of these values; but they do not constitute its unique value as art. The foregoing attempts to define the value of art fail because they renounce the idea of unique value, substituting goodness, sensuous pleasure, or truth-values found outside of art. But the intrinsic value of art must be unique, for it is the value of a unique activity—the free expression of experience in a form delightful and permanent, mediating communication. And this value we should be able to discover by seeking the difference which supervenes upon experience through expression of this kind.
Apart from expression, experience may be vivid and satisfactory as we feel and think and dream and act; yet it is always in flux, coming and going, shifting and unaware. But through expression it is arrested by being attached to a permanent form, and there can be retained and surveyed. Experience, which is otherwise fluent and chaotic, or when orderly too busy with its ends to know itself, receives through expression the fixed, clear outlines of a thing, and can be contemplated like a thing. Every one has verified the clarifying effect of expression upon ideas, how they thus acquire definiteness and coherence, so that even the mind that thinks them can hold them in review. But this effect upon feeling is no less sure. The unexpressed values of experience are vague strivings embedded in chaotic sensations and images; these expression sorts and organizes by attaching them to definite ordered symbols. Even what is most intimate and fugitive becomes a stable object. When put into patterned words, the subtlest and deepest passions of a poet, which before were felt in a dim and tangled fashion, are brought out into the light of consciousness. In music, the most elusive moods, by being embodied in ordered sounds, remain no longer subterranean, but are objectified and lifted into clearness. In the novel or drama, the writer is able not only to enact his visions of life in the imagination, but, by bodying them forth in external words and acts, to possess them for reflection. In painting, all that is seen and wondered at in nature is seen with more delicacy and discrimination and felt with greater freedom; or the vague fancies which a heated imagination paints upon the background of the mind come out more vivid and better controlled, when put with care upon a canvas.
Even ordinary expression, of course, arrests and clarifies experience, enabling us to commune with ourselves; but since its purpose is usually beyond itself, this result is hasty and partial, limited to what is needful for the practical end in view. In art alone is this value complete. For there, life is intentionally held in the medium of expression, put out into color and line and sound for the clear sight and contemplation of men. The aim is just to create life upon which we may turn back and reflect.
This effect of artistic expression upon experience has usually been called "intuition." Because of its connotation of mysterious knowledge, intuition is not a wholly satisfactory word, yet is probably as good as any for the purpose of denoting what artists and philosophers of art have had in mind and what we have been trying to describe. Other terms might also serve—vision, sympathetic insight (sympathetic, because it includes the value of experience; insight, because it involves possessing experience as a whole and ordered, and as an object for reflection). Intuition is opposed, on the one hand, to crude unreflecting experience that never observes itself as a whole or attains to clearness and self-possession; and, on the other hand, to science, which gives the elements and relations of an experience, the classes to which it belongs, but loses its uniqueness and its values. Science elaborates concepts of things, gives us knowledge about things; art presents us with the experience of things purified for contemplation. Scientific truth is the fidelity of a description to the external objects of experience; artistic truth is sympathetic vision—the organization into clearness of experience itself.
Compare, for illustration, life as we live it from day to day with our delineation of it as we recall it and tell it to an intimate companion; and then compare that with the analysis and classification of it which some psychologist or sociologist might make. Or compare the kind of knowledge of human nature that we get from Shakespeare or Moliere with the sort that we get from the sciences. In the one case, knowledge attends a personal acquaintance with the experience, a bringing of it home, a feeling for its values, a realization of the inner necessity of its elements; in the other, it is a mere set of concepts. Or finally, compare the knowledge of the human figure contained in an anatomist's manual with a painting of it, where we not only see it, but in the imagination touch it and move with it, in short live with it.
