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- The Principles Of Aesthetics - 3/50 -

moss and mushroom, so the student of aesthetics is commonly a lover of beauty. And, although the interest which he takes in aesthetic theory is largely just the pleasure in possessing clear ideas, one may question whether he would pursue it with such ardor except for the continual lover's touch with picture and statue and poem which it demands. For the intelligent lover of beauty, aesthetic theory requires no justification; it is as necessary and pleasurable for him to understand art as it is compulsive for him to seek out beautiful things to enjoy. To love without understanding is, to the thoughtful lover, an infidelity to his object. That the interest in aesthetic theory is partly rooted in feeling is shown from the fact that, when developed by artists, it takes the form of a defense of the type of art which they are producing. The aesthetic theory of the German Romanticists is an illustration of this; Hebbel and Wagner are other striking examples. These men could not rest until they had put into communicable and persuasive form the aesthetic values which they felt in creation. And we, too, who are not artists but only lovers of beauty, find in theory a satisfaction for a similar need with reference to our preferences.[Footnote: Compare Santayana: The Sense of Beauty, p. 11.]

More important to the average man is the help which aesthetic theory may render to appreciation itself. If to the basal interest in beauty be added an interest in understanding beauty, the former is quickened and fortified and the total measure of enjoyment increased. Even the love of beauty, strong as it commonly is, may well find support through connection with an equally powerful and enduring affection. The aesthetic interest is no exception to the general truth that each part of the mind gains in stability and intensity if connected with the others; isolated, it runs the risk of gradual decay in satiety or through the crowding out of other competing interests, which if joined with it, would have kept it alive instead. Moreover, the understanding of art may increase the appreciation of particular works of art. For the analysis and constant attention to the subtler details demanded by theory may bring to notice aspects of a work of art which do not exist for an unthinking appreciation. As a rule, the appreciations of the average man are very inadequate to the total possibilities offered, extending only to the more obvious features. Often enough besides, through a mere lack of understanding of the purpose of art in general and of the more special aims of the particular arts, people expect to find what cannot be given, and hence are prejudiced against what they might otherwise enjoy. The following pages will afford, I hope, abundant illustrations of this truth.

Finally, aesthetic theory may have a favorable influence upon the creation of art. Not that the student of aesthetics can prescribe to the artist what he shall or shall not do; for the latter can obey, for better or worse, only the inner imperative of his native genius. Yet, inevitably, the man of genius receives direction and cultivation from the aesthetic sentiment of the time into which he is born and grown; even when he reacts against it, he nevertheless feels its influence; a sound conception of the nature and purpose of art may save him from many mistakes. The French classical tradition in sculpture and painting, which is not merely academic, having become a part of public taste, prevented the production of the frightful crudities which passed for art in Germany and England during the present and past centuries. By helping to create a freer and more intelligent atmosphere for the artist to be born and educated in, and finer demands upon him when once he has begun to produce and is seeking recognition, the student of aesthetics may indirectly do not a little for him. And surely in our own country, where an educated public taste does not exist and the fiercest prejudices are rampant, there is abundant opportunity for service.



Since it is our purpose to develop an adequate idea of art, it might seem as if a definition were rather our goal than our starting point; yet we must identify the field of our investigations and mark it off from other regions; and this we can do only by means of a preliminary definition, which the rest of our study may then enrich and complete.

We shall find it fruitful to begin with the definition recently revived by Croce: [Footnote: Benedetto Croce: _Estetica_, translated into English by Douglas Ainslie, under title _Aesthetic_, chap. i.] art is expression; and expression we may describe, for our own ends, as the putting forth of purpose, feeling, or thought into a sensuous medium, where they can be experienced again by the one who expresses himself and communicated to others. Thus, in this sense, a lyric poem is an expression--a bit of a poet's intimate experience put into words; epic and dramatic poetry are expressions--visions of a larger life made manifest in the same medium. Pictures and statues are also expressions; for they are embodiments in color and space-forms of the artists' ideas of visible nature and man. Works of architecture and the other industrial arts are embodiments of purpose and the well-being that comes from purpose fulfilled.

This definition, good so far as it goes, is, however, too inclusive; for plainly, although every work of art is an expression, not every expression is a work of art. Automatic expressions, instinctive overflowings of emotion into motor channels, like the cry of pain or the shout of joy, are not aesthetic. Practical expressions also, all such as are only means or instruments for the realization of ulterior purposes--the command of the officer, the conversation of the market place, a saw--are not aesthetic. Works of art--the _Ninth Symphony_, the _Ode to the West Wind_--are not of this character.

