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- The Principles Of Aesthetics - 1/50 -






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





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

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