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Personal And Sympathetic Effects Of Art

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Now we come upon two apparently anomalous facts. One might suppose that representation, exerting, as it does, an indirect influence, would reveal less of an artist's character, and would also appeal less to the sympathies of others, than would presentation, exerting, as it does, a direct influence. But the truth seems to be the contrary. Nor, when we think a moment, will it seem surprising that this is so. As applied to the revelation of character, it is simply a fact that all of us, in determining what a man is in his spirit, intentionally or unintentionally, judge him by what he appears to be in his subconscious rather than in his conscious nature; therefore more by what he unconsciously represents of himself than by what he consciously presents. This is true in every relation of life. No man ever fell in love with a woman because of her words or deeds that he sup-posed attributable to conscious intention. So with the products of art. The most professionally trained dancers and singers who prove fascinating to us do so because of slight unconscious peculiarities of movement in body or voice which are characteristic of them as individuals, and cannot be acquired by another with another personality. This fact is true of the effects of any kind of expression embodied in any kind of form. The chief charm of a melody, poem, painting, or statue, even of a building, often lies in certain subtle touches given to it by its producer unconsciously,—in characteristics which it is sometimes impossible for the critic to analyze or even to describe. Yet it is these touches that most surely convey the impression of the artist's individuality. Need it be said that they do not present his conscious intention? They represent his unconscious method, a method that he cannot, so to speak, avoid.

Closely connected with the apparent anomaly just considered is the other of which mention was made. One might suppose that indirect representation—i. e. expression made through the use of forms not at all associated with those of one's own body—would appeal less to the sympathies of others than would direct expression, or what has been termed presentation. But this supposition, again, would not be entirely correct. Owing to the personality of effect indicated in the preceding paragraph as characterizing representative expression, this latter some-times makes a stronger appeal to the sympathies than does the other form of expression. We all, to an extent, recognize this fact when we quote with approval the maxim that actions speak louder than words. As applied to art, when methods characterizing a product have been made characteristic of an artist's personality, others must be influenced by his work as they would be by his personality. But how are they influenced by this? How do any of us come to have an ideal—or come to take an interest of any kind in anything—that is peculiar to the personality of another? There is but one answer: It is through our sympathies—a word which, as thus used, applies primarily to our emotions, but includes also our thoughts, as influenced by these.—Essentials of Aesthetics, VIII.


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