Ancient Art and Ritual
by Jane Ellen Harrison
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We have seen that to make up a heroic age there must be two factors, the new and the old; the young, vigorous, warlike people must seize on, appropriate, in part assimilate, an old and wealthy civilization. It almost seems as if we might go a step farther, and say that for every great movement in art or literature we must have the same conditions, a contact of new and old, of a new spirit seizing or appropriated by an old established order. Anyhow for Athens the historical fact stands certain. The amazing development of the fifth-century drama is just this, the old vessel of the ritual Dithyramb filled to the full with the new wine of the heroic saga; and it would seem that it was by the hand of Peisistratos, the great democratic tyrant, that the new wine was outpoured.

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Such were roughly the outside conditions under which the drama of art grew out of the dromena of ritual. The racial secret of the individual genius of AEschylus and the forgotten men who preceded him we cannot hope to touch. We can only try to see the conditions in which they worked and mark the splendid new material that lay to their hands. Above all things we can see that this material, these Homeric saga, were just fitted to give the needed impulse to art. The Homeric saga had for an Athenian poet just that remoteness from immediate action which, as we have seen, is the essence of art as contrasted with ritual.

Tradition says that the Athenians fined the dramatic poet Phrynichus for choosing as the plot of one of his tragedies the Taking of Miletus. Probably the fine was inflicted for political party reasons, and had nothing whatever to do with the question of whether the subject was "artistic" or not. But the story may stand, and indeed was later understood to be, a sort of allegory as to the attitude of art towards life. To understand and still more to contemplate life you must come out from the choral dance of life and stand apart. In the case of one's own sorrows, be they national or personal, this is all but impossible. We can ritualize our sorrows, but not turn them into tragedies. We cannot stand back far enough to see the picture; we want to be doing, or at least lamenting. In the case of the sorrows of others this standing back is all too easy. We not only bear their pain with easy stoicism, but we picture it dispassionately at a safe distance; we feel about rather than with it. The trouble is that we do not feel enough. Such was the attitude of the Athenian towards the doings and sufferings of Homeric heroes. They stood towards them as spectators. These heroes had not the intimate sanctity of home-grown things, but they had sufficient traditional sanctity to make them acceptable as the material of drama.

Adequately sacred though they were, they were yet free and flexible. It is impiety to alter the myth of your local hero, it is impossible to recast the myth of your local daemon—that is fixed forever—his conflict, his agon, his death, his pathos, his Resurrection and its heralding, his Epiphany. But the stories of Agamemnon and Achilles, though at home these heroes were local daimones, have already been variously told in their wanderings from place to place, and you can mould them more or less to your will. Moreover, these figures are already personal and individual, not representative puppets, mere functionaries like the May Queen and Winter; they have life-histories of their own, never quite to be repeated. It is in this blend of the individual and the general, the personal and the universal, that one element at least of all really great art will be found to lie; and just here at Athens we get a glimpse of the moment of fusion; we see a definite historical reason why and how the universal in dromena came to include the particular in drama. We see, moreover, how in place of the old monotonous plots, intimately connected with actual practical needs, we get material cut off from immediate reactions, seen as it were at the right distance, remote yet not too remote. We see, in a word, how a ritual enacted year by year became a work of art that was a "possession for ever."

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Possibly in the mind of the reader there may have been for some time a growing discomfort, an inarticulate protest. All this about dromena and drama and dithyrambs, bears and bulls, May Queens and Tree-Spirits, even about Homeric heroes, is all very well, curious and perhaps even in a way interesting, but it is not at all what he expected, still less what he wants. When he bought a book with the odd incongruous title, Ancient Art and Ritual, he was prepared to put up with some remarks on the artistic side of ritual, but he did expect to be told something about what the ordinary man calls art, that is, statues and pictures. Greek drama is no doubt a form of ancient art, but acting is not to the reader's mind the chief of arts. Nay, more, he has heard doubts raised lately—and he shares them—as to whether acting and dancing, about which so much has been said, are properly speaking arts at all. Now about painting and sculpture there is no doubt. Let us come to business.

To a business so beautiful and pleasant as Greek sculpture we shall gladly come, but a word must first be said to explain the reason of our long delay. The main contention of the present book is that ritual and art have, in emotion towards life, a common root, and further, that primitive art develops normally, at least in the case of the drama, straight out of ritual. The nature of that primitive ritual from which the drama arose is not very familiar to English readers. It has been necessary to stress its characteristics. Almost everywhere, all over the world, it is found that primitive ritual consists, not in prayer and praise and sacrifice, but in mimetic dancing. But it is in Greece, and perhaps Greece only, in the religion of Dionysos, that we can actually trace, if dimly, the transition steps that led from dance to drama, from ritual to art. It was, therefore, of the first importance to realize the nature of the dithyramb from which the drama rose, and so far as might be to mark the cause and circumstances of the transition.

Leaving the drama, we come in the next chapter to Sculpture; and here, too, we shall see how closely art was shadowed by that ritual out of which she sprang.


[35] See Bibliography at end for Professor Murray's examination.

[36] Mr. Edward Bullough, The British Journal of Psychology (1912), p. 88.

[37] II, 15.

[38] See my Themis, p. 289, and Prolegomena, p. 35.

[39] De Cupid. div. 8.

[40] V, 66.

[41] Athen., VIII, ii, 334 f. See my Prolegomena, p. 54.

[42] Thanks to Mr. H.M. Chadwick's Heroic Age (1912).



In passing from the drama to Sculpture we make a great leap. We pass from the living thing, the dance or the play acted by real people, the thing done, whether as ritual or art, whether dromenon or drama, to the thing made, cast in outside material rigid form, a thing that can be looked at again and again, but the making of which can never actually be re-lived whether by artist or spectator.

Moreover, we come to a clear threefold distinction and division hitherto neglected. We must at last sharply differentiate the artist, the work of art, and the spectator. The artist may, and usually indeed does, become the spectator of his own work, but the spectator is not the artist. The work of art is, once executed, forever distinct both from artist and spectator. In the primitive choral dance all three—artist, work of art, spectator—were fused, or rather not yet differentiated. Handbooks on art are apt to begin with the discussion of rude decorative patterns, and after leading up through sculpture and painting, something vague is said at the end about the primitiveness of the ritual dance. But historically and also genetically or logically the dance in its inchoateness, its undifferentiatedness, comes first. It has in it a larger element of emotion, and less of presentation. It is this inchoateness, this undifferentiatedness, that, apart from historical fact, makes us feel sure that logically the dance is primitive.

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To illustrate the meaning of Greek sculpture and show its close affinity with ritual, we shall take two instances, perhaps the best-known of those that survive, one of them in relief, the other in the round, the Panathenaic frieze of the Parthenon at Athens and the Apollo Belvedere, and we shall take them in chronological order. As the actual frieze and the statue cannot be before us, we shall discuss no technical questions of style or treatment, but simply ask how they came to be, what human need do they express. The Parthenon frieze is in the British Museum, the Apollo Belvedere is in the Vatican at Rome, but is readily accessible in casts or photographs. The outlines given in Figs. 5 and 6 can of course only serve to recall subject-matter and design.

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The Panathenaic frieze once decorated the cella or innermost shrine of the Parthenon, the temple of the Maiden Goddess Athena. It twined like a ribbon round the brow of the building and thence it was torn by Lord Elgin and brought home to the British Museum as a national trophy, for the price of a few hundred pounds of coffee and yards of scarlet cloth. To realize its meaning we must always think it back into its place. Inside the cella, or shrine, dwelt the goddess herself, her great image in gold and ivory; outside the shrine was sculptured her worship by the whole of her people. For the frieze is nothing but a great ritual procession translated into stone, the Panathenaic procession, or procession of all the Athenians, of all Athens, in honour of the goddess who was but the city incarnate, Athena.

"A wonder enthroned on the hills and the sea, A maiden crowned with a fourfold glory, That none from the pride of her head may rend; Violet and olive leaf, purple and hoary, Song-wreath and story the fairest of fame, Flowers that the winter can blast not nor bend, A light upon earth as the sun's own flame, A name as his name— Athens, a praise without end."

SWINBURNE: Erechtheus, 141.

