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- The Principles Of Aesthetics - 20/50 -


temperament, in favor of the old and familiar in art; or, following a different bent, in favor of the new and startling. In such cases, a just estimate can be made only when the new becomes the old, and both are reduced to a common level.

Another type of pseudo-aesthetic judgment is the imitative. By this I mean the judgment which is made because somebody else has made it, particularly somebody in authority. The imitative judgment is the expression, in the field of aesthetics, of what Trotter has called "herd instinct," [Footnote: See his _The Herd Instinct in Peace and War_, first part.] the tendency on the part of the gregarious animal to make his acts and habits conform to those of another member of the same group, particularly if that member is a leader or represents the majority. The dislike of loneliness and the love of companionship operate, as we have already had occasion to notice, even in the sphere of the spirit. Differences here separate people just as other differences do. In art, herd instinct tends to make the judgment of the authoritative or fashionable critic take the place of spontaneous and sincere judgment. I do not mean that such judgments are usually consciously insincere; although they often are so, since men seek to ingratiate themselves by flattering even the aesthetic opinions of those whose love or protection they desire. I do mean, however, that they tend to suppress opinions which would reflect an autonomous appreciation. Moreover, whatever may be said for herd-instinct in the realm of politics and morals, where the need for common action makes necessary some sort of consensus among the members of a group, very little can be said for it in aesthetics, where no practical issues are directly involved. There, herd instinct simply substitutes sham appreciation for a vital and healthy reaction. Of course, imitative judgments must be distinguished from those that agree because they are based on a genuine contagion or community of feeling. This distinction may be a difficult one for the outsider to make; but is not so for the individual concerned. I do not deny the value of authority in aesthetics; what I am inveighing against is the substitution of authority for sincerity. In art, the suasion of the norm should be absolutely free, with no penalty except isolation from the best. The only value of authority is to counteract laziness and superficiality of appreciation; to stimulate those who would rest content with first impressions to a more studious and attentive examination. Yet, however great be our natural desire to convince others of beauty, we want their conviction to be as sincere as our own: we do not want it to be factitious,--suggested or dragooned. It is often too easy, rather than too hard, to win agreement.

The question of the place of authority in aesthetics is raised again by a consideration of another class of pseudo-aesthetic judgments, which I shall call ignorant judgments. These judgments are perfectly sincere, but express an aesthetic experience that is imperfect, owing to defective understanding of art. So many people judge works of art as if they could assimilate them immediately, without any knowledge of their purpose and technique. They fail to recognize that a work of art has a language, with a vocabulary and grammar, which has to be mastered through study. A work of art is a possibility of a certain complex of values, not a given actuality that can be grasped by merely stretching out the hand. Very little of any work of art is given--just a few sense stimuli; the rest is an emotional and meaningful reaction, which has to be completed in a determinate fashion. A work of art is a question to which the right answer has to be found. And in order to find the answer, it is necessary to know both what to look for and what not to look for. For example, in judging Japanese prints, one must realize, from the limitation of the medium, that one cannot look for all the fullness of expression of shadow and atmosphere possible in an oil painting; or in judging decorative or post-impressionistic painting, one must realize that the purpose of the artist is chiefly to obtain musical effects from color and line, not to represent nature realistically.

Because works of art are ideals, possibilities of experience, and not given things which everybody can appreciate without knowledge and effort, I am skeptical of all results obtained in laboratories of experimental aesthetics, where college students are asked to judge works of painting, music, and sculpture. An uninstructed majority vote cannot decide any question in aesthetics. Such experiments, with the exception of those that concern the most elementary reactions, yield interesting statistical results about the groups employed as subjects, but are of no value in aesthetics. And what wonder that we should find people disagreeing in their judgments when, because of ignorance, they are not reporting about the same objects!

Finally, an aesthetic consensus is possible only if non-aesthetic standards and all judgments based on false conceptions of the purpose of art are eliminated. Some of these judgments I have already discussed--the scientific and the moralistic. The purpose of art is sympathetic vision, not scientific truth or edification. It is often necessary, in order to win a vision of actual life, for the artist to possess scientific knowledge; but only as a means, not as an end. And again, insight into the more enduring preferences of men and the conditions of their happiness, upon which rational moral standards are founded, is indispensable to a complete interpretation of life; but there is much of life that can be envisaged sympathetically, that is, artistically and beautifully, with small hold on ethical wisdom. No one, I suppose, would regard de Maupassant as a wise man in the Greek sense of possessing a philosophical grasp of the norms which make up the conscience of men, yet few would deny him the supreme gift of delineating the pathos and comedy of passion. I do not doubt that men will always judge works of art from abstract standpoints; that to-day they will judge them from the points of view of science and morals, since we are so dominated by their sway; but I do claim that these standards are not aesthetic, and that so long as they control our estimates of art, there can never be anything except chaos in taste; for they will always come into conflict with the genuinely aesthetic point of view. And, I ask, why not grant to art its autonomy? If art has a unique purpose, different from that of science or morals, why should we not judge it in terms of that purpose?