Intuition is the effect of artistic appreciation no less than of artistic creation. If the artist's expression of his feelings and ideas results in intuition, our appreciation of his work must have the same value, for appreciation is expression transferred from the artist to the spectator. By means of the colors, lines, words, tones that he makes, the artist determines in us a process of expression similar to his. Out of our own minds we put into the sense-symbols he has woven ideas and feelings which provide the content and meaning he intends. Hence all aesthetic appreciation is self-expression. This is evident in the case of the more lyrical types of art. The lyric poem is appreciated by us as an expression of our own inner life; music as an expression of our own slumberous or subconscious moods. Yet even the more objective types of art, like the novel or the drama, become forms of self-expression, for we have to build up the worlds which they contain in our own imagination and emotion. We have to live ourselves out in them; we can understand them only in terms of our own life.
In the appreciation of the more objective types of art, the personality expressed is not, of course, the actual personality; but rather the self extended and expanded through the imagination. The things which I seem to see and enjoy in the landscape picture I may have never really seen; I may have never really moved through the open plain there, as I seem to move, toward the mountain in the distance. The acts described in the novel or portrayed on the stage I do not really perform; the opinions uttered by the persons I do not hold. And yet, in order to appreciate the picture, it must be as if I really saw the mountain and moved towards it; in order to appreciate the novel or the play, I must make the acts and opinions mine. And this I can do; for, as it is a commonplace to note, each one of us has within him capacities of action and emotion and thought unrealized—the actual self is only one of many that might have been—hundreds of possible lives slumber in our souls. And no matter which of these lives we have chosen for our own, or have had forced upon us by our fate, we always retain a secret longing for all the others that have gone unfulfilled, and an understanding born of longing. Some of these we imagine distinctly—those that we consciously rejected or that a turn of chance might have made ours; but most of them we ourselves have not the power even to dream. Yet these too beckon us from behind, and the artist provides us with their dream. Through art we secure an imaginative realization of interests and latent tendencies to act and think and feel which, because they are contradictory among themselves or at variance with the conditions of our existence, cannot find free play within our experience. That same sort of imaginative enlarged expression of self that we get vicariously by participating in the life of our friends we get also from art.[Footnote: Compare Santayana: The Sense of Beauty, p. 186.]
Yet in appreciation, as in creation, expression results in intuition. Appreciation is no mere imagining, transitory and lawless like a daydream. The activity of the imagination is so organized in a permanent and perspicuous form that we not only live it, but possess it as an object. The activities engaged in building up the work of art in my own mind are not the whole of me; judgment remains free to watch and synthesize those that are being crystallized there. In looking at a portrait, for example, the process of interpreting the life represented is ancillary to a total judgment of character. In the novel or drama, no matter with what abandon I put myself into the persons and situations, the expression of them in outward words and acts, and the organization which the artist has imposed upon them, makes of them permanent objects for reflection, not mere modes of feeling and imagining to endure. Self-expression that does not attain to objectivity is incomplete as art. Even music and lyric poetry are something more than mere feeling. In all genuine art, experience takes on permanence and form—a synthesis, a total meaning, supervenes within the flux of impressions and ideas and moods, not excluding, but embracing and controlling them. That is intuition.
The insight into experience which art provides is the more valuable because it is communicable; to possess it alone would be a good, but to share it is better. All values become enhanced when we add to them the joy of fellow feeling. The universality of aesthetic expression carries with it the universality of aesthetic insight. Merely private and unutterable inspirations are not art. Beauty does for life what science does for intelligence; even as the one universalizes thought, so the other universalizes values. In expressing himself, the artist creates a form into which all similar experiences can be poured and out of which they can all be shared. When, for example, we listen to the hymns of the church or read the poems of Horace, the significance of our experience is magnified because we find the feelings of millions there; we are in unison with a vast company living and dead. No thing of beauty is a private possession. All artists feed on one another and into each experience of art has gone the mind-work of the ages.
But there are two types of universality, one by exclusion, the other by inclusion. Communists like Tolstoy demand that art express only those feelings that are already common, the religious and moral; they would exclude all values that have not become those of the race. But this is to diminish the importance of art; for it is art's privilege to make feelings common by providing a medium through which they can be communicated rather than merely to express them after they have become common. Understanding is more valuable when it encompasses the things that tend to separate and distinguish men than when it is limited to the things that unite them. There is nothing so bizarre that art may not express it, provided it be communicable.