Sculptural Art, at least in this instance, comes out of ritual, has ritual as its subject, is embodied ritual. The reader perhaps at this point may suspect that he is being juggled with, that, out of the thousands of Greek reliefs that remain to us, just this one instance has been selected to bolster up the writer's art and ritual theory. He has only to walk through any museum to be convinced at once that the author is playing quite fair. Practically the whole of the reliefs that remain to us from the archaic period, and a very large proportion of those at later date, when they do not represent heroic mythology, are ritual reliefs, "votive" reliefs as we call them; that is, prayers or praises translated into stone.

Of the choral dance we have heard much, of the procession but little, yet its ritual importance was great. In religion to-day the dance is dead save for the dance of the choristers before the altar at Seville. But the procession lives on, has even taken to itself new life. It is a means of bringing masses of people together, of ordering them and co-ordinating them. It is a means for the magical spread of supposed good influence, of "grace." Witness the "Beating of the Bounds" and the frequent processions of the Blessed Sacrament in Roman Catholic lands. The Queen of the May and the Jack-in-the-Green still go from house to house. Now-a-days it is to collect pence; once it was to diffuse "grace" and increase. We remember the procession of the holy Bull at Magnesia and the holy Bear at Saghalien (pp. 92-100).

What, then, was the object of the Panathenaic procession? It was first, as its name indicates, a procession that brought all Athens together. Its object was social and political, to express the unity of Athens. Ritual in primitive times is always social, collective.

The arrangement of the procession is shown in Figs. 3 and 4 (pp. 174, 175). In Fig. 3 we see the procession as it were in real life, just as it is about to enter the temple and the presence of the Twelve Gods. These gods are shaded black because in reality invisible. Fig. 4 is a diagram showing the position of the various parts of the procession in the sculptural frieze. At the west end of the temple the procession begins to form: the youths of Athens are mounting their horses. It divides, as it needs must, into two halves, one sculptured on the north, one on the south side of the cella. After the throng of the cavalry getting denser and denser we come to the chariots, next the sacrificial animals, sheep and restive cows, then the instruments of sacrifice, flutes and lyres and baskets and trays for offerings; men who carry blossoming olive-boughs; maidens with water-vessels and drinking-cups. The whole tumult of the gathering is marshalled and at last met and, as it were, held in check, by a band of magistrates who face the procession just as it enters the presence of the twelve seated gods, at the east end. The whole body politic of the gods has come down to feast with the whole body politic of Athens and her allies, of whom these gods are but the projection and reflection. The gods are there together because man is collectively assembled.

The great procession culminates in a sacrifice and a communal feast, a sacramental feast like that on the flesh of the holy Bull at Magnesia. The Panathenaia was a high festival including rites and ceremonies of diverse dates, an armed dance of immemorial antiquity that may have dated from the days when Athens was subject to Crete, and a recitation ordered by Peisistratos of the poems of Homer.

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Some theorists have seen in art only an extension of the "play instinct," just a liberation of superfluous vitality and energies, as it were a rehearsing for life. This is not our view, but into all art, in so far as it is a cutting off of motor reactions, there certainly enters an element of recreation. It is interesting to note that to the Greek mind religion was specially connected with the notion rather of a festival than a fast. Thucydides[43] is assuredly by nature no reveller, yet religion is to him mainly a "rest from toil." He makes Perikles say: "Moreover, we have provided for our spirit by many opportunities of recreation, by the celebration of games and sacrifices throughout the year." To the anonymous writer known as the "Old Oligarch" the main gist of religion appears to be a decorous social enjoyment. In easy aristocratic fashion he rejoices that religious ceremonials exist to provide for the less well-to-do citizens suitable amusements that they would otherwise lack. "As to sacrifices and sanctuaries and festivals and precincts, the People, knowing that it is impossible for each man individually to sacrifice and feast and have sacrifices and an ample and beautiful city, has discovered by what means he may enjoy these privileges."

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In the procession of the Panathenaia all Athens was gathered together, but—and this is important—for a special purpose, more primitive than any great political or social union. Happily this purpose is clear; it is depicted in the central slab of the east end of the frieze (Fig. 5). A priest is there represented receiving from the hands of a boy a great peplos or robe. It is the sacred robe of Athena woven for her and embroidered by young Athenian maidens and offered to her every five years. The great gold and ivory statue in the Parthenon itself had no need of a robe; she would scarcely have known what to do with one; her raiment was already of wrought gold, she carried helmet and spear and shield. But there was an ancient image of Athena, an old Madonna of the people, fashioned before Athena became a warrior maiden. This image was rudely hewn in wood, it was dressed and decked doll-fashion like a May Queen, and to her the great peplos was dedicated. The peplos was hoisted as a sail on the Panathenaic ship, and this ship Athena had borrowed from Dionysos himself, who went every spring in procession in a ship-car on wheels to open the season for sailing. To a seafaring people like the Athenians the opening of the sailing season was all-important, and naturally began not at midsummer but in spring.

The sacred peplos, or robe, takes us back to the old days when the spirit of the year and the "luck" of the people was bound up with a rude image. The life of the year died out each year and had to be renewed. To make a new image was expensive and inconvenient, so, with primitive economy it was decided that the life and luck of the image should be renewed by re-dressing it, by offering to it each year a new robe. We remember (p. 60) how in Thuringia the new puppet wore the shirt of the old and thereby new life was passed from one to the other. But behind the old image we can get to a stage still earlier, when there was at the Panathenaia no image at all, only a yearly maypole; a bough hung with ribbons and cakes and fruits and the like. A bough was cut from the sacred olive tree of Athens, called the Moria or Fate Tree. It was bound about with fillets and hung with fruit and nuts and, in the festival of the Panathenaia, they carried it up to the Acropolis to give to Athena Polias, "Her-of-the-City," and as they went they sang the old Eiresione song (p. 114). Polias is but the city, the Polis incarnate.

This Moria, or Fate Tree, was the very life of Athens; the life of the olive which fed her and lighted her was the very life of the city. When the Persian host sacked the Acropolis they burnt the holy olive, and it seemed that all was over. But next day it put forth a new shoot and the people knew that the city's life still lived. Sophocles[44] sang of the glory of the wondrous life tree of Athens:

"The untended, the self-planted, self-defended from the foe, Sea-gray, children-nurturing olive tree that here delights to grow, None may take nor touch nor harm it, headstrong youth nor age grown bold. For the round of Morian Zeus has been its watcher from of old; He beholds it, and, Athene, thy own sea-gray eyes behold."

The holy tree carried in procession is, like the image of Athena, made of olive-wood, just the incarnate life of Athens ever renewed.

The Panathenaia was not, like the Dithyramb, a spring festival. It took place in July at the height of the summer heat, when need for rain was the greatest. But the month Hecatombaion, in which it was celebrated, was the first month of the Athenian year and the day of the festival was the birthday of the goddess. When the goddess became a war-goddess, it was fabled that she was born in Olympus, and that she sprang full grown from her father's head in glittering armour. But she was really born on earth, and the day of her birth was the birthday of every earthborn goddess, the day of the beginning of the new year, with its returning life. When men observe only the actual growth of new green life from the ground, this birthday will be in spring; when they begin to know that the seasons depend on the sun, or when the heat of the sun causes great need of rain, it will be at midsummer, at the solstice, or in northern regions where men fear to lose the sun in midwinter, as with us. The frieze of the Parthenon is, then, but a primitive festival translated into stone, a rite frozen to a monument.

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Passing over a long space of time we come to our next illustration, the Apollo Belvedere (Fig. 6).

It might seem that here at last we have nothing primitive; here we have art pure and simple, ideal art utterly cut loose from ritual, "art for art's sake." Yet in this Apollo Belvedere, this product of late and accomplished, even decadent art, we shall see most clearly the intimate relation of art and ritual; we shall, as it were, walk actually across that transition bridge of ritual which leads from actual life to art.

The date of this famous Apollo cannot be fixed, but it is clearly a copy of a type belonging to the fourth century B.C. The poise of the figure is singular and, till its intent is grasped, unsatisfactory. Apollo is caught in swift motion but seems, as he stands delicately poised, to be about to fly rather than to run. He stands tiptoe and in a moment will have left the earth. The Greek sculptor's genius was all focussed, as we shall presently see, on the human figure and on the mastery of its many possibilities of movement and action. Greek statues can roughly be dated by the way they stand. At first, in the archaic period, they stand firmly planted with equal weight on either foot, the feet close together. Then one foot is advanced, but the weight still equally divided, an almost impossible position. Next, the weight is thrown on the right foot; and the left knee is bent. This is of all positions the loveliest for the human body. We allow it to women, forbid it to men save to "aesthetes." If the back numbers of Punch be examined for the figure of "Postlethwaite" it will be seen that he always stands in this characteristic relaxed pose.

