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- The Principles Of Aesthetics - 10/50 -


slight or no emotional intensity. There are people who would report that they feel no jollity when they see the "Laughing Cavalier," or anguish when they read the Ugolino Canto in the Inferno; yet such people often have a highly developed aesthetic taste. How can this difference be accounted for?

Starting with the emotional appreciation of art as primary, we can account for it in this wise. It is a familiar phenomenon in the mental life for a concept or idea of an emotional experience to take the place of that experience. What man has not rejoiced when the simple and cold judgment, "I suffered then," has come to supplant a recurring torment? Or who that has lived constantly with a sick person has not observed how, looking on the face of pain, inevitably the mere comment, "he is in distress," comes to supplant the liveliest sympathetic thrill? There are many reasons for this. The idea or judgment is a less taxing thing than an emotion, and so is substituted for it in the mind, which everywhere seeks economy of effort. The idea is also more efficient from a practical point of view, because it leads directly to action and does not divert and waste energy in diffused and useless movements. The physician simply recognizes the states of mind of his patients, he does not sympathize with them. Finally our own reactions to an objectified emotion may interfere with the emotion. If, for example, we see an angry man, our own fear of him may entirely supplant our sympathetic feeling of his anger. In general, in our dealings with our fellow men, we are too busy with our attitudes and plans with reference to them, and too much concerned with economizing our emotional energy, to get a sympathetic intuition of their inner life, and so are content with an intellectual recognition of it. Now this habit of substituting the more rapid and economical process of judgment for the longer and more taxing one of sympathy, is carried over into the world of art.

Nevertheless, the world of art is a region especially fitted for _einfuehlung._ For there the need for quick action, which in life tends to syncopate emotion, does not exist. The characteristic attitude of art is leisurely absorption in an object, giving time for all the possibilities of feeling or other experience to develop. Moreover, in art there is not the same saving need for the substitution of idea for feeling as in real life. For in art, feeling is not so strong as in life; even when the artist expresses his own personal experience, he lightens its emotional burden through expression, and we, when we make his experience ours, find a similar relief. The emotion is genuine, only weakened in intensity. In other cases, where the artist constructs a world of fictitious characters and events, our knowledge that they are not real suffices to diminish the intensity of the emotions aroused. For emotions have the practical function of inciting to action, and when action is impossible, as in the purely ideal world of the artist, they cannot keep their natural intensity. We cannot feel so strongly over the mere idea of an event as over a real event. Were it otherwise, who could stand the strain of _Hamlet_ or _Othello_?

Throughout this discussion of the elements of the experience of art, I have used the terms emotion and feeling with an inclusive meaning, to cover impulses as well as feelings in the narrower sense. For in the aesthetic experience, there are impulses--impulses to move when action is represented in picture and statue, impulses to act, as when, in watching a play, we put ourselves in the place of the persons. But such impulses are always checked through the realization that they come from sources unrelated to our purposes, and fail to get the reenforcement or consent of the total self necessary to action. In reading or singing the "Marseillaise," to cite an example from poetry, I experience all kinds of impulses--to shoulder a musket, to march, to kill--but no one of them is carried out. Now an inhibited impulse is scarcely distinguishable from an emotion. With few exceptions, the impulses in art do not issue in resolves, decisions, determinations to act; or, if they do, the determinations refer to acts to be executed in the future, in an experience distinct and remote from the sthetic--the "Marseillaise" has doubtless produced such resolutions in the minds of Frenchmen; and there is much art that is productive in that way, providing the "birth in beauty" of which Plato wrote. [Footnote: In the _Symposium_.] In art, impulses result in immediate action only when action is itself the medium of expression, as in the dance, where impulses to movement pass over into motion. Of course such actions still remain aesthetic since they serve no practical end and are valued for themselves.

If the question were raised, which is more fundamental in the aesthetic experience, idea or emotion? the answer would have to be, emotion. For there exists at least one great art where no explicit ideas are present, music, whereas art without emotion does not exist. Take away the emotional content from expression and you get either a mere play of sensations, like fireworks, or else pseudo-science, like the modern naturalistic play. However, the supreme importance of the idea in art cannot be denied. Every complex work of art, save music, is an expression of ideas as well as of feelings, and even in music there exists the tendency for feeling to seek definition in ideas--do we not say a musical idea? And do we not find the masters of so abstract an art as ornament employing their materials to represent symbolic conceptions? I wish to call the attention of the reader to certain very general considerations touching the nature and function of ideas in the aesthetic experience, leaving the study of the concrete problems to the more special chapters.

First, the relation of the idea to the sense medium of the expression. Here, I think, we find something comparable to the process of _einfuehlung_. For in art, ideas, like feelings, are objectified in sensation. Only sensations are given; out of the mind come ideas through which the former are interpreted and made into the semblance of things. Consider, for example, Rembrandt's "Night-Watch." A festal mood is there in the golds and reds, and gloom in the blacks; but there also are the men and drums and arms. If we wished to push the analogy with _einfuehlung_, we might coin a corresponding term--_einmeinung_, "inmeaning." In all the representative arts, this is a process of equal importance with infeeling; for the artist strives just as much to realize his ideas of objects in the sense material of his art as to put his moods there.