The life of the imagination, which is the life of art, is, moreover, the only life that we can have in common. Sharing life can never mean anything else than possessing the life of one another sympathetically. Actually to lead another's life would involve possessing his body, occupying his position, doing his work, and so destroying him. But through the sympathetic imagination we can penetrate his life and leave him in possession. To do this thoroughly is possible, however, only with the life of a very few people, with intimates and friends. With the mass, we can share only ideal things like religion or patriotism, but these also are matters of imagination. Now art enlarges the scope of this common life by creating a new imaginary world to which we can all belong, where action, enjoyment, and experience do not involve competition or depend on possession and mastery.
Finally, the intuitions that art provides are relatively permanent. Art not only extends life and enables us to share it, but also preserves it. Existence has a leak in it, as Plato said; experience flows in and then flows out forever. The individual passes from one act to another, from one phase of life to another, childhood, then youth, then old age. So the race; one generation follows another, and each type of civilization displaces a predecessor. Against this flux, our belief in progress comforts us; maturity is better than youth, we think, and each generation happier and more spiritual than the last. Yet the consolations of progress are partial. For even if we always do go on to something better in the future, the past had its unique value, and that is lost ineluctably. The present doubtless repeats much of the form of the past—the essential aspects of human nature remain the same; but the subtle, distinctive bloom of each stage of personal life, and of each period of the world's history, is transient. We cannot again become children, nor can we possess again the strenuous freedom of the Renaissance or the unclouded integrity of personality of the Greeks.
In the life of the individual, however, the flux is not absolute; for through memory we preserve something of the unique value of our past. Its vividness, its fullness, the sharp bite of its reality go; but a subtilized essence remains. And the worth that we attach to our personality depends largely upon it; for the instinct of self- preservation penetrates the inner world; we strive not only to maintain our physical existence in the present, but our psychic past as well. In conserving the values of the past through memory we find a satisfaction akin to that of protecting our lives from danger. Through memory we feel childhood's joys and youth's sweet love and manhood's triumphs still our own, secure against the perils of oblivion.
Now art does for the race what memory does for the individual. Only through expression can the past be preserved for all men and all time. When the individual perishes, his memories go with him; unless, therefore, he puts them into a form where they can be taken up into the consciousness of other men, they are lost forever. And just as the individual seeks a vicarious self-preservation through identifying himself with his children and his race, and finds compensation for his own death in their continuance, so he rejoices when he knows that men who come after will appreciate the values of his life. We of the present feel ourselves enriched, in turn, as by a longer memory, in adding to the active values of our own lives the remembered values of the past. Their desire to know themselves immortal is met by our desire to unite our lives with all our past. Art alone makes this possible. History may tell us what men did, but only the poet or other artist can make us relive the values of their experience. For through expression they make their memories, or their interpretations of other men's memories, ours. Art is the memory of the race, the conserver of its values.
The distinguishing characteristics of aesthetic expression observed by us—the pleasurableness of the medium, the enhanced unity—serve intuition as that has been described by us. One of the strongest objections against the theory of art as intuition, as that theory has been developed by Croce, for example, is that it provides no place for charm. Yet without charm there is no complete beauty, and any interpretation of the facts of the aesthetic experience which neglects this element is surely inadequate. But charm although an indispensable, is not an independent, factor in the experience of art; for it serves intuition. It does so in two ways. The charm of the medium, by drawing attention to itself, increases the objectivity of the experience expressed. Even when the experiences felt into color and line and sound are poignantly our own, to live pleasantly in any one of these sensations is to live as an object to oneself, the life sharing the externality of the medium—we put our life out there more readily when it is pleasant there. And the charm of the medium serves intuition in another way. When the activities of thought and feeling and imagination released by the work of art are delightful, they become more delightful still if the medium in which they function is itself delightful. To imagine
Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in fairy lands forlorn
is a pleasure by itself, but more pleasurable, and therefore more spontaneous, because of the melody of sound in which it is enveloped. And when the activities expressed are not pleasant, the expression of them in a delightful medium helps to induce us to make them our own and accept them notwithstanding. The medium becomes a charming net to hold us, and because of its allurements we give ourselves the more freely to its spirit within. The following, for example, is not an agreeable thought:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death.
