[Sidenote] Identification of feeling with economic activity.
This critical conclusion ought to place us in the greatest embarrassment, for in the sketch of the system of the spirit given above, we have left no room for the new activity, of which we are now obliged to recognize the existence. But activity of feeling, if it be activity, is not specially new. It has already had its place assigned to it in the system which we have sketched, where, however, it has been indicated under another name, as economic activity. What is called the activity of feeling is nothing but that more elementary and fundamental practical activity, which we have distinguished from ethical activity, and made to consist of the appetite and desire for some individual end, without any moral determination.
[Sidenote] Critique of hedonism.
If feeling has been sometimes considered as organic or natural activity, this has happened precisely because it does not coincide either with logical, aesthetic, or ethical activity. Looked at from the standpoint of these three (which were the only ones admitted), it has seemed to lie outside the true and real spirit, the spirit in its aristocracy, and to be almost a determination of nature and of the soul, in so far as it is nature. Thus the thesis, several times maintained, that the aesthetic activity, like the ethical and intellectual activities, is not feeling, becomes at once completely proved. This thesis was inexpugnable, when sensation had already been reduced confusedly and implicitly to economic volition. The view which has been refuted is known by the name of hedonism. For hedonism, all the various forms of the spirit are reduced to one, which thus itself also loses its own distinctive character and becomes something turbid and mysterious, like "the shades in which all cows are black." Having effected this reduction and mutilation, the hedonists naturally do not succeed in seeing anything else in any activity but pleasure and pain. They find no substantial difference between the pleasure of art and that of an easy digestion, between the pleasure of a good action and that of breathing the fresh air with wide-expanded lungs.
[Sidenote] Feeling as a concomitant to every form of activity.
But if the activity of feeling in the sense here defined must not be substituted for all the other forms of spiritual activity, we have not said that it cannot accompany them. Indeed it accompanies them of necessity, because they are all in close relation, both with one another and with the elementary volitional form. Therefore each of them has for concomitants individual volitions and volitional pleasures and pains which are known as feeling. But we must not confound what is concomitant, with the principal fact, and take the one for the other. The discovery of the truth, or the satisfaction of a moral duty fulfilled, produces in us a joy which makes our whole being vibrate, for, by attaining to those forms of spiritual activity, it attains at the same time that to which it was practically tending, as to its end, during the effort. Nevertheless, economic or hedonistic satisfaction, ethical satisfaction, aesthetic satisfaction, intellectual satisfaction, remain always distinct, even when in union.
Thus is solved at the same time the much-debated question, which has seemed, not wrongly, a matter of life or death for aesthetic science, namely, whether the feeling and the pleasure precede or follow, are cause or effect of the aesthetic fact. We must enlarge this question, to include the relation between the various spiritual forms, and solve it in the sense that in the unity of the spirit one cannot talk of cause and effect and of what comes first and what follows it in time.
And once the relation above exposed is established, the statements, which it is customary to make, as to the nature of aesthetic, moral, intellectual, and even, as is sometimes said, economic feelings, must also fall. In this last case, it is clear that it is a question, not of two terms, but of one, and the quest of economic feeling can be but that same one concerning the economic activity. But in the other cases also, the search can never be directed to the substantive, but to the adjective: aesthetic, morality, logic, explain the colouring of the feelings as aesthetic, moral, and intellectual, while feeling, studied alone, will never explain those refractions.
[Sidenote] Meaning of certain ordinary distinctions of feelings.
A further consequence is, that we can free ourselves from the distinction between values or feelings of value, and feelings that are merely hedonistic and without value; also from other similar distinctions, like those between disinterested feelings and interested feelings, between objective feelings and the others that are not objective but simply subjective, between feelings of approval and others of mere pleasure (Gefallen and Vergnuegen of the Germans). Those distinctions strove hard to save the three spiritual forms, which have been recognised as the triad of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, from confusion with the fourth form, still unknown, yet insidious through its indeterminateness, and mother of scandals. For us this triad has finished its task, because we are capable of reaching the distinction far more directly, by welcoming even the selfish, subjective, merely pleasurable feelings, among the respectable forms of the spirit; and where formerly antitheses were conceived of by ourselves and others, between value and feelings, as between spirituality and naturality, henceforth we see nothing but difference between value and value.
[Sidenote] Value and disvalue: the contraries and their union.
As has already been said, the economic feeling or activity reveals itself as divided into two poles, positive and negative, pleasure and pain, which we can now translate into useful, and useless or hurtful. This bipartition has already been noted above, as a mark of the active character of feeling, precisely because the same bipartition is found in all forms of activity. If each of these is a value, each has opposed to it antivalue or disvalue. Absence of value is not sufficient to cause disvalue, but activity and passivity must be struggling between themselves, without the one getting the better of the other; hence the contradiction, and the disvalue of the activity that is embarrassed, contested, or interrupted. Value is activity that unfolds itself freely: disvalue is its contrary.
We will content ourselves with this definition of the two terms, without entering into the problem of the relation between value and disvalue, that is, between the problem of contraries. (Are these to be thought of dualistically, as two beings or two orders of beings, like Ormuzd and Ahriman, angels and devils, enemies to one another; or as a unity, which is also contrariety?) This definition of the two terms will be sufficient for our purpose, which is to make clear aesthetic activity in particular, and one of the most obscure and disputed concepts of Aesthetic which arises at this point: the concept of the Beautiful.
[Sidenote] The Beautiful as the value of expression, or expression and nothing more.
Aesthetic, intellectual, economic, and ethical values and disvalues are variously denominated in current speech: beautiful, true, good, useful, just, and so on—these words designate the free development of spiritual activity, action, scientific research, artistic production, when they are successful; ugly, false, bad, useless, unbecoming, unjust, inexact designate embarrassed activity, the product of which is a failure. In linguistic usage, these denominations are being continually shifted from one order of facts to another, and from this to that. Beautiful, for instance, is said not only of a successful expression, but also of a scientific truth, of an action successfully achieved, and of a moral action: thus we talk of an intellectual beauty, of a beautiful action, of a moral beauty. Many philosophers, especially aestheticians, have lost their heads in their pursuit of these most varied uses: they have entered an inextricable and impervious verbal labyrinth. For this reason it has hitherto seemed convenient studiously to avoid the use of the word beautiful to indicate successful expression. But after all the explanations that have been given, and all danger of misunderstanding being now dissipated, and since, on the other hand, we cannot fail to recognize that the prevailing tendency, alike in current speech and in philosophy, is to limit the meaning of the vocable beautiful altogether to the aesthetic value, we may define beauty as successful expression, or better, as expression and nothing more, because expression, when it is not successful, is not expression.
[Sidenote] The ugly, and the elements of beauty which compose it.
Consequently, the ugly is unsuccessful expression. The paradox is true, that, in works of art that are failures, the beautiful is present as unity and the ugly as multiplicity. Thus, with regard to works of art that are more or less failures, we talk of qualities, that is to say of those parts of them that are beautiful. We do not talk thus of perfect works. It is in fact impossible to enumerate their qualities or to designate those parts of them that are beautiful. In them there is complete fusion: they have but one quality. Life circulates in the whole organism: it is not withdrawn into certain parts.
The qualities of works that are failures may be of various degrees. They may even be very great. The beautiful does not possess degrees, for there is no conceiving a more beautiful, that is, an expressive that is more expressive, an adequate that is more than adequate. Ugliness, on the other hand, does possess degrees, from the rather ugly (or almost beautiful) to the extremely ugly. But if the ugly were complete, that is to say, without any element of beauty, it would for that very reason cease to be ugly, because in it would be absent the contradiction which is the reason of its existence. The disvalue would become nonvalue; activity would give place to passivity, with which it is not at war, save when there effectively is war.
[Sidenote] Illusions that there exist expressions which are neither beautiful nor ugly.
And because the distinctive consciousness of the beautiful and of the ugly is based on the contrasts and contradictions in which aesthetic activity is developed, it is evident that this consciousness becomes attenuated to the point of disappearing altogether, as we descend from the more complicated to the more simple and to the simplest cases of expression. From this arises the illusion that there are expressions which are neither beautiful nor ugly, those which are obtained without sensible effort and appear easy and natural being so considered.
