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Art - Imitation Vs. Representation

( Originally Published Early 1900's )[an error occurred while processing this directive]

So with the general line of thought in a poem. An imitation so exact apparently that we should think it written down within hearing, of the ravings of a mad king, or of lamentations at the loss of a friend, would not appeal to us like what we know to be merely representations of these in the blank verse of Shakespeare's "King Lear, " or in the rhyming verse of Tennyson's "In Memoriam." The talk of the phonograph will never be an acceptable substitute for the soliloquy or dialogue of the artistic drama or novel. A like fact is true of the photograph. For the very reason that it is an imitation, in the sense of being a literal presentation, of every outline on which the light at the time when it was taken happened to fall, it does not awaken in us the kind or degree of imaginative interest or of sympathy that we feel in paintings or statues. In contrast to the impression received from a photo-graph, in gazing at these, we feel that we are looking through an artist's eye, seeing only what he saw or thought fit for us to see, and that everything in them is traceable to the skill displayed by him when transferring what in nature is presented in one medium into another medium, as when delineating flesh and foliage through the use of color and when turning veins and lace into marble. Essentials of 'Esthetics, VI.

It is mainly owing to a lack of all appeal to the imagination or the sympathies, that accurate imitations of the sounds that come from birds, beasts, winds, and waters fail to affect us as do notes which are recognized to be produced by wind and stringed instruments in the passages descriptive of the influence of a forest, in Wagner's opera of "Siegfried," or in the "Pastoral Symphonies" of Handel and Beethoven. Nor do any number of tones imitating exactly the expressions of love, grief, or fright compare, in their influence upon us, with the representations of the same in the combined vocal and instrumental melodies and harmonies of love songs, dirges, and tragic operas. The truth of this may be more readily conceded in an art, like music, perhaps, than in some of the other arts; for in it the imitative elements are acknowledged to be at a minimum. To such an extent is this the case, in fact, that some have declared it to be presentative rather than representative, not recognizing that a use of the elements of duration, force, pitch, and quality, such as enables us to distinguish between a love-song, a dirge, and a tragic passage, would altogether fail to convey their meaning, unless there were something in the effects to represent ideas or emotions which we were accustomed to associate with similar effects as they are presented in nature, especially as they are presented in natural speech.—Art in Theory, IV.

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