Yet the expression of this thought is pleasant, among other reasons, because of the rhythmic charm of language. We shall come back to this fact in our chapter on "The Problem of Evil in Aesthetics." There is no contradiction between the fair form of a work of art and its content, however repellent. For if we value the sympathetic knowledge of life, we shall be glad of any means impelling us to undertake what alone can give this—a friendly dwelling with life itself. Thus the decorative and the expressive functions of art are reconciled—pleasure and intuition meet.
Just as from time to time pleasure in sensation has been one-sidedly thought to be the purpose of art, so likewise the unity characteristic of beautiful things. Indeed, beauty and order have become almost synonymous in popular thought. And, to be sure, this unity, as we have already remarked, has its own value; the mind delights in order just for its own sake, and the artist, who is bent on making something worthful on its own account, strives to develop it for that reason. And yet unity is no more independent of expression and intuition than sensation is; it too enters into their service. Many forms of unity in works of art are themselves media of expression—the simplest and most striking example is perhaps the rhythmical ordering of sounds in poetry and music, the emotional value of which everybody appreciates. In a later chapter, I shall try to show that the same is true of harmony and balance. In another way, also, unity serves intuition. For the existence of order in an experience is indispensable to that wholeness of view, that mastery in the mind, which is half of intuition. The merely various, the chaotic, the disorganized, cannot be grasped or understood. In order that an experience may be understood, its items must be strung together by some principle in terms of which they may demand each other and constitute a whole. Organization is understanding. Every work of art, every beautiful thing, is organized, and, as we have observed, organized not merely in the thought or other meaning expressed, but throughout, in the sensuous medium as well.
So far the value which we have discovered in artistic expression has been that of delightful and orderly sympathetic vision. This is supplemented from still another source of value. Through artistic expression pent-up emotions find a welcome release. No matter how poignant be the experience expressed, the weight, the sting of it disappears through expression. For through expression, as we have seen, the experience is drawn from the dark depths of the self to the clear and orderly surface of the work of art; the emotions that weighed are lifted out and up into color and line and sound, where the mind can view and master them. Mere life gives place to the contemplation of life; and contemplation imposes on life some of the calm that is its own. The most violent and unruly passions may be the material of art, but once they are put into artistic form they are mastered and refined. "There is an art of passion, but no passionate art" (Schiller). Through expression, the repression, the obstruction of feeling is broken down; the mere effort to find and elaborate a fitting artistic form for the material diverts the attention and provides other occupation for the mind; an opportunity is given to reflect upon and understand the experience, bringing it somehow into harmony with one's total life,—through all these means procuring relief. It is impossible to cite the famous passage from Goethe's "Poetry and Truth" too often:—
And thus began that bent of mind from which I could not deviate my whole life through; namely, that of turning into an image, into a poem, everything that delighted or troubled me, or otherwise occupied my attention, and of coming to some certain understanding with myself thereupon.... All the works therefore that have been published by me are only fragments of one great confession.
[Footnote: English translation, edited by Parke Godwin, Vol. I, p.66.]
This effect of artistic expression belongs, of course, to other forms of expression. Every confession, every confidential outpouring of emotion, is an example. We have all verified the truth that to formulate feeling is to be free with reference to it; not that we thereby get rid of it, but that we are able to look it in the face, and find some place for it in our world where we can live on good terms with it. The greatest difficulty in bearing with any disappointment or sorrow comes not from the thing itself—for after all we have other things to live for—but from its effect upon the presuppositions, so to speak, of our entire existence. The mind has an unconscious set of axioms or postulates which it assumes in the process of living; now anything that seems to contradict these, as a great calamity does, by destroying the logic of life, makes existence seem meaningless and corrupts that faith in life which is the spring of action. In order for the health of the mind to be restored, the contradictory fact must be somehow reconciled with the mind's presuppositions, and the rationality of existence reaffirmed. But an indispensable preliminary to this is that we should clearly envisage and reflect upon the fact, viewing it in its larger relations, where it will lose its overwhelming significance. Now that is what expression, by stabilizing and clarifying experience, enables us to do.