[Sidenote] True aesthetic feelings and concomitant or accidental feelings.
The whole mystery of the beautiful and the ugly is reduced to these henceforth most easy definitions. Should any one object that there exist perfect aesthetic expressions before which no pleasure is felt, and others, perhaps even failures, which give him the greatest pleasure, it is necessary to advise him to pay great attention, as regards the aesthetic fact, to that only which is truly aesthetic pleasure. Aesthetic pleasure is sometimes reinforced by pleasures arising from extraneous facts, which are only casually found united with it. The poet or any other artist affords an instance of purely aesthetic pleasure, during the moment in which he sees (or has the intuition of) his work for the first time; that is to say, when his impressions take form and his countenance is irradiated with the divine joy of the creator. On the other hand, a mixed pleasure is experienced by any one who goes to the theatre, after a day's work, to witness a comedy: when the pleasure of rest and amusement, and that of laughingly snatching a nail from the gaping coffin, is accompanied at a certain moment by real aesthetic pleasure, obtained from the art of the dramatist and of the actors. The same may be said of the artist who looks upon his labour with pleasure, when it is finished, experiencing, in addition to the aesthetic pleasure, that very different one which arises from the thought of self-love satisfied, or of the economic gain which will come to him from his work. Examples could be multiplied.
[Sidenote] Critique of apparent feelings.
A category of apparent aesthetic feelings has been formed in modern Aesthetic. These have nothing to do with the aesthetic sensations of pleasure arising from the form, that is to say from the work of art. On the contrary, they arise from the content of the work of art. It has been observed that "artistic representations arouse pleasure and pain in their infinite variety and gradations. We tremble with anxiety, we rejoice, we fear, we laugh, we weep, we desire, with the personages of a drama or of a romance, with the figures in a picture, or with the melody of music. But these feelings are not those that would give occasion to the real fact outside art; that is to say, they are the same in quality, but they are quantitively an attenuation. Aesthetic and apparent pleasure and pain are slight, of little depth, and changeable." We have no need to treat of these apparent feelings, for the good reason that we have already amply discussed them; indeed, we have treated of them alone. What are ever feelings that become apparent or manifest, but feelings objectified, intensified, expressed? And it is natural that they do not trouble and agitate us passionately, as do those of real life, because those were matter, these are form and activity; those true and proper feelings, these intuitions and expressions. The formula, then, of apparent feelings is nothing but a tautology. The best that can be done is to run the pen through it.
CRITIQUE OF AESTHETIC HEDONISM
As we are opposed to hedonism in general, that is to say, to the theory which is based on the pleasure and pain intrinsic to Economy and accompanies every other form of activity, confounding the content and that which contains it, and fails to recognize any process but the hedonistic; so we are opposed to aesthetic hedonism in particular, which looks upon the aesthetic at any rate, if not also upon all other activities, as a simple fact of feeling, and confounds the pleasurable of expression, which is the beautiful, with the pleasurable and nothing more, and with the pleasurable of all sorts.
[Sidenote] Critique of the beautiful as that which pleases the higher senses.
The aesthetic-hedonistic point of view has been presented in several forms. One of the most ancient conceives the beautiful as that which pleases the sight and hearing, that is to say, the so-called superior senses. When analysis of aesthetic facts first began, it was, in fact, difficult to avoid the mistake of thinking that a picture and a piece of music are impressions of sight or of hearing: it was and is an indisputable fact that the blind man does not enjoy the picture, nor the deaf man the music. To show, as we have shown, that the aesthetic fact does not depend upon the nature of the impressions, but that all sensible impressions can be raised to aesthetic expression and that none need of necessity be so raised, is an idea which presents itself only when all the other ways out of the difficulty have been tried. But whoso imagines that the aesthetic fact is something pleasing to the eyes or to the hearing, has no line of defence against him who proceeds logically to identify the beautiful with the pleasurable in general, and includes cooking in Aesthetic, or, as some positivist has done, the viscerally beautiful.
[Sidenote] Critique of the theory of play.
The theory of play is another form of aesthetic hedonism. The conception of play has sometimes helped towards the realization of the actifying character of the expressive fact: man (it has been said) is not really man, save when he begins to play; that is to say, when he frees himself from natural and mechanical causality and operates spiritually; and his first game is art. But since the word play also means that pleasure which arises from the expenditure of the exuberant energy of the organism (that is to say, from a practical act), the consequence of this theory has been, that every game has been called an aesthetic fact, and that the aesthetic function has been called a game, in so far as it is possible to play with it, for, like science and every other thing, Aesthetic can be made part of a game. But morality cannot be provoked at the intention of playing, on the ground that it does not consent; on the contrary, it dominates and regulates the act of playing itself.
[Sidenote] Critique of the theories of sexuality and of the triumph.
Finally, there have been some who have tried to deduce the pleasure of art from the reaction of the sexual organs. There are some very modern aestheticians who place the genesis of the aesthetic fact in the pleasure of conquering, of triumphing, or, as others add, in the desire of the male, who wishes to conquer the female. This theory is seasoned with much anecdotal erudition, Heaven knows of what degree of credibility! on the customs of savage peoples. But in very truth there was no necessity for such important aid, for one often meets in ordinary life poets who adorn themselves with their poetry, like cocks that raise their crests, or turkeys that spread their tails. But he who does such things, in so far as he does them, is not a poet, but a poor devil of a cock or turkey. The conquest of woman does not suffice to explain the art fact. It would be just as correct to term poetry economic, because there have been aulic and stipendiary poets, and there are poets the sale of whose verses helps them to gain their livelihood, if it does not altogether provide it. However, this definition has not failed to win over some zealous neophytes of historical materialism.
[Sidenote] Critique of the Aesthetic of the sympathetic. Meaning in it of content and form.
Another less vulgar current of thought considers Aesthetic to be the science of the sympathetic, of that with which we sympathize, which attracts, rejoices, gives us pleasure and excites admiration. But the sympathetic is nothing but the image or representation of what pleases. And, as such, it is a complex fact, resulting from a constant element, the aesthetic element of representation, and from a variable element, the pleasing in its infinite forms, arising from all the various classes of values.
In ordinary language, there is sometimes a feeling of repugnance at calling an expression beautiful, which is not an expression of the sympathetic. Hence the continual contrast between the point of view of the aesthetician or of the art critic and that of the ordinary person, who cannot succeed in persuading himself that the image of pain and of turpitude can be beautiful, or, at least, can be beautiful with as much right as the pleasing and the good.
The opposition could be solved by distinguishing two different sciences, one of expression and the other of the sympathetic, if the latter could be the object of a special science; that is to say, if it were not, as has been shown, a complex fact. If predominance be given to the expressive fact, it becomes a part of Aesthetic as science of expression; if to the pleasurable content, we fall back to the study of facts which are essentially hedonistic (utilitarian), however complicated they may appear. The origin, also, of the connexion between content and form is to be sought for in the Aesthetic of the sympathetic, when this is conceived as the sum of two values.
[Sidenote] Aesthetic hedonism and moralism.
In all the doctrines just now discussed, the art fact is posited as merely hedonistic. But this view cannot be maintained, save by uniting it with a philosophic hedonism that is complete and not partial, that is to say, with a hedonism which does not admit any other form of value. Hardly has this hedonistic conception of art been received by philosophers, who admit one or more spiritual values, of truth or of morality, than the following question must necessarily be asked: What should be done with art? To what use should it be put? Should a free course be allowed to its pleasures? And if so, to what extent? The question of the end of art, which in the Aesthetic of expression would be a contradiction of terms, here appears in place, and altogether logical.
[Sidenote] The rigoristic negation, and the pedagogic justification of art.
Now it is evident that, admitting the premisses, but two solutions of such a question can be given, the one altogether negative, the other restrictive. The first, which we shall call rigoristic or ascetic, appears several times, although not frequently, in the history of ideas. It looks upon art as an inebriation of the senses, and therefore, not only useless, but harmful. According to this theory, then, it is necessary to drive it with all our strength from the human soul, which it troubles. The other solution, which we shall call pedagogic or moralistico-utilitarian, admits art, but only in so far as it concurs with the end of morality; in so far as it assists with innocent pleasure the work of him who leads to the true and the good; in so far as it sprinkles with dulcet balm the sides of the vase of wisdom and of morality.
