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- The Principles Of Aesthetics - 40/50 -

The more sensitive we are to the beauty of the body and of the mind, so far as manifest through the body, the better content we shall be with normal sculpture and the less urgently we shall demand symbolism. Of course all statues may become symbolic, as all works of art may, in the sense of possessing a universal meaning won by generalizing their individual significance. Symbolic in this legitimate way were the statues of the Greek gods; thus Aphrodite, who was lovely, became Love, and Athena, who was wise, became Wisdom. But there is nothing arbitrary in such symbolism.



In the arts which we have studied so far, beauty has been the sole or chief end; in the industrial arts, beauty can be only a part of their total meaning. No matter how much of an artist a builder or a potter may be, he is necessarily controlled by the practical needs which houses and pots subserve. This was the original condition of all artists; for "in the beginning," before life's various aims were distinguished and pursued in isolation, the beautiful was always married to some other interest. Our method of study has, therefore, reversed the temporal order; but with intent, for we believe that the nature of a thing is better revealed in its final than in its rudimentary form. To complete our survey of the arts, we must, however, give some consideration to those works in which the unity of the useful and the beautiful is still preserved; and as an example we have chosen architecture, the most magnificent of them all.

First, we must clear up what might seem to be an inconsistency in our thinking. In our definition of art we insisted upon the freedom of beauty and the contrast between the aesthetic and the practical attitudes, yet now we are admitting that some things may be at once useful and beautiful. It would seem as if we must either modify our definition of art or else deny beauty to such objects as bridges and buildings. But we cannot do the latter, for the beauty of Brooklyn bridge or Notre Dame in Paris is a matter of direct feeling, which no theory can disestablish. And it is impossible to solve the problem by supposing that in the industrial arts beauty and utility are extraneous to each other, two separable aspects, which have no intimate connection. For the fact that a bridge spans a river or that a church is a place of worship is an element in its beauty. The aesthetic meaning of the object depends upon the practical meaning. You cannot reduce the beauty of a bridge or a cathedral to such factors as mere size and fine proportions, without relation to function. No preconceived idea of the purity of beauty can undermine our intuition of the beauty of utility.

Yet the dependence of beauty upon utility in the industrial arts is not at variance with the freedom from practical attitudes which we have claimed for it. For the beauty is still in the realm of perception, of contemplation, not of use. It is a pleasure in seeing how the purpose is expressed in the form and material of the object, not a pleasure in the possession of the object or an enjoyment of its benefits. I may take pleasure in the vision of purpose well embodied in an object which another man possesses, and my admiration will be as disinterested as my appreciation of a statue. And even if I do make use of the object, I may still get an aesthetic experience out of it, whenever I pause and survey it, delighting in it as an adequate expression of its purpose and my own joy in using it. Then beauty supervenes upon mere utility, and a value for contemplation grows out of and, for the moment, supplants a value in use. I now take delight in the perception of an object when formerly I took delight only in its use; I now enjoy the expression of purpose for its present perceived perfection, when once I enjoyed it only for its ulterior results. Such intervals of restful contemplation interrupt the activity of every thoughtful maker or user of tools. Thus the practical life may enter into the aesthetic, and that which grows out of exigence may develop into freedom.

There is one more objection which may be urged against the aesthetic character of the expression of practical purpose, namely, that the appreciation of it is an affair of intellect, not of feeling. This would indeed be fatal if it were necessarily true; but all men who love their work know that they put into admiration for their tools as much of warm emotion as of mind. There remains, however, the genuine difficulty of communicating this emotional perception of useful objects, of making it universal. It must be admitted that the attitude of the average beholder towards a useful object is usually practical, not contemplative, or else purely intellectual, an effort to understand its structure, with the idea of eventual use. Most works of industrial art produce no aesthetic experience whatever. But to be a genuine and complete work of fine art, an object must be so made that it will immediately impel the spectator to regard it aesthetically.

From what we have already established, we know how this requirement can be met: by elaborating the outer aspects of the object in the direction of pleasure and expression. By this means the beauty of mere appearance will strike and occupy the mind, inducing the aesthetic attitude towards the outside, from which it may then spread and embrace the inner, purposive meaning. The obviously disinterested and warmly emotional admiration of the shape will prevent the admiration for the purposive adaptation from being cold and abstract. Hence, although from the point of view of utility the beauty of mere appearance may seem to be a superfluity, it is almost indispensable from an aesthetic point of view, since it raises the appreciation of the purpose to the aesthetic plane. And we can understand how enthusiastic workmen, whose admiration for their work is already aesthetic, must necessarily desire to consecrate and communicate this feeling by beautifying the appearance of their products; how inevitably, through the ages, they have made things not only as perfect as they could, but as charming.