A great many works of art besides Goethe's, not merely of lyric poetry, but also of the novel and drama, among them some of the greatest, like the Divine Comedy, so far as they spring intimately from the life of the artist, are "fragments of a great confession," and have had the sanitary value of a confession for their creators. It is not always possible to trace the personal feelings and motives lying behind the artist's fictions; for the suffering soul covers its pains with subtle disguises; yet even when we do not know them, we can divine them. We are certain, for example, that Watteau's gay pictured visions were the projection—and confession—of his own disappointed dreams. The great advantage of art over ordinary expression, in this respect, is its universality. Art is the confessional of the race. The artist provides a medium through which all men can confess themselves and heal their souls. In making the artist's expression ours, we find an equal relief. Who does not feel a revival of some old or present despair of his own when he reads:—
Un grand sommeil noir Tombe sur ma vie; Dormez toute espoir, Dormez toute envie!
Je ne vois plus rien, Je perds la memoire Du mal et du bien.... Oh, la triste histoire!
yet who does not at the same time experience its assuagement? And this effect is not confined to lyrical art, for so far as, in novel and drama, we put ourselves in the place of the dramatis persona, we can pour our own emotional experiences into them and through them find relief for ourselves. Just so, Aristotle recognized the cathartic or healing influence of art, both in music and the drama—"through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions." [Footnote: Poetics, 6, 2. Politics, 5, 7.]
The delightsomeness of the work of art and its self-sufficient freedom, standing in contrast with the drab or difficult realities of nature and personal striving, serve also to make of beauty a consoler and healer. In place of a confused medley of sense impressions, art offers orderly and pleasant colors or sounds; instead of a real life of duties hard to fulfill and ambitions painfully accomplished, art provides an imagined life which, while imitating and thus preserving the interest of real life, remains free from its hazards and burdens. I would not base the value of art on the contrast between art and life; yet it is unlikely, I think, if life were not so bound and disordered, that art would seem so free and perfect; and it is often true that those who suffer and struggle most love art best. The unity of the work of art, in which each element suggests another within its world, keeping you there and shutting you out momentarily from the real world to which you must presently return, and the sensuous charm of the medium, fascinating your eyes and ears, bring forgetfulness and a temporary release.
To sum the results of the last two chapters. Art is expression, not of mere things or ideas, but of concrete experience with its values, and for its own sake. It is experience held in a delightful, highly organized sensuous medium, and objectified there for communication and reflection. Its value is in the sympathetic mastery and preservation of life in the mind.
THE ANALYSIS OF THE AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE: THE ELEMENTS OF THE EXPERIENCE
Thus far we have sought to define art, to form a concrete idea of the experience of art, and to place it in its relations to other facts. We shall now pass from synthetic definition to psychological analysis. We want to pick out the elements of mind entering into the experience of art and exhibit their characteristic relations. In the present chapter we shall concern ourselves chiefly with the elements, leaving the study of most of the problems of structure to the following chapter.