It is well to observe that it would be an error to divide this second view into intellectualist and moralistico-utilitarian, according to whether the end of leading to the true or to what is practically good, be assigned to art. The task of instructing, which is imposed upon it, precisely because it is an end which is sought after and advised, is no longer merely a theoretical fact, but a theoretical fact become the material for practical action; it is not, therefore, intellectualism, but pedagogism and practicism. Nor would it be more exact to subdivide the pedagogic view into the pure utilitarian and the moralistico-utilitarian; because those who admit only the individually useful (the desire of the individual), precisely because they are absolute hedonists, have no motive for seeking an ulterior justification for art.
But to enunciate these theories at the point to which we have attained is to confute them. We therefore restrict ourselves to observing that in the pedagogic theory of art is to be found another of the reasons why it has been erroneously claimed that the content of art should be chosen with a view to certain practical effects.
[Sidenote] Critique of pure beauty.
The thesis, re-echoed by the artists, that art consists of pure beauty, has often been brought forward against hedonistic and pedagogic Aesthetic: "Heaven places All our joy in pure beauty, and the Verse is everything." If it is wished that this should be understood in the sense that art is not to be confounded with sensual pleasure, that is, in fact, with utilitarian practicism, nor with moralism, then our Aesthetic also must be permitted to adorn itself with the title of Aesthetic of pure beauty. But if (as is often the case) something mystical and transcendental be meant by this, something that is unknown to our poor human world, or something spiritual and beatific, but not expressive, we must reply that while applauding the conception of a beauty, free of all that is not the spiritual form of expression, we are yet unable to conceive a beauty altogether purified of expression, that is to say, separated from itself.
THE AESTHETIC OF THE SYMPATHETIC AND PSEUDO-AESTHETIC CONCEPTS
[Sidenote] Pseudo-aesthetic concepts, and the aesthetic of the sympathetic.
The doctrine of the sympathetic (very often animated and seconded in this by the capricious metaphysical and mystical Aesthetic, and by that blind tradition which assumes an intimate connection between things by chance treated of together by the same authors and in the same books), has introduced and rendered familiar in systems of Aesthetic, a series of concepts, of which one example suffices to justify our resolute expulsion of them from our own treatise.
Their catalogue is long, not to say interminable: tragic, comic, sublime, pathetic, moving, sad, ridiculous, melancholy, tragi-comic, humoristic, majestic, dignified, serious, grave, imposing, noble, decorous, graceful, attractive, piquant, coquettish, idyllic, elegiac, cheerful, violent, ingenuous, cruel, base, horrible, disgusting, dreadful, nauseating; the list can be increased at will.
Since that doctrine took as its special object the sympathetic, it was naturally unable to neglect any of the varieties of this, or any of the combinations or gradations which lead at last from the sympathetic to the antipathetic. And seeing that the sympathetic content was held to be the beautiful and the antipathetic the ugly, the varieties (tragic, comic, sublime, pathetic, etc.) constituted for it the shades and gradations intervening between the beautiful and the ugly.
[Sidenote] Critique of the theory of the ugly in art and of the ugly surmounted.
Having enumerated and defined, as well as it could, the chief among these varieties, the Aesthetic of the sympathetic set itself the problem of the place to be assigned to the ugly in art. This problem is without meaning for us, who do not recognize any ugliness save the anti-aesthetic or inexpressive, which can never form part of the aesthetic fact, being, on the contrary, its antithesis. But the question for the doctrine which we are here criticizing was to reconcile in some way the false and defective idea of art from which it started, reduced to the representation of the agreeable, with effective art, which occupies a far wider field. Hence the artificial attempt to settle what examples of the ugly (antipathetic) could be admitted in artistic representation, and for what reasons, and in what ways.
The answer was: that the ugly is admissible, only when it can be overcome, an unconquerable ugliness, such as the disgusting or the nauseating, being altogether excluded. Further, that the duty of the ugly, when admitted in art, is to contribute towards heightening the effect of the beautiful (sympathetic), by producing a series of contrasts, from which the pleasurable shall issue more efficacious and pleasure-giving. It is, in fact, a common observation that pleasure is more vividly felt when It has been preceded by abstinence or by suffering. Thus the ugly in art was looked upon as the servant of the beautiful, its stimulant and condiment.
That special theory of hedonistic refinement, which used to be pompously called the surmounting of the ugly, falls with the general theory of the sympathetic; and with it the enumeration and the definition of the concepts mentioned above remain completely excluded from Aesthetic. For Aesthetic does not recognize the sympathetic or the antipathetic In their varieties, but only the spiritual activity of the representation.
[Sidenote] Pseudo-aesthetic concepts belong to Psychology.
However, the large space which, as we have said, those concepts have hitherto occupied in aesthetic treatises makes opportune a rather more copious explanation of what they are. What will be their lot? As they are excluded from Aesthetic, in what other part of Philosophy will they be received?
Truly, in none. All those concepts are without philosophical value. They are nothing but a series of classes, which can be bent in the most various ways and multiplied at pleasure, to which it is sought to reduce the infinite complications and shadings of the values and disvalues of life. Of those classes, there are some that have an especially positive significance, like the beautiful, the sublime, the majestic, the solemn, the serious, the weighty, the noble, the elevated; others have a significance especially negative, like the ugly, the horrible, the dreadful, the tremendous, the monstrous, the foolish, the extravagant; in others prevails a mixed significance, as is the case with the comic, the tender, the melancholy, the humorous, the tragi-comic. The complications are infinite, because the individuations are infinite; hence it is not possible to construct the concepts, save in the arbitrary and approximate manner of the natural sciences, whose duty it is to make as good a plan as possible of that reality which they cannot exhaust by enumeration, nor understand and surpass speculatively. And since Psychology is the naturalistic discipline, which undertakes to construct types and plans of the spiritual processes of man (of which, in fact, it is always accentuating in our day the merely empirical and descriptive character), these concepts do not appertain to Aesthetic, nor, in general, to Philosophy. They must simply be handed over to Psychology.
[Sidenote] Impossibility of rigoristic definitions of them.
As is the case with all other psychological constructions, so is it with those concepts: no rigorous definitions are possible; and consequently the one cannot be deduced from the other and they cannot be connected in a system, as has, nevertheless, often been attempted, at great waste of time and without result. But it can be claimed as possible to obtain, apart from philosophical definitions recognised as impossible, empirical definitions, universally acceptable as true. Since there does not exist a unique definition of a given fact, but innumerable definitions can be given of it, according to the cases and the objects for which they are made, so it is clear that if there were only one, and that the true one, this would no longer be an empirical, but a rigorous and philosophical definition. Speaking exactly, every time that one of the terms to which we have referred has been employed, or any other of the innumerable series, a definition of it has at the same time been given, expressed or understood. And each one of these definitions has differed somewhat from the others, in some particular, perhaps of very small importance, such as tacit reference to some individual fact or other, which thus became especially an object of attention and was raised to the position of a general type. So it happens that not one of such definitions satisfies him who hears it, nor does it satisfy even him who constructs it. For, the moment after, this same individual finds himself face to face with a new case, for which he recognizes that his definition is more or less insufficient, ill-adapted, and in need of remodelling. It is necessary, therefore, to leave writers and speakers free to define the sublime or the comic, the tragic or the humoristic, on every occasion, as they please and as may seem suitable to their purpose. And if you insist upon obtaining an empirical definition of universal validity, we can but submit this one:—The sublime (comic, tragic, humoristic, etc.) is everything that is or will be so called by those who have employed or shall employ this word.
[Sidenote] Examples: definitions of the sublime, the comic, and the humoristic.
