Art And Beauty
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Of course the word art may be broadly ascribed to any-thing that is made, especially by way of imitation; and, therefore, the term artistic may properly designate any product of this kind. But the word has also a more limited meaning,—the meaning that we all recognize when found in the terms the fine arts, or les beaux arts. When this is its meaning, the objects that art imitates must be, predominatly at least, beautiful, and the product itself must introduce ugliness, or its concomitant, impurity, only subordinately; by way, so to speak, of contrast, by way of shading that offsets brightness. A good deal that is true to life is not true to the beautiful in life; and, therefore, contrary to the opinion of these writers, is philosophically out of place in the highest art. Of course, this principle, if applied, would rule out of the highest rank a number of our modern plays—some of those by Ibsen, Sudermann, Hauptmann, and d'Annunzio. If so, they ought to be ruled out. The principle is one that no one who thinks correctly can fail to accept; and, as proved by the survival of interest in Greek art, it is the only principle that all people, at all times, can be expected to accept. Essay on Art and Morals,
In the preceding chapter an endeavor was made to show that art of the highest or finest quality involves three things: first, a reproduction of the phenomena of nature, especially of its sights and sounds ; second, an expression of the thoughts and emotions of the artist; and, third, an embodiment of both these other features in an external product like a symphony, a poem, a painting, a statue, a building. The question now arises whether we should not make further limitations with reference to the sights or sounds of nature with which the highest art has to deal. ... The question . . . suggests that when a man not for a useful but, . . . for an aesthetic end, reproduces these, he must do so mainly because something about them has instructed, attracted, and, as we say, charmed him. There is one word which we are accustomed to apply to any form, whether of sight or of sound that attracts and charms us. It is the word beautiful. . . . It seems to be conceded that arts of the highest class should reproduce mainly, at least, and some seem to think solely, such phenomena of nature as are beautiful. Essentials of Aesthetics, II.
It is only when an effect, whether appealing to the ear or eye, exerts a subtle charm upon the mind and spirit that it influences a man sufficiently to cause him to desire to reproduce it. But what is it that exerts this subtle charm upon the mind and spirit? It must be something, of course, connected with the appearance or form; for it is this, presumably, which is imitated. But charm exerted by appearance or form is due, as a rule, to that which men ordinarily associate with the term beauty. . . . "The beautiful arts," " the fine arts," "the arts," as we term them, are those in which a man gives expression to the excess within him of mental and spiritual, or, as we may say, intellectual and emotional vitality through a representation of effects exerting that subtle charm which, as a rule, is traceable only to appearances having what is called beauty.—Art in Theory, VIII.
Facts do not confirm any theory to the effect that all the features chosen for art should be beautiful. The most that can be said is that in the main they should be so; and that those which are not so should be introduced only in order, by way of contrast, to enhance the beauty of others with which they are combined.—Idem, x.
Art, as a product of the imagination, always involves more or less use of imagery, as in the imitations of painting and sculpture, and the figures of speech in poetry, to say nothing of more subtle representings in music and architecture. This fact renders it possible often for the artist to introduce beauty into his treatment of subjects which, in themselves, are not beautiful. We see this illustrated often in the colors or carvings of pictures, statues, or buildings, and in the similes and metaphors of poems, Notice the following reference to hostile footsteps heard through the darkness of a midnight tempest in a jungle:
There seems human rhythm in this hell. What hot pursuit is it comes burning through These crackling branches?—The Aztec God.
And this description of the approach of a threatening storm :
It came like a boy who whistles first To warn of his form that shall on us burst, As if nature feared to jar the heart By joys too suddenly made to start.
–The Last Home Gathering.
—Notes Taken in a Lecture.
Everybody admits that art is an embodiment of the ideal. Whoever heard of an ideal that was not characterized by beauty? Everybody admits, too, that art is of benefit to individuals or communities in the degree in which it cultivates in them ideality. How could it cultivate this, where it presented no ideal because no beauty? Of what use to humanity could art be, where all that could cause it to be of any use whatever was left out of it?—Idem.