When the sculptor has mastered the possible he bethinks him of the impossible. He will render the human body flying. It may have been the accident of a mythological subject that first suggested the motive. Leochares, a famous artist of the fourth century B.C., made a group of Zeus in the form of an eagle carrying off Ganymede. A replica of the group is preserved in the Vatican, and should stand for comparison near the Apollo. We have the same tiptoe poise, the figure just about to leave the earth. Again, it is not a dance, but a flight. This poise is suggestive to us because it marks an art cut loose, as far as may be, from earth and its realities, even its rituals.

What is it that Apollo is doing? The question and suggested answers have occupied many treatises. There is only one answer: We do not know. It was at first thought that the Apollo had just drawn his bow and shot an arrow. This suggestion was made to account for the pose; but that, as we have seen, is sufficiently explained by the flight-motive. Another possible solution is that Apollo brandishes in his uplifted hand the aegis, or goatskin shield, of Zeus. Another suggestion is that he holds as often a lustral, or laurel bough, that he is figured as Daphnephoros, "Laurel-Bearer."

We do not know if the Belvedere Apollo carried a laurel, but we do know that it was of the very essence of the god to be a Laurel-Bearer. That, as we shall see in a moment, he, like Dionysos, arose in part out of a rite, a rite of Laurel-Bearing—a Daphnephoria. We have not got clear of ritual yet. When Pausanias,[45] the ancient traveller, whose notebook is our chief source about these early festivals, came to Thebes he saw a hill sacred to Apollo, and after describing the temple on the hill he says:

"The following custom is still, I know, observed at Thebes. A boy of distinguished family and himself well-looking and strong is made the priest of Apollo, for the space of a year. The title given him is Laurel-Bearer (Daphnephoros), for these boys wear wreaths made of laurel."

We know for certain now what these yearly priests are: they are the Kings of the Year, the Spirits of the Year, May-Kings, Jacks-o'-the-Green. The name given to the boy is enough to show he carried a laurel branch, though Pausanias only mentions a wreath. Another ancient writer gives us more details.[46] He says in describing the festival of the Laurel-Bearing:

"They wreathe a pole of olive wood with laurel and various flowers. On the top is fitted a bronze globe from which they suspend smaller ones. Midway round the pole they place a lesser globe, binding it with purple fillets, but the end of the pole is decked with saffron. By the topmost globe they mean the sun, to which they actually compare Apollo. The globe beneath this is the moon; the smaller globes hung on are the stars and constellations, and the fillets are the course of the year, for they make them 365 in number. The Daphnephoria is headed by a boy, both whose parents are alive, and his nearest male relation carries the filleted pole. The Laurel-Bearer himself, who follows next, holds on to the laurel; he has his hair hanging loose, he wears a golden wreath, and he is dressed out in a splendid robe to his feet and he wears light shoes. There follows him a band of maidens holding out boughs before them, to enforce the supplication of the hymns."

This is the most elaborate maypole ceremony that we know of in ancient times. The globes representing sun and moon show us that we have come to a time when men know that the fruits of the earth in due season depended on the heavenly bodies. The year with its 365 days is a Sun-Year. Once this Sun-Year established and we find that the times of the solstices, midwinter and midsummer became as, or even more, important than the spring itself. The date of the Daphnephoria is not known.

At Delphi itself, the centre of Apollo-worship, there was a festival called the Stepteria, or festival "of those who make the wreathes," in which "mystery" a Christian Bishop, St. Cyprian, tells us he was initiated. In far-off Tempe—that wonderful valley that is still the greenest spot in stony, barren Greece, and where the laurel trees still cluster—there was an altar, and near it a laurel tree. The story went that Apollo had made himself a crown from this very laurel, and taking in his hand a branch of this same laurel, i.e. as Laurel-Bearer, had come to Delphi and taken over the oracle.

"And to this day the people of Delphi send high-born boys in procession there. And they, when they have reached Tempe and made a splendid sacrifice return back, after wearing themselves wreaths from the very laurel from which the god made himself a wreath."

We are inclined to think of the Greeks as a people apt to indulge in the singular practice of wearing wreaths in public, a practice among us confined to children on their birthdays and a few eccentric people on their wedding days. We forget the intensely practical purport of the custom. The ancient Greeks wore wreaths and carried boughs, not because they were artistic or poetical, but because they were ritualists, that they might bring back the spring and carry in the summer. The Greek bridegroom to-day, as well as the Greek bride, wears a wreath, that his marriage may be the beginning of new life, that his "wife may be as the fruitful vine, and his children as the olive branches round about his table." And our children to-day, though they do not know it, wear wreaths on their birthdays because with each new year their life is re-born.

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Apollo then, was, like Dionysos, King of the May and—saving his presence—Jack-in-the-Green. The god manifestly arose out of the rite. For a moment let us see how he arose. It will be remembered that in a previous chapter (p. 70) we spoke of "personification." We think of the god Apollo as an abstraction, an unreal thing, perhaps as a "false god." The god Apollo does not, and never did, exist. He is an idea—a thing made by the imagination. But primitive man does not deal with abstractions, does not worship them. What happens is, as we saw (p. 71), something like this: Year by year a boy is chosen to carry the laurel, to bring in the May, and later year by year a puppet is made. It is a different boy each year, carrying a different laurel branch. And yet in a sense it is the same boy; he is always the Laurel-Bearer—"Daphnephoros," always the "Luck" of the village or city. This Laurel-Bearer, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever, is the stuff of which the god is made. The god arises from the rite, he is gradually detached from the rite, and as soon as he gets a life and being of his own, apart from the rite, he is a first stage in art, a work of art existing in the mind, gradually detached from even the faded action of ritual, and later to be the model of the actual work of art, the copy in stone.

The stages, it would seem, are: actual life with its motor reactions, the ritual copy of life with its faded reactions, the image of the god projected by the rite, and, last, the copy of that image, the work of art.

* * * * *

We see now why in the history of all ages and every place art is what is called the "handmaid of religion." She is not really the "handmaid" at all. She springs straight out of the rite, and her first outward leap is the image of the god. Primitive art in Greece, in Egypt, in Assyria,[47] represents either rites, processions, sacrifices, magical ceremonies, embodied prayers; or else it represents the images of the gods who spring from those rites. Track any god right home, and you will find him lurking in a ritual sheath, from which he slowly emerges, first as a daemon, or spirit, of the year, then as a full-blown divinity.

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In Chapter II we saw how the dromenon gave birth to the drama, how, bit by bit, out of the chorus of dancers some dancers withdrew and became spectators sitting apart, and on the other hand others of the dancers drew apart on to the stage and presented to the spectators a spectacle, a thing to be looked at, not joined in. And we saw how in this spectacular mood, this being cut loose from immediate action, lay the very essence of the artist and the art-lover. Now in the drama of Thespis there was at first, we are told, but one actor; later AEschylus added a second. It is clear who this actor, this protagonist or "first contender" was, the one actor with the double part, who was Death to be carried out and Summer to be carried in. He was the Bough-Bearer, the only possible actor in the one-part play of the renewal of life and the return of the year.

* * * * *

The May-King, the leader of the choral dance gave birth not only to the first actor of the drama, but also, as we have just seen, to the god, be he Dionysos or be he Apollo; and this figure of the god thus imagined out of the year-spirit was perhaps more fertile for art than even the protagonist of the drama. It may seem strange to us that a god should rise up out of a dance or a procession, because dances and processions are not an integral part of our national life, and do not call up any very strong and instant emotion. The old instinct lingers, it is true, and emerges at critical moments; when a king dies we form a great procession to carry him to the grave, but we do not dance. We have court balls, and these with their stately ordered ceremonials are perhaps the last survival of the genuinely civic dance, but a court ball is not given at a king's funeral nor in honour of a god.

But to the Greek the god and the dance were never quite sundered. It almost seems as if in the minds of Greek poets and philosophers there lingered some dim half-conscious remembrance that some of these gods at least actually came out of the ritual dance. Thus, Plato,[48] in treating of the importance of rhythm in education says: "The gods, pitying the toilsome race of men, have appointed the sequence of religious festivals to give them times of rest, and have given them the Muses and Apollo, the Muse-Leader, as fellow-revellers."