Every experience of art [Footnote: Throughout this discussion, I use "experience of art," "aesthetic experience," and "beauty" with the same meaning.] contains, in the first place, the sensations which are the media of expression. In a painting, for example, there are colors; in a piece of music, tones; in a poem, word-sounds. To this material, secondly, are attached vague feelings. It is characteristic of aesthetic expressions, as we have observed, that their media, quite apart from anything that they may mean or represent, are expressive of moods—the colors of a painting have a stimmung, so have tones and words, when rhythmically composed. The simplest aesthetic experiences, like the beauty of single musical tones or colors, are of no greater complexity; yet almost all works of art contain further elements; for as a rule the sensations do not exist for their own sakes alone, but possess a function, to represent things. The colors of a landscape painting are not only interesting to us as beautiful colors, but as symbols of a landscape; the words of a ballad charm and stimulate us not only through their music, but because of actions or events which they bring before the mind. This involves, psychologically speaking, that certain ideas—of trees and clouds in the painting, of men and their deeds in the poem—are associated to the sense elements and constitute their meaning. Such ideas or meanings are the third class of elements in the aesthetic experience. But these ideas, in their turn, also arouse emotions, only not of the indefinite sort which belong to the sense elements, but definite, like the emotions aroused by things and events in real life. For example, Rembrandt's "Man with the Gold Helmet" will not only move us in a vague way through the character and rhythm of its lines and colors, but will, in addition, stimulate sentiments of respect and veneration, similar to those that we should feel if the old warrior were himself before us. In such definite feelings we have, then, a fourth class of mental elements. A fifth class will make our list complete. It consists of images from the various sense departments—sight, hearing, taste, smell, temperature, movement—which arise in connection with the ideas or meanings, making them concrete and full. For example, some of the colors in a landscape painting will not only give us the idea that there is sunlight there, but will also arouse faint images of warmth, which will make the idea more vivid; other colors, representing the clouds, will produce faint sensations of softness; still others, representing flowers, may produce faint odors.
Let us study sensation as an element in beauty, first. Sensation is the door through which we enter into the experience of beauty; and, again, it is the foundation upon which the whole structure rests. Without feeling for the values of sensation, men may be sympathetic and intelligent, but they cannot be lovers of the beautiful. They may, for example, appreciate the profound or interesting ideas in poetry, but unless they can connect them with the rhythm-values of the sounds of the words, they have only an intellectual or emotional, not an aesthetic experience.
Yet, despite the omnipresence and supreme worth of sensation in beauty, not all kinds are equally fit for entrance into the experience. From the time of Plato, who writes of "fair sights and sounds" only, vision and hearing have been recognized as the preeminently aesthetic senses. These senses provide the basis for all the arts—music and poetry are arts of sound; painting, sculpture, and architecture are arts of vision. And there are good reasons for their special fitness. Most cogent of all is the fact that vision and hearing are the natural media of expression; sounds, be they words or musical tones, convey thoughts and feelings; so do visual sensations—the facial expression or gesture seen communicates the inner life of the speaker; and even abstract colors and space-forms, like red and the circle, have independent feeling-tones. A taste or a temperature sensation may be pleasant or unpleasant, but has no meaning, either by itself, as a color or a tone has, or through association, as a word has. It has no connection with the life of feeling or of thought. Its chief significance is practical—sweet invites to eating, cold impels to the seeking of a warm shelter, touch is a preliminary to grasping. All the so-called lower senses are bound up with instincts and actions. Of course sights and sounds have also a significance for instinct—the color and form and voice of the individual of the opposite sex, for example. But, before acting on the prompting of instinct, the lover may pause and enjoy the appealing color and form; he may connect his feelings with them and hold on to and delight in the resulting experience—an emotional appreciation of the object may intervene between the stimulus and the appropriate action, and even supplant it. In this way, vision and hearing may free themselves from the merely practical and become autonomous embodiments of feeling. The distance between the seen or heard object and the body is important. The objects of touch and taste, on the other hand, have to be brought into contact with the body; the practical reaction then follows; there is no time during which it may be suspended.
Important also, especially for the beauty of art, is our greater power to control sensations of vision and hearing. Only colors and sounds can be woven into complex and stable wholes. Tastes and odors, when produced simultaneously or in succession, do not keep their distinctness as colors and sounds do, but blur and interfere with each other. No one, however ingenious, could construct a symphony of odors or a picture of tastes. Nevertheless, the possibility of controlling colors and sounds and of creating stable and public objects out of them, is only a secondary reason for their aesthetic fitness. Even if one could construct instruments for the orderly production of tastes and odors—and simple instruments of this kind have been devised—one could not make works of art out of them; for a succession of such sensations would express nothing; they would still be utterly without meaning. The fundamental reason for the superiority of sights and sounds is their expressiveness, their connection with the life of feeling and thought. They take root in the total self; whereas the other elements remain, for the most part, on the surface.
