The Psychology of Beauty
by Ethel D. Puffer
THE human being who thrills to the experience of beauty in nature and in art does not forever rest with that experience unquestioned. The day comes when he yearns to pierce the secret of his emotion, to discover what it is, and why, that has so stung him—to defend and to justify his transport to himself and to others. He seeks a reason for the faith that is in him. And so have arisen the speculative theories of the nature of beauty, on the one hand, and the studies of concrete beauty and our feelings about it, on the other. Speculative theory has taken its own way, however, as a part of philosophy, in relating the Beautiful to the other great concepts of the True and the Good; building up an architectonic of abstract ideas, far from the immediate facts and problems of the enjoyment of beauty. There has grown up, on the other hand, in the last years, a great literature of special studies in the facts of aesthetic production and enjoyment. Experiments with the aesthetic elements; investigations into the physiological psychology of aesthetic reactions; studies in the genesis and development of art forms, have multiplied apace. But these are still mere groups of facts for psychology; they have not been taken up into a single authoritative principle. Psychology cannot do justice to the imperative of beauty, by virtue of which, when we say "this is beautiful," we have a right to imply that the universe must agree with us. A synthesis of these tendencies in the study of beauty is needed, in which the results of modern psychology shall help to make intelligible a philosophical theory of beauty. The chief purpose of this book is to seek to effect such a union.
A way of defining Beauty which grounds it in general principles, while allowing it to reach the concrete case, is set forth in the essay on the Nature of Beauty. The following chapters aim to expand, to test, and to confirm this central theory, by showing, partly by the aid of the aforesaid special studies, how it accounts for our pleasure in pictures, music, and literature.
The whole field of beauty is thus brought under discussion; and therefore, though it nowhere seeks to be exhaustive in treatment, the book may fairly claim to be a more or less consistent and complete aesthetic theory, and hence to address itself to the student of aesthetics as well as to the general reader. The chapter on the Nature of Beauty, indeed, will doubtless be found by the latter somewhat technical, and should be omitted by all who definitely object to professional phraseology. The general conclusions of the book are sufficiently stated in the less abstract papers.
Of the essays which compose the following volume, the first, third, and last are reprinted, in more or less revised form, from the "Atlantic Monthly" and the "International Monthly." Although written as independent papers, it is thought that they do not unduly repeat each other, but that they serve to verify, in each of the several realms of beauty, the truth of the central theory of the book.
The various influences which have served to shape a work of this kind become evident in the reading; but I cannot refrain from a word of thanks to the teachers whose inspiration and encouragement first made it possible. I owe much gratitude to Professor Mary A. Jordan and Professor H. Norman Gardiner of Smith College, who in literature and in philosophy first set me in the way of aesthetic interest and inquiry, and to Professor Hugo Munsterberg of Harvard University, whose philosophical theories and scientific guidance have largely influenced my thought.
WELLESLEY COLLEGE, April 24, 1905.
CONTENTS PAGE I. CRITICISM AND AESTHETICS.............................1 II. THE NATURE OF BEAUTY................................27 III. THE AESTHETIC REPOSE................................57 IV. THE BEAUTY OF FINE ART..............................89 A. THE BEAUTY OF VISUAL FORM.....................91 B. SPACE COMPOSITION AMONG THE OLD MASTERS......128 V. THE BEAUTY OF MUSIC................................149 VI. THE BEAUTY OF LITERATURE...........................203 VII. THE NATURE OF THE EMOTIONS OF THE DRAMA............229 VIII. THE BEAUTY OF IDEAS................................263
I CRITICISM AND AESTHETICS
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF BEAUTY
I CRITICISM AND AESTHETICS
IT is not so long ago that the field of literary criticism was divided into two opposing camps. France being the only country in the world where criticism is a serious matter, the battle waged most fiercely there, and doubtless greatly served to bring about the present general interest and understanding of the theoretical questions at issue. The combatants were, of course, the impressionistic and scientific schools of criticism, and particularly enlightening were the more or less recent controversies between MM. Anatole France and Jules Lemaitre as representatives of the first, and M. Brunetiere as the chief exponent of the second. They have planted their standards; and we see that they stand for tendencies in the critical activity of every nation. The ideal of the impressionist is to bring a new piece of literature into being in some exquisitely happy characterization,— to create a lyric of criticism out of the unique pleasure of an aesthetic hour. The stronghold of the scientist, on the other hand, is the doctrine of literary evolution, and his aim is to show the history of literature as the history of a process, and the work of literature as a product; to explain it from its preceding causes, and to detect thereby the general laws of literary metamorphosis.
Such are the two great lines of modern criticism; their purposes and ideals stand diametrically opposed. Of late, however, there have not been wanting signs of a spirit of reconciliation, and of a tendency to concede the value, each in its own sphere, of different but complementary activities. Now and again the lion and the lamb have lain down together; one might almost say, on reading a delightful paper of Mr. Lewis E. Gates on Impressionism and Appreciation, that the lamb had assimilated the lion. For the heir of all literary studies, according to Professor Gates, is the appreciative critic; and he it is who shall fulfill the true function of criticism. He is to consider the work of art in its historical setting and its psychological origin, "as a characteristic moment in the development of human spirit, and as a delicately transparent illustration of aesthetic law." But, "in regarding the work of art under all these aspects, his aim is, primarily, not to explain, and not to judge or dogmatize, but to enjoy; to realize the manifold charms the work of art has gathered unto itself from all sources, and to interpret this charm imaginatively to the men of his own day and generation."
Atlantic Monthly, July, 1900.
Thus it would seem that if the report of his personal reactions to a work of literary art is the intention of the impressionist, and its explanation that of the scientist, the purpose of the appreciative critic is fairly named as the illuminating and interpreting reproduction of that work, from material furnished by those other forms of critical activity. Must, then, the method of appreciation, as combining and reconciling the two opposed views, forthwith claim our adherence? To put to use all the devices of science and all the treasures of scholarship for the single end of imaginative interpretation, for the sake of giving with the original melody all the harmonies of subtle association and profound meaning the ages have added, is, indeed, a great undertaking. But is it as valuable as it is vast? M. Brunetiere has poured out his irony upon the critics who believe that their own reactions upon literature are anything to us in the presence of the works to which they have thrilled. May it not also be asked of the interpreter if its function is a necessary one? Do we require so much enlightenment, only to enjoy? Appreciative criticism is a salt to give the dull palate its full savor; but what literary epicure, what real boo-lover, will acknowledge his own need of it? If the whole aim of appreciative criticism is to reproduce in other arrangement the contents, expressed and implied, and the emotional value, original and derived, of a piece of literature, the value of the end, at least to the intelligent reader, is out of all proportion to the laboriousness of the means. Sing, reading's a joy! For me, I read.
But a feeling of this kind is, after all, not a reason to be urged against the method. The real weakness of appreciative criticism lies elsewhere. It teaches us to enjoy; but are we to enjoy everything? Since its only aim is to reveal the "intricate implications" of a work of art; since it offers, and professes to offer, no literary judgments,—having indeed no explicit standard of literary value,—it must, at least on its own theory, take its objects of appreciation ready-made, so to speak, by popular acclaim. It possesses no criterion; it likes whate'er it looks on; and it can never tell us what we are not to like. That is unsatisfactory; and it is worse,— it is self-destructive. For, not being able to reject, appreciation cannot, in logic, choose the objects of its attention. But a method which cannot limit on its own principles the field within which it is to work is condemned from the beginning; it bears a fallacy at its core. In order to make criticism theoretically possible at all, the power to choose and reject, and so the pronouncing of judgment, must be an integral part of it.
To such a task the critic may lend himself without arousing our antagonism. We have no pressing need to know the latent possibilities of emotion for us in a book or a poem; but whether it is excellent or the reverse, whether "we were right in being moved by it," we are indeed willing to hear, for we desire to justify the faith that is in us.
If, then, the office of the judge be an essential part of the critical function, the appreciative critic, whatever his other merits,—and we shall examine them later,—fails at least of perfection. His scheme is not the ideal one; and we may turn back, in our search for it, to a closer view of those which his was to supersede. Impressionism, however, is at once out of the running; it has always vigorously repudiated the notion of the standard, and we know, therefore, that no more than appreciation can it choose its material and stand alone. But scientific criticism professes, at least, the true faith M. Brunetiere holds that his own method is the only one by which an impersonal and stable judgment can be rendered.
