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Art Comparison

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


Certain audible or visible effects traceable to material or to human nature have, either by way of comparison, as in imitation, or of association, as in conventional usage, a recognized meaning. This meaning enables the mind to employ them in representing its conceptions. But what has been said applies to the use of these effects so far only as they exist in the condition in which they manifest themselves in nature. Art-composition involves an elaboration and often an extensive combination of them. How can they be elaborated and combined in such a way as to cause them to continue to represent the same conceptions that they represented before art had begun its work upon them? Evidently this result can be attained in the degree alone in which all that is added to the natural sound or sight representing the original conception continues to repeat the same representative effect. In other words, the imagination, which, by way of comparison or of association, connected together the original mental conception and the form representing it, must continue, in the same way to connect together this form and all the forms added to it by way of elaboration or combination. Other methods of expression—religious or scientific may use imagination in only its initial work of formulating words or other symbols, but art must use it to the very end. It matters not whether its first conception be an image of a whole, as of an entire poem or palace, or whether it be an image of a part, as of a certain form of metre or of arch, the imagination, in dividing the image of the whole into parts, or in building up the whole from its parts, must always, in successful art, continue to carry on its work by way of comparison or association. Essentials of "Aesthetics, XIV.


The degree of importance that should be attached to the representation of like conceptions in the forms that are grouped together, is difficult for some to recognize. Yet if, as was said on page 344, the difference between the effects of harmony and of discord be the difference between experiencing in the nerves an unimpeded, free, regularly recurrent vibratory thrill or glow, and experiencing an impeded, con-strained, irregularly recurrent series of shocks or jars, then an application of the simplest physiological principles ought to show us that the artistic effects of which we have spoken can be produced in part by the representation of like conceptions. It is universally admitted that the nerves, merely as nerves, may be affected from the thought-side as well as from the sense-side. Whatever, therefore, owing to 'incongruity between thought and form or between different thoughts as represented by different forms, shocks one's conceptions or, as we say, one's sense of the proprieties, may so contribute to the general nervous result that, even though he may find the combinations of color thoroughly pleasing,

it is physiologically impossible that he should experience the effects of beauty in its totality. On this subject the reader may consult Chapter XIII. of "Art and Theory."—Propor-tion and Harmony of Line and Color, XXI.


The illustrations used are sufficient . to suggest to what an extent the meanings of words, whether primary or secondary, are developed according to the very closely allied methods of association and comparison. Isolated words, however, do not constitute language. Before they can become this, they must be put into phrases and sentences. But what are these phrases and sentences, again, except words uttered consecutively in such a way that the order of their utterance or dependence upon one another shall compare with the order, i. e., the direction or tendency, of the different phases of the mental motive which prompts to them? Through the whole extent of language, therefore, which furnishes the material or medium for the expression of poetry, we find in constant operation this process of comparison. The same thing is true, but need not be argued, with reference to metaphors, similes, and representations of characters and events, which all acknowledge to be necessary to the further development of poetic language and thought. Art in Theory, XVIII.

We cannot, without some important modification, frame any rule to the effect that the uttering in succession of like sounds is invariably euphonious. But should we, therefore, draw the inference, as some do, that the opposite is true; in other words, that in poetry the repetition of similar sounds is not euphonious, and that here is a case in which the principle of putting like effects with like does not apply? Before drawing this conclusion, let us, at least, look farther into the subject. . The vocal organs are so formed that their positions and actions in an accented and in an unaccented utterance are different.

Moreover, the nature of the organs is such that ease of utterance requires that both forms should be present, and used in alternation. One cannot apply to consecutive syllables without restriction, therefore, this principle of comparison. Unaccented syllables must contrast with the accented ones, and in such a way too as to complement them (see page 89). But if this requirement be regarded, like sounds repeated only on accented or only on unaccented syllables, except in the sense in which all forms of repetition may become monotonous and tiresome, are not open to the objection urged. They do not render utterance more difficult, as suggested above, but, on the contrary, decidedly more easy.—Rhythm and Harmony in Poetry and Music, VII.


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