What is the sublime? The unexpected affirmation of an ultra-powerful moral force: that is one definition. But that other definition is equally good, which also recognizes the sublime where the force which declares itself is an ultra-powerful, but immoral and destructive will. Both remain vague and assume no precise form, until they are applied to a concrete case, which makes clear what is here meant by ultra-powerful, and what by unexpected. They are quantitative concepts, but falsely quantitative, since there is no way of measuring them; they are, at bottom, metaphors, emphatic phrases, or logical tautologies. The humorous will be laughter mingled with tears, bitter laughter, the sudden passage from the comic to the tragic, and from the tragic to the comic, the comic romantic, the inverted sublime, war declared against every attempt at insincerity, compassion which is ashamed to lament, the mockery not of the fact, but of the ideal itself; and whatever else may better please, according as it is desired to get a view of the physiognomy of this or that poet, of this or that poem, which is, in its uniqueness, its own definition, and though momentary and circumscribed, yet the sole adequate. The comic has been defined as the displeasure arising from the perception of a deformity immediately followed by a greater pleasure arising from the relaxation of our psychical forces, which were strained in anticipation of a perception whose importance was foreseen. While listening to a narrative, which, for example, should describe the magnificent and heroic purpose of a definite person, we anticipate in imagination the occurrence of an action both heroic and magnificent, and we prepare ourselves to receive it, by straining our psychic forces. If, however, in a moment, instead of the magnificent and heroic action, which the premises and the tone of the narrative had led us to expect, by an unexpected change there occur a slight, mean, foolish action, unequal to our expectation, we have been deceived, and the recognition of the deceit brings with it an instant of displeasure. But this instant is as it were overcome by the one immediately following, in which we are able to discard our strained attention, to free ourselves from the provision of psychic energy accumulated and, henceforth superfluous, to feel ourselves reasonable and relieved of a burden. This is the pleasure of the comic, with its physiological equivalent, laughter. If the unpleasant fact that has occurred should painfully affect our interests, pleasure would not arise, laughter would be at once choked, the psychic energy would be strained and overstrained by other more serious perceptions. If, on the other hand, such more serious perceptions do not arise, if the whole loss be limited to a slight deception of our foresight, then the supervening feeling of our psychic wealth affords ample compensation for this very slight displeasure.—This, stated in a few words, is one of the most accurate modern definitions of the comic. It boasts of containing, justified or corrected, the manifold attempts to define the comic, from Hellenic antiquity to our own day. It includes Plato's dictum in the Philebus, and Aristotle's, which is more explicit. The latter looks upon the comic as an ugliness without pain. It contains the theory of Hobbes, who placed it in the feeling of individual superiority; of Kant, who saw in it a relaxation of tension; and those of other thinkers, for whom it was the contrast between great and small, between the finite and the infinite. But on close observation, the analysis and definition above given, although most elaborate and rigorous in appearance, yet enunciates characteristics which are applicable, not only to the comic, but to every spiritual process; such as the succession of painful and agreeable moments and the satisfaction arising from the consciousness of force and of its free development. The differentiation here given is that of quantitative determinations, to which limits cannot be assigned. They remain vague phrases, attaining to some meaning from their reference to this or that single comic fact. If such definitions be taken too seriously, there happens to them what Jean Paul Richter said of all the definitions of the comic: namely, that their sole merit is to be themselves comic and to produce, in reality, the fact, which they vainly try to define logically. And who will ever determine logically the dividing line between the comic and the non-comic, between smiles and laughter, between smiling and gravity; who will cut into clearly divided parts that ever-varying continuity into which life melts?
[Sidenote] Relations between those concepts and aesthetic concepts.
The facts, classified as well as possible in the above-quoted psychological concepts, bear no relation to the artistic fact, beyond the generic that all of them, in so far as they designate the material of life, can be represented by art; and the other accidental relation, that aesthetic facts also may sometimes enter into the processes described, as in the impression of the sublime that the work of a Titanic artist such as Dante or Shakespeare may produce, and that of the comic produced by the effort of a dauber or of a scribbler.
The process is external to the aesthetic fact In this case also; for the only feeling linked with that is the feeling of aesthetic value and disvalue, of the beautiful and of the ugly. The Dantesque Farinata is aesthetically beautiful, and nothing but beautiful: if, in addition, the force of will of this personage appear sublime, or the expression that Dante gives him, by reason of his great genius, seem sublime by comparison with that of a less energetic poet, all this is not a matter for aesthetic consideration. This consists always and only in adequation to truth; that is, in beauty.
THE SO-CALLED PHYSICALLY BEAUTIFUL IN NATURE AND ART
[Sidenote] Aesthetic activity and physical concepts.
Aesthetic activity is distinct from practical activity but when it expresses itself is always physical accompanied by practical activity. Hence its utilitarian or hedonistic side, and the pleasure and pain, which are, as it were, the practical echo of aesthetic values and disvalues, of the beautiful and of the ugly. But this practical side of the aesthetic activity has also, in its turn, a physical or psychophysical accompaniment, which consists of sounds, tones, movements, combinations of lines and colours, and so on.
Does it really possess this side, or does it only seem to possess it, as the result of the construction which we raise in physical science, and of the useful and arbitrary methods, which we have shown to be proper to the empirical and abstract sciences? Our reply cannot be doubtful, that is, it cannot be affirmative as to the first of the two hypotheses.
However, it will be better to leave it at this point in suspense, for it is not at present necessary to prosecute this line of inquiry any further. The mention already made must suffice to prevent our having spoken of the physical element as of something objective and existing, for reasons of simplicity and adhesion to ordinary language, from leading to hasty conclusions as to the concepts and the connexion between spirit and nature.
[Sidenote] Expression in the aesthetic sense, and expression in the naturalistic sense.
It is important to make clear that as the existence of the hedonistic side in every spiritual activity has given rise to the confusion between the aesthetic activity and the useful or pleasurable, so the existence, or, better, the possibility of constructing this physical side, has generated the confusion between aesthetic expression and expression in the naturalistic sense; between a spiritual fact, that is to say, and a mechanical and passive fact (not to say, between a concrete reality and an abstraction or fiction). In common speech, sometimes it is the words of the poet that are called expressions, the notes of the musician, or the figures of the painter; sometimes the blush which is wont to accompany the feeling of shame, the pallor resulting from fear, the grinding of the teeth proper to violent anger, the glittering of the eyes, and certain movements of the muscles of the mouth, which reveal cheerfulness. A certain degree of heat is also said to be the expression of fever, as the falling of the barometer is of rain, and even that the height of the rate of exchange expresses the discredit of the paper-money of a State, or social discontent the approach of a revolution. One can well imagine what sort of scientific results would be attained by allowing oneself to be governed by linguistic usage and placing in one sheaf facts so widely different. But there is, in fact, an abyss between a man who is the prey of anger with all its natural manifestations, and another man who expresses it aesthetically; between the aspect, the cries, and the contortions of one who is tortured with sorrow at the loss of a dear one, and the words or song with which the same individual portrays his torture at another moment; between the distortion of emotion and the gesture of the actor. Darwin's book on the expression of the feelings in man and animals does not belong to Aesthetic; because there is nothing in common between the science of spiritual expression and a Semiotic, whether it be medical, meteorological, political, physiognomic, or chiromantic.
Expression in the naturalistic sense simply lacks expression in the spiritual sense, that is to say, the characteristic itself of activity and of spirituality, and therefore the bipartition into poles of beauty and of ugliness. It is nothing more than a relation between cause and effect, fixed by the abstract intellect. The complete process of aesthetic production can be symbolized in four steps, which are: a, impressions; b, expression or spiritual aesthetic synthesis; c, hedonistic accompaniment, or pleasure of the beautiful (aesthetic pleasure); d, translation of the aesthetic fact into physical phenomena (sounds, tones, movements, combinations of lines and colours, etc.). Anyone can see that the capital point, the only one that is properly speaking aesthetic and truly real, is in that b, which is lacking to the mere manifestation or naturalistic construction, metaphorically also called expression.
The expressive process is exhausted when those four steps have been taken. It begins again with new impressions, a new aesthetic synthesis, and relative accompaniments.
[Sidenote] Intuitions and memory.
