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- The Psychology of Beauty - 4/36 -


which his work has the property of exciting in us?" And to what does he finally come? "The peculiar character of Botticelli is the result of a blending in him of a sympathy for humanity in its uncertain conditions...with his consciousness of the shadow upon it of the great things from which it sinks." But this is not aesthetic analysis! It is not even the record of a "peculiar sensation," but a complex intellectual interpretation. Where is the pleasure in the irrepressible outline, fascinating in its falseness,--in the strange color, like the taste of olives, of the Spring and the Pallas? So, also, his great passage on the Mona Lisa, his "Winckelmann," even his "Giorgione" itself, are merely wonderful delineations of the mood of response to the creations of the art in question. Such interpretation as we have from Pater is a priceless treasure, but it is none the less the final cornice, and not the corner stone of aesthetic criticism.

The tendency to interpretation without any basis in aesthetic explanation is especially seen in the subject of our original discussion,--literature. It is indeed remarkable how scanty is the space given in contemporary criticism to the study of an author's means to those results which we ourselves experience. Does no one really care how it is done? Or are they all in the secret, and interested only in the temperament expressed or the aspect of life envisaged in a given work? One would have thought that as the painter turned critic in Fromentin at least to a certain extent sought out and dealt with the hidden workings of his art, so the romancer or the poet-critic might also have told off for us "the very pulse of the machine." The last word has not been said on the mysteries of the writer's art. We know, it may be, how the links of Shakespeare's magic chain of words are forged, but the same cannot be said of any other poet. We have studied Dante's philosophy and his ideal of love; but have we found out the secrets of his "inventive handling of rhythmical language"? If Flaubert is univerally acknowledged to have created a masterpiece in "Madame Bovary," should there not be an interest for criticism in following out, chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, word by word, the meaning of what it is to be a masterpiece? But such seems not to be the case. Taine reconstructs the English temperament out of Fielding and Dickens; Matthew Arnold, although he deals more than others in first principles, never carries his analysis beyond the widest generalizations, like the requirement for "profound truth" and "high seriousness," for great poetry. And as we run the gamut of contemporary criticism, we find ever preoccupation with the personality of the writers and the ideas of their books. I recall only one example--the critical essays of Henry James--where the craftsman has dropped some hints on the ideals of the literary art; and even that, if I maybe allowed the bull, in his novels rather than in his essays, for in critical theory he is the most ardent of impressionists. Whatever the cause, we cannot but allow the dearth of knowledge of, and interest in, the peculiar subject-matter of criticism,-- the elements of beauty in a work of literature.

But although the present body of criticism consists rather of preliminaries and supplements to what should be its real accomplishment, these should not therefore receive the less regard. The impressionist has set himself a definite task, and he has succeeded. If not the true critic, he is an artist in his own right, and he has something to say to the world. The scientific critic has taken all knowledge for his province; and although we hold that it has rushed in upon and swamped his distinctly critical function, so long as we may call him by his other name of natural historian of literature, we can only acknowledge his great achievements. For the appreciative critic we have less sympathy as yet, but the "development of the luxurious intricacy and the manifold implications of our enjoyment" may fully crown the edifice of aesthetic explanation and appraisal of the art of every age. But all these, we feel, do not fulfill the essential function; the Idea of Criticism is not here. What the idea of criticism is we have tried to work out: a judgment of a work of art on the basis of the laws of beauty. That such laws there are, that they exist directly in the relation between the material form and the suggested physical reactions, and that they are practically changeless, even as the human instincts are changeless, we have sought to show. And if there can be a science of the beautiful, then an objective judgment on the basis of the laws of the beautiful can be rendered. The true end of criticism, therefore, is to tell us whence and why the charm of a work of art: to disengage, to explain, to measure, and to certify it. And this explanation of charm, and this stamping it with the seal of approval, is possible by the help, and only by the help, of the science of aesthetics,--a science now only in its beginning, but greatly to be desired in its full development.