Under favorable conditions, however, all sensations may enter into the sthetic experience. Despite the close connection between the lower senses and the impulses serving practical life, there is a certain disinterestedness in all pleasant sensations. Fine wines and perfumes offer tastes and odors which are sought and enjoyed apart from the satisfaction of hunger; in dancing, movement sensations are enjoyed for their own sake; in the bath, heat and cold. But, as we have seen, it is not sufficient for a sensation to be free from practical ends in order to become aesthetic; it must be connected with the larger background of feeling; it must be expressive. Now, under certain circumstances and in particular cases, this may occur, even in the instance of the lower senses. The perfume of flowers, of roses and of violets, has a strong emotional appeal; it is their "soul" as the poets say. The odor of incense in a cathedral may be an important element in devotion, fusing with the music and the architecture. Or recall the odor of wet earth and reviving vegetation during a walk in the woods on a spring morning. Even sensations of taste may become aesthetic. An oft-cited example is the taste of wine on a Rhine steamer. Guyau, the French poet-philosopher, mentions the taste of milk after a hard climb in the Pyrenees. [Footnote: Les Problemes de l'esthetique contemporaine, 8me edition, p. 63.] A drink of water from a clear spring would serve equally well as an example familiar to all. The warmth of a fire, of sunlight, of a cozy room, or the cold of a star-lit winter night have an emotional significance almost, if not quite, equal to that of the visual sensations from these objects. Touch seems to be irretrievably bound up with grasping and using, but the touch of a well-loved person may be a free and glowing experience, sharing with sight in beauty. The movement sensations during a run in the open air or in dancing are not only free from all practical purpose, but are elements in the total animation. And other examples will come to the mind of every reader. [Footnote: Compare Volkelt: System der Aesthetik, Bd. I, Zweites Capitel, S. 92.]
As our illustrations show, the lower senses enter into the beauty of nature only; they do not enter into the beauty of art. Their beauty is therefore vague and accidental. It usually depends, moreover, upon some support from vision, with the beauty of which it fuses. Apart from the picturesque surroundings seen, the mountain milk and the Rhine wine would lose much of their beauty; the warmth of sunlight or of fire, without the brightness of these objects, the odor of flowers without their form and color, would be of small aesthetic worth. Through connection with vision the lower senses acquire something of its permanence and independence. People differ greatly in their capacity to render the lower senses aesthetic; it is essentially a matter of refinement, of power to free them from their natural root in the practical and instinctive, and lift them into the higher region of sentiment. But every kind of sensation, however low, may become beautiful; this is not to degrade beauty, but to ennoble sensation.
From a psychological standpoint, sensation is the datum of the aesthetic experience, the first thing there, while its power to express depends upon a further process which links it up with thoughts and feelings. We must inquire, therefore, how this linkage takes place—how, for example, it comes about that the colors of a painting are something more than mere colors, being, in addition, embodiments of trees and sky and foliage, and of liveliness and gayety and other feelings appropriate to a spring landscape. Let us consider the linkage with feeling first.
There are two characteristics of aesthetic feeling in its relation to sensations and ideas which must be taken into account in any explanation; its objectification in them and the universality of this connection. Expression is embodiment. We find gayety in the colors of the painting, joy in the musical tones, happiness in the pictured face, tenderness in the sculptured pose. We hear the feeling in the sounds and see it in the lines and colors. The happiness seems to belong to the face, the joy to the tones, in the same simple and direct fashion as the shape of the one or the pitch of the others. The feelings have become true attributes. It is only by analysis that we pick them out, separate them from the other elements of idea or sensation in the whole, and then, for the purpose of scientific explanation, inquire how they came to be connected. And this connection is not one that depends upon the accidents of personal experience. It is not, for example, like the emotional significance that the sound of the voice of the loved one has for the lover, which even he may some day cease to feel, and which other men do not feel at all. It is rather typified by the emotional value of a melody, which, through psychological processes common to all men, becomes a universal language of feeling. The work of art is a communicable, not a private expression.