"The young of all animals," he goes on to say, "cannot keep quiet, either in body or voice. They must leap and skip and overflow with gamesomeness and sheer joy, and they must utter all sorts of cries. But whereas animals have no perception of order or disorder in their motions, the gods who have been appointed to men as our fellow-dancers have given to us a sense of pleasure in rhythm and harmony. And so they move us and lead our bands, knitting us together with songs and in dances, and these we call choruses." Nor was it only Apollo and Dionysos who led the dance. Athena herself danced the Pyrrhic dance. "Our virgin lady," says Plato, "delighting in the sports of the dance, thought it not meet to dance with empty hands; she must be clothed in full armour, and in this attire go through the dance. And youths and maidens should in every respect imitate her example, honouring the goddess, both with a view to the actual necessities of war and to the festivals."

Plato is unconsciously inverting the order of things, natural happenings. Take the armed dance. There is, first, the "actual necessity of war." Men go to war armed, to face actual dangers, and at their head is a leader in full armour. That is real life. There is then the festal re-enactment of war, when the fight is not actually fought, but there is an imitation of war. That is the ritual stage, the dromenon. Here, too, there is a leader. More and more this dance becomes a spectacle, less and less an action. Then from the periodic dromenon, the ritual enacted year by year, emerges an imagined permanent leader; a daemon, or god—a Dionysos, an Apollo, an Athena. Finally the account of what actually happens is thrown into the past, into a remote distance, and we have an "aetiological" myth—a story told to give a cause or reason. The whole natural process is inverted.

And last, as already seen, the god, the first work of art, the thing unseen, imagined out of the ritual of the dance, is cast back into the visible world and fixed in space. Can we wonder that a classical writer[49] should say "the statues of the craftsmen of old times are the relics of ancient dancing." That is just what they are, rites caught and fixed and frozen. "Drawing," says a modern critic,[50] "is at bottom, like all the arts, a kind of gesture, a method of dancing on paper." Sculpture, drawing, all the arts save music are imitative; so was the dance from which they sprang. But imitation is not all, or even first. "The dance may be mimetic; but the beauty and verve of the performance, not closeness of the imitation impresses; and tame additions of truth will encumber and not convince. The dance must control the pantomime." Art, that is, gradually dominates mere ritual.

* * * * *

We come to another point. The Greek gods as we know them in classical sculpture are always imaged in human shape. This was not of course always the case with other nations. We have seen how among savages the totem, that is, the emblem of tribal unity, was usually an animal or a plant. We have seen how the emotions of the Siberian tribe in Saghalien focussed on a bear. The savage totem, the Saghalien Bear, is on the way to be, but is not quite, a god; he is not personal enough. The Egyptians, and in part the Assyrians, halted half-way and made their gods into monstrous shapes, half-animal, half-man, which have their own mystical grandeur. But since we are men ourselves, feeling human emotion, if our gods are in great part projected emotions, the natural form for them to take is human shape.

"Art imitates Nature," says Aristotle, in a phrase that has been much misunderstood. It has been taken to mean that art is a copy or reproduction of natural objects. But by "Nature" Aristotle never means the outside world of created things, he means rather creative force, what produces, not what has been produced. We might almost translate the Greek phrase, "Art, like Nature, creates things," "Art acts like Nature in producing things." These things are, first and foremost, human things, human action. The drama, with which Aristotle is so much concerned, invents human action like real, natural action. Dancing "imitates character, emotion, action." Art is to Aristotle almost wholly bound by the limitations of human nature.

This is, of course, characteristically a Greek limitation. "Man is the measure of all things," said the old Greek sophist, but modern science has taught us another lesson. Man may be in the foreground, but the drama of man's life is acted out for us against a tremendous background of natural happenings: a background that preceded man and will outlast him; and this background profoundly affects our imagination, and hence our art. We moderns are in love with the background. Our art is a landscape art. The ancient landscape painter could not, or would not, trust the background to tell its own tale: if he painted a mountain he set up a mountain-god to make it real; if he outlined a coast he set human coast-nymphs on its shore to make clear the meaning.

Contrast with this our modern landscape, from which bit by bit the nymph has been wholly banished. It is the art of a stage, without actors, a scene which is all background, all suggestion. It is an art given us by sheer recoil from science, which has dwarfed actual human life almost to imaginative extinction.

"Landscape, then, offered to the modern imagination a scene empty of definite actors, superhuman or human, that yielded to reverie without challenge all that is in a moral without a creed, tension or ambush of the dark, threat of ominous gloom, the relenting and tender return or overwhelming outburst of light, the pageantry of clouds above a world turned quaker, the monstrous weeds of trees outside the town, the sea that is obstinately epic still."[51]

It was to this world of backgrounds that men fled, hunted by the sense of their own insignificance.

"Minds the most strictly bound in their acts by civil life, in their fancy by the shrivelled look of destiny under scientific speculation, felt on solitary hill or shore those tides of the blood stir again that are ruled by the sun and the moon and travelled as if to tryst where an apparition might take form. Poets ordained themselves to this vigil, haunters of a desert church, prompters of an elemental theatre, listeners in solitary places for intimations from a spirit in hiding; and painters followed the impulse of Wordsworth."

We can only see the strength and weakness of Greek sculpture, feel the emotion of which it was the utterance, if we realize clearly this modern spirit of the background. All great modern, and perhaps even ancient, poets are touched by it. Drama itself, as Nietzsche showed, "hankers after dissolution into mystery. Shakespeare would occasionally knock the back out of the stage with a window opening on the 'cloud-capp'd towers.'" But Maeterlinck is the best example, because his genius is less. He is the embodiment, almost the caricature, of a tendency.

"Maeterlinck sets us figures in the foreground only to launch us into that limbus. The supers jabbering on the scene are there, children of presentiment and fear, to make us aware of a third, the mysterious one, whose name is not on the bills. They come to warn us by the nervous check and hurry of their gossip of the approach of that background power. Omen after omen announces him, the talk starts and drops at his approach, a door shuts and the thrill of his passage is the play."[52]

It is, perhaps, the temperaments that are most allured and terrified by this art of the bogey and the background that most feel the need of and best appreciate the calm and level, rational dignity of Greek naturalism and especially the naturalism of Greek sculpture.

For it is naturalism, not realism, not imitation. By all manner of renunciations Greek sculpture is what it is. The material, itself marble, is utterly unlike life, it is perfectly cold and still, it has neither the texture nor the colouring of life. The story of Pygmalion who fell in love with the statue he had himself sculptured is as false as it is tasteless. Greek sculpture is the last form of art to incite physical reaction. It is remote almost to the point of chill abstraction. The statue in the round renounces not only human life itself, but all the natural background and setting of life. The statues of the Greek gods are Olympian in spirit as well as subject. They are like the gods of Epicurus, cut loose alike from the affairs of men, and even the ordered ways of Nature. So Lucretius[53] pictures them:

"The divinity of the gods is revealed and their tranquil abodes, which neither winds do shake nor clouds drench with rains, nor snow congealed by sharp frost harms with hoary fall: an ever cloudless ether o'ercanopies them, and they laugh with light shed largely around. Nature, too, supplies all their wants, and nothing ever impairs their peace of mind."

Greek art moves on through a long course of technical accomplishment, of ever-increasing mastery over materials and methods. But this course we need not follow. For our argument the last word is said in the figures of these Olympians translated into stone. Born of pressing human needs and desires, images projected by active and even anxious ritual, they pass into the upper air and dwell aloof, spectator-like and all but spectral.


[43] II, 38.

[44] Oed. Col. 694, trans. D.S. MacColl.

[45] IX, 10, 4.

[46] See my Themis, p. 438.

[47] It is now held by some and good authorities that the prehistoric paintings of cave-dwelling man had also a ritual origin; that is, that the representations of animals were intended to act magically, to increase the "supply of the animal or help the hunter to catch him." But, as this question is still pending, I prefer, tempting though they are, not to use prehistoric paintings as material for my argument.

[48] Laws, 653.

[49] Athen. XIV, 26, p. 629.

[50] D.S. MacColl, "A Year of Post-Impressionism," Nineteenth Century, p. 29. (1912.)

[51] D.S. MacColl, Nineteenth Century Art, p. 20. (1902.)