How greatly to be desired we realize in divining that the present dearth of constructive and destructive criticism, of all, indeed, except interpretations and reports, is responsible for the modern mountains of machine-made literature. Will not the aesthetic critic be for us a new Hercules, to clear away the ever growing heap of formless things in book covers? If he will teach us only what great art means in literature; if he will give us never so little discussion of the first principles of beauty, and point the moral with some "selling books," he will at least have turned the flood. There are stories nowadays, but few novels, and plenty of spectacles, but no plays; and how should we know the difference, never having heard what a novel ought to be? But let the aesthetic critic give us a firm foundation for criticism, a real understanding of the conditions of literary art; let him teach us to know a novel or a play when we see it, and we shall not always mingle the wheat and the chaff.

II THE NATURE OF BEAUTY

II THE NATURE OF BEAUTY

EVERY introduction to the problems of aesthetics begins by acknowledging the existence and claims of two methods of attack,--the general, philosophical, deductive, which starts from a complete metaphysics and installs beauty in its place among the other great concepts; and the empirical, or inductive, which seeks to disengage a general principle of beauty from the objects of aesthetic experience and the facts of aesthetic enjoyment: Fechner's "aesthetics from above and from below."

The first was the method of aesthetics par excellence. It was indeed only through the desire of an eighteenth-century philosopher, Baumgarten, to round out his "architectonic" of metaphysics that the science received its name, as designating the theory of knowledge in the form of feeling, parallel to that of "clear," logical thought. Kant, Schelling, and Hegel, again, made use of the concept of the Beautiful as a kind of keystone or cornice for their respective philosophical edifices. Aesthetics, then, came into being as the philosophy of the Beautiful, and it may be asked why this philosophical aesthetics does not suffice--why beauty should need for its understanding also an aesthetics "von unten."

The answer is not that no system of philosophy is universally accepted, but that the general aesthetic theories have not, as yet at least, succeeded in answering the plain questions of "the plain man" in regard to concrete beauty. Kant, indeed, frankly denied that the explanation of concrete beauty, or "Doctrine of Taste," as he called it, was possible, while the various definers of beauty as "the union of the Real and the Ideal" "the expression of the Ideal to Sense," have done no more than he. No one of these aesthetic systems, in spite of volumes of so-called application of their principles to works of art, has been able to furnish a criterion of beauty. The criticism of the generations is summed up in the mild remark of Fechner, in his "Vorschule der Aesthetik," to the effect that the philosophical path leaves one in conceptions that, by reason of their generality, do not well fit the particular cases. And so it was that empirical aesthetics arose, which does not seek to answer those plain questions as to the enjoyment of concrete beauty down to its simplest forms, to which philosophical aesthetics had been inadequate.

But it is clear that neither has empirical aesthetics said the last word concerning beauty. Criticism is still in a chaotic state that would be impossible if aesthetic theory were firmly grounded. This situation appears to me to be due to the inherent inadequacy and inconclusiveness of empirical aesthetics when it stands alone; the grounds of this inadequacy I shall seek to establish in the following.

Granting that the aim of every aesthetics is to determine the Nature of Beauty, and to explain our feelings about it, we may say that the empirical treatments propose to do this either by describing the aesthetic object and extracting the essential elements of Beauty, or by describing the aesthetic experience and extracting the essential elements of aesthetic feeling, thereby indicating the elements of Beauty as those which effect this feeling.

Now the bare description and analysis of beautiful objects cannot, logically, yield any result; for the selection of cases would have to be arbitrary, and would be at the mercy of any objection. To any one who should say, But this is not beautiful, and should not be included in your inventory, answer could be made only by showing that it had such and such qualities, the very, by hypothesis, unknown qualities that were to be sought. Moreover, the field of beauty contains so many and so heterogeneous objects , that the retreat to their only common ground, aesthetic feeling, appears inevitable. A statue and a symphony can be reduced to a common denominator most easily if the states of mind which they induce are compared. Thus the analysis of objects passes naturally over to the analysis of mental states--the point of view of psychology.

There is, however, a method subsidiary to the preceding, which seeks the elements of Beauty in a study of the genesis and the development of art forms. But this leaves the essential phenomenon absolutely untouched. The general types of aesthetic expression may indeed have been shaped by social forces,-- religious, commercial, domestic,--but as social products, not as aesthetic phenomena. Such studies reveal to us, as it were, the excuse for the fact of music, poetry, painting--but they tell us nothing of the reason why beautiful rather than ugly


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