Expressions or representations follow and expel one another. Certainly, this passing away, this disassociation, is not perishing, it is not total elimination: nothing of what is born dies with that complete death which would be identical with never having been born. Though all things pass away, yet none can die. The representations which we have forgotten, also persist in some way in our spirit, for without them we could not explain acquired habits and capacities. Thus, the strength of life lies in this apparent forgetting: one forgets what has been absorbed and what life has superseded.
But many other things, many other representations, are still efficacious elements in the actual processes of our spirit; and it is incumbent on us not to forget them, or to be capable of recalling them when necessity demands them. The will is always vigilant in this work of preservation, for it aims at preserving (so to say) the greater and more fundamental part of all our riches. Certainly its vigilance is not always sufficient. Memory, we know, leaves or betrays us in various ways. For this very reason, the vigilant will excogitates expedients, which help memory in its weakness, and are its aids.
[Sidenote] The production of aids to memory.
We have already explained how these aids are possible. Expressions or representations are, at the same time, practical facts, which are also called physical facts, in so far as to the physical belongs the task of classifying them and reducing them to types. Now it is clear, that if we can succeed in making those facts in some way permanent, it will always be possible (other conditions remaining equal) to reproduce in us, by perceiving it, the already produced expression or intuition.
If that in which the practical concomitant acts, or (to use physical terms) the movements have been isolated and made in some sort permanent, be called the object or physical stimulus, and if it be designated by the letter e; then the process of reproduction will take place in the following order: e, the physical stimulus; d-b, perceptions of physical facts (sounds, tones, mimic, combinations of lines and colours, etc.), which form together the aesthetic synthesis, already produced; c, the hedonistic accompaniment, which is also reproduced.
And what are those combinations of words which are called poetry, prose, poems, novels, romances, tragedies or comedies, but physical stimulants of reproduction (the e stage); what are those combinations of sound which are called operas, symphonies, sonatas; and what those of lines and of colours, which are called pictures, statues, architecture? The spiritual energy of memory, with the assistance of those physical facts above mentioned, makes possible the preservation and the reproduction of the intuitions produced, often so laboriously, by ourselves and by others. If the physiological organism, and with it memory, become weakened; if the monuments of art be destroyed; then all the aesthetic wealth, the fruit of the labours of many generations, becomes lessened and rapidly disappears.
[Sidenote] The physically beautiful.
Monuments of art, which are the stimulants of aesthetic reproduction, are called beautiful things or the physically beautiful. This combination of words constitutes a verbal paradox, because the beautiful is not a physical fact; it does not belong to things, but to the activity of man, to spiritual energy. But henceforth it is clear through what wanderings and what abbreviations, physical things and facts, which are simply aids to the reproduction of the beautiful, end by being called, elliptically, beautiful things and physically beautiful. And now that we have made the existence of this ellipse clear, we shall ourselves make use of it without hesitation.
[Sidenote] Content and form: another meaning.
The intervention of the physically beautiful serves to explain another meaning of the words content and form, as employed by aestheticians. Some call "content" the internal fact or expression (which is for us already form), and they call "form" the marble, the colours, the rhythm, the sounds (for us form no longer); thus they look upon the physical fact as the form, which may or may not be joined to the content. This serves to explain another aspect of what is called aesthetic ugliness. He who has nothing definite to express may try to hide his internal emptiness with a flood of words, with sounding verse, with deafening polyphony, with painting that dazzles the eye, or by collocating great architectonic masses, which arrest and disturb, although, at bottom, they convey nothing. Ugliness, then, is the arbitrary, the charlatanesque; and, in reality, if the practical will do not intervene in the theoretic function, there may be absence of beauty, but never effective presence of the ugly.
[Sidenote] Natural and artificial beauty.
Physical beauty is wont to be divided into natural and artificial beauty. Thus we reach one of the facts, which has given great labour to thinkers: the beautiful in nature. These words often designate simply facts of practical pleasure. He alludes to nothing aesthetic who calls a landscape beautiful where the eye rests upon verdure, where bodily motion is easy, and where the warm sun-ray envelops and caresses the limbs. But it is nevertheless indubitable, that on other occasions the adjective "beautiful," applied to objects and scenes existing in nature, has a completely aesthetic signification.
It has been observed, that in order to enjoy natural objects aesthetically, we should withdraw them from their external and historical reality, and separate their simple appearance or origin from existence; that if we contemplate a landscape with our head between our legs, in such a way as to remove ourselves from our wonted relations with it, the landscape appears as an ideal spectacle; that nature is beautiful only for him who contemplates her with the eye of the artist; that zoologists and botanists do not recognize beautiful animals and flowers; that natural beauty is discovered (and examples of discovery are the points of view, pointed out by men of taste and imagination, and to which more or less aesthetic travellers and excursionists afterwards have recourse in pilgrimage, whence a more or less collective suggestion); that, without the aid of the imagination, no part of nature is beautiful, and that with such aid the same natural object or fact is now expressive, according to the disposition of the soul, now insignificant, now expressive of one definite thing, now of another, sad or glad, sublime or ridiculous, sweet or laughable; finally, that natural beauty, which an artist would not to some extent correct, does not exist.
All these observations are most just, and confirm the fact that natural beauty is simply a stimulus to aesthetic reproduction, which presupposes previous production. Without preceding aesthetic intuitions of the imagination, nature cannot arouse any at all. As regards natural beauty, man is like the mythical Narcissus at the fountain. They show further that since this stimulus is accidental, it is, for the most part, imperfect or equivocal. Leopardi said that natural beauty is "rare, scattered, and fugitive." Every one refers the natural fact to the expression which is in his mind. One artist is, as it were, carried away by a laughing landscape, another by a rag-shop, another by the pretty face of a young girl, another by the squalid countenance of an old ruffian. Perhaps the first will say that the rag-shop and the ugly face of the old ruffian are disgusting; the second, that the laughing landscape and the face of the young girl are insipid. They may dispute for ever; but they will never agree, save when they have supplied themselves with a sufficient dose of aesthetic knowledge, which will enable them to recognize that they are both right. Artificial beauty, created by man, is a much more ductile and efficacious aid to reproduction.
[Sidenote] Mixed beauty.
In addition to these two classes, aestheticians also sometimes talk in their treatises of a mixed beauty. Of what is it a mixture? Just of natural and artificial. Whoso fixes and externalizes, operates with natural materials, which he does not create, but combines and transforms. In this sense, every artificial product is a mixture of nature and artifice; and there would be no occasion to speak of a mixed beauty, as of a special category. But it happens that, in certain cases, combinations already given in nature can be used a great deal more than in others; as, for instance, when we design a beautiful garden and include in our design groups of trees or ponds which are already there. On other occasions externalization is limited by the impossibility of producing certain effects artificially. Thus we may mix the colouring matters, but we cannot create a powerful voice or a personage and an appearance appropriate to this or that personage of a drama. We must therefore seek for them among things already existing, and make use of them when we find them. When, therefore, we adopt a great number of combinations already existing in nature, such as we should not be able to produce artificially if they did not exist, the result is called mixed beauty.
We must distinguish from artificial beauty those instruments of reproduction called writings, such as alphabets, musical notes, hieroglyphics, and all pseudo-languages, from the language of flowers and flags, to the language of patches (so much the vogue in the society of the eighteenth century). Writings are not physical facts which arouse directly impressions answering to aesthetic expressions; they are simple indications of what must be done in order to produce such physical facts. A series of graphic signs serves to remind us of the movements which we must execute with our vocal apparatus in order to emit certain definite sounds. If, through practice, we become able to hear the words without opening our mouths and (what is much more difficult) to hear the sounds by running the eye down the page of the music, all this does not alter anything of the nature of the writings, which are altogether different from direct physical beauty. No one calls the book which contains the Divine Comedy, or the portfolio which contains Don Giovanni, beautiful in the same sense as the block of marble which contains Michael Angelo's Moses, or the piece of coloured wood which contains the Transfiguration are metaphorically called beautiful. Both serve for the reproduction of the beautiful, but the former by a far longer and far more indirect route than the latter.
[Sidenote] The beautiful as free and not free.