[52] D.S. MacColl, op. cit., p. 18.

[53] II, 18.



In the preceding chapters we have seen ritual emerge from the practical doings of life. We have noted that in ritual we have the beginning of a detachment from practical ends; we have watched the merely emotional dance develop from an undifferentiated chorus into a spectacle performed by actors and watched by spectators, a spectacle cut off, not only from real life, but also from ritual issues; a spectacle, in a word, that has become an end in itself. We have further seen that the choral dance is an undifferentiated whole which later divides out into three clearly articulate parts, the artist, the work of art, the spectator or art lover. We are now in a position to ask what is the good of all this antiquarian enquiry? Why is it, apart from the mere delight of scientific enquiry, important to have seen that art arose from ritual?

The answer is simple—

The object of this book, as stated in the preface, is to try to throw some light on the function of art, that is on what it has done, and still does to-day, for life. Now in the case of a complex growth like art, it is rarely if ever possible to understand its function—what it does, how it works—unless we know something of how that growth began, or, if its origin is hid, at least of the simpler forms of activity that preceded it. For art, this earlier stage, this simpler form, which is indeed itself as it were an embryo and rudimentary art, we found to be—ritual.

Ritual, then, has not been studied for its own sake, still less for its connection with any particular dogma, though, as a subject of singular gravity and beauty, ritual is well worth a lifetime's study. It has been studied because ritual is, we believe, a frequent and perhaps universal transition stage between actual life and that peculiar contemplation of or emotion towards life which we call art. All our long examination of beast-dances, May-day festivals and even of Greek drama has had just this for its object—to make clear that art—save perhaps in a few specially gifted natures—did not arise straight out of life, but out of that collective emphasis of the needs and desires of life which we have agreed to call ritual.

* * * * *

Our formal argument is now over and ritual may drop out of the discussion. But we would guard against a possible misunderstanding. We would not be taken to imply that ritual is obsolete and must drop out of life, giving place to the art it has engendered. It may well be that, for certain temperaments, ritual is a perennial need. Natures specially gifted can live lives that are emotionally vivid, even in the rare high air of art or science; but many, perhaps most of us, breathe more freely in the medium, literally the midway space, of some collective ritual. Moreover, for those of us who are not artists or original thinkers the life of the imagination, and even of the emotions, has been perhaps too long lived at second hand, received from the artist ready made and felt. To-day, owing largely to the progress of science, and a host of other causes social and economic, life grows daily fuller and freer, and every manifestation of life is regarded with a new reverence. With this fresh outpouring of the spirit, this fuller consciousness of life, there comes a need for first-hand emotion and expression, and that expression is found for all classes in a revival of the ritual dance. Some of the strenuous, exciting, self-expressive dances of to-day are of the soil and some exotic, but, based as they mostly are on very primitive ritual, they stand as singular evidence of this real recurrent need. Art in these latter days goes back as it were on her own steps, recrossing the ritual bridge back to life.

* * * * *

It remains to ask what, in the light of this ritual origin, is the function of art? How do we relate it to other forms of life, to science, to religion, to morality, to philosophy? These are big-sounding questions, and towards their solution only hints here and there can be offered, stray thoughts that have grown up out of this study of ritual origins and which, because they have helped the writer, are offered, with no thought of dogmatism, to the reader.

* * * * *

We English are not supposed to be an artistic people, yet art, in some form or another, bulks large in the national life. We have theatres, a National Gallery, we have art-schools, our tradesmen provide for us "art-furniture," we even hear, absurdly enough, of "art-colours." Moreover, all this is not a matter of mere antiquarian interest, we do not simply go and admire the beauty of the past in museums; a movement towards or about art is all alive and astir among us. We have new developments of the theatre, problem plays, Reinhardt productions, Gordon Craig scenery, Russian ballets. We have new schools of painting treading on each other's heels with breathless rapidity: Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, Futurists. Art—or at least the desire for, the interest in, art—is assuredly not dead.

Moreover, and this is very important, we all feel about art a certain obligation, such as some of us feel about religion. There is an "ought" about it. Perhaps we do not really care much about pictures and poetry and music, but we feel we "ought to." In the case of music it has happily been at last recognized that if you have not an "ear" you cannot care for it, but two generations ago, owing to the unfortunate cheapness and popularity of keyed instruments, it was widely held that one half of humanity, the feminine half, "ought" to play the piano. This "ought" is, of course, like most social "oughts," a very complex product, but its existence is well worth noting.

It is worth noting because it indicates a vague feeling that art has a real value, that art is not a mere luxury, nor even a rarefied form of pleasure. No one feels they ought to take pleasure in beautiful scents or in the touch of velvet; they either do or they don't. The first point, then, that must be made clear is that art is of real value to life in a perfectly clear biological sense; it invigorates, enhances, promotes actual, spiritual, and through it physical life.

This from our historical account we should at the outset expect, because we have seen art, by way of ritual, arose out of life. And yet the statement is a sort of paradox, for we have seen also that art differs from ritual just in this, that in art, whether of the spectator or the creator, the "motor reactions," i.e. practical life, the life of doing, is for the time checked. This is of the essence of the artist's vision, that he sees things detached and therefore more vividly, more completely, and in a different light. This is of the essence of the artist's emotion, that it is purified from personal desire.

But, though the artist's vision and emotion alike are modified, purified, they are not devitalized. Far from that, by detachment from action they are focussed and intensified. Life is enhanced, only it is a different kind of life, it is the life of the image-world, of the imagination; it is the spiritual and human life, as differentiated from the life we share with animals. It is a life we all, as human beings, possess in some, but very varying, degrees; and the natural man will always view the spiritual man askance, because he is not "practical." But the life of imagination, cut off from practical reaction as it is, becomes in turn a motor-force causing new emotions, and so pervading the general life, and thus ultimately becoming "practical." No one function is completely cut off from another. The main function of art is probably to intensify and purify emotion, but it is substantially certain that, if we did not feel, we could not think and should not act. Still it remains true that, in artistic contemplation and in the realms of the artist's imagination not only are practical motor-reactions cut off, but intelligence is suffused in, and to some extent subordinated to, emotion.

* * * * *

One function, then, of art is to feed and nurture the imagination and the spirit, and thereby enhance and invigorate the whole of human life. This is far removed from the view that the end of art is to give pleasure. Art does usually cause pleasure, singular and intense, and to that which causes such pleasure we give the name of Beauty. But to produce and enjoy Beauty is not the function of art. Beauty—or rather, the sensation of Beauty—is what the Greeks would call an epigignomenon ti telos, words hard to translate, something between a by-product and a supervening perfection, a thing like—as Aristotle[54] for once beautifully says of pleasure—"the bloom of youth to a healthy young body."

That this is so we see most clearly in the simple fact that, when the artist begins to aim direct at Beauty, he usually misses it. We all know, perhaps by sad experience, that the man who seeks out pleasure for herself fails to find her. Let him do his work well for that work's sake, exercise his faculties, "energize" as Aristotle would say, and he will find pleasure come out unawares to meet him with her shining face; but let him look for her, think of her, even desire her, and she hides her head. A man goes out hunting, thinks of nothing but following the hounds and taking his fences, being in at the death: his day is full—alas! of pleasure, though he has scarcely known it. Let him forget the fox and the fences, think of pleasure, desire her, and he will be in at pleasure's death.

So it is with the artist. Let him feel strongly, and see raptly—that is, in complete detachment. Let him cast this, his rapt vision and his intense emotion, into outside form, a statue or a painting; that form will have about it a nameless thing, an unearthly aroma, which we call beauty; this nameless presence will cause in the spectator a sensation too rare to be called pleasure, and we shall call it a "sense of beauty." But let the artist aim direct at Beauty, and she is gone, gone before we hear the flutter of her wings.

* * * * *

The sign manual, the banner, as it were, of artistic creation is for the creative artist not pleasure, but something better called joy. Pleasure, it has been well said, is no more than an instrument contrived by Nature to obtain from the individual the preservation and the propagation of life. True joy is not the lure of life, but the consciousness of the triumph of creation. Wherever joy is, creation has been.[55] It may be the joy of a mother in the physical creation of a child; it may be the joy of the merchant adventurer in pushing out new enterprise, or of the engineer in building a bridge, or of the artist in a masterpiece accomplished; but it is always of the thing created. Again, contrast joy with glory. Glory comes with success and is exceedingly pleasant; it is not joyous. Some men say an artist's crown is glory; his deepest satisfaction is in the applause of his fellows. There is no greater mistake; we care for praise just in proportion as we are not sure we have succeeded. To the real creative artist even praise and glory are swallowed up in the supreme joy of creation. Only the artist himself feels the real divine fire, but it flames over into the work of art, and even the spectator warms his hands at the glow.