Of course, since man's nature is one, not many, it will always be impossible entirely to get rid of the non-aesthetic bases of judgment. Personal predilection for a certain kind of subject-matter, patriotic preference for one's own language and style, the influence of authority and the lure of the crowd, the intrusion of the moralistic and the scientific bias,--all these must, to a greater or less degree, divide and dispute the hegemony of taste. Nevertheless, although it is impossible to reach a pure aesthetic judgment, we ought to strive to approach it, and, by dint of training and clear thinking about art, we can approach it. We ought to do this, not because of any formalism or purism, but for the sake of preserving the unique value of art, which is covered up or destroyed by the intrusion of non-aesthetic standards of judgment. For judgment does influence feeling, especially such a delicate and subtle thing as aesthetic feeling. The patriotic and the partisan judgments narrow appreciation, the imitative substitute a judgment for a feeling, the moralistic and scientific prejudices often inhibit the possibility of the aesthetic reaction at the start, or, if they allow it to begin, prevent the full sympathy and abandon which are required for its consummation. We can get scientific truth from science, why then seek it in art? We can obtain moral wisdom from the philosopher and priest, why require it of the artist? Reformers and statesmen will enlighten us concerning reconstruction, why not turn to them? I do not mean, of course, that art may not express the mystery and the wonder of science, the voice of conscience, the cry of distress; but even this is not science, or sociology, or morals; and art must and should also express dark passion, hot hate or love, and joy--in the sea, in sunlight, in the shadow of leaves on the grass, in the bodies of men and women--and the other myriad forms of human life and nature that are neither right nor true, but simply are. And furthermore: the tyranny of the scientific and the moral is the death of art. Art can live only when free. So long as men are subject to the exclusive habit of condemning and praising and analyzing and classifying, they are incapable of a free envisagement and expression. Between sociology and Puritanism, the artistic novel and the drama have become all but impossible in this country. During the nineteenth century, the predilection, among the Pre-Raphaelites, for the scientific and moral nearly killed landscape painting in England, its birthplace. And only in France, where alone of modern nations the moral and hygienic attitude towards the human body has not completely driven out the artistic, has there been a vital and enduring sculpture.

If the aesthetic judgment is given autonomy, a sure foundation for aesthetic norms can be established, because then art will be judged with reference to a perfectly definite purpose. Feeling will always tell us whether a thing is beautiful or not; but feeling itself will depend upon whether the implicit purpose of art has been realized; and, when we reflectively consider a work in relation to other works, we shall have a solid basis for comparison. Judgment will have a foundation in reason as well as in feeling. We shall ask of the artist, not whether he has instructed us or edified us, but solely whether he has given us a new and sympathetic vision of some part of our experience. The kind of vision that he gives us will depend, of course, upon the materials of his art--it will be one thing in sound, another in color or line or patterned words. Even as we demand of art in general a unique value, as fulfilling a unique function, so we shall demand of the different arts that each provide us with the unique beauty which its materials can create. We shall therefore commend the separation of the arts and view with suspicion any attempt to fuse them. Whatever be his materials, we shall demand of the artist always the same result: that he make us see, and command our sympathy and delight for his vision. Any judgment that we make, or any standard that we set up, must proceed upon a knowledge of this master purpose and of the materials and technique of the particular art through which it is to be realized. And such standards, experimental and tentative, but nevertheless potent and directive, are capable of discovery and formulation. Some of the larger and more important of these we shall try to set forth in our chapters on the special arts. An artist who works within these standards is sure to produce something beautiful; one who breaks them will fail or, rarely, find some hitherto undiscovered, surprising beauty in the medium.

There still remains for consideration the fear lest the recognition of standards may discourage new experiments and so interfere with the creative impulse. It is true that tragedies have occurred when criticism has been unsympathetic and malicious--remember Keats and the struggles of the early French impressionistic painters--but even then I doubt if any real harm to art has resulted. For the situation in aesthetics differs from the situation in ethics and politics where the retarding effect of convention is undeniable. In art there can never be the same closeness of alliance between convention and vested interests that is so repressive a force in the "world." It is probably true indeed that, as Plato said, "when the modes of music change, so do constitutions change"; for example, there is doubtless to-day some connection between imagist poetry, post-impressionistic painting, Russian music, and revolutionary sentiment--witness, in our own country, _The Masses_ and _The Seven Arts_--but the link is too delicate to alarm the powers that be. The upholding of a standard must be allied with material interests if it is to be repressive of creation and novelty. But, as a free force, operating solely by influence, the standard has the effect only of keeping alive the love of excellence, and, by providing some stability in the old, creating that contrast between the new and the old, so stimulating to the new itself. For the impulse to originate operates best alongside of and in opposition to the desire to conserve. France has been the great originator in the plastic arts during recent times; but it has also been the only country where a genuine traditional


The Principles Of Aesthetics - 20/50

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