Another division of the beautiful, which is still found in treatises, is that into free and not free. By beauties that are not free, are understood those objects which have to serve a double purpose, extra-aesthetic and aesthetic (stimulants of intuitions); and since it appears that the first purpose limits and impedes the second, the beautiful object resulting therefrom has been considered as a beauty that is not free.
Architectural works are especially cited; and precisely for this reason, has architecture often been excluded from the number of the so-called fine arts. A temple must be above all things adapted to the use of a cult; a house must contain all the rooms requisite for commodity of living, and they must be arranged with a view to this commodity; a fortress must be a construction capable of resisting the attacks of certain armies and the blows of certain instruments of war. It is therefore held that the architect's field is limited: he may be able to embellish to some extent the temple, the house, the fortress; but his hands are bound by the object of these buildings, and he can only manifest that part of his vision of beauty in their construction which does not impair their extrinsic, but fundamental, objects.
Other examples are taken from what is called art applied to industry. Plates, glasses, knives, guns, and combs can be made beautiful; but it is held that their beauty must not so far exceed as to prevent our eating from the plate, drinking from the glass, cutting with the knife, firing off the gun, or combing one's hair with the comb. The same is said of the art of printing: a book should be beautiful, but not to the extent of its being difficult or impossible to read it.
[Sidenote] Critique of the beautiful that is not free.
In respect to all this, we must observe, in the first place, that the external purpose, precisely because it is such, does not of necessity limit or trammel the other purpose of being a stimulus to aesthetic reproduction. Nothing, therefore, can be more erroneous than the thesis that architecture, for example, is by its nature not free and imperfect, since it must also fulfil other practical objects. Beautiful architectural works, however, themselves undertake to deny this by their simple presence.
In the second place, not only are the two objects not necessarily in opposition; but, we must add, the artist always has the means of preventing this contradiction from taking place. In what way? By taking, as the material of his intuition and aesthetic externalization, precisely the destination of the object, which serves a practical end. He will not need to add anything to the object, in order to make it the instrument of aesthetic intuitions: it will be so, if perfectly adapted to its practical purpose. Rustic dwellings and palaces, churches and barracks, swords and ploughs, are beautiful, not in so far as they are embellished and adorned, but in so far as they express the purpose for which they were made. A garment is only beautiful because it is quite suitable to a given person in given conditions. The sword bound to the side of the warrior Rinaldo by the amorous Armida was not beautiful: "so adorned that it seemed a useless ornament, not the warlike instrument of a warrior." It was beautiful, if you will, in the eyes and imagination of the sorceress, who loved her lover in this effeminate way. The aesthetic fact can always accompany the practical fact, because expression is truth.
It cannot, however, be denied that aesthetic contemplation sometimes hinders practical use. For instance, it is a quite common experience to find certain new things so well adapted to their purpose, and yet so beautiful, that people occasionally feel scruples in maltreating them by using after contemplating them, which amounts to consuming them. It was for this reason that King Frederick William of Prussia evinced repugnance to ordering his magnificent grenadiers, so well suited for war, to endure the strain of battle; but his less aesthetic son, Frederick the Great, obtained from them excellent services.
[Sidenote] The stimulants of production.
It might be objected to the explanation of the physically beautiful as a simple adjunct for the reproduction of the internally beautiful, that is to say, of expressions, that the artist creates his expressions by painting or by sculpturing, by writing or by composing, and that therefore the physically beautiful, instead of following, sometimes precedes the aesthetically beautiful. This would be a somewhat superficial mode of understanding the procedure of the artist, who never makes a stroke with his brush without having previously seen it with his imagination; and if he has not yet seen it, he will make the stroke, not in order to externalize his expression (which does not yet exist), but as though to have a rallying point for ulterior meditation and for internal concentration. The physical point on which he leans is not the physically beautiful, instrument of reproduction, but what may be called a pedagogic means, similar to retiring into solitude, or to the many other expedients, frequently very strange, adopted by artists and philosophers, who vary in these according to their various idiosyncrasies. The old aesthetician Baumgarten advised poets to ride on horseback, as a means of inspiration, to drink wine in moderation, and (provided they were chaste) to look at beautiful women.
MISTAKES ARISING FROM THE CONFUSION BETWEEN PHYSIC AND AESTHETIC
It is necessary to mention a series of scientific mistakes which have arisen from the failure to understand the purely external relation between the aesthetic fact or artistic vision, and the physical fact or instrument, which serves as an aid to reproduce it. We must here indicate the proper criticism, which derives from what has already been said.
[Sidenote] Critique of aesthetic associationism
That form of associationism which identifies the aesthetic fact with the association of two images finds a place among these errors. By what path has it been possible to arrive at such a mistake, against which our aesthetic consciousness, which is a consciousness of perfect unity, never of duality, rebels? Just because the physical and the aesthetic facts have been considered separately, as two distinct images, which enter the spirit, the one drawn forth from the other, the one first and the other afterwards. A picture is divided into the image of the picture and the image of the meaning of the picture; a poem, into the image of the words and the image of the meaning of the words. But this dualism of images is non-existent: the physical fact does not enter the spirit as an image, but causes the reproduction of the image (the only image, which is the aesthetic fact), in so far as it blindly stimulates the psychic organism and produces an impression answering to the aesthetic expression already produced.
The efforts of the associationists (the usurpers of to-day in the field of Aesthetic) to emerge from the difficulty, and to reaffirm in some way the unity which has been destroyed by their principle of associationism, are highly instructive. Some maintain that the image called back again is unconscious; others, leaving unconsciousness alone, hold that, on the contrary, it is vague, vaporous, confused, thus reducing the force of the aesthetic fact to the weakness of bad memory. But the dilemma is inexorable: either keep association and give up unity, or keep unity and give up association. No third way out of the difficulty exists.
[Sidenote] Critique of aesthetic physic.
From the failure to analyze so-called natural beauty thoroughly, and to recognize that it is simply an incident of aesthetic reproduction, and from having, on the contrary, looked upon it as given in nature, is derived all that portion of treatises upon Aesthetic which is entitled The Beautiful in Nature or Aesthetic Physic; sometimes even subdivided, save the mark! into Aesthetic Mineralogy, Botany, and Zoology. We do not wish to deny that such treatises contain many just remarks, and are sometimes themselves works of art, in so far as they represent beautifully the imaginings and fantasies, that is the impressions, of their authors. But we must state that it is scientifically false to ask oneself if the dog be beautiful, and the ornithorhynchus ugly; if the lily be beautiful, and the artichoke ugly. Indeed, the error is here double. On one hand, aesthetic Physic falls back into the equivoke of the theory of artistic and literary classes, by attempting to determine aesthetically the abstractions of our intellect; on the other, fails to recognize, as we said, the true formation of so-called natural beauty; for which the question as to whether some given individual animal, flower, or man be beautiful or ugly, is altogether excluded. What is not produced by the aesthetic spirit, or cannot be referred to it, is neither beautiful nor ugly. The aesthetic process arises from the ideal relations in which natural objects are arranged.
[Sidenote] Critique of the theory of the beauty of the human body.
The double error can be exemplified by the question, upon which whole volumes have been written, as to the Beauty of the human body. Here it is necessary, above all things, to urge those who discuss this subject from the abstract toward the concrete, by asking: "What do you mean by the human body, that of the male, of the female, or of the androgyne?" Let us assume that they reply by dividing the inquiry into two distinct inquiries, as to the virile and feminine beauty (there really are writers who seriously discuss whether man or woman is the more beautiful); and let us continue: "Masculine or feminine beauty; but of what race of men—the white, the yellow, or the black, and whatever others there may be, according to the division of races?" Let us assume that they limit themselves to the white race, and let us continue: "What sub-species of the white race?" And when we have restricted them gradually to one section of the white world, that is to say, to the Italian, Tuscan, Siennese, or Porta Camollia section, we will continue: "Very good; but at what age of the human body, and in what condition and state of development—that of the new-born babe, of the child, of the boy, of the adolescent, of the man of middle age, and so on? and is the man at rest or at work, or is he occupied as is Paul Potter's cow, or the Ganymede of Rembrandt?"