The doctrine of the evolution of literary species is more or less explained in naming it. Literary species, M. Brunetiere maintains, do exist. They develop and are transformed into others in a way more or less analogous to the evolution of natural types. It remains to see on what basis an objective judgment can be given. Although M. Brunetiere seems to make classification the disposal of a work in the hierarchy of species, and judgment the disposal of it in relation to others of its own species, he has never sharply distinguished between them; so that we shall not be wrong in taking his three principles of classification, scientific, moral, and aesthetic, as three principles by which he estimates the excellence of a work. His own examples, indeed, prove that to him a thing is already judged in being classified. The work of art is judged, then, by its relation to the type. Is this position tenable? I hold that, on the contrary, it precludes the possibility of a critical judgment; for the judgment of anything always means judgment with reference to the end for which is exists. A bad king is not the less a bad king for being a good father; and if his kingship is his essential function, he must be judged with reference to that alone. Now a piece of literature is, with reference to its end, first of all a work of art. It represents life and it enjoins morality, but it is only as a work of art that it attains consideration; that, in the words of M. Lemaitre, it "exists" for us at all. Its aim is beauty, and beauty is its excuse for being.
The type belongs to natural history. The one principle at the basis of scientific criticism is, as we have seen, the conception of literary history as a process, and of the work of art as a product. The work of art is, then, a moment in a necessary succession, governed by laws of change and adaptation like those of natural evolution. But how can the conception of values enter here? Excellence can be attributed only to that which attains an ideal end; and a necessary succession has no end in itself. The "type," in this sense, is perfectly hollow. To say that the modern chrysanthemum is better than that of our forbears because it is more chrysanthemum-like is true only if we make the latter form the arbitrary standard of the chrysanthemum. If the horse of the Eocene age is inferior to the horse of to-day, it is because, on M. Brunetiere's principle, he is less horse-like. But who shall decide which is more like a horse, the original or the latter development? No species which is constituted by its own history can be said to have an end in itself, and can, therefore, have an excellence to which it shall attain. In short, good and bad can be applied to the moments in a necessary evolution only by imputing a fictitious superiority to the last term; and so one type cannot logically be preferred to another. As for the individual specimens, since the conception of the type does not admit the principle of excellence, conformity thereto means nothing.
The work of art, on the other hand, as a thing of beauty, is an attainment of an ideal, not a product, and, from this point of view, is related not at all to the other terms of a succession, its causes and its effects, but only to the abstract principles of that beauty at which it aims. Strangely enough, the whole principle of this contention has been admitted by M. Brunetiere in a casual sentence, of which he does not appear to recognize the full significance. "We acknowledge, of course," he says, "that there is in criticism a certain difference from natural history, since we cannot eliminate the subjective element if the capacity works of art have of producing impressions on us makes a part of their definition. It is not in order to be eaten that the tree produces its fruit." But this is giving away his whole position! As little as the conformity of the fruit to its species has to do with our pleasure in eating it, just so little has the conformity of a literary work to its genre to do with the quality by virtue of which it is defined as art.
The Greek temple is a product of Greek religion applied to geographical conditions. To comprehend it as a type, we must know that it was an adaptation of the open hilltop to the purpose of the worship of images of the gods. But the most penetrating study of the slow moulding of this type will never reveal how and why just those proportions were chosen which make the joy and the despair of all beholders. Early Italian art was purely ecclesiastical in its origin. The exigencies of adaptation to altars, convent walls, or cathedral domes explain the choice of subjects, the composition, even perhaps the color schemes (as of frescoes, for instance); and yet all that makes a Giotto greater than a Pictor Ignotus is quite unaccounted for by these considerations.
The quality of beauty is not evolved. All that comes under the category of material and practical purpose, of idea or of moral attitude, belongs to the succession, the evolution, the type But the defining characters of the work of art are independent of time. The temple, the fresco, and the symphony, in the moment they become objects of the critical judgment, become also qualities of beauty and transparent examples of its laws.
If the true critical judgment, then, belongs to an order of ideas of which natural science can take no cognizance, the self-styled scientific criticism must show the strange paradox of ignoring the very qualities by virtue of which a given work has any value, or can come at all to be the object of aesthetic judgment. In two words, the world of beauty and the world of natural processes are incommensurable, and scientific criticism of literary art is a logical impossibility.
But the citadel of scientific criticism has yet one more stronghold. Granted that beauty, as an abstract quality, is timeless; granted that, in the judgment of a piece of literary art, the standard of value is the canon of beauty, not the type; yet the old order changeth. Primitive and civilized man, the Hottentot and the Laplander, the Oriental and the Slav, have desired differing beauties. May it, then, still be said that although a given embodiment of beauty is to be judged with reference to the idea of beauty alone, yet the concrete ideal of beauty must wear the manacles of space and time,— that the metamorphoses of taste preclude the notion of an objective beauty? And if this is true, are we not thrown back again on questions of genesis and development, and a study of the evolution, not of particular types of art, but of general aesthetic feeling; and, in consequence, upon a form of criticism which is scientific in the sense of being based on succession, and not on absolute value?
It is indeed true that the very possibility of a criticism which shall judge of aesthetic excellence must stand or fall with this other question of a beauty in itself, as an objective foundation for criticism. If there is an absolute beauty, it must be possible to work out a system of principles which shall embody its laws,—an aesthetic, in other words; and on the basis of that aesthetic to deliver a well-founded critical judgment. Is there, then, a beauty in itself? And if so, in what does it consist?
We can approach such an aesthetic canon in two ways: from the standpoint of philosophy, which develops the idea of beauty as a factor in the system of our absolute values, side by side with the ideas of truth and of morality, or from the standpoint of empirical science. For our present purpose, we may confine ourselves to the empirical facts of psychology and physiology.
When I feel the rhythm of poetry, or of perfect prose, which is, of course, in its own way, no less rhythmical, every sensation of sound sends through me a diffusive wave of nervous energy. I am the rhythm because I imitate it in myself. I march to noble music in all my veins, even though I may be sitting decorously by my own hearthstone; and when I sweep with my eyes the outlines of a great picture, the curve of a Greek vase, the arches of a cathedral, every line is lived over again in my own frame. And when rhythm and melody and forms and colors give me pleasure, it is because the imitating impulses and movements that have arisen in me are such as suit, help, heighten my physical organization in general and in particular. It may seem somewhat trivial to say that a curved line is pleasing because the eye is so hung as to move best in it; but we may take it as one instance of the numberless conditions for healthy action which a beautiful form fulfills. A well- composed picture calls up in the spectator just such a balanced relation of impulses of attention and incipient movements as suits an organism which is also balanced—bilateral—in its own impulses to movement, and at the same time stable; and it is the correspondence of the suggested impulses with the natural movement that makes the composition good. Besides the pleasure from the tone relations,—which doubtless can be eventually reduced to something of the same kind,—it is the balance of nervous and muscular tensions and relaxations, of yearnings and satisfactions, which are the subjective side of the beauty of a strain of music. The basis, in short, of any aesthetic experience—poetry, music, painting, and the rest— is beautiful through its harmony with the conditions offered by our senses, primarily of sight and hearing, and through the harmony of the suggestions and impulses it arouses with the whole organism.
