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Comparison As The Foremost Art Method

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Every one knows that comparison is the very first result of any exercise of the imagination. And he knows also that imagination is the source of all art-production. When a man begins to find in one feature the image of another, and, because the two are alike, to put them together by way of comparison, then, and then only, does he begin to construct an art-product. And not only so, but only then does he continue his work in a way to make it continue to be a medium of expression. The forms which he elaborates are naturally representative of certain phases of thought or feeling, and the significance of the completed product depends upon its continuing to represent these phases. But it can continue to do this only when that which is added in the process of elaboration is essentially like that with which the process starts. It is a striking illustration of the rationality which characterizes the action of the mind when working naturally and instinctively though without knowledge of reasons, that the forms of all the arts, as developed in primitive ages, should fulfil this rational requirement.

Looking at poetry, we find the chief characteristic of its form to be lines of like lengths, divided into like numbers of feet, each uttered in like time, to which are sometimes added alliteration, assonance, and rhyme, produced by the recurrence of like sounds in either consonants, vowels, or both. So with music. The chief characteristic of its form is a series of phrases of like lengths, divided into like numbers of measures, all sounded in like time, through the use of notes that move upward or downward in the scale at like intervals, with like recurrences of melody and harmony. In painting, sculpture, and architecture, no matter of what "style," the same is true. The most superficial inspection of any product of these arts, if it be of established reputation, will convince one that it is composed in the main by putting together forms that are alike in such things as color, shape, size, posture, and proportion. . . It is an equally striking illustration of the irrationality and departure from nature into which too much self-conscious ratiocination may plunge the same mind, that, in our own more enlightened age, art-forms should not only be tolerated but praised —in poems and buildings for instance—in which the principle of putting like with like has been utterly disregarded. —The Genesis of Art Form, II.

Ancient artists, with only their sensations to guide them, constructed those harmonic systems of tone and of color, of which modern science alone has discovered the causes. These causes, as will be shown presently, are the same as those that underlie all the developments of form in art, being all traceable to the satisfaction which, for reasons unfolded in " The Genesis of Art-Form," the mind derives from being able, amid the variety and complexity of nature, to form a conception of unity, and, through the general method of comparison to embody this conception in a product.—Rhythm and Harmony in Poetry and Music, VU.

In these volumes, the effects of form in art have been traced to a single principle, and to the same principle have been traced the effects of whatever significance also may be expressed in each form. All art, in any of its manifestations, has been shown to be an emphasizing, through a method of elaboration, of factors taken from one's surroundings, which are used not only in art, but in every attempt at expression, for the purpose of representing, by way of association or comparison, sometimes these surroundings themselves, and sometimes the thoughts and emotions that are communicated through them. Moreover, whether we wish to emphasize the factors themselves, or the purpose for which the mind uses them, each end is best attained by putting, so far as possible, like with like in the sense of grouping features having either corresponding effects upon the mind, i. e., like significance ; or corresponding effects upon the senses, i. e., like forms; or, as is frequently the case, corresponding effects upon both the mind and the senses. Stated thus, the principle may seem very simple and insignificant. But any one who has read the volumes of this series, and observed the applicability of the principle to all possible effects of form in all the arts, together with the way in which analogous effects in different arts have been correlated to one another; and who has observed also the applicability of the principle to the mental effects of art, whether produced by the grandest generalizations that can broaden thought, and the profoundest passions that can excite emotion, or only by the smallest specific accent of a syllable, the measuring of a tone, the shading of a line, or the turning of a little finger,—any one who has observed these facts, and is at all appreciative of the vastness and complexity of the subject, or is acquainted with the chaotic conditions in which the histories of opinions have left men's common conceptions of it, or is merely aware of that which, in general, is the distinctive aim of all philosophical analysis,—any such man will recognize the degree in which, when the elements investigated are made to seem single and simple, the comprehensiveness and importance of the discussion are enhanced.—Proportion and Harmony of Line and Color, XXVI.

The reader needs to be reminded that the developments resulting from putting like with like according to the methods indicated in the chart on the opposite page, are manifested not only in rhythm and proportion but also in harmony, whether of sound or sight, the difference between the first two and the latter being that in the former we are conscious of the elements that are put together, and in the latter we are not conscious of them, and can only become aware of them as a result of scientific demonstration. At the same time, there are both sounds and sights which are in the border-land, as we may term it, between these two conditions. For instance, in a low tone of the organ we can distinguish vibrations allying its effects to those of rhythm almost as clearly as we can distinguish pitch allying them to those of harmony. So in the case of this particular curve, a reason for the use of which is indicated here in accordance with the principles of proportion,—this ex-planation will not prevent another, and perhaps a better one, which will be given on page 292, and which ascribes it to the principles underlying harmony of outline.—Idem, V.

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