We can now, I think, understand the difference between the artist and true lover of art on the one hand, and the mere aesthete on the other. The aesthete does not produce, or, if he produces, his work is thin and scanty. In this he differs from the artist; he does not feel so strongly and see so clearly that he is forced to utterance. He has no joy, only pleasure. He cannot even feel the reflection of this creative joy. In fact, he does not so much feel as want to feel. He seeks for pleasure, for sensual pleasure as his name says, not for the grosser kinds, but for pleasure of that rarefied kind that we call a sense of beauty. The aesthete, like the flirt, is cold. It is not even that his senses are easily stirred, but he seeks the sensation of stirring, and most often feigns it, not finds it. The aesthete is no more released from his own desires than the practical man, and he is without the practical man's healthy outlet in action. He sees life, not indeed in relation to action, but to his own personal sensation. By this alone he is debarred for ever from being an artist. As M. Andre Beaunier has well observed, by the irony of things, when we see life in relation to ourselves we cannot really represent it at all. The profligate thinks he knows women. It is his irony, his curse that, because he sees them always in relation to his own desires, his own pleasure, he never really knows them at all.

There is another important point. We have seen that art promotes a part of life, the spiritual, image-making side. But this side, wonderful though it is, is never the whole of actual life. There is always the practical side. The artist is always also a man. Now the aesthete tries to make his whole attitude artistic—that is, contemplative. He is always looking and prying and savouring, savourant, as he would say, when he ought to be living. The result is that there is nothing to savourer. All art springs by way of ritual out of keen emotion towards life, and even the power to appreciate art needs this emotional reality in the spectator. The aesthete leads at best a parasite, artistic life, dogged always by death and corruption.

* * * * *

This brings us straight on to another question: What about Art and Morality? Is Art immoral, or non-moral, or highly moral? Here again public opinion is worth examining. Artists, we are told, are bad husbands, and they do not pay their debts. Or if they become good husbands and take to paying their debts, they take also to wallowing in domesticity and produce bad art or none at all; they get tangled in the machinery of practical reactions. Art, again, is apt to deal with risky subjects. Where should we be if there were not a Censor of Plays? Many of these instructive attitudes about artists as immoral or non-moral, explain themselves instantly if we remember that the artist is ipso facto detached from practical life. In so far as he is an artist, for each and every creative moment he is inevitably a bad husband, if being a good husband means constant attention to your wife and her interests. Spiritual creation a deux is a happening so rare as to be negligible.

The remoteness of the artist, his essential inherent detachment from motor-reaction, explains the perplexities of the normal censor. He, being a "practical man," regards emotion and vision, feeling and ideas, as leading to action. He does not see that art arises out of ritual and that even ritual is one remove from practical life. In the censor's world the spectacle of the nude leads straight to desire, so the dancer must be draped; the problem-play leads straight to the Divorce Court, therefore it must be censored. The normal censor apparently knows nothing of that world where motor-reactions are cut off, that house made without hands, whose doors are closed on desire, eternal in the heavens. The censor is not for the moment a persona grata, but let us give him his due. He acts according to his lights and these often quite adequately represent the average darkness. A normal audience contains many "practical" men whose standard is the same as that of the normal censor. Art—that is vision detached from practical reactions—is to them an unknown world full of moral risks from which the artist is qua artist immune.

So far we might perhaps say that art was non-moral. But the statement would be misleading, since, as we have seen, art is in its very origin social, and social means human and collective. Moral and social are, in their final analysis, the same. That human, collective emotion, out of which we have seen the choral dance arise, is in its essence moral; that is, it unites. "Art," says Tolstoy, "has this characteristic, that it unites people." In this conviction, as we shall later see, he anticipates the modern movement of the Unanimists (p. 249).

But there is another, and perhaps simpler, way in which art is moral. As already suggested, it purifies by cutting off the motor-reactions of personal desire. An artist deeply in love with his friend's wife once said: "If only I could paint her and get what I want from her, I could bear it." His wish strikes a chill at first; it sounds egotistic; it has the peculiar, instinctive, inevitable cruelty of the artist, seeing in human nature material for his art. But it shows us the moral side of art. The artist was a good and sensitive man; he saw the misery he had brought and would bring to people he loved, and he saw, or rather felt, a way of escape; he saw that through art, through vision, through detachment, desire might be slain, and the man within him find peace. To some natures this instinct after art is almost their sole morality. If they find themselves intimately entangled in hate or jealousy or even contempt, so that they are unable to see the object of their hate or jealousy or contempt in a clear, quiet and lovely light, they are restless, miserable, morally out of gear, and they are constrained to fetter or slay personal desire and so find rest.

* * * * *

This aloofness, this purgation of emotion from personal passion, art has in common with philosophy. If the philosopher will seek after truth, there must be, says Plotinus, a "turning away" of the spirit, a detachment. He must aim at contemplation; action, he says, is "a weakening of contemplation." Our word theory, which we use in connection with reasoning and which comes from the same Greek root as theatre, means really looking fixedly at, contemplation; it is very near in meaning to our imagination. But the philosopher differs from the artist in this: he aims not only at the contemplation of truth, but at the ordering of truths, he seeks to make of the whole universe an intelligible structure. Further, he is not driven by the gadfly of creation, he is not forced to cast his images into visible or audible shape. He is remoter from the push of life. Still, the philosopher, like the artist, lives in a world of his own, with a spell of its own near akin to beauty, and the secret of that spell is the same detachment from the tyranny of practical life. The essence of art, says Santayana, is "the steady contemplation of things in their order and worth." He might have been defining philosophy.

* * * * *

If art and philosophy are thus near akin, art and science are in their beginning, though not in their final development, contrasted. Science, it seems, begins with the desire for practical utility. Science, as Professor Bergson has told us, has for its initial aim the making of tools for life. Man tries to find out the laws of Nature, that is, how natural things behave, in order primarily that he may get the better of them, rule over them, shape them to his ends. That is why science is at first so near akin to magic—the cry of both is:

"I'll do, I'll do, and I'll do."

But, though the feet of science are thus firmly planted on the solid ground of practical action, her head, too, sometimes touches the highest heavens. The real man of science, like the philosopher, soon comes to seek truth and knowledge for their own sake. In art, in science, in philosophy, there come eventually the same detachment from personal desire and practical reaction; and to artist, man of science, and philosopher alike, through this detachment there comes at times the same peace that passeth all understanding.

Attempts have been often made to claim for art the utility, the tool-making property, that characterizes the beginnings of science. Nothing is beautiful, it is sometimes said, that is not useful; the beauty of a jug or a table depends, we are often told, on its perfect adaptation to its use. There is here some confusion of thought and some obvious, but possibly unconscious, special pleading. Much of art, specially decorative art, arises out of utilities, but its aim and its criterion is not utility. Art may be structural, commemorative, magical, what-not, may grow up out of all manner of practical needs, but it is not till it is cut loose from these practical needs that Art is herself and comes to her own. This does not mean that the jugs or tables are to be bad jugs or tables, still less does it mean that the jugs or tables should be covered with senseless machine-made ornament; but the utility of the jug or table is a good in itself independent of, though often associated with, its merit as art.

No one has, I think, ever called Art "the handmaid of Science." There is, indeed, no need to establish a hierarchy. Yet in a sense the converse is true and Science is the handmaid of Art. Art is only practicable as we have seen, when it is possible safely to cut off motor-reactions. By the long discipline of ritual man accustomed himself to slacken his hold on action, and be content with a shadowy counterfeit practice. Then last, when through knowledge he was relieved from the need of immediate reaction to imminent realities, he loosed hold for a moment altogether, and was free to look, and art was born. He can never quit his hold for long; but it would seem that, as science advances and life gets easier and easier, safer and safer, he may loose his hold for longer spaces. Man subdues the world about him first by force and then by reason; and when the material world is mastered and lies at his beck, he needs brute force no longer, and needs reason no more to make tools for conquest. He is free to think for thought's sake, he may trust intuition once again, and above all dare to lose himself in contemplation, dare to be more and more an artist. Only here there lurks an almost ironical danger. Emotion towards life is the primary stuff of which art is made; there might be a shortage of this very emotional stuff of which art herself is ultimately compacted.

