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Art And Expression

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


A man hums and talks, fulfilling an instinctive prompting of his nature, in order to give vent to certain inward moods. It is when something about the form in which he hums—the movement, the tune—attracts his attention, and he begins to experiment or play with it for its own sake, that he begins to develop the possibilities of the musician. In the same way, it is when something about the forms in which a man talks—the metaphors, similes, sounds of the words—attracts his attention and he begins to experiment with them that he begins to develop the possibilities of the poet. So with drawing, carving, and building. A man does more or less of all of these, owing to an instinctive prompting within him; but when something about the outlines, colors, and materials that represent the conditions or relationships of nature attracts his attention, so that he begins to experiment with them—it is then that he begins to develop the possibilities of the painter, the sculptor, or the architect.—The Genesis of Art-Form, I.


How does a man express to sight what is passing in his mind? Undoubtedly by his postures and the gestures of his hands, feet, head, and countenance, and by these as we see him when standing alone not only, but when surrounded by other persons and things. Postures and gestures, though never as definitely intelligible as the sounds of the voice, are, nevertheless, in as true a sense natural forms of communicating thought and feeling; and may be developed into the subordinate art of pantomime, just as natural forms of utterance in sound may be developed into the art of speech. But pantomime is no more painting or sculpture than speech is poetry. It is when a man becomes so attracted and charmed by the methods through which he naturally expresses thought in pantomime that he begins to make an external product, embodying thought through like methods,—it is then that he begins to work in the sphere of the higher arts. Moreover, when he does this, he does not pose with his own figure, as in dramatic representation, but he makes other figures pose—that is to say, he draws, colors, shapes, and combines the different parts of the figures of other men, either alone, or in connection with their fellows or with objects of nature animate or inanimate. Besides this, too, very often without making use of any human figures, he draws, colors, shapes, or combines other animate or inanimate objects. It is for these reasons and in these circumstances that he produces a work of painting or of sculpture. In other words, instead of conveying a thought or feeling through a posture of his own body, he conveys it through representing a posture in a pictured man's body. Or if his idea involve nothing that needs to be represented by human figures; if it be something that could be conveyed by his pointing to animate or inanimate objects, were they present in a certain location, then he leaves the human figure out of his picture, and reproduces merely these objects. . . . Paintings and statues are thus external products that are embodiments of distinctively human methods of expression. But, besides this, notice how true it is that they are not directed primarily toward ends of material utility. The infinite pains taken with the lines, shadings, hues, and modelings, that alone make them works of art, cannot be explained on any other supposition than that they are owing to the satisfaction which a man takes in developing the forms for the sake of their own intrinsic beauty, wholly aside from any desire to make them convey clear intelligence of that which they express. This could usually be conveyed equally well by the rude outlines of hieroglyphics.—Art in Theory, VIII.


All expression, in order to be what it is, in order to convey audible and visible information of inaudible and invisible thought and feeling, necessitates a use of the sights and sounds furnished by nature. Only art emphasizes this use of them. Notice that, in doing so, art does not emphasize the thought and feeling in themselves. . . . What art emphasizes is the use that by way of development is made of the factors of expression. What music emphasizes, for instance, grows out of the possibilities of rhythm, melody, and harmony in sound; what poetry emphasizes, grows out of the possibilities of rhythm, figurative language, description, and characterization; what painting and sculpture emphasize, grows out of the possibilities of outline, color, pose, and situation; what architecture emphasizes, grows out of the possibilities of support, shelter, strength, and elevation. . . . But what interest has the artist in manifesting, or the world in knowing, that certain forms of nature are factors used for the purpose of expression by a mind behind them? What interest has a man in manifesting, or the world in knowing, that behind any appearances of nature there is a mind? He who can answer this, will find a reason for the interest that men take in art, either as producers or as patrons... .

But are there any problems of life of interest so profound as those which have to do with the relations of mind to matter? Is it not enough to say that mortals conscious of a spirit in them struggling for expression, feel that they are doing what becomes them when they give this spirit vent, and with care for every detail, elaborate the forms in which they give it this? What are men doing when thus moved but objectifying their inward processes of mind; but organizing with something of their own intelligence, but animating with something of their own soul, the scattered and lifeless forms that are about them, and infusing into their product something of the same spirit that is the source of all that they most highly prize within their own material bodies.—Idem, v.

Art, while traceable to that which, in one sphere, is a play-motive, and while produced with an aim irrespective of any consideration of material utility, nevertheless often springs from mental and spiritual activity of the most distinctive kind, and results in the greatest possible benefit to the race. What though a product does exist for expression's sake alone? A being with a mind and spirit perpetually evolving thought and feeling possesses that which, for its own sake, ought to be expressed. Beyond his material surroundings and interests, there exists for him a realm in which excess of mental and spiritual force may be directed toward the production of veritable works of art; and the effects of these upon mental and spiritual development may be infinitely more important than all possible energy that could expend itself in seeking "what shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or wherewithal shall we be clothed. "—Idem, VII.

If in the world that we call real, our spirits be in prison, then in the world ideal of art in which the spirit freely conjures forms at will, there may be an actual and not a fancied exercise of that which men in general, not knowing why, but following, as so often, an unerring instinct, have agreed to call "the faculty divine." At least, with all the possibilities suggested, if not indicated, by the facts that are beyond dispute, we certainly have no necessity for asking why the aim of art should be to represent, though only for the sake of representing, these reciprocal effects of nature upon the mind and of the mind upon nature, with which we have found it to be occupied.—Idem, V.


No one thinks of objecting to applying to the higher arts, as is so frequently done, the phrase "arts of expression," which term expression, as will be recognized, indicates always the general result when a man's invisible or inaudible thoughts or emotions are represented visibly or audibly in deeds or tones. As thus understood, expression involves effects produced both by the mind, which is the source of the conception embodied, and by the body—the voice, hands, whatever they may be, that constitute the agencies through which the conception is made to pass into form.—The Representative Significance of Form, XIII.


The principles of expression which we teach,—what are they but those which best interpret that which is most important in humanity, and not in it alone, but in all the audible and visible forms of the universe, from which it is possible for humanity to derive wisdom and guidance?—Essay on the Function of Technique.


It is common with the English to fancy that if one have only something to express, he need not trouble himself about the form of expression. So, when they wish to express heartiness of welcome, they imitate the actions of men shaking hands with ladies holding up heavy trains on their arms,—actions necessarily suggestive of a pretence of having artificial habits acquired at court, and, by con-sequence, just as necessarily incapable, in the remotest degree, of suggesting anything even of the nature of heartiness.—Idem.


The majority of the great teachers, whose names have come down to us from antiquity, like Aristotle, Gamaliel, Quintilian, were teachers of expression, some of them, like the last-named, distinctively teachers of elocution.—Idem.


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