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- The Principles Of Aesthetics - 5/50 -

they may further mean, they have the power to awaken feeling and pleasure. And this is no accident. For the aesthetic expression is meant to possess worth in itself and is deliberately fashioned to hold us to itself, and this purpose will be more certainly and effectively accomplished if the medium of the expression has the power to move and please. We enter the aesthetic expression through the sensuous medium; hence the artist tries to charm us at the start and on the outside; having found favor there, he wins us the more easily to the content lying within.

If the medium, moreover, instead of being a transparent embodiment of the artist's feelings, can express them in some direct fashion as well, the power of the whole expression will gain. This is exactly what the sound of the words of a poem or the colors and lines of a painting or statue can do. As mere sound and as mere color and line, they convey something of the feeling tone of the subject which, as symbols, they are used to represent. For example, the soft flowing lines of Correggio, quite apart from the objects they represent, express the voluptuous happiness of his "Venus and Mars"; the slow rhythm of the repeated word sounds and the quality of the vowels in the opening lines of _Tithonus_ are expressive in themselves, apart from their meaning, of the weariness in the thoughts of the hero, and so serve to re-express and enforce the mood of those thoughts. When we come to study the particular arts, we shall find this phenomenon of re-expression through the medium everywhere.

A second characteristic distinguishing aesthetic expressions from other expressions is their superior unity. In the latter, the unity lies in the purpose to be attained or in the content of the thought expressed; it is teleological or logical. The unity of a chair is its purpose, which demands just such parts and in just such a mechanical arrangement; the unity of a business conversation is governed by the bargain to be closed, requiring such words and such only, and in the appropriate logical and grammatical order. The unity of an argument is the thesis to be proved; the unity of a diagram is the principle to be illustrated or the information to be imparted. Compare the unity of a sonnet or a painting. In a sonnet, there is a unity of thought and sentiment creating a fitting grammatical unity in language, but in addition a highly elaborate pattern in the words themselves that is neither grammatical nor logical. In a painting, besides the dramatic unity of the action portrayed, as in a battle scene; or of the spatial and mechanical togetherness of things, as in a landscape; there is a harmony of the colors, a composition of the lines and masses themselves, not to be found in nature. And, although the general shape and arrangement of the parts of a useful object is dominated by its purpose, if it is also beautiful--a Louis Seize chair, for example--there is, besides, a design that cannot be explained by use. In artistic expressions, therefore, there exists a unity in the material, superposed upon the unity required by the purpose or thought expressed. And this property follows from the preceding. For, since the medium is valuable in itself, the mind, which craves unity everywhere, craves it there also, and lingers longer and more happily on finding it; and, since the medium can be expressive, the unity of the fundamental mood of the thought expressed will overflow into and pervade it. Hence there occurs an autonomous development of unity in the material, raising the total unity of the expression to a higher power.



Our definition of art can be complete only if it enables us to understand the value of art. The reader may well ask what possible value expression can have when it becomes an end in itself. "I can understand," he may say, "the value of expression for the sake of communication and influence, but what value can it have of itself?" At this point, moreover, we are concerned with the intrinsic value immediately realized in the experience of art, not with further values that may result from it. Art, no less than practical expression, may have effects on other experiences, which have to be considered in measuring its total worth; but these we shall leave for investigation in our last chapters, after we have reached our fullest comprehension of art; we are interested now, in order to test and complete our definition, in the resident value only. As a help toward reaching a satisfactory view, let us examine critically some of the chief theories in the field. First, the theory, often called "hedonistic," that the value of art consists in the satisfactions of sense which the media of aesthetic expression afford--the delight in color and sound and rhythmical movement of line and form. The theory finds support in the industrial arts, where beauty often seems to be only a luxurious charm supervening upon utility; but also in painting and sculpture when appreciated in their decorative capacity as "things of beauty." There is a partial truth in this theory; for, as we have seen, the sensuous media of all the arts tend to be developed in the direction of pleasure; and no man who lacks feeling for purely sensuous values can enter into the fullness of the aesthetic experience. But the theory fails in not recognizing the expressive function of sensation in art. As Goethe said, art was long formative, that is, expressive, before it was beautiful, in the narrow sense of charming.[Footnote: "Die kunst is lange bildend eh sie schon ist." _Von Deutscher Baukunst_, 1773.] In order to be beautiful, it is not enough for a work of art to offer us delightful colors and lines and sounds; it must also have a meaning--it must speak to us, tell us something.