Science, then, helps to make art possible by making life safer and easier, it "makes straight in the desert a highway for our God." But only rarely and with special limitations easily understood does it provide actual material for art. Science deals with abstractions, concepts, class names, made by the intellect for convenience, that we may handle life on the side desirable to us. When we classify things, give them class-names, we simply mean that we note for convenience that certain actually existing objects have similar qualities, a fact it is convenient for us to know and register. These class-names being abstract—that is, bundles of qualities rent away from living actual objects, do not easily stir emotion, and, therefore, do not easily become material for art whose function it is to express and communicate emotion. Particular qualities, like love, honour, faith, may and do stir emotion; and certain bundles of qualities like, for example, motherhood tend towards personification; but the normal class label like horse, man, triangle does not easily become material for art; it remains a practical utility for science.

The abstractions, the class-names of science are in this respect quite different from those other abstractions or unrealities already studied—the gods of primitive religion. The very term we use shows this. Abstractions are things, qualities, dragged away consciously by the intellect, from actual things objectively existing. The primitive gods are personifications—i.e. collective emotions taking shape in imagined form. Dionysos has no more actual, objective existence than the abstract horse. But the god Dionysos was not made by the intellect for practical convenience, he was begotten by emotion, and, therefore, he re-begets it. He and all the other gods are, therefore, the proper material for art; he is, indeed, one of the earliest forms of art. The abstract horse, on the other hand, is the outcome of reflection. We must honour him as of quite extraordinary use for the purposes of practical life, but he leaves us cold and, by the artist, is best neglected.

* * * * *

There remains the relation of Art to Religion.[56] By now, it may be hoped, this relation is transparently clear. The whole object of the present book has been to show how primitive art grew out of ritual, how art is in fact but a later and more sublimated, more detached form of ritual. We saw further that the primitive gods themselves were but projections or, if we like it better, personifications of the rite. They arose straight out of it.

Now we say advisedly "primitive gods," and this with no intention of obscurantism. The god of later days, the unknown source of life, the unresolved mystery of the world, is not begotten of a rite, is not, essentially not, the occasion or object of art. With his relation to art—which is indeed practically non-existent—we have nothing to do. Of the other gods we may safely say that not only are they objects of art, they are its prime material; in a word, primitive theology is an early stage in the formation of art. Each primitive god, like the rite from which he sprang, is a half-way house between practical life and art; he comes into being from a half, but only half, inhibited desire.

* * * * *

Is there, then, no difference, except in degree of detachment, between religion and art? Both have the like emotional power; both carry with them a sense of obligation, though the obligation of religion is the stronger. But there is one infallible criterion between the two which is all-important, and of wide-reaching consequences. Primitive religion asserts that her imaginations have objective existence; art more happily makes no such claim. The worshipper of Apollo believes, not only that he has imagined the lovely figure of the god and cast a copy of its shape in stone, but he also believes that in the outside world the god Apollo exists as an object. Now this is certainly untrue; that is, it does not correspond with fact. There is no such thing as the god Apollo, and science makes a clean sweep of Apollo and Dionysos and all such fictitious objectivities; they are eidola, idols, phantasms, not objective realities. Apollo fades earlier than Dionysos because the worshipper of Dionysos keeps hold of the reality that he and his church or group have projected the god. He knows that prier, c'est elaborer Dieu; or, as he would put it, he is "one with" his god. Religion has this in common with art, that it discredits the actual practical world; but only because it creates a new world and insists on its actuality and objectivity.

Why does the conception of a god impose obligation? Just because and in so far as he claims to have objective existence. By giving to his god from the outset objective existence the worshipper prevents his god from taking his place in that high kingdom of spiritual realities which is the imagination, and sets him down in that lower objective world which always compels practical reaction. What might have been an ideal becomes an idol. Straightway this objectified idol compels all sorts of ritual reactions of prayer and praise and sacrifice. It is as though another and a more exacting and commanding fellow-man were added to the universe. But a moment's reflection will show that, when we pass from the vague sense of power or mana felt by the savage to the personal god, to Dionysos or Apollo, though it may seem a set back it is a real advance. It is the substitution of a human and tolerably humane power for an incalculable whimsical and often cruel force. The idol is a step towards, not a step from, the ideal. Ritual makes these idols, and it is the business of science to shatter them and set the spirit free for contemplation. Ritual must wane that art may wax.

But we must never forget that ritual is the bridge by which man passes, the ladder by which he climbs from earth to heaven. The bridge must not be broken till the transit is made. And the time is not yet. We must not pull down the ladder till we are sure the last angel has climbed. Only then, at last, we dare not leave it standing. Earth pulls hard, and it may be that the angels who ascended might descend and be for ever fallen.

* * * * *

It may be well at the close of our enquiry to test the conclusions at which we have arrived by comparing them with certain endoxa, as Aristotle would call them, that is, opinions and theories actually current at the present moment. We take these contemporary controversies, not implying that they are necessarily of high moment in the history of art, or that they are in any fundamental sense new discoveries; but because they are at this moment current and vital, and consequently form a good test for the adequacy of our doctrines. It will be satisfactory if we find our view includes these current opinions, even if it to some extent modifies them and, it may be hoped, sets them in a new light.

We have already considered the theory that holds art to be the creation or pursuit or enjoyment of beauty. The other view falls readily into two groups:

(1) The "imitation" theory, with its modification, the idealization theory, which holds that art either copies Nature, or, out of natural materials, improves on her.

(2) The "expression" theory, which holds that the aim of art is to express the emotions and thoughts of the artist.

The "Imitation" theory is out of fashion now-a-days. Plato and Aristotle held it; though Aristotle, as we have seen, did not mean by "imitating Nature" quite what we mean to-day. The Imitation theory began to die down with the rise of Romanticism, which stressed the personal, individual emotion of the artist. Whistler dealt it a rude, ill-considered blow by his effective, but really foolish and irrelevant, remark that to attempt to create Art by imitating Nature was "like trying to make music by sitting on the piano." But, as already noted, the Imitation theory of art was really killed by the invention of photography. It was impossible for the most insensate not to see that in a work of art, of sculpture or painting, there was an element of value not to be found in the exact transcript of a photograph. Henceforth the Imitation theory lived on only in the weakened form of Idealization.

The reaction against the Imitation theory has naturally and inevitably gone much too far. We have "thrown out the child with the bath-water." All through the present book we have tried to show that art arises from ritual, and ritual is in its essence a faded action, an imitation. Moreover, every work of art is a copy of something, only not a copy of anything having actual existence in the outside world. Rather it is a copy of that inner and highly emotionalized vision of the artist which it is granted to him to see and recreate when he is released from certain practical reactions.

* * * * *

The Impressionism that dominated the pictorial art of the later years of the nineteenth century was largely a modified and very delicate imitation. Breaking with conventions as to how things are supposed to be—conventions mainly based not on seeing but on knowing or imagining—the Impressionist insists on purging his vision from knowledge, and representing things not as they are but as they really look. He imitates Nature not as a whole, but as she presents herself to his eyes. It was a most needful and valuable purgation, since painting is the art proper of the eye. But, when the new effects of the world as simply seen, the new material of light and shadow and tone, had been to some extent—never completely—mastered, there was inevitable reaction. Up sprang Post-Impressionists and Futurists. They will not gladly be classed together, but both have this in common—they are Expressionists, not Impressionists, not Imitators.

The Expressionists, no matter by what name they call themselves, have one criterion. They believe that art is not the copying or idealizing of Nature, or of any aspect of Nature, but the expression and communication of the artist's emotion. We can see that, between them and the Imitationists, the Impressionists form a delicate bridge. They, too, focus their attention on the artist rather than the object, only it is on the artist's particular vision, his impression, what he actually sees, not on his emotion, what he feels.

Modern life is not simple—cannot be simple—ought not to be; it is not for nothing that we are heirs to the ages. Therefore the art that utters and expresses our emotion towards modern life cannot be simple; and, moreover, it must before all things embody not only that living tangle which is felt by the Futurists as so real, but it must purge and order it, by complexities of tone and rhythm hitherto unattempted. One art, beyond all others, has blossomed into real, spontaneous, unconscious life to-day, and that is Music; the other arts stand round arrayed, half paralyzed, with drooping, empty hands. The nineteenth century saw vast developments in an art that could express abstract, unlocalized, unpersonified feelings more completely than painting or poetry, the art of Music.