Having thus arrived, by successive reductions, at the individual omnimode determinatum, or, better, at the man pointed out with the finger, it will be easy to expose the other error, by recalling what has been said about the natural fact, which is now beautiful, now ugly, according to the point of view, according to what is passing in the mind of the artist. Finally, if the Gulf of Naples have its detractors, and if there be artists who declare it inexpressive, preferring the "gloomy firs," the "clouds and perpetual north winds," of the northern seas; let it be believed, if possible, that such relativity does not exist for the human body, source of the most various suggestions!
[Sidenote] Critique of the beauty of geometric figures.
The question of the beauty of geometrical figures is connected with aesthetic Physic. But if by geometrical figures be understood the concepts of geometry, the concept of the triangle, the square, the cone, these are neither beautiful nor ugly: they are concepts. If, on the other hand, by such figures be understood bodies which possess definite geometrical forms, these will be ugly or beautiful, like every natural fact, according to the ideal connexions in which they are placed. Some hold that those geometrical figures are beautiful which point upwards, since they give the suggestion of firmness and of force. It is not denied that such may be the case. But neither must it be denied that those also which give the impression of instability and of being crushed down may possess their beauty, where they represent just the ill-formed and the crushed; and that in these last cases the firmness of the straight line and the lightness of the cone or of the equilateral triangle would, on the contrary, seem elements of ugliness.
Certainly, such questions as to the beauty of nature and the beauty of geometry, like the others analogous of the historically beautiful and of human beauty, seem less absurd in the Aesthetic of the sympathetic, which means, at bottom, by the words "aesthetic beauty" the representation of what is pleasing. But the pretension to determine scientifically what are the sympathetic contents, and what are the irremediably antipathetic, is none the less erroneous, even in the sphere of that doctrine and after the laying down of those premises. One can only answer such questions by repeating with an infinitely long postscript the Sunt quos of the first ode of the first book of Horace, and the Havvi chi of Leopardi's letter to Carlo Pepoli. To each man his beautiful ( = sympathetic), as to each man his fair one. Philography is not a science.
[Sidenote] Critique of another aspect of the imitation of nature.
The artist sometimes has naturally existing facts before him, in producing the artificial instrument, or physically beautiful. These are called his models: bodies, stuffs, flowers, and so on. Let us run over the sketches, the studies, and the notes of the artists: Leonardo noted down in his pocket-book, when he was working on the Last Supper: "Giovannina, fantastic appearance, is at St. Catherine's, at the Hospital; Cristofano di Castiglione is at the Pieta, he has a fine head; Christ, Giovan Conte, is of the suite of Cardinal Mortaro." And so on. From this comes the illusion that the artist imitates nature; when it would perhaps be more exact to say that nature imitates the artist, and obeys him. The theory that art imitates nature has sometimes been grounded upon and found sustenance in this illusion, as also its variant, more easily to be defended, which makes art the idealizer of nature. This last theory presents the process in a disorderly manner, indeed inversely to the true order; for the artist does not proceed from extrinsic reality, in order to modify it by approaching it to the ideal; but he proceeds from the impression of external nature to expression, that is to say, to his ideal, and from this he passes to the natural fact, which he employs as the instrument of reproduction of the ideal fact.
[Sidenote] Critique of the theory of the elementary forms of the beautiful.
Another consequence of the confusion between the aesthetic and the physical fact is the theory of the elementary forms of the beautiful. If expression, if the beautiful, be indivisible, the physical fact, in which it externalizes itself, can well be divided and subdivided; for example, a painted surface, into lines and colours, groups and curves of lines, kinds of colours, and so on; a poem, into strophes, verses, feet, syllables; a piece of prose, into chapters, paragraphs, headings, periods, phrases, words, and so on. The parts thus obtained are not aesthetic facts, but smaller physical facts, cut up in an arbitrary manner. If this path were followed, and the confusion persisted in, we should end by concluding that the true forms of the beautiful are atoms.
The aesthetic law, several times promulgated, that beauty must have bulk, could be invoked against the atoms. It cannot be the imperceptibility of the too small, nor the unapprehensibility of the too large. But a bigness which depends upon perceptibility, not measurement, derives from a concept widely different from the mathematical. For what is called imperceptible and incomprehensible does not produce an impression, because it is not a real fact, but a concept: the requisite of bulk in the beautiful is thus reduced to the effective reality of the physical fact, which serves for the reproduction of the beautiful.
[Sidenote] Critique of the search for the objective conditions of the beautiful.
Continuing the search for the physical laws or for the objective conditions of the beautiful, it has been asked: To what physical facts does the beautiful correspond? To what the ugly? To what unions of tones, colours, sizes, mathematically determinable? Such inquiries are as if in Political Economy one were to seek for the laws of exchange in the physical nature of the objects exchanged. The constant infecundity of the attempt should have at once given rise to some suspicion as to its vanity. In our times, especially, has the necessity for an inductive Aesthetic been often proclaimed, of an Aesthetic starting from below, which should proceed like natural science and not hasten its conclusions. Inductive? But Aesthetic has always been both inductive and deductive, like every philosophical science; induction and deduction cannot be separated, nor can they separately avail to characterize a true science. But the word "inductive" was not here pronounced accidentally and without special intention. It was wished to imply by its use that the aesthetic fact is nothing, at bottom, but a physical fact, which should be studied by applying to it the methods proper to the physical and natural sciences. With such a presupposition and in such a faith did inductive Aesthetic or Aesthetic of the inferior (what pride in this modesty!) begin its labours. It has conscientiously begun by making a collection of beautiful things, for example of a great number of envelopes of various shapes and sizes, and has asked which of these give the impression of the beautiful and which of the ugly. As was to be expected, the inductive aestheticians speedily found themselves in a difficulty, for the same objects that appeared ugly in one aspect would appear beautiful in another. A yellow, coarse envelope, which would be extremely ugly for the purpose of enclosing a love-letter, is, however, just what is wanted for a writ served by process on stamped paper. This in its turn would look very bad, or seem at any rate an irony, if enclosed in a square English envelope. Such considerations of simple common sense should have sufficed to convince inductive aestheticians, that the beautiful has no physical existence, and cause them to remit their vain and ridiculous quest. But no: they have had recourse to an expedient, as to which we would find it difficult to say how far it belongs to natural science. They have sent their envelopes round from one to the other and opened a referendum, thus striving to decide by the votes of the majority in what consists the beautiful and the ugly.
We will not waste time over this argument, because we should seem to be turning ourselves into narrators of comic anecdotes rather than expositors of aesthetic science and of its problems. It is an actual fact, that the inductive aestheticians have not yet discovered one single law.
[Sidenote] Astrology of Aesthetic.
He who dispenses with doctors is prone to abandon himself to charlatans. Thus it has befallen those who have believed in the natural laws of the beautiful. Artists sometimes adopt empirical canons, such as that of the proportions of the human body, or of the golden section, that is to say, of a line divided into two parts in such a manner that the less is to the greater as is the greater to the whole line (bc: ac=ac: ab). Such canons easily become their superstitions, and they attribute to such the success of their works. Thus Michael Angelo left as a precept to his disciple Marco del Pino of Siena that "he should always make a pyramidal serpentine figure multiplied by one, two, three," a precept which did not enable Marco di Siena to emerge from that mediocrity which we can yet observe in his many works, here in Naples. Others extracted from the sayings of Michael Angelo the precept that serpentine undulating lines were the true lines of beauty. Whole volumes have been composed on these laws of beauty, on the golden section and on the undulating and serpentine lines. These should in our opinion be looked upon as the astrology of Aesthetic.
THE ACTIVITY OF EXTERNALIZATION, TECHNIQUE AND THE THEORY OF THE ARTS
[Sidenote] The practical activity of externalization.
The fact of the production of the physically beautiful implies, as has already been remarked, a vigilant will, which persists in not allowing certain visions, intuitions, or representations, to be lost. Such a will must be able to act with the utmost rapidity, and as it were instinctively, and also be capable of long and laborious deliberations. Thus and only thus does the practical activity enter into relations with the aesthetic, that is to say, in effecting the production of physical objects, which are aids to memory. Here it is not merely a concomitant, but really a distinct moment of the aesthetic activity. We cannot will or not will our aesthetic vision: we can, however, will or not will to externalize it, or better, to preserve and communicate, or not, to others, the externalization produced.
