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Unity In Art And Form

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Harmony of effects among different elements of significance in form as they appeal to recollection, association, or suggestion, is due mainly to perceiving that the objects made to go together are such as we are accustomed to think of as going together. For instance, this phase of harmony is fulfilled in an opera or poem, when all the scenes or events representing a certain country or period conform strictly to the conditions of each. It was this that was sought to be fulfilled in the old law of criticism ascribed to the Greeks, enjoining that a drama should contain only as much as might be supposed to take place in the time given to the representation, or, at most, in one day, and in one place, and with one kind of action, by which latter was meant with either tragic or comic situations, but not with both. This "law of the unities" of time, place, and action, as it is called, although it cannot be applied universally, is based at least upon a true principle. Brevity, local color, and directness are always elements of artistic excellence. Art in Theory, XIII.

However acceptable this "law of the unities" may have been to the ancient Greeks, who were less interested than people of our day in the analysis of motives and the development of character, it does not allow sufficient comprehensiveness for the purposes of modern literary art, least of all of the dramatic. Anything in art is right which enhances an effect legitimate to the product in which it is used. In order to show the results of the influences at work in motives and character, length of time is often indispensable. So, too, is change of place; while the incongruous association of tragedy and comedy in the action, not only prevents monotony, but, as universally in the case of contrast, increases the distinctive impression of both. Imaginative people never have so strong an inclination to laugh as at a funeral, and tears never flow so freely as immediately after a burst of merriment.—The Genesis of Art-Form, IX.


Where consecutive single notes are used, we are best satisfied if all or a large number of those that are essential to the same melody are produced by an instrument of the same kind, thus fulfilling the principle, of putting like elements of sound together. For instance, even were it possible, we should hardly take pleasure in hearing a first note of a melody sounded on a violin, a second on a flute, a third on a pianoforte, etc., and this because the effect would lack congruity, which is the first condition enabling the mind to compare the qualities of successive tones, and thus perceive unity in them. If, however, instead of consecutive single notes, we hear consecutive chords, then, provided the same part be played in consecutive chords by the same instrument, the more numerous the kinds of instruments used, the more pleasure, as a rule, do we receive. A chorus, accompanied by an orchestra, is usually more enjoyable than a single voice accompanied by a piano, and the latter is more enjoyable than a voice unaccompanied by any instrument. The reason is that in the chord of the orchestra the ear recognizes, and is able to compare, a much larger number of like or allied effects. Moreover, as all these instruments are sounded in successive chords, their music continues to preserve from note to note the same general compound quality, notwithstanding the variety caused by differences of pitch in the notes of each chord and of successive chords. It is because the effect of unity,' together with that of the greatest possible variety, is attained in this complex form of music as in no other, that the orchestra and chorus combined is sometimes supposed to exemplify the highest possibilities of the art.-Rhythm and Harmony in Poetry and Music, XIII.


If for instance we emphasize the fact that art reproduces the appearances of nature, we thrust sculpture and painting into prominence. We term these "the fine arts," and music or poetry on the one hand, and architecture on the other, are classed in the same company only by a doubtful courtesy which allows them to cling to the skirts of the former. If, again, we emphasize the fact that the arts are human, in that they are means of communicating thought and feeling, then literature and poetry are unduly exalted. Nor does the emphasis of either fact do justice either to music or to architecture. But is it not surmisable that each of these facts should result from some other fact, and that this fact should be equally recognizable in the reproduction of forms in nature and in the expression of the formative thought and feeling in the artist's mind? If so, is it not evident that we can classify all the arts according to the one fact, and arrange them according to the influence upon each art of each of the other two facts, and that, thus doing, we can find a place somewhere where each art, when so arranged, can stand without danger of having the qualities that render it artistic either exaggerated or belittled? Art in Theory, Iv.



Every one must have observed occasionally in connection with mouldings and buttresses, with divisions and cappings of windows and porches, with external and internal arches and ridgepoles of roofs, gables, and ceilings, but especially in connection with the sides of towers and spires, and with innumerable ornamental details, outlines that seem to suggest, at least, a desire to point the thought away to another feature of principal interest with which they are organically connected. . . Undoubtedly it would add to the effects of buildings if more were made of this possibility, as might easily be done by bestowing a little more care upon the arrangements of the necessary lines and arches. Certain it is that, in any art, the mind, in glancing along in the direction to which an outline thus related points, takes pleasure in finding other lines continuing it or converging somewhere with it, and, even without consciousness of the reason, derives from this arrangement impressions both of principality and unity' in connection with the whole, which nothing else could give.—The Genesis of Art-Form, XI.


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