When developed for the ends of the aesthetic life, the useful object exhibits, therefore, two levels of beauty: first, that of appearance, of form and sensation, line and shape and color; and second, that of purpose spoken in the form. The first is of the vague and immediate character so well known to us; the second is more definite and less direct, since it depends upon the interpretation of the object in terms of its function. The relation between the two is like that which obtains, in a painting, between color and line, on the one hand, and representation, on the other. When the first level of beauty is richly developed on its own account, it becomes ornament. In a Greek vase, for example, there is a beauty of symmetrical, well-proportioned shape, delicate coloring of surface, and decorative painting, which might be felt by people who knew nothing of its use; and, in addition, for those who have this knowledge, a beauty in the fine balance of parts in the adjustment of clay to its final cause. These factors, which we have distinguished by analysis, should, however, be felt as one in the aesthetic intuition of the object; the form, although beautiful in itself, should reveal the function, and the decoration, no matter how charming, should be appropriate and subordinate. Otherwise, as indeed so often happens, the beauty of one aspect may completely dominate the others; when the object either remains a pretty ornament perhaps, but is functionally dead; or else, if it keep this life, loses its unity in a rivalry of beautiful aspects.

All these points are strikingly illustrated in architecture. The architects claim that their art is a liberal one aiming at beauty, yet most buildings to-day are objects of practical interest alone. Their doors are merely for entrance, their windows for admission of light, their walls for inclosure. Few people, as they hurry in or out of an office building or a railway station, stay to contemplate the majesty of the height or the elegance of the facade; they transact their business, buy their tickets, check their luggage, and go. Even when the building has some claim to beauty, the mood of commercial life stifles observation; or, if the building is observed, there is no strong emotion or vivid play of imagination, no permanent impression of beauty lingering in the memory, no enrichment of the inner life, such as a musical air or a poem affords, but only a transient and fruitless recognition. For this reason many have thought that buildings must become useless, as castles and ruined temples are, in order to be beautiful. Yet, in proportion as this is true, it involves a failure on the part of architecture, a failure to make the useful a part of the beautiful. A building, which was designed to be a habitation of man, when taken apart from the life which it was meant to shelter and sustain, is an abstraction or a vain ornament at best. If the company which peopled it are gone, it can win significance only if we re-create them in the imagination, moving in the halls or worshiping at the altars. We cannot get rid of the practical for the sake of the aesthetic, but must take up the practical into the aesthetic. For this reason architecture has achieved its greatest successes where its uses have been most largely and freely emotional, most closely akin to the brooding spirit of beauty--in religious buildings.

Most buildings, it must be admitted, are not beautiful at all. In order to be beautiful, they should be alive, and alive all over, as a piece of sculpture is alive; there should be no unresponsive surfaces or details; but most of our buildings are dead--dead walls, dead lines, oblong boxes, neat and commodious, but dead. The practical problems which the architect has to solve are so complex and difficult, and the materials which he uses are so refractory, that there is inevitably a sacrifice of the beauty of appearance to utility. The very size of a building makes it aesthetically unmanageable all over. Here the lesser industrial arts, like the goldsmith's, have an advantage in the superior control which the workman can exert over his materials; his work is that of a single mind and hand; it does not require, as architecture does, the cooperation of a crowd of unfeeling artisans. In architecture, mechanical necessities and forms threaten to supplant aesthetic principles and shapes. The heavy square blocks, the rectangular lines, seem the antithesis of life and beauty. "All warmth, all movement, all love is round, or at least oval.... Only the cold, immovable, indifferent, and hateful is straight and square.... Life is round, and death is angular." [Footnote: Ellen Key, _The Few and the Many_, translated from a quotation in Max Dessoir, _Aesthetik und Allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft_, page 396.] What vividness of imagination or sentiment can transmute these dead and hollow masses into a life universally felt?

And yet, in a series of works of art among the most magnificent that man possesses, this miracle was achieved. The Greek temples and Gothic cathedrals are so much alive that they seem not to have been made with hands, but to have grown. The straight lines have been modified into delicate curves, the angles have given place to arches, the stiff and mathematical have been molten into movement and surprise, the heaviness has been so nicely balanced or overcome that it has been changed into lightness, with the help of human and animal sculpture and floral carving the inorganic has been transformed into the organic, by means of painting and stained glass even the dull surfaces of walls and windows have been made to glow into life. Artists wrought each portion and detail, and built the whole for the glory of God and the city, a monument for quiet contemplation, not a mere article to be used. With few exceptions, any architectural beauty that we create is but a feeble echo of theirs. Some day we may be able to produce something worthy to be placed by its side, but only when we have sanctified our life with communal aims. The aesthetic effect of a building depends upon many factors, of which only a few can be analyzed by us in this short chapter. If we abstract from its relation to purpose, architecture is

The Principles Of Aesthetics - 40/50

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