But the sensuous beauty of art does not exhaust the aesthetic experience. What of the special emotions—the gayety or triumph, the sadness or peace or agitation—that hang about the work of art, and make, for many, the greater part of their delight in it? Those among these special emotions which belong to the subject-matter of a work—like our horror at the picture of an execution—need not here be discussed. To understand the rest we may venture for a moment into the realm of pure psychology. We are told by psychology that emotion is dependent on the organic excitations of any given idea. Thus fear at the sight of a bear is only the reverberation in consciousness of all nervous and vascular changes set up instinctively as a preparation for flight. Think away our bodily feelings, and we think away fear, too. And set up the bodily changes and the feeling of them, and we have the emotion that belongs to them even without the idea, as we may see in the unmotived panics that sometimes accompany certain heart disturbances. The same thing, on another level, is a familiar experience. A glass of wine makes merriment, simply by bringing about those organic states which are felt emotionally as cheerfulness. Now the application of all this to aesthetics is clear. All these tensions, relaxations,—bodily "imitations" of the form,—have each the emotional tone which belongs to it. And so if the music of a Strauss waltz makes us gay, and Handel's Largo serious, it is not because we are reminded of the ballroom or of the cathedral, but because the physical response to the stimulus of the music is itself the basis of the emotion. What makes the sense of peace in the atmosphere of the Low Countries? Only the tendency, on following those level lines of landscape, to assume ourselves the horizontal, and the restfulness which belongs to that posture. If the crimson of a picture by Bocklin, or the golden glow of a Giorgione, or the fantastic gleam of a Rembrandt speaks to me like a human voice, it is not because it expresses to me an idea, but because it impresses that sensibility which is deeper than ideas,—the region of the emotional response to color and to light. What is the beauty of the "Ulalume," or "Kubla Khan," or "Ueber allen Gipfeln"? It is the way in which the form in its exquisite fitness to our senses, and the emotion belonging to that particular form as organic reverberation therefrom, in its exquisite fitness to thought, create in us a delight quite unaccounted for by the ideas which they express. This is the essence of beauty,—the possession of a quality which excites the human organism to functioning harmonious with its own nature.
We can see in this definition the possibility of an aesthetic which shall have objective validity because founded in the eternal properties of human nature, while it yet allows us to understand that in the limits within which, by education and environment, the empirical man changes, his norms of beauty must vary, too. Ideas can change in interest and in value, but these energies lie much deeper than the idea, in the original constitution of mankind. They belong to the instinctive, involuntary part of our nature. They are changeless, just as the "eternal man" is changeless; and as the basis of aesthetic feeling they can be gathered into a system of laws which shall be subject to no essential metamorphosis. So long as we laugh when we are joyful, and weep when we are sick and sorry; so long as we flush with anger, or grow pale with fear, so long shall we thrill to a golden sunset, the cadence of an air, or the gloomy spaces of a cathedral.
The study of these forms of harmonious functioning of the human organism has its roots, of course, in the science of psychology, but comes, nevertheless, to a different flower, because of the grafting on of the element of aesthetic value. It is the study of the disinterested human pleasures, and, although as yet scarcely well begun, capable of a most detailed and definitive treatment.
This is not the character of those studies so casually alluded to by the author of "Impressionism and Appreciation," when he enjoins on the appreciative critic not to neglect the literature of aesthetics: "The characteristics of his [the artist's] temperament have been noted with the nicest loyalty; and particularly the play of his special faculty, the imagination, as this faculty through the use of sensations and images and moods and ideas creates a work of art, has been followed out with the utmost delicacy of observation." But these are not properly studies in aesthetics at all. To find out what is beautiful, and the reason for its being beautiful, is the aesthetic task; to analyze the workings of the poet's mind, as his conception grows and ramifies and brightens, is no part of it, because such a study takes no account of the aesthetic value of the process, but only of the process itself. The same fallacy lurks here, indeed, as in the confusion of the scientific critic between literary evolution and poetic achievement, and the test of the fallacy is this single fact: the psychological process in the development of a dramatic idea, for instance, is, and quite properly should be, from the point of view of such analysis, exactly the same for a Shakespeare and for the Hoyt of our American farces.
The cause of the production of a work of art may indeed by found by tracing back the stream of thought; but the cause of its beauty is the desire and the sense of beauty in the human heart. If a given combination of lines and colors is beautiful, then the anticipation of the combination as beautiful is what has brought about its incarnation. The artist's attitude toward his vision of beauty, and the art lover's toward that vision realized, are the same. The only legitimate aesthetic analysis is, then, that of the relation between the aesthetic object and the lover of beauty, and all the studies in the psychology of invention—be it literary, scientific, or practical invention—have no right to the other name.
Aesthetics, then, is the science of beauty. It will be developed as a system of laws expressing the relation between the object and aesthetic pleasure in it; or as a system of conditions to which the object, in order to be beautiful, must conform. It is hard to say where the task of the aesthetician ends, and that of the critic begins; and for the present, at least, they must often be commingled. But they are defined by their purposes: the end and aim of one is a system of principles; of the other, the disposal of a given work with reference to those principles; and when the science of aesthetics shall have taken shape, criticism will confine itself to the analysis of the work into its aesthetic elements, to the explanation (by means of the laws already formulated) of its especial power in the realm of beauty, and to the judgment of its comparative aesthetic value.
The other forms of critical activity will then find their true place as preliminaries or supplements to the essential function of criticism. The study of historical conditions, of authors' personal relations, of the literary "moment," will be means to show the work of art "as in itself it really is." Shall we then say that the method of appreciation, being an unusually exhaustive presentment of the object as in itself it really is, is therefore an indispensable preparation for the critical judgment? The modern appreciator, after the model limned by Professor Gates, was to strive to get, as it were, the aerial perspective of a masterpiece,—to present it as it looks across the blue depths of the years. This is without doubt a fascinating study; but it may be questioned if it does not darken the more important issue. For it is not the object as in itself it really is that we at last behold, but the object disguised in new and strange trappings. Such appreciation is to aesthetic criticism as the sentimental to the naive poet in Schiller's famous antithesis. The virtue of the sentimental genius is to complete by the elements which it derives from itself an otherwise defective object. So the aesthetic critic takes his natural need of beauty from the object; the appreciative critic seeks a further beauty outside of the object, in his own reflections and fancies about it. But if we care greatly for the associations of literature, we Are in danger of disregarding its quality. A vast deal of pretty sentiment may hang about and all but transmute the most prosaic object. A sedan chair, an old screen, a sundial,—to quote only Austin Dobson,—need not be lovely in themselves to serve as pegs to hang a poem on; and all the atmosphere of the eighteenth century may be wafted from a jar of potpourri. Read a lyric instead of a rose jar, and the rule holds as well. The man of feeling cannot but find all Ranelagh and Vauxhall in some icily regular effusion of the eighteenth century, and will take a deeper retrospective thrill from an old playbill than from the play itself. And since this is so,—since the interest in the overtones, the added value given by time, the value for us, is not necessarily related to the value as literature of the fundamental note,—to make the study of the overtones an essential part of criticism is to be guilty of the Pathetic Fallacy; that is, the falsification of the object by the intrusion of ourselves,—the typical sentimental crime.
It seems to me, indeed, that instead of courting a sense for the aromatic in literature, the critic should rather guard himself against its insidious approaches. Disporting himself in such pleasures of the fancy, he finds it easy to believe, and to make us believe, that a piece of literature gains in intrinsic value from its power to stimulate his historical sense. The modern appreciative critic, in short, is too likely to be the dupe of his "sophisticated reverie,"—like an epicure who should not taste the meat for the sauces. A master work, once beautiful according to the great and general laws, never becomes, properly speaking, either more or less so. If a piece of art can take us with its own beauty, there is no point in superimposing upon it shades of sentiment; if it cannot so charm, all the rose-colored lights of this kind of appreciative criticism are unavailing.
The "literary" treatment of art, as the "emotional" treatment of literature,—for that is what "appreciation" and "interpretation" really are,—can completely justify itself only as the crowning touch of a detailed aesthetic analysis of those "order of impression distinct in kind" which are the primary elements in our pleasure in the beautiful. It is the absence—and not only the absence, but the ignoring of the possibility—of such analysis which tempts one to rebel against such phrases as those of Professor Gates: "the splendid and victorious womanhood of Titian's Madonnas," "the gentle and terrestrial grace of motherhood in those of Andrea del Sarto," the "sweetly ordered comeliness of Van Dyck's." One is moved to ask if the only difference between a Madonna of Titian and one of Andrea is a difference of temper, and if the important matter for the critic of art is the moral conception rather than the visible beauty.