The second theory which I shall examine is the moralistic or Platonic. According to this, art is an image of the good, and has value in so far as through expression it enables us to experience edifying emotions or to contemplate noble objects. The high beauty of the "Sistine Madonna," for example, would be explained as identical with the worth of the religious feelings which it causes in the mind of the beholder. The advantage of art over life is supposed to consist in its power to create in the imagination better and more inspiring objects than life can offer, and to free and control the contemplation of them. This is the narrower interpretation of the theory. When the notion of the good is liberalized so as to include innocent happiness as well as the strictly ethical and religious values, beauty is conceded to belong to pictures of fair women and children, and to lyrics and romances, provided there is nothing in them to shock the moral sense. Aesthetic value is the reflection--the imaginative equivalent--of moral or practical value.

The prime difficulty of this theory is its inadequacy as an interpretation of the whole of actual art; for, in order to find support among existing examples, it is compelled to make an arbitrary selection of such as can be made to fit it. Actual art is quite as much an image of evil as of good; there is nothing devilish which it has not represented. And this part of art is often of the highest aesthetic merit. Velasquez's pictures of dwarfs and degenerate princes are as artistic as Raphael's Madonnas; Goethe's Mephistopheles is one of his supreme artistic achievements; Shakespeare is as successful artistically in his delineation of Lady Macbeth as of Desdemona. Now for us who claim that the purpose of art must be divined from the actual practice of artists, from the inside, and should not be an arbitrary construction, from the outside, the existence of such examples is sufficient to refute the theory in question. If the artist finds a value in the representation of evil, value exists there and can be discovered.

If, indeed, the sole effect of artistic expression were to bring to the mind objects and emotions in the same fashion that ordinary life does, then the value of art, the image of life, would be a function of the value of the life imaged. And just as one seeks contact with the good in real life and avoids the evil, so one would seek in art imaginative contact with the good alone. But expression, and above all artistic expression, does something more than present objects to the imagination and arouse emotions. Art is not life over again, a mere shadow of life; if it were, what would be its unique value? who would not prefer the substance to the shadow? The expression of life is not life itself; hence, even if the evil in life be always evil, the expression of it may still be a good.

Another theory, often called the "intellectualistic" theory, claims that the purpose of art is truth. "Beauty is truth; truth, beauty." The immediate pleasure which we feel in the beautiful is the same as the instant delight in the apprehension of truth. There is no difference in purpose or value between science and art, but only a difference in method--science presents truth in the form of the abstract judgment; art, in the form of the concrete image or example.

The difficulty with this theory is the uncertainty as to what is meant by truth; hence the many shapes it assumes. But before going deeply into this question, let us consider some of the simple facts which seem to tell for and against the theory. There can be no doubt that many examples of the representative arts--painting, sculpture, novel, and drama--are praised for their truth. We demand truth of coloring or line in painting, of form in sculpture, of character and social relation in the drama or novel. On the other hand, we admit aesthetic value to fanciful painting and literature, and to expressions of beliefs which no one accepts at the present time. We appreciate the beauty of Dante's descriptions of the Inferno and of the conversations between him and its inhabitants without believing them to be reports of fact. No one values the _Blue Bird_ the less because it is not an account of an actual occurrence. Even with regard to the realistic novel and drama, no one thinks of holding them to the standards of historical or scientific accuracy. And, although we may demand of a landscape painting plausibility of color and line, we certainly do not require that it be a representation of any identifiable scene.

If by truth, therefore, be meant a description or image of matters of fact, then surely it is not the purpose of art to give us this truth. The artist, to be sure, may give this, as when the landscapist paints some locality dear to his client or the portraitist paints the client himself; but he does not need to do this, and the aesthetic value of his work is independent of it; for the picture possesses its beauty even when we know nothing of its model. In the language of current philosophy, truth in the sense of the correspondence of a portrayal to an object external to the portrayal, is not "artistic truth."

The partisans of the intellectualistic theory would, of course, deny that they ever meant truth with this meaning. "We mean by truth," they would say, "an embodiment in sensuous or imaginative form of some universal principle of nature and life. The image may be entirely fictitious or fanciful, but so long as the principle is illustrated, essential truth, and that is beauty, is attained." But if this were so, every work of art would be the statement of a universal truth, as indeed philosophical adherents of this theory have always maintained--witness Hegel. Yet what is the universal truth asserted in one of Monet's pictures of a lily pond? There is, of course, an observance of the general laws of color and space, but does the beauty of the picture consist in that? Does it not attach to the representation of the concrete, individual pond? I do not mean that there may not be beauty in the expression of universals; in fact, I have explicitly maintained that there may, under certain conditions; I am simply insisting that beauty may belong to expressions of the individual also, and that you cannot reduce these to mere illustrations of universal ideas. Because of its completeness and internal harmony, the philosopher

The Principles Of Aesthetics - 5/50

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