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Personality And Art

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


At first thought, the principle previously stated, namely, that the art-product is successful in the degree in which the artist represents his surroundings in such ways as to manifest his own personality, by which must often be meant his individual thoughts and emotions, seems to conflict with the principle just unfolded, which attributes his success to the degree in which the conceptions that he embodies are not merely his own, but those of others. Second thought, however, will convince us that the two principles conflict only seemingly. In practical experience, no one has any difficulty in recognizing the individuality of a Raphael and a Shakespeare in almost every product of their skill; yet this does not prevent the product from being an accurate representation of nature as viewed by all men. Painters, sculptors, dramatists, are greatest when most thoroughly themselves, yet greatest also when their minds, like mirrors, reflect their surroundings in such ways as to conform most exactly to the observations of people in general. The reason for this, of course, is that no conceptions of the meanings of nature can be universally accepted, except so far as they have been derived from the appearances of nature as universally perceived.—Idem.


Art of the highest rank, in addition to representing rather than imitating the phenomena of nature, and to representing rather than communicating thoughts and emotions, must represent rather than present the personality of the artist, meaning here by the word personality that combination of spirit and body which belongs to oneself as an individual, and to no one else. To understand why personality should be represented rather than presented, let us recall, for a moment, what was said in Chapter III. There, the impulse to art was attributed to life-force or energy issuing from the subconscious or spiritual nature, and striving to embody itself in the material. We all know that the spiritual itself cannot appear,—it can merely represent itself in the material. At the same time, of course, representation is involved, to some extent, in every form of expression. All thoughts and emotions, as they exist in the mind, are inaudible and invisible, and, in order to be communicated to others, they must be symbolized through sights and sounds borrowed from nature. But there is a different use of these latter in ordinary expression, and in that of art. In ordinary expression, it is sufficient that the thoughts and emotions should be clearly presented. Upon artistic expression, as in that of a poem or a statue, years of labor are frequently expended in order to secure a result beyond that of mere clearness of expression. Upon what is it that the artist, in such cases, expends his labor? Of course it must be upon that which the expression contains in addition to the thoughts and emotions. What does it contain in addition to these? Nothing more, certainly, than the expressional factors. As it is not the thoughts and emotions, it must be the expressional factors that are intended to be emphasized; and when we recall that it is the expressional factors that are repeated in art, and to what an extent all art involves repetition, and that, as a rule, repetition necessarily emphasizes, we shall recognize the truth of this inference. Now notice that these effects will be emphatically produced in the degree alone in which the material forms which one uses in his art are not those belonging to his own material body. Every man gives expression to his spirit through using his own body. To give such expression in the most emphatic way, one must do it in an exceptional way; and this can be done alone when, unlike ordinary men, he uses forms that are not an organic part of his own nature. Evidently, too, in this case, the external material forms thus used cannot be said to present—they merely represent—himself. —Idem.


In all the arts, as we know, it is these effects, manifested in what the artist puts into his product or leaves out of it, that largely determine its quality, that differentiate, for instance, a poet from a reporter, or a painter from a photographer. The same principle is illustrated in every relation-ship in the world in which one life touches other lives. It is the bringing of one's personality to bear upon his surroundings, that makes a man's form better than a carcass, reveals a spirit inside of a body, and proves that life, in any sphere, is really worth the living. Essay on Music as Related to Other Arts.


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