I cannot think of anything for which I would exchange the enchanting volumes of Walter Pater, and yet even he is not the ideal aesthetic critic whose duties he made clear. What he has done is to give us the most exquisite and delicate of interpretations. He has not failed to "disengage" the subtle and peculiar pleasure that each picture, each poem or personality, has in store for us; but of analysis and explanation of this pleasure—of which he speaks in the Introduction to "The Renaissance"—there is no more. In the first lines of his paper on Botticelli, the author asks, "What is the peculiar sensation which his work has the property of exciting in us?" And to what does he finally come? "The peculiar character of Botticelli is the result of a blending in him of a sympathy for humanity in its uncertain conditions...with his consciousness of the shadow upon it of the great things from which it sinks." But this is not aesthetic analysis! It is not even the record of a "peculiar sensation," but a complex intellectual interpretation. Where is the pleasure in the irrepressible outline, fascinating in its falseness,—in the strange color, like the taste of olives, of the Spring and the Pallas? So, also, his great passage on the Mona Lisa, his "Winckelmann," even his "Giorgione" itself, are merely wonderful delineations of the mood of response to the creations of the art in question. Such interpretation as we have from Pater is a priceless treasure, but it is none the less the final cornice, and not the corner stone of aesthetic criticism.
The tendency to interpretation without any basis in aesthetic explanation is especially seen in the subject of our original discussion,—literature. It is indeed remarkable how scanty is the space given in contemporary criticism to the study of an author's means to those results which we ourselves experience. Does no one really care how it is done? Or are they all in the secret, and interested only in the temperament expressed or the aspect of life envisaged in a given work? One would have thought that as the painter turned critic in Fromentin at least to a certain extent sought out and dealt with the hidden workings of his art, so the romancer or the poet-critic might also have told off for us "the very pulse of the machine." The last word has not been said on the mysteries of the writer's art. We know, it may be, how the links of Shakespeare's magic chain of words are forged, but the same cannot be said of any other poet. We have studied Dante's philosophy and his ideal of love; but have we found out the secrets of his "inventive handling of rhythmical language"? If Flaubert is univerally acknowledged to have created a masterpiece in "Madame Bovary," should there not be an interest for criticism in following out, chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, word by word, the meaning of what it is to be a masterpiece? But such seems not to be the case. Taine reconstructs the English temperament out of Fielding and Dickens; Matthew Arnold, although he deals more than others in first principles, never carries his analysis beyond the widest generalizations, like the requirement for "profound truth" and "high seriousness," for great poetry. And as we run the gamut of contemporary criticism, we find ever preoccupation with the personality of the writers and the ideas of their books. I recall only one example—the critical essays of Henry James—where the craftsman has dropped some hints on the ideals of the literary art; and even that, if I maybe allowed the bull, in his novels rather than in his essays, for in critical theory he is the most ardent of impressionists. Whatever the cause, we cannot but allow the dearth of knowledge of, and interest in, the peculiar subject-matter of criticism,— the elements of beauty in a work of literature.
But although the present body of criticism consists rather of preliminaries and supplements to what should be its real accomplishment, these should not therefore receive the less regard. The impressionist has set himself a definite task, and he has succeeded. If not the true critic, he is an artist in his own right, and he has something to say to the world. The scientific critic has taken all knowledge for his province; and although we hold that it has rushed in upon and swamped his distinctly critical function, so long as we may call him by his other name of natural historian of literature, we can only acknowledge his great achievements. For the appreciative critic we have less sympathy as yet, but the "development of the luxurious intricacy and the manifold implications of our enjoyment" may fully crown the edifice of aesthetic explanation and appraisal of the art of every age. But all these, we feel, do not fulfill the essential function; the Idea of Criticism is not here. What the idea of criticism is we have tried to work out: a judgment of a work of art on the basis of the laws of beauty. That such laws there are, that they exist directly in the relation between the material form and the suggested physical reactions, and that they are practically changeless, even as the human instincts are changeless, we have sought to show. And if there can be a science of the beautiful, then an objective judgment on the basis of the laws of the beautiful can be rendered. The true end of criticism, therefore, is to tell us whence and why the charm of a work of art: to disengage, to explain, to measure, and to certify it. And this explanation of charm, and this stamping it with the seal of approval, is possible by the help, and only by the help, of the science of aesthetics,—a science now only in its beginning, but greatly to be desired in its full development.
How greatly to be desired we realize in divining that the present dearth of constructive and destructive criticism, of all, indeed, except interpretations and reports, is responsible for the modern mountains of machine-made literature. Will not the aesthetic critic be for us a new Hercules, to clear away the ever growing heap of formless things in book covers? If he will teach us only what great art means in literature; if he will give us never so little discussion of the first principles of beauty, and point the moral with some "selling books," he will at least have turned the flood. There are stories nowadays, but few novels, and plenty of spectacles, but no plays; and how should we know the difference, never having heard what a novel ought to be? But let the aesthetic critic give us a firm foundation for criticism, a real understanding of the conditions of literary art; let him teach us to know a novel or a play when we see it, and we shall not always mingle the wheat and the chaff.
II THE NATURE OF BEAUTY
II THE NATURE OF BEAUTY
EVERY introduction to the problems of aesthetics begins by acknowledging the existence and claims of two methods of attack,—the general, philosophical, deductive, which starts from a complete metaphysics and installs beauty in its place among the other great concepts; and the empirical, or inductive, which seeks to disengage a general principle of beauty from the objects of aesthetic experience and the facts of aesthetic enjoyment: Fechner's "aesthetics from above and from below."
The first was the method of aesthetics par excellence. It was indeed only through the desire of an eighteenth-century philosopher, Baumgarten, to round out his "architectonic" of metaphysics that the science received its name, as designating the theory of knowledge in the form of feeling, parallel to that of "clear," logical thought. Kant, Schelling, and Hegel, again, made use of the concept of the Beautiful as a kind of keystone or cornice for their respective philosophical edifices. Aesthetics, then, came into being as the philosophy of the Beautiful, and it may be asked why this philosophical aesthetics does not suffice—why beauty should need for its understanding also an aesthetics "von unten."
The answer is not that no system of philosophy is universally accepted, but that the general aesthetic theories have not, as yet at least, succeeded in answering the plain questions of "the plain man" in regard to concrete beauty. Kant, indeed, frankly denied that the explanation of concrete beauty, or "Doctrine of Taste," as he called it, was possible, while the various definers of beauty as "the union of the Real and the Ideal" "the expression of the Ideal to Sense," have done no more than he. No one of these aesthetic systems, in spite of volumes of so-called application of their principles to works of art, has been able to furnish a criterion of beauty. The criticism of the generations is summed up in the mild remark of Fechner, in his "Vorschule der Aesthetik," to the effect that the philosophical path leaves one in conceptions that, by reason of their generality, do not well fit the particular cases. And so it was that empirical aesthetics arose, which does not seek to answer those plain questions as to the enjoyment of concrete beauty down to its simplest forms, to which philosophical aesthetics had been inadequate.
But it is clear that neither has empirical aesthetics said the last word concerning beauty. Criticism is still in a chaotic state that would be impossible if aesthetic theory were firmly grounded. This situation appears to me to be due to the inherent inadequacy and inconclusiveness of empirical aesthetics when it stands alone; the grounds of this inadequacy I shall seek to establish in the following.
Granting that the aim of every aesthetics is to determine the Nature of Beauty, and to explain our feelings about it, we may say that the empirical treatments propose to do this either by describing the aesthetic object and extracting the essential elements of Beauty, or by describing the aesthetic experience and extracting the essential elements of aesthetic feeling, thereby indicating the elements of Beauty as those which effect this feeling.
Now the bare description and analysis of beautiful objects cannot, logically, yield any result; for the selection of cases would have to be arbitrary, and would be at the mercy of any objection. To any one who should say, But this is not beautiful, and should not be included in your inventory, answer could be made only by showing that it had such and such qualities, the very, by hypothesis, unknown qualities that were to be sought. Moreover, the field of beauty contains so many and so heterogeneous objects , that the retreat to their only common ground, aesthetic feeling, appears inevitable. A statue and a symphony can be reduced to a common denominator most easily if the states of mind which they induce are compared. Thus the analysis of objects passes naturally over to the analysis of mental states—the point of view of psychology.