When, moreover, we consider that the expression of the more complex and definite emotions is dependent upon the expression of ideas of nature and human life, we see that the process is really a single one. Feeling is a function of ideas; if, then, we demand sincerity in the one, we must equally demand conviction in the other. The poet could not convey to us his pleasure at the sight of nature or his awe of death unless he could somehow bring us into their presence. The painter could not express the moods of sunlight or of shadow until he had invented a technique for their representation. Clear and confident seeing is a condition of feeling. Hence every advance in the imitation of nature is an advance in the power of expression. The demand for fidelity of representation, for "truth to nature," so insistently made by the common man in his criticism of art, is justified even from the point of view of expressionism.

Yet this fidelity of representation does not involve exact reproduction of nature. The limitations of the media of the arts definitely exclude this. No painter can reproduce on a canvas the infinite detail of any object or exactly imitate its colors and lines. In the single matter of brightness, for example, his medium is hopelessly inadequate; even the light of the moon is beyond his power, not to speak of the light of the sun; he has to substitute a relative for an absolute scale of values. The sculptor cannot reproduce the color or hair of the human body. However, this failure exactly to imitate nature does not prevent the artist from suggesting to us ideas of the objects in which he is interested. If the outline of the marble be that of a man, we get the idea of a man; if the color and shape be that of a tree, we get the idea of a tree. Our acceptance of these ideas is, of course, only partial; for we are equally susceptible to the negative suggestions of the whiteness of the marble and the smallness of the outline of the tree. Every work of art represents a sort of compromise between reality and unreality, belief and disbelief.

Nevertheless, despite this compromise, the purpose of art is uncompromisingly attained. For art does not seek to give us nature over again, but to express its feeling tones, and these are conveyed when we get an idea of the corresponding object, even if that idea is inadequate from a strictly scientific point of view. We do not react emotionally to the infinite detail of any object, but only to its presence as a whole and to certain salient features. The artist succeeds when he constructs a humanized image of the object--one which arouses and becomes a center for feeling. This image, when made of a few elements, may be far more telling than a much more accurate copy; for there is no diffusion of interest to irrelevant aspects. How effective a medium for expression are the few and simple lines of Beardsley's draftsmanship! The amount of detail necessary to convey an emotionally effective idea is relative to the technique of the different arts and varies also with the suggestibility and discrimination of the observer. Here no a priori principles can be laid down for what only the experimental practice of the artist can determine.

Moreover, the negative suggestions of a work of art, although they are effective in preventing entire belief in the reality of the idea expressed, do not hinder the communication and appreciation of the attached feelings. Just so long as the belief attitude is not wholly extinguished, this is the case; and the skillful artist takes care of that. Of course, an attitude of self-surrender, of willingness to accept suggestions, has to be present and we cooperate with the artist in creating it. Aesthetic belief implies sufficient abandon that we may react emotionally to a suggestion, but not enough that we may react practically. We let the idea tell upon our feelings; we do not let it incite us to action. The aesthetic plausibility of an idea depends largely upon its initial plausibility with the artist. There is nothing more contagious than belief. To utter things with an accent of conviction is half the battle in getting oneself believed. If the artist pretends to believe something and expresses himself with an air of assurance, we accept it, no matter how preposterous it may be from the practical or scientific point of view. Think of Rabelais!

A work of art is a logical system. It presupposes certain assumptions, postulates, conventions, which we must accept if we are to live in its world. Now, in order that we may accept them, the artist must first have vividly accepted them himself. Only if they have become a very part of him, can they become at all valid for us. The failure of classicistic art in a non-classical age, of "Pre-Raphaelitism" after Raphael, is a failure in this--the artist has never lived even imaginatively in the world he depicts. His belief is an artifice and a sham, and he cannot impose upon us with his pretense. But once we have accepted the artist's postulates, then we are prepared to follow him in his conclusions. In the Homeric world, we shall not balk at the intercourse between gods and men; in mediaeval painting and drama, we shall accept miracle; in _Alice in Wonderland_, we shall accept any dream-like enchantment. But we demand that the conclusions shall follow from the premises, that the whole be consistent. We cannot tolerate miracle in a realistic novel or drama, or glaring inaccuracy of fact in a historical novel, because they are in contradiction to the laws of reality tacitly assumed. The final demand which we make of any work, of art is that it live. What can be made to live for us may be beautiful to us. But nothing can draw our life into itself which has not drawn the artist's, or which is untrue to its own inner logic.

One of the most life-creating elements of a work of art is imagery. Everywhere in art the tendency exists for ideas to be filled out, rendered concrete and vivid, through images. In looking at a painting


The Principles Of Aesthetics - 10/50

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