No matter what further purposes artistic expressions may serve, they are produced and valued for themselves; we linger in them; we neither merely execute them mechanically, as we do automatic expressions, nor hasten through them, our minds fixed upon some future end to be gained by them, as is the case with practical expressions. Both for the artist and the appreciator, they are ends in themselves. Compare, for example, a love poem with a declaration of love.[Footnote: Contrast Croce's use of the same illustration: Esthetic, p. 22, English translation.] The poem is esteemed for the rhythmic emotional experience it gives the writer or reader; the declaration, even when enjoyed by the suitor, has its prime value in its consequences, and the quicker it is over and done with and its end attained the better. The one, since it has its purpose within itself, is returned to and repeated; the other, being chiefly a means to an end, would be senseless if repeated, once the end that called it forth is accomplished. The value of the love poem, although written to persuade a lady, cannot be measured in terms of its mere success; for if beautiful, it remains of worth after the lady has yielded, nay, even if it fails to win her. Any sort of practical purpose may be one motive in the creation of a work of art, but its significance is broader than the success or failure of that motive. The Russian novel is still significant, even now, alter the revolution. As beautiful, it is of perennial worth and stands out by itself. But practical expressions are only transient links in the endless chain of means, disappearing as the wheel of effort revolves. Art is indeed expression, but free or autonomous expression.

The freedom of aesthetic expression is, however, only an intensification of a quality that may belong to any expression. For, in its native character, expression is never merely practical; it brings its own reward in the pleasure of the activity itself. Ordinarily, when a man makes something embodying his need or fancy, or says something that expresses his meaning, he enjoys himself in his doing. There is naturally a generous superfluity in all human behavior. The economizing of it to what is necessary for self-preservation and dominion over the environment is secondary, not primary, imposed under the duress of competition and nature. Only when activities are difficult or their fruits hard to get are they disciplined for the sake of their results alone; then only does their performance become an imperative, and nature and society impose upon them the seriousness and constraint of necessity and law. But whenever nature and the social organization supply the needs of man ungrudgingly or grant him a respite from the urgency of business, the spontaneity of his activities returns. The doings of children, of the rich, and of all men on a holiday illustrate this. Compare, for example, the speech of trade, where one says the brief and needful thing only, with the talk of excursionists, where verbal expression, having no end beyond itself, develops at length and at leisure; where brevity is no virtue and abundant play takes the place of a narrow seriousness.

But we have not yet so limited the field of expression that it becomes equivalent to the aesthetic; for not even all of free expression is art. The most important divergent type is science. Science also is expression,--an embodiment in words, diagrams, mathematical symbols, chemical formula, or other such media, of thoughts meant to portray the objects of human experience. Scientific expressions have, of course, a practical function; concepts are "plans of action" or servants of plans, the most perfect and delicate that man possesses. Yet scientific knowledge is an end in itself as well as a utility; for the mere construction and possession of concepts and laws is itself a source of joy; the man of science delights in making appropriate formulations of nature's habits quite unconcerned about their possible uses.

In science, therefore, there is much free expression; but beauty not yet. No abstract expression such as Euclid's _Elements_, Newton's _Principia_, or Peano's _Formulaire_, no matter how rigorous and complete, is a work of art. We admire the mathematician's formula for its simplicity and adequacy; we take delight in its clarity and scope, in the ease with which it enables the mind to master a thousand more special truths, but we do not find it beautiful. Equally removed from the sphere of the beautiful are representations or descriptions of mere things, whether inaccurate or haphazard, as we make them in daily life, or accurate and careful as they are elaborated in the empirical sciences. No matter how exact and complete, the botanist's or zoologist's descriptions of plant and animal life are not works of art. They may be satisfactory as knowledge, but they are not beautiful. There is an important difference between a poet's description of a flower and a botanist's, or between an artistic sketch and a photograph, conferring beauty upon the former, and withholding it from the latter.

The central difference is this. The former are descriptions not of things only, but of the artist's reactions to things, his mood or emotion in their presence. They are expressions of total, concrete experiences, which include the self of the observer as well as the things he observes. Scientific descriptions, on the other hand, render objects only; the feelings of the observer toward them are carefully excluded. Science is intentionally objective,--from the point of view of the artistic temperament, dry and cold. Even the realistic novel and play, while seeking to present a faithful picture of human life and to eliminate all private comment and emotion, cannot dispense with the elementary dramatic feelings of sympathy, suspense, and wonder. sthetic expression is always integral, embodying a total state of mind, the core of which is some feeling; scientific expression is fragmentary or abstract, limiting itself to thought. Art, no less than science, may contain truthful images of things and abstract ideas, but never these alone; it always includes their life, their feeling tones, or values. Because philosophy admits this element of personality, it is nearer to art than science is. Yet some men of science, like James and Huxley, have made literature out of science because they could not

The Principles Of Aesthetics - 3/50

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