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Emotion And Art

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


The works of the lesser or occasional artists are produced amid excitement which at intervals avails in all to paralyze the logical powers and to stimulate the analogical. But when, as in the greater artists, such phases of emotion are the rule and not the exception; when they are constant, when the man by nature is subjected to them and habitually views things in an artistic light, and that, too, although not greatly influenced by external causes, then the experience must be attributed mainly to temperament. Idem, XIII.

Thought in its very essence is comparison. The artistic state in which the tendency to use comparisons is in the intensest exercise, may be the state in which there is the intensest exercise of thought. What though this thought may be impelled by an excited rather than by a quiescent condition of emotion? Does this change its essential character? As a fact, do artists show less thought in what they furnish us than do scientists? Are not the spirits of the great artists, as of the prophets, notwithstanding all their quickness and intuitiveness of perception and expression, subject to their rational minds? Dante and Raphael, —were their works inspired by an absence of intellection? Leonardo and Goethe,—were they not wellnigh as accurate in their regard for the laws of science as of art ?—Idem, XIII.

The emotion possessed by the artist, it was said, moves his thought with so much speed that he is unconscious of the different phases through which it passes before reaching its conclusions. With little emotion, with all the thoughts advancing at slow pace, the scientist is conscious of almost every step. But when circumstances so affect one that, owing to some limit in his means or time for consideration, he must arrive at his conclusions in haste—circumstances realized in the cases of all the members of a savage and uncultivated race, and of children and of older persons in the presence of exciting causes—then apprehension over-balances comprehension, and the mind expresses what it would according to the dictates of intuitive judgment rather than of logical reasoning. These are the conditions, as we have found, which give birth to art.—Idem, XIII.


It is because of emotions succeeding one another too rapidly to permit one's perceptions or expressions to flow wholly in the channels of conscious thought that the artist's mind works imaginatively with reference to the forms of nature, and causes the minds of others to work similarly with reference to the forms of art which are made similar to those of nature. In other words, the imaginative ideality embodied in art is due to thought as prompted by emotion. But this is exactly what Lord Kames in his "Elements of Criticism" says that sentiment is.—Idem, XV.


Instinctive processes on the part of men are those which are conducted according to unconscious methods, and are analogous, for this reason, to the results of the promptings of instinct in the lower animals. Applying this test to music and poetry, we can perceive in what sense they may be attributed to the instinctive tendency. The best melodies and verses sing themselves into existence. The musician or poet hardly knows how or whence they come. In producing paintings, statues, and buildings, however, the mind is more successful when it works reflectively, by which is meant according to the conscious and calculating methods of reason. A statue and a building are produced slowly and with a clear conception of design. At the same time it is important to remember that neither the instinctive nor the reflective tendency alone is sufficient to bring all that there is in a man to bear upon his product. . . . it is when the results of reflection are added to those of instinct, or of instinct to those of reflection; when, therefore, neither one of these elements alone is present, but both together, it is then that we have in the product an illustration of what, in distinction from either instinctive or reflective, we may term an emotive influence. A man, for instance, may eat and sleep like an animal, instinctively, or he may think and talk reflectively, without giving any expression to what we mean by emotion. But as soon as he thinks and talks in connection with eating and sleeping, as is the case with a caterer or upholsterer, an hotel keeper or a house-wife; or as soon as his instincts prompt and accentuate his thinking and talking, as is the case with an actor or a good story-teller, then, as a result of instinct made thoughtful, or of thought made instinctive, he begins to manifest his emotive nature; and the character of his emotion is represented by the degree in which the one or the other of the two tendencies—instinct or thought—is in excess. It may be interesting to point out also that, according to ordinary conceptions, the power which blends or balances the instinctive or physical and the reflective or mental, is the soul, holding body and mind together, influencing and influenced by both; and also that, according to ordinary conceptions, it is the same thing to put emotion into expressions and to put soul into them. Neither can be manifested in them unless they represent a blended result both of nerve and of thought, of instinct and of reflection. In accordance with this, it is evident that music and poetry, which are naturally instinctive, come to manifest soul in the degree in which they embody also, kept of course in due subordination, something of the reflective; and that the naturally reflective products of the other arts acquire the same effect in the degree in which, in the same way, they embody something of the instinctive.—Art in Theory, XX.


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