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Imagination And Art

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


What is the faculty of mind from which springs the kind of repetition developed in art when elaborated in accordance with the principle of representation. What is it but the imagination, the faculty which has to do with the imaging of one thing in or by another? In an art-product, forms are grouped together because imagination perceives that they are alike or allied, in other words that they compare, either exactly or very nearly. If, for the sake of variety, a few subordinate features are introduced of which this is not true, even then the clearest possible consciousness that comparison is the process and that these features are exceptional, is manifested by the fact that they are acknowledged to be introduced artistically in the degree in which they exactly contrast with the other features. But no one can originate or recognize a contrast,—which is an effect caused by agreement in many features but disagreement in, at least, one feature,—except as a result of comparison, which itself is merely the mode of procedure of imagination.-Art in Theory, V.


It is precisely for this reason, too, because art does and can represent, and does not and need not literally imitate, that the faculty through which it exerts its chief influence upon the mind, as has been so often observed but seldom explained, is the imagination. A literal imitation, leaving nothing for the imagination to do, does not stimulate its action. Whistles or bells in music; common-place phrases or actions in poetry; and indiscriminate particularities of detail in the work of pencil, brush, or chisel, usually produce disenchanting effects entirely aside from those that we feel to be legitimate to art. This is largely because the artist, in using them, has forgotten that his aim is not to imitate but to represent. It is well to observe here, too, that an effect, appealing primarily to the imagination, necessarily passes through it into all the faculties of mind; and therefore that the distinctive interest awakened in them all by works of art is really due to that which affects first the imagination. Art in Theory, Iv.


The mind that can make discoveries of great truths and principles is, as a rule, the mind that, when it can advance no longer, step by step, can wing itself into these unexplored regions. How can it do this? Through imagination. How can imagination, when doing it, detect the truth? According to a law of being which makes the mind of man work in harmony with the mind in nature, which makes an imaginative surmisal with reference to material things a legitimate product of an intelligent understanding of them. This is the law of correspondence or analogy, which can often sweep a man's thoughts entirely beyond that which is a justifiable scientific continuation of the impression received from nature. Only in art is the mind necessitated and habituated to recognize this law, which fact may not only suggest a reason why so many successful inventors have started in life, like Fulton, Morse, and Bell, by making a study of some form of art; but it may almost justify a general statement that no great discovery is possible to one whose mind is not able to go beyond that which is ordinarily done in science.—Essay on Art and Education.

Imagination is a forerunner of investigation; and investigation furnishes an impetus to imagination. For this reason a great thinker, whether a poet or a philosopher, although he will incline to the one method or to the other, according to the bent of his genius, must not be wholly deficient in the qualities that go to make up either. Nor, so far as education can atone for deficiency, will his education be complete until he has cultivated the powers that go to make up both. Goethe was a student of science; and his poetry owes much to his scientific studies. Dante and Milton were scientific in their poetry, and Plato and Spinoza were poetic in their philosophies. As Sir Wm. Hamilton says, in the thirty-third of his "Lectures on Metaphysics": "A vigorous power of representation is as indispensable a condition of success in the abstract sciences as in the poetical and plastic arts; and it may accordingly be reasonably doubted whether Aristotle or Homer were possessed of the more powerful imagination. "—The Representative Significance of Form, VIII.


Literature belongs to the department of art. This fact necessitates its appealing, not—as science does—to the understanding through direct statements with reference to ideas or emotions, but to the imagination through forms representative of these. In other words, the imagination thinks of that which art presents, by perceiving images which appear in the mind. But in different arts these images are awakened in different ways. The inarticulated sounds heard in music start within one a general emotive tendency—active or restful, triumphant or desponding, gay or sad, as the case may be—and this tendency influences the general direction of thought; but exactly what the form of the thought—or the image—shall be, the mind is left free to determine for itself. If a reciter forget to appeal to imagination according to the methods of sound, he ceases to have that drift which is necessary in order to draw into the channel of his thought, and sweep onward, as music does, the emotions of his audience. If he forget to appeal to imagination according to the methods of sight, i. e., to remember to what an extent his words, and each word in its place, must cause his audience to think in pictures, then his motive, being merely musical, begins to have the effect legitimate to music. It either lulls people to sleep or, if not, at least leaves their minds free to deter-mine for themselves what shall be the substance of their thought. Essay on the Literary Artist and Elocution.


Art is distinctively a product of imagination, of that faculty of the mind which has to do with perceiving images, —the image of one thing in the form of another. While science, therefore, may find a single form interesting in itself, art, at its best, never does. It looks for another form with which the first may be compared. While science may be satisfied with a single fact, art, at its best, never is. It demands a parallel fact or fancy, of which the first furnishes a suggestion. Essay on Art and Education.


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