There is, however, a method subsidiary to the preceding, which seeks the elements of Beauty in a study of the genesis and the development of art forms. But this leaves the essential phenomenon absolutely untouched. The general types of aesthetic expression may indeed have been shaped by social forces,— religious, commercial, domestic,—but as social products, not as aesthetic phenomena. Such studies reveal to us, as it were, the excuse for the fact of music, poetry, painting—but they tell us nothing of the reason why beautiful rather than ugly forms were chosen, as who should show that the bird sings to attract its mate, ignoring the relation and sequence of the notes. The decorative art of most savage tribes, for instance, is nearly all of totemic origin, and the decayed and degraded forms of snake, bird, bear, fish, may be traced in the most apparently empty geometric patterns;—but what does this discovery tell us of the essentially decorative quality of such patterns or of the nature of beauty of form? The study of the Gothic cathedral reveals the source of its general plan and of its whole scheme of ornament in detailed religious symbolism. Yet a complete knowledge of the character of the religious feeling which impelled to this monumental expression, and of the genesis of every element of structure, fails to account for the essential beauty of rhythm and proportion in the finished work. These researches, in short, explain the reason for the existence, but not for the quality, of works of art.
Thus it is in psychology that empirical aesthetics finds its last resort. And indeed, our plain man might say, the aesthetic experience itself is inescapable and undeniable. You know that the sight or the hearing of this thing gives you a thrill of pleasure. You may not be able to defend the beauty of the object, but the fact of the experience you have. The psychologist, seeking to analyze the vivid and unmistakable Aesthetic experience, would therefore proceed somewhat as follows. He would select the salient characteristics of his mental state in presence of a given work of art. He would then study, by experiment and introspection, how the particular sense-stimulations of the work of art in question could become the psychological conditions of these salient characteristics. Thus, supposing the aesthetic experience to have been described as "the conscious happiness in which one is absorbed, and, as it were, immersed in the sense-object," the further special aim, in connection with a picture, for instance, would be to show how the sensations and associated ideas from color, line, composition, and all the other elements of a picture may, on general psychological principles, bring about this state of happy absorption. Such elements as can be shown to have a direct relation to the aesthetic experience are then counted as elements of the beauty of the aesthetic object, and such as are invariable in all art forms would belong to the general formula or concept of Beauty.
M.W. Calkins: An Introduction to Psychology, 1902, p. 278.
This, it seems to me, is as favorable a way as possible of stating the possibilities of an independent aesthetic psychology.
Yet this method, as it works out, does not exhaust the problem the solution of which was affirmed to be the aim of every aesthetics. The aesthetic experience is very complex, and the theoretical consequences of emphasizing this or that element very great. Thus, if it were held that the characteristics of the aesthetic experience could be given by the complete analysis of a single well-marked case,—say, our impressions before a Doric column, or the Cathedral of Chartres, or the Giorgione Venus,—it could be objected that for such a psychological experience the essential elements are hard to isolate. The cathedral is stone rather than staff; it is three hundred rather than fifty feet high. Our reaction upon these facts may or may not be essentials to the aesthetic moment, and we can know whether they are essentials only by comparison and exclusion. It might be said, therefore, that the analysis of a single, though typical, aesthetic experience is insufficient; a wide induction is necessary. Based on the experience of many people, in face of the same object? But to many there would be no aesthetic experience. On that of one person, over an extensive field of objects? How, then, determine the limits of this field? Half of the dispute of modern aesthetics is over the right to include in the material for this induction various kinds of enjoyment which are vivid, not directly utilitarian, but traditionally excluded from the field. Guyan, for instance, in a charming passage of his "Problemes de l'Esthetique Contemporaine," argues for the aesthetic quality of the moment when, exhausted by a long mountain tramp, he quaffed, among the slopes of the Pyrenees, a bowl of foaming milk. The same dispute appears, in more complicated form, in the conflicting dicta of the critics.
If we do not know what part of our feeling is aesthetic feeling, how can wee go farther? If the introspecting subject cannot say, This is aesthetic feeling, it is logically impossible to make his state of mind the basis for further advance. It is clear that the great question is of what one has a right to include in the aesthetic experience. But that one should have such a "right" implies that there is an imperative element in the situation, an absolute standard somewhere.
It seems to me that the secret of the difficulty lies in the nature of the situation, with which an empirical treatment must necessarily fail to deal. What we have called "the aesthetic experience" is really a positive toning of the general aesthetic attitude. This positive toning corresponds to aesthetic excellence in the object. But wherever the concept of excellence enters, there is always the implication of a standard, value, judgment. But where there is a standard there is always an implicit a priori,—a philosophical foundation.
If, then, a philosophical method is the last resort and the first condition of a true aesthetics, what is the secret of its failure? For that it has failed seems to be still the consensus of opinion. Simply, I believe and maintain, the unreasonable and illogical demand which, for instance, Fechner makes in the words I have quoted, for just this immediate application of a philosophical definition to concrete cases. Who but an Hegelian philosopher, cries Professor James, ever pretended that reason in action was per se a sufficient explanation of the political changes in Europe? Who but an Hegelian philosopher, he might add, ever pretended that "the expression of the Idea to Sense" was a sufficient explanation of the Sistine Madonna? But I think the Hegelian—or other—philosopher might answer that he had no need so to pretend. Such a philosophical definition, as I hope to show, cannot possibly apply to particular cases, and should not be expected to do so.
Beauty is an excellence, a standard, a value. But value is in its nature teleological; is of the nature of purpose. Anything ha value because it fulfills an end, because it is good for something in the world. A thing is not beautiful because it has value,—other things have that,—it has value because it is beautiful, because it fulfills the end of Beauty. Thus the metaphysical definition of Beauty must set forth what this end of Beauty is,—what it serves in the universe.
But to determine what anything does, or fulfills, or exemplifies, is not the same as to determine what it is in itself. The most that can be said is that the end, or function, shapes the means or constitution. The end is a logical imperative. Beauty does, and must do, such things. To ask how, is at once to indicate an ultimate departure from the philosophical point of view; for the means to an end are different, and to be empirically determined.
Now the constitution of Beauty can be only the means to the end of Beauty,—that combination of qualities in the object which will bring about the end fixed by philosophical definition. The end is general; the means may be different kinds. Evidently, then, the philosophical definition cannot be applied directly to the object until the possibilities, conditions, and limitations of that object's fitness for the purpose assigned are known. We cannot ask, Does the Sistine Madonna express the Idea of Sense? until we know all possibilities and conditions of the visual for attaining that expression. But, indeed, the consideration of causes and effects suggests at once that natural science must guide further investigation. Philosophy must lay down what Beauty has to do, but since it is in our experience of Beauty that its end is accomplished, since the analysis of such experience and the study of its contributing elements is a work of the natural science of such experience—it would follow that psychology must deal with the various means through which this end is to be reached.
Thus we see that Fechner's reproach is unjustified. Those concepts which are too general to apply to particular cases are not meant to do so. If a general concept expresses, as it should, the place of Beauty in the hierarchy of metaphysical values, it is for the psychologist of aesthetics to develop the means by which that end can be reached in the various realms in which works of art are found.
Nor can we agree with Santayana's dictum that philosophical aesthetics confuses the import of an experience with the explanation of its cause. It need not. The aesthetic experience is indeed caused by the beautiful object, but the beautiful object itself is caused by the possibility of the aesthetic experience,— beauty as an end under the conditions of human perception. Thus the Nature of Beauty is related to its import, or meaning, or end, as means to that end; and therefore the import of an experience may well point out to us the constitution of the cause of that experience. A work of art, a piece of nature, is judged by its degree of attainment to that end; the explanation of its beauty—of its degree of attainment, that is—is found in the effect of its elements, according to psychological laws, on the aesthetic subject.
The Sense of Beauty, 1898. Intro.
Such a psychological study of the means by which the end of Beauty is attained is the only method by which we can come to an explanation of the wealth of concrete beauty. The concept of explanation, indeed, is valid only within the realm of causes and effects. The aim of aesthetics being conceded, as above, to be the determination of the Nature of Beauty and the explanation of our feelings about it, it is evident at this point that the Nature of Beauty must be determined by philosophy; but the general definition having been fixed, the meaning of the work of art having been made clear, the only possible explanation of our feelings about it—the aesthetic experience, in other words—must be gained from psychology. This method is not open to the logical objections against the preceding. No longer need we ask what has a right to be included in the aesthetic experience. That has been fixed by the definition of Beauty. But how the beautiful object brings about the aesthetic experience, the boundaries of which are already known, is clearly matter for psychology.