[Sidenote] The technique of externalization.
This volitional fact of externalization is preceded by a complex of various kinds of knowledge. These are known as techniques, like all knowledge which precedes the practical activity. Thus we talk of an artistic technique in the same metaphorical and elliptic manner that we talk of the physically beautiful, that is to say (in more precise language), knowledge employed by the practical activity engaged in producing stimuli to aesthetic reproduction. In place of employing so lengthy a phrase, we shall here avail ourselves of the vulgar terminology, since we are henceforward aware of its true meaning.
The possibility of this technical knowledge, at the service of artistic reproduction, has caused people to imagine the existence of an aesthetic technique of internal expression, which is tantamount to saying, a doctrine of the means of internal expression, which is altogether inconceivable. And we know well the reason why it is inconceivable; expression, considered in itself, is primary theoretic activity, and, in so far as it is this, it precedes the practical activity and the intellectual knowledge which illumines the practical activity, and is thus independent alike of the one and of the other. It also helps to illumine the practical activity, but is not illuminated by it. Expression does not employ means, because it has not an end; it has intuitions of things, but does not will them, and is thus indivisible into means and end. Thus if it be said, as sometimes is the case, that a certain writer has invented a new technique of fiction or of drama, or that a painter has discovered a new mode of distribution of light, the word is used in a false sense; because the so-called new technique is really that romance itself, or that new picture itself. The distribution of light belongs to the vision itself of the picture; as the technique of a dramatist is his dramatic conception itself. On other occasions, the word "technique" is used to designate certain merits or defects in a work which is a failure; and it is said, euphemistically, that the conception is bad, but the technique good, or that the conception is good, and the technique bad.
On the other hand, when the different ways of painting in oils, or of etching, or of sculpturing in alabaster, are discussed, then the word "technique" is in its place; but in such a case the adjective "artistic" is used metaphorically. And if a dramatic technique in the artistic sense be impossible, a theatrical technique is not impossible, that is to say, processes of externalization of certain given aesthetic works. When, for instance, women were introduced on the stage in Italy in the second half of the sixteenth century, in place of men dressed as women, this was a true and real discovery in theatrical technique; such too was the perfecting in the following century by the impresarios of Venice, of machines for the rapid changing of the scenes.
[Sidenote] The theoretic techniques of the individual arts.
The collection of technical knowledge at the service of artists desirous of externalizing their expressions, can be divided into groups, which may be entitled theories of the arts. Thus is born a theory of Architecture, comprising mechanical laws, information relating to the weight or to the resistance of the materials of construction or of fortification, manuals relating to the method of mixing chalk or stucco; a theory of Sculpture, containing advice as to the instruments to be used for sculpturing the various sorts of stone, for obtaining a successful fusion of bronze, for working with the chisel, for the exact copying of the model in chalk or plaster, for keeping chalk damp; a theory of Painting, on the various techniques of tempera, of oil-painting, of water-colour, of pastel, on the proportions of the human body, on the laws of perspective; a theory of Oratory, with precepts as to the method of producing, of exercising and of strengthening the voice, of mimic and gesture; a theory of Music, on the combinations and fusions of tones and sounds; and so on. Such collections of precepts abound in all literatures. And since it soon becomes impossible to say what is useful and what useless to know, books of this sort become very often a sort of encyclopaedias or catalogues of desiderata. Vitruvius, in his treatise on Architecture, claims for the architect a knowledge of letters, of drawing, of geometry, of arithmetic, of optic, of history, of natural and moral philosophy, of jurisprudence, of medicine, of astrology, of music, and so on. Everything is worth knowing: learn the art and lay it aside.
It should be evident that such empirical collections are not reducible to a science. They are composed of notions, taken from various sciences and teachings, and their philosophical and scientific principles are to be found in them. To undertake the construction of a scientific theory of the different arts, would be to wish to reduce to the single and homogeneous what is by nature multiple and heterogeneous; to wish to destroy the existence as a collection of what was put together precisely to form a collection. Were we to give a scientific form to the manuals of the architect, the painter, or the musician, it is clear that nothing would remain in our hands but the general principles of Mechanic, Optic, or Acoustic. Or if the especially artistic observations disseminated through it be extracted and isolated, and a science be made of them, then the sphere of the individual art is deserted and that of Aesthetic entered upon, for Aesthetic is always general Aesthetic, or better, it cannot be divided into general and special. This last case (that is, the attempt to furnish a technique of Aesthetic) is found, when men possessing strong scientific instincts and a natural tendency to philosophy, set themselves to work to produce such theories and technical manuals.
[Sidenote] Critique of the aesthetic theories of the individual arts.
But the confusion between Physic and Aesthetic has attained to its highest degree, when aesthetic theories of the different arts are imagined, to answer such questions as: What are the limits of each art? What can be represented with colours, and what with sounds? What with simple monochromatic lines, and what with touches of various colours? What with notes, and what with metres and rhymes? What are the limits between the figurative and the auditional arts, between painting and sculpture, poetry and music?
This, translated into scientific language, is tantamount to asking: What is the connexion between Acoustic and aesthetic expression? What between the latter and Optic?—and the like. Now, if there is no passage from the physical fact to the aesthetic, how could there be from the aesthetic to particular groups of aesthetic facts, such as the phenomena of Optic or of Acoustic?
[Sidenote] Critique of the classifications of the arts.
The things called Arts have no aesthetic limits, because, in order to have them, they would need to have also aesthetic existence; and we have demonstrated the altogether empirical genesis of those divisions. Consequently, any attempt at an aesthetic classification of the arts is absurd. If they be without limits, they are not exactly determinable, and consequently cannot be philosophically classified. All the books dealing with classifications and systems of the arts could be burned without any loss whatever. (We say this with the utmost respect to the writers who have expended their labours upon them.)
The impossibility of such classifications finds, as it were, its proof in the strange methods to which recourse has been had to carry them out. The first and most common classification is that into arts of hearing, sight, and imagination; as if eyes, ears, and imagination were on the same level, and could be deduced from the same logical variable, as foundation of the division. Others have proposed the division into arts of space and time, and arts of rest and motion; as if the concepts of space, time, rest, and motion could determine special aesthetic forms, or have anything in common with art as such. Finally, others have amused themselves by dividing them into classic and romantic, or into oriental, classic, and romantic, thereby conferring the value of scientific concepts on simple historical denominations, or adopting those pretended partitions of expressive forms, already criticized above; or by talking of arts that can only be seen from one side, like painting, and of arts that can be seen from all sides, like sculpture—and similar extravagances, which exist neither in heaven nor on the earth.
The theory of the limits of the arts was, perhaps, at the time when it was put forward, a beneficial critical reaction against those who believed in the possibility of the flowing of one expression into another, as of the Iliad or of Paradise Lost into a series of paintings, and thus held a poem to be of greater or lesser value, according as it could or could not be translated into pictures by a painter. But if the rebellion were reasonable and victorious, this does not mean that the arguments adopted and the theories made as required were sound.
[Sidenote] Critique of the theory of the union of the arts.
Another theory which is a corollary to that of the limits of the arts, falls with them; that of the union of the arts. Granted different arts, distinct and limited, the questions were asked: Which is the most powerful? Do we not obtain more powerful effects by uniting several? We know nothing of this: we know only, in each individual case, that certain given artistic intuitions have need of definite physical means for their reproduction, and that other artistic intuitions have need of other physical means. We can obtain the effect of certain dramas by simply reading them; others need declamation and scenic display: some artistic intuitions, for their full extrinsication, need words, song, musical instruments, colours, statuary, architecture, actors; while others are beautiful and complete in a single delicate sweep of the pen, or with a few strokes of the pencil. But it is false to suppose that declamation and scenic effects, and all the other things we have mentioned together, are more powerful than simply reading, or than the simple stroke with the pen and with the pencil; because each of these facts or groups of facts has, so to say, a different object, and the power of the different means employed cannot be compared when the objects are different.