* * * * *

As a modern critic[57] has well observed: "In tone and rhythm music has a notation for every kind and degree of action and passion, presenting abstract moulds of its excitement, fluctuation, suspense, crisis, appeasement; and all this anonymously, without place, actors, circumstances, named or described, without a word spoken. Poetry has to supply definite thought, arguments driving at a conclusion, ideas mortgaged to this or that creed or system; and to give force to these can command only a few rhythms limited by the duration of a human breath and the pitch of an octave. The little effects worked out in this small compass music sweeps up and builds into vast fabrics of emotion with a dissolute freedom undreamed of in any other art."

It may be that music provides for a century too stagnant and listless to act out its own emotions, too reflective to be frankly sensuous, a shadowy pageant of sense and emotion, that serves as a katharsis or purgation.

Anyhow, "an art that came out of the old world two centuries ago, with a few chants, love-songs, and dances; that a century ago was still tied to the words of a mass or an opera; or threading little dance-movements together in a 'suite,' became in the last century this extraordinary debauch, in which the man who has never seen a battle, loved a woman, or worshipped a god, may not only ideally, but through the response of his nerves and pulses to immediate rhythmical attack, enjoy the ghosts of struggle, rapture, and exaltation with a volume and intricacy, an anguish, a triumph, an irresponsibility, unheard of. An amplified pattern of action and emotion is given: each man may fit to it what images he will."[58]

* * * * *

If our contention throughout this book be correct the Expressionists are in one matter abundantly right. Art, we have seen, again and again rises by way of ritual out of emotion, out of life keenly and vividly livid. The younger generation are always talking of life; they have a sort of cult of life. Some of the more valorous spirits among them even tend to disparage art that life may be the more exalted. "Stop painting and sculping," they cry, "and go and see a football match." There you have life! Life is, undoubtedly, essential to art because life is the stuff of emotion, but some thinkers and artists have an oddly limited notion of what life is. It must, it seems, in the first place, be essentially physical. To sit and dream in your study is not to live. The reason of this odd limitation is easy to see. We all think life is especially the sort of life we are not living ourselves. The hard-worked University professor thinks that "Life" is to be found in a French cafe; the polished London journalist looks for "Life" among the naked Polynesians. The cult of savagery, and even of simplicity, in every form, simply spells complex civilization and diminished physical vitality.

The Expressionist is, then, triumphantly right in the stress he lays on emotion; but he is not right if he limits life to certain of its more elementary manifestations; and still less is he right, to our minds, in making life and art in any sense coextensive. Art, as we have seen, sustains and invigorates life, but only does it by withdrawal from these very same elementary forms of life, by inhibiting certain sensuous reactions.

* * * * *

In another matter one section of Expressionists, the Futurists, are in the main right. The emotion to be expressed is the emotion of to-day, or still better to-morrow. The mimetic dance arose not only nor chiefly out of reflection on the past; but out of either immediate joy or imminent fear or insistent hope for the future. We are not prepared perhaps to go all lengths, to "burn all museums" because of their contagious corruption, though we might be prepared to "banish the nude for the space of ten years." If there is to be any true living art, it must arise, not from the contemplation of Greek statues, not from the revival of folk-songs, not even from the re-enacting of Greek plays, but from a keen emotion felt towards things and people living to-day, in modern conditions, including, among other and deeper forms of life, the haste and hurry of the modern street, the whirr of motor cars and aeroplanes.

There are artists alive to-day, strayed revellers, who wish themselves back in the Middle Ages, who long for the time when each man would have his house carved with a bit of lovely ornament, when every village church had its Madonna and Child, when, in a word, art and life and religion went hand in hand, not sharply sundered by castes and professions. But we may not put back the clock, and, if by differentiation we lose something, we gain much. The old choral dance on the orchestral floor was an undifferentiated thing, it had a beauty of its own; but by its differentiation, by the severance of artist and actors and spectators, we have gained—the drama. We may not cast reluctant eyes backwards; the world goes forward to new forms of life, and the Churches of to-day must and should become the Museums of to-morrow.

* * * * *

It is curious and instructive to note that Tolstoy's theory of Art, though not his practice, is essentially Expressive and even approaches the dogmas of the Futurist. Art is to him just the transmission of personal emotion to others. It may be bad emotion or it may be good emotion, emotion it must be. To take his simple and instructive instance: a boy goes out into a wood and meets a wolf, he is frightened, he comes back and tells the other villagers what he felt, how he went to the wood feeling happy and light-hearted and the wolf came, and what the wolf looked like, and how he began to be frightened. This is, according to Tolstoy, art. Even if the boy never saw a wolf at all, if he had really at another time been frightened, and if he was able to conjure up fear in himself and communicate it to others—that also would be art. The essential is, according to Tolstoy, that he should feel himself and so represent his feeling that he communicates it to others.[59] Art-schools, art-professionalism, art-criticism are all useless or worse than useless, because they cannot teach a man to feel. Only life can do that.

All art is, according to Tolstoy, good qua art that succeeds in transmitting emotion. But there is good emotion and bad emotion, and the only right material for art is good emotion, and the only good emotion, the only emotion worth expressing, is subsumed, according to Tolstoy, in the religion of the day. This is how he explains the constant affinity in nearly all ages of art and religion. Instead of regarding religion as an early phase of art, he proceeds to define religious perception as the highest social ideal of the moment, as that "understanding of the meaning of life which represents the highest level to which men of that society have attained, an understanding defining the highest good at which that society aims." "Religious perception in a society," he beautifully adds, "is like the direction of a flowing river. If the river flows at all, it must have a direction." Thus, religion, to Tolstoy, is not dogma, not petrifaction, it makes indeed dogma impossible. The religious perception of to-day flows, Tolstoi says, in the Christian channel towards the union of man in a common brotherhood. It is the business of the modern artist to feel and transmit emotion towards this unity of man.

Now it is not our purpose to examine whether Tolstoy's definition of religion is adequate or indeed illuminating. What we wish to note is that he grasps the truth that in art we must look and feel, and look and feel forward, not backward, if we would live. Art somehow, like language, is always feeling forward to newer, fuller, subtler emotions. She seems indeed in a way to feel ahead even of science; a poet will forecast dimly what a later discovery will confirm. Whether and how long old channels, old forms will suffice for the new spirit can never be foreseen.

* * * * *

We end with a point of great importance, though the doctrine we would emphasize may be to some a hard saying, even a stumbling-block. Art, as Tolstoy divined, is social, not individual. Art is, as we have seen, social in origin, it remains and must remain social in function. The dance from which the drama rose was a choral dance, the dance of a band, a group, a church, a community, what the Greeks called a thiasos. The word means a band and a thing of devotion; and reverence, devotion, collective emotion, is social in its very being. That band was, to begin with, as we saw, the whole collection of initiated tribesmen, linked by a common name, rallying round a common symbol.

Even to-day, when individualism is rampant, art bears traces of its collective, social origin. We feel about it, as noted before, a certain "ought" which always spells social obligation. Moreover, whenever we have a new movement in art, it issues from a group, usually from a small professional coterie, but marked by strong social instincts, by a missionary spirit, by intemperate zeal in propaganda, by a tendency, always social, to crystallize conviction into dogma. We can scarcely, unless we are as high-hearted as Tolstoy, hope now-a-days for an art that shall be world-wide. The tribe is extinct, the family in its old rigid form moribund, the social groups we now look to as centres of emotion are the groups of industry, of professionalism and of sheer mutual attraction. Small and strange though such groups may appear, they are real social factors.

Now this social, collective element in art is too apt to be forgotten. When an artist claims that expression is the aim of art he is too apt to mean self-expression only—utterance of individual emotion. Utterance of individual emotion is very closely neighboured by, is almost identical with, self-enhancement. What should be a generous, and in part altruistic, exaltation becomes mere megalomania. This egotism is, of course, a danger inherent in all art. The suspension of motor-reactions to the practical world isolates the artist, cuts him off from his fellow-men, makes him in a sense an egotist. Art, said Zola, is "the world seen through a temperament." But this suspension is, not that he should turn inward to feed on his own vitals, but rather to free him for contemplation. All great art releases from self.

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