The first step must then be to win the philosophical definition of Beauty. It was Kant, says Hegel, who spoke the first rational word concerning Beauty. The study of his successors will reveal, I believe, that the aesthetic of the great system of idealism forms, on the whole, one identical doctrine. It is worth while to dwell somewhat on this point, because the traditional view of the relation of the aesthetic of Kant, Schiller, Schelling, and Hegel is otherwise. Kant's starting-point was the discovery of the normative, "over-individual" nature of Beauty, which we have just found to be the secret of the contradictions of empirical aesthetics. Yet he came to it at the bidding of quite other motives.
Kant's aesthetics was meant to serve as the keystone of the arch between sense and reason. The discovery of all that is implicit in the experience of the senses had led him to deny the possibility of knowledge beyond the matter of this experience. Yet the reason has an inevitable tendency to press beyond this limit, to seek all-embracing, absolute unities,—to conceive an unconditioned totality. Thus the reason presents us with the ideas—beyond all possibility of knowledge—of the Soul, the World, and God. In the words of Kant, the Ideas of Reason lead the understanding to the consideration of Nature according to a principle of completeness, although it can never attain to this. Can there be a bridge across this abyss between sense and reason? then asks Kant; which bridge he believes himself to have found in the aesthetic faculty. For on inquiring what is involved in the judgment, "This is beautiful," he discovers that such a judgment is "universal" and "necessary," inasmuch as it implies that every normal spectator must acknowledge its validity, that it is "disinterested" because it rests on the "appearance of the object without demanding its actual existence," and that it is "immediate" or "free," as it acknowledges the object as beautiful without definite purpose, as of adaptation to use. But how does this judgment constitute the desired bond between sense and reason? Simply in that, though applied to an object of the senses, it has yet all the marks of the Idea of Reason,—it is universal, necessary, free, unconditioned; it is judged as if it were perfect, and so fulfills those demands of reason which elsewhere in the world of sense are unsatisfied.
The two important factors, then, of Kant's aesthetics are its reconciliation of sense and reason in beauty, and its reference of the "purposiveness" of beauty to the cognitive faculty.
Schiller has been given the credit of transcending Kant's "subjective" aesthetic through his emphasis on the significance of the beautiful object. It is not bound by a conception to which it must attain, so that it is perceived as if it were free. Nor do we desire the reality of it to use for ourselves or for others; so that we are free in relation to it. It, the object, is thus "the vindication of freedom in the world of phenomena," that world which is otherwise a binding necessity. But it would seem that this had been already taught by Kant himself, and that Schiller has but enlivened the subject by his two illuminating phrases, "aesthetic semblance" and the "play-impulse," to denote the real object of the aesthetic desire and the true nature of that desire; form instead of material existence, and a free attitude instead of serious purpose. Still, his insistence on Beauty as the realization of freedom may be said to have paved the way for Schelling's theory, in which the aesthetic reaches its maximum of importance.
The central thought of the Absolute Idealism of Schelling is the underlying identity of Nature and the Self. In Nature, from matter up to the organism, the objective factor predominates, or, in Schelling's phrase, the conscious self is determined by the unconscious. In morality, science, the subjective factor predominates, or the unconscious is determined by the conscious. But the work of art is a natural appearance and so unconscious, and is yet the product of a conscious activity. It gives, then, the equilibrium of the real and ideal factors,—just that repose of reconciliation or "indifference" which alone can show the Absolute. But— and this is of immense importance for our theory—in order to explain the identity of subject and object, the Ego must have an intuition, through which, in one and the same appearance, it is in itself at once conscious and unconscious, and this condition is given in the aesthetic experience. The beautiful is thus the solution of the riddle of the universe, for it is the possibility of the explicit consciousness of the unity of Nature and the Self—or the Absolute.
So Beauty is again the pivot on which a system turns. Its place is not essentially different from that which it held in the systems of Kant and Schiller. As the objective possibility for the bridge between sense and reason, as the vindication of freedom in the phenomenal world, and as vindication of the possible unity of the real and the ideal, or nature and self, the world-elements, its philosophical significance is nearly the same.
With Hegel Beauty loses little of its commanding position. The universe is in its nature rational; Thought and Being are one. The world-process is a logical process; and nature and history, in which spirit of the world realizes itself, are but applied logic. The completely fulfilled or expressed Truth is then the concrete world-system; at the same time the life or self of the universe; the Absolute. This Hegel calls the Idea, and he defines Beauty as the expression of the Idea to sense.
This definition would seem to be as to the letter in accord with the general tendency as have already outlined. It might be said that it is but another phrasing of Schelling's thought of the Absolute as presented to the Ego in Beauty. But not so. For Schelling, the aesthetic is a schema or form,—that is, the form of balance, equilibrium, reconciliation of the rational ideal,—not a content. But Hegel's Beauty expresses the Idea by the way of information or association. That this is true any one of his traditional examples makes evident. Correggio's Madonna of the St. Sebastian is found by him inferior to the Sistine Madonna. Why? "In the first picture we have the dearest and loveliest of human relations consecrated by contrast with what is Divine. In the second picture we have the Divine relation itself, showing itself under the limitations of the human." Dutch painting, he tells us, ought not to be despised; "for it is this fresh and wakeful freedom and vitality of mind in apprehension and presentation that forms the highest aspect of these pictures." And a commentator adds, "The spontaneous joy of the perfect life is figured to this lower sphere." His whole treatment of Art as a symbol confirms this view, as do all his criticisms. Art or Beauty shall reveal to our understanding the eternal Ideal.
Kedney's Hegel's Aesthetics, 1892, p. 158.
On comparing this with what we have won from Kant, Schiller, and Schelling, the divergence becomes apparent. I have tried to show that there is no essential difference between these three either in their general view of the aesthetic experience, or in the degree of objectivity of their doctrine of Beauty. They do not contradict one another. They merely emphasize now the unity, now the reconciliation of opposites, in the aesthetic experience. The experience of the beautiful constitutes a reconciliation of the warring elements of experience, in a world in which the demands of Reason seem to conflict with the logic of events, and the beautiful object is such that it constitutes the permanent possibility for this reconciliation.
But the attempt to include Hegel within this circle reveals at once the need of further delimitation. The beautiful is to reveal, and to vindicate in revealing, the union of the world-elements, that is, the spirit of the world. On Hegel's own principles, the Idea should be "expressed to sense." Now if this expression is not, after all, directly to sense, but the sense gives merely the occasion for passing over to the thought of the Divine, it would seem that the Beauty is not after all in the work of art, but out of it. The Infinite, or the Idea, or the fusion of real and ideal, must be shown to sense.
Is there any way in which this is conceivable? We cannot completely express to sense Niagara Falls or the Jungfrau, for they are infinitely beyond the possibilities of imitation. Yet the particular contour of the Jungfrau is never mistaken in the smallest picture. In making a model of Niagara we should have to reproduce the relation between body of water, width of stream, and height of fall, and we might succeed in getting the peculiar effect of voluminousness which marks that wonder of Nature. The soaring of a lark is not like the pointing upward of a slender Gothic spire, yet there is a likeness in the attitudes with which we follow them. All these cases have certain form-qualities in common, by virtue of which they resemble each other. Now it is these very form-qualities which Kant is using when he takes the aesthetic judgment as representative of reason in the world of sense because it shows the qualities of the ideas of reason,—that is, unconditional totality or freedom. And we might, indeed, hope to "express the Idea to sense" if we could find for it a form-quality, or subjectively, in the phrase of Kant, a form of reflection.
What is the form of reflection for the Absolute, the Idea? It would appear to be a combination of Unity and Totality— self-completeness. An object, then, which should be self- complete from all possible points of view, to which could be applied the "form of reflection" for the Absolute, would, therefore, alone truly express it, and so alone fulfill the end of Beauty. The Idea would be there in its form; it would be shown to sense, and so first full expressed.
With this important modification of Hegel's definition of Beauty, which brings it into line with the point of view already won, I believe the way is at last opened from the traditional philosophy of aesthetics to a healthy and concrete psychological theory.
But must every self-complete object give rise to the aesthetic experience? An object is absolutely self-complete only for the perceiving subject; it is so, in other words, only when it produces a self-complete experience for that subject. If reconciliation of the warring elements of the universe is the end of Beauty it must take place not for, but in, the human personality; it must not be understood, but immediately, completely experienced; it should be realized in the subject of the aesthetic experience, the lover of beauty. The beautiful object would be not that which should show in outline form, or remind of, this Unity of the World, but which should create for the subject the moment of self- completeness; which should inform the aesthetic subject with that unity and self-completeness which are the "forms of reflection" of the Infinite. The subject should be not a mirror of perfection, but a state of perfection. Only in this sense does the concept of reconciliation come to its full meaning. Not because I see freedom, but because I am free; not because I think of God, or the Infinite, or the one, but because I am for the moment complete, at the highest point of energy and unity, does the aesthetic experience constitute such a reconciliation.
Not because I behold the Infinite, but because I have, myself, a moment of perfection. Herein it is that our theory constitutes a complete contradiction to all "expression" or "significant" theories of the Beautiful, and does away with the necessity those theories are under of reading sermons into stones. The yellow primrose needs not to remind us of the harmony of the universe, or to have ulterior significance whatever, if it gives by its own direct simple stimulation a moment of Unity and Self- completeness. That immediate experience indeed contains in itself the "form of reflection" of the Absolute, and it is through this that we so often pass, in the enjoyment of Beauty, to the thought of the divine. But that thought is a corollary, a secondary effect, not an essential part of the aesthetic moment. There is a wonderful bit of unconscious aesthetics in the following passage from Senancour, touching the "secret of relation" we have just analyzed.
"It was dark and rather cold. I was gloomy, and walked because I had nothing to do. I passed by some flowers placed breast- high upon a wall. A jonquil in bloom was there. It is the strongest expression of desire: it was the first perfume of the year. I felt all the happiness destined for man. This unutterable harmony of souls, the phantom of the ideal world, arose in me complete. I never felt anything so great or so instantaneous. I know not what shape, what analogy, what secret of relation it was that made me see in this flower a limitless beauty.... I shall never inclose in a conception this power, this immensity that nothing will express; this form that nothing will contain; this ideal of a better world which one feels, but which it would seem that nature has not made."
Translation by Carleton Noyes: The Enjoyment of Art, 1903, p. 65.
Our philosophical definition of Beauty has thus taken final shape. The beautiful object possesses those qualities which bring the personality into a state of unity and self-completeness. Lightly to case aside such a definition as abstract, vague, Empty, is no less short sighted than to treat the idea of the Absolute Will, of the Transcendental Reason, of the Eternal Love, as mere intellectual factors in the aesthetic experience. It should not be criticised as giving "no objective account of the nature and origin of Beauty." The nature of Beauty is indicated in the definition; the origin of Beauty may be studied in its historical development; its reason for being is simply the desire of the human heart for the perfect moment.
Beauty is to bring unity and self-completeness into the personality. By what means? What causes can bring about this effect? When we enter the realm of causes and effects, however, we have already left the ground of philosophy, and it is fitting that the concepts which we have to use should be adapted to the empirical point of view. The personality, as dealt with in psychology, is but the psychophysical organism; and we need to know only how to translate unity and self-completeness into psychological terms.
The psychological organism is in a state of unity either when it is in a state of virtual congealment or emptiness, as in a trance or ecstasy; or when it is in a state of repose, without tendency to change. Secondly, the organism is self-complete when it is at the highest possible point of tone, of functional efficiency, of enhanced life. Then a combination of favorable stimulation and repose would characterize the aesthetic feeling.
But it may be said that stimulation and repose are contradictory concepts, and we must indeed admit that the absolute repose of the hypnotic trance is not aesthetic, because empty of stimulus. The only aesthetic repose is that in which stimulation resulting in impulse to movement or action is checked or compensated for by its antagonistic impulse; inhibition of action, or action returning upon itself, combined with heightening of tone. But this is TENSION, EQUILIBRIUM, or BALANCE OF FORCES, which is thus seen to be A GENERAL CONDITION OF ALL AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE. The concept is familiar in pictorial composition and to some extent also in music and poetry, but here first appears as grounded in the very demand for the union of repose with activity.
Moreover, this requirement, which we have derived from the logical concepts of unity and totality, as translated into psychological terms, receives confirmation from the nature of organic life. It was the perfect moment that we sought, and we found it in the immediate experience of unity and self-completeness; and unity for a living being CAN only be equilibrium. Now it appears that an authoritative definition of the general nature of an organism makes it "so built, whether on mechanical principles or not, that every deviation from the equilibrium point sets up a tendency to return to it." Equilibrium, in greater or less excursions from the centre, is thus the ultimate nature of organic life. The perfect equilibrium, that is, equilibrium with heightened tone, will then give the perfect moment.
L.T. Hobhouse, Mind in Evolution.
The further steps of aesthetics are then toward analysis of the psychological effect of all the elements which enter into a work of art, with reference to their effect in producing stimulation or repose. What colors, forms, tones, emotions, ideas, favorably stimulate? What combinations of these bring to repose? All the modern studies in so-called physiological aesthetics, into the emotional and other—especially motor— effects of color, tone-sensation, melodic sequence, simple forms, etc., find here there proper place.
A further important question, as to the fitting psychological designation of the aesthetic state, is now suggested. Some authorities speak of the aesthetic attitude or activity, describing it as "sympathetic imitation" or "absorption;" others of the aesthetic pleasure. But, according to our definition of the aesthetic experience as a combination of favorable stimulation with repose, this state, as involving "a distinctive feeling-tone and a characteristic trend of activity aroused by a certain situation," can be no other than an emotion. This view is confirmed by introspection; we speak of aesthetic activity and aesthetic pleasure, but we are conscious of a complete arrest, and sometimes of a very distinct divergence from pure pleasure. The experience is unique, it seems to defy description, to be intense, vivid, and yet—like itself alone. Any attempt to disengage special, already known emotions, even at the play or in hearing music, is often in vain, in just those moments when our excitement is most intense. But the hypothesis of a unique emotion, parallel to those of joy, fear, etc., and with a psychological basis as outlined, would account for these facts. The positive toning of the experience—what we call aesthetic pleasure—is due not only to the favorable stimulation, but also to the fact that the very antagonism of impulses which constitutes repose heightens tone while it inhibits action. Thus the conditions of both factors of aesthetic emotion tend to induct pleasure.
Baldwin's Dict. Of Phil. And Psychol. Art. "Emotion."
It is, then, clear that no specific aesthetic pleasure need be sought. The very phrase, indeed, is a misnomer, since all pleasure is qualitatively the same, and differentiated only by the specific activities which it accompanies. It is also to be noted that those writers on aesthetics who have dwelt most on aesthetic pleasure have come in conclusion only to specific activities, like the "imitation" of Groos, for instance. In the light of the just-won definition of aesthetic emotion, it is interesting to examine some of the well-known modern aesthetic theories.
Lipps defines the aesthetic experience as a "thrill of sympathetic feeling," Groos as "sympathetic imitation," evidently assuming that pleasure accompanies this. But there are many feelings of sympathy, and joyful ones, which do not belong to the aesthetic realm. In the same way, not all "imitation" is accompanied by pleasure, and not all of that falls within the generally accepted aesthetic field. If these definitions were accepted as they stand, all our rejoicings with friends, all our inspiration from a healthy, magnetic presence must be included in it. It is clear that further limitation is necessary; but if to this sympathetic imitation, this living through in sympathy, we add the demand for repose, the necessary limitation is made. Physical exercise in general, or the instinctive imitation of energetic, or easy (in general FAVORABLE) movements, is pleasurable, indeed, but the experience is not aesthetic,—as is quite clear, indeed, to common sense,—and it is not aesthetic because it is the contradiction of repose. A particular case of the transformation of pleasurable physical exercise into an aesthetic activity is seen in the experience of symmetrical or balanced form; any moderate, smooth exercise of the eye is pleasurable, but this alone induces a state of the whole organism combining repose with stimulation.
The theories of Kulpe and Santayana, while they definitely mark out the ground, seem to me in need of addition. "Absorption in the object in respect to its bare quality and conformation" does not, of course, give the needed information, for objective beauty, of the character of this conformation or form. But yet, it might be said that the content of beauty might conceivably be deduced from the psychological conditions of absorption. In the same way, Santayana's "Beauty as objectified pleasure," or pleasure as the quality of a thing, is neither a determination of objective beauty nor a sufficient description of the psychological state. Yet analysis of those qualities in the thing that cause us to make our pleasure a quality of it would supplement the definition sufficiently and completely in the sense of our own formula. Why do we regard pleasure as the quality of a thing? Because there is something in the thing that makes us spread, as it were, our pleasure upon it. This is that which fixates us, arrests us, upon it,—which can be only the elements that make for repose.
Guyau, however, comes nearest to our point of view. "The beautiful is a perception or an action which stimulates life within us under its three forms simultaneously (i.e., sensibility, intelligence, and will) and produces pleasure by the swift consciousness of this general stimulation." It is from this general stimulation that Guyau explains the aesthetic effect of his famous drink of milk among mountain scenes. But such general stimulation might accompany successful action of any kind, and thus the moral and the aesthetic would fall together. That M. Guyau is so successful in his analysis is due rather to the fact that just this diffused stimulation is likely to come from such exercise as is characterized by the mutual checking of antagonistic impulses producing an equilibrium. The diffusion of stimulation would be our formula for the aesthetic state only if interpreted as stimulation arresting action.
Problemes de l'Esthetique Contemporaine 1902, p. 77.
The diffusion of stimulation, the equilibrium of impulses, life- enhancement through repose!—this is the aesthetic experience. But how, then, it will be asked, are we to interpret the temporal arts? A picture or a statue maybe understood through this formula, but hardly a drama or a symphony. If the form of the one is symmetry, hidden or not, would not the form of the other be represented by a straight line? That which has beginning, middle, and end is not static but dynamic.
Let us consider once more the concept of equilibrium. Inhibition of action through antagonistic impulses, or action returning upon itself, we have defined it; and the line cannot be drawn sharply between these types. The visual analogue for equilibrium may be either symmetrical figure or circle; the excursion from the centre may be either the swing of the pendulum or the sweep of the planet. The RETURN is the essential. Now it is a commonplace of criticism—though the significance of the dictum has never been sufficiently seen—that the great drama, novel, or symphony does return upon itself. The excursion is merely longer, of a different order of impulses from that of the picture. The last note is the only possible answer to the first; it contains the first. The last scene has meaning only as the satisfaction of the first. The measure of the perfection of a work of temporal art is thus its IMPLICIT character. The end is contained in the beginning—that is the meaning of "inevitableness."
That the constraining power of drama or symphony is just this sense of urgency, of compulsion, from one point to another, is but confirmation of this view. The temporal art tries ever to pass from first to last, which is first. It yearns for unity. The dynamic movement of the temporal arts is cyclic, which is ultimately static, of the nature of equilibrium. It is only in the wideness of the sweep that the dynamic repose of poetry and music differs from the static activity of picture and statue.
Thus the Nature of Beauty is in the relation of means to an end; the means, the possibilities of stimulation in the motor, visual, auditory, and purely ideal fields; the end, a moment of perfection, of self-complete unity of experience, of favorable stimulation with repose. Beauty is not perfection; but the beauty of an object lies in its permanent possibility of creating the perfect moment. The experience of this moment, the union of stimulation and repose, constitutes the unique aesthetic emotion.
III THE AESTHETIC REPOSE
III THE AESTHETIC REPOSE
THE popular interest in scientific truth has always had its hidden spring in a desire for the marvelous. The search for the philosopher's stone has done as much for chemistry as the legend of the elixir of life for exploration and geographical discovery. From the excitements of these suggestions of the occult, the world settled down into a reasonable understanding of the facts of which they were but the enlarged and grotesque shadows.
So it has been with physics and physiology, and so also, preeminently, with the science of mental life. Mesmerism, hypnotism, the facts of the alteration, the multiplicity, and the annihilation of personality have each brought us their moments of pleasurable terror, and passed thus into the field of general interest. But science can accept no broken chains. For all the thrill of mystery, we may not forget that the hypnotic state is but highly strung attention,—at the last turn of the screw,—and that the alternation of personality is after all no more than the highest power of variability of mood. In regard to the annihilation of the sense of personality, it may be said that no connection with daily experience is at first apparent. Scientists, as well as the world at large, have been inclined to look on the loss of the sense of personality as pathological; and yet it may be maintained that it is nevertheless the typical form of those experiences we ourselves regard as the most valuable.
The loss of personality! In that dread thought there lies, to most of us, all the sting of death and the victory of the grave. It seems, with such a fate in store, that immortality were futile, and life itself a mockery. Yet the idea, when dwelt upon, assumes an aspect of strange familiarity; it is an old friend, after all. Can we deny that all our sweetest hours are those of self-forgetfulness? The language of emotion, religious, aesthetic, intellectually creative, testifies clearly to the fading of the consciousness of self as feeling nears the white heat. Not only in the speechless, stark immobility of the pathological "case," but in all the stages of religious ecstasy, aesthetic pleasure, and creative inspiration, is to be traced what we know as the loss of the feeling of self. Bernard of Clairvaux dwells on "that ecstasy of deification in which the individual disappears in the eternal essence as the drop of water in a cask of wine." Says Meister Eckhart, "Thou shalt sink away from they selfhood, though shalt flow into His self- possession, the very thought of Thine shall melt into His Mine;" and St. Teresa, "The soul, in thus searching for its God, feels with a very lively and very sweet pleasure that is is fainting almost quiet away."
Still more striking is the language of aesthetic emotion. Philosopher and poet have but one expression for the universal experience. Says Keats in the "Ode to a Nightingale:"—
"My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains My sense as though of hemlock I had drunk, Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains One minute past, and Lethewards had sunk: 'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot, But being too happy in thy happiness."
And in Schopenhauer we read that he who contemplates the beautiful "forgets even his individuality, his will, and only continues to exist as the pure subject, the clear mirror of the object."
But not only the religious enthusiast and the worshiper of beauty "lose themselves" in ecstasy. The "fine frenzy" of the thinker is typical. From Archimedes, whose life paid the forfeit of his impersonal absorption; from Socrates, musing in one spot from dawn to dawn, to Newton and Goethe, there is but one form of the highest effort to penetrate and to create. Emerson is right in saying of the genius, "His greatness consists in the fullness in which an ecstatic state is realized in him."
The temporary evaporation of the consciousness of one's own Personality is then decidedly not a pathological experience. It seems the condition, indeed, and recognized as such in popular judgment, of the deepest feeling and the highest achievement. Perhaps it is the very assumption of this condition in our daily thoughts that has veiled the psychological problem it presents. We opine, easily enough, that great deeds are done in forgetfulness of self. But why should we forget ourselves in doing great deeds? Why not as well feel in every act its reverberation on the self,—the renewed assurance that it is I who can? Why not, in each aesthetic thrill, awake anew to the consciousness of myself as ruler in a realm of beauty? Why not, in the rush of intellectual production, glory that "my mind to me a kingdom is"? And yet the facts are otherwise: in proportion to the intensity and value of the experience is its approach to the objective, the impersonal, the ecstatic state. Then how explain this anomaly? Why should religious, aesthetic, and intellectual emotion be accompanied in varying degrees by the loss of self-consciousness? Why should the sense of personality play us so strange a trick as to vanish, at the moment of seemingly greatest power, in the very shadow of its own glory?
If now we put the most obvious question, and ask, in explanation of its escapades, what the true nature of this personality is, we shall find ourselves quite out of our reckoning on the vast sea of metaphysics. To know what personality IS, "root and all, and all in all," is to "know what God and man is." Fortunately, our problem is much more simple. It is not the personality, its reality, its meaning, that vanishes; no, nor even the psychological system of dispositions. We remain, in such a moment of ecstasy, as persons, what we were before. It is the FEELING of personality that has faded; and to find out in what this will-o'-the-wisp feeling of personality resides is a task wholly within the powers of psychological analysis. Let no one object that the depth and value of experience seem to disintegrate under the psychologist's microscope. The place of the full-orbed personality in a world of noble ends is not affected by the possibility that the centre of its conscious crystallization may be found in a single sensation.