General Artistical Endowments Of The Mind
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
HAVING considered the value of art as a mental pursuit, we have next to trace its origin in the mind, in order to effect which satisfactorily and philosophically, we must first proceed to inquire what are the powers applicable to that purpose which the mind possesses.
The faculties or powers with which the soul is endowed are of two distinct kinds, the one being active, the other passive. Its active faculties are principally of a threefold nature, and are best known to us by their results : being the power of receiving ideas or knowledge; of reasoning upon them, or of separating ideas ; and of combining ideas in the several modes that I shall hereafter point out.
The origin of art of each kind is in the mind, and is derived, in the first place, from the last named of these powers, which is of an active nature, and which the mind voluntarily exerts on all matters where art is concerned, and by which it compounds together in several ways one with another different ideas, thereby forming various artistical combinations.
The other power in which art originates is of a passive kind, and consists in the liability of the mind to be affected by certain sensations of different qualities, which various excitements of the material senses may cause, and into the nature of which I propose presently to inquire.
As regards the artistical power of the mind of an active kind, I will here remark that as few will doubt the capacity of the mind to receive knowledge, or to reason upon it, so its capacity of combining ideas in various modes may be shown to be both as certainly existing, and as fully exerted, as are its other powers. And as the faculties availed of in the pursuit of art are as obvious and as definable as those which are employed in the progress of reasoning, so are the principles of this study as sure and as well established as those of logic ; the efforts of this power may be capricious or ill directed in some minds, but in all they are capable of being regulated by certain laws, and are controlled by well-established rules.
The principles of taste are certain, because the same senses and the same intellectual faculties as regards their nature, although differing in extent and quality, exist in every mind. The application of these principles is capricious, because of this difference in the extent and quality of these senses and powers. All alike are prone to admire the grand and the beautiful, and. to dislike what is unsightly and ugly ; although all alike differ as to the degree in which they are actuated by this feeling, and as to the particular objects which are most calculated to move them. Varieties in character, in talent, in age, in temperament, in education, and in disposition, also conduce to this con-juncture ; and the higher and more complicated is the work of art, the greater will be the variety of opinion expressed concerning it. The principles of taste are, nevertheless, as sure and as definable as those of reason, and are all referable to certain standards.
Although the power of compounding ideas, to which I have alluded, is mainly exerted in all matters of taste, yet, as I shall hereafter show, in this, as in most of our other intellectual operations, the different faculties unite to assist one another. The reason, and the memory, especially, here lend their aid. A peculiar character or bias in our judgment, may, more-over, affect or influence our taste, as may also any particular quality of the memory ; while, on the other hand, a peculiarity in the taste, may influence either or both of these endowments.
As regards the senses, we do not doubt of the truth of the impressions which they make with respect to general subjects, and do not hesitate to decide at once from their report that one object is cold, and another hot ; or that one kind of food is sweet, and another bitter. Examination and experience will teach us that the decisions of the mental taste are as unerring, and as fully to be relied on, as those of the material. As in material so in mental taste, men may differ in degree, but they never do so wholly, or even very extensively, as to the nature or direction of their determination. One man may prefer what is sweet, another what is bitter; but both agree at once as to what things are sweet, and what are bitter. If all tastes were exactly alike as regards the decisions to which they induced, there would be no variety in works of art, or in any of the artificial objects of taste.
The moral feelings and disposition of the individual (which, however, depend upon, or are mainly regulated by the reason, and are independent of and unconnected with taste) will also largely influence his decisions in matters of taste ; as will his susceptibilities of different kinds, and more especially and directly his liability to be affected by particular emotions or passions. Probably, therefore, different persons vary as much as regards the delicacy and refinement of their minds, their liability to be affected pleasurably or painfully by different objects of taste, either in respect to their form or sound, as people do as regards the delicacy of their corporeal frames, and their liability to be affected by heat or cold, hunger or exercise. In each case this delicacy of feeling is increased or improved by the pursuit of a course favourable to its development, such as studies which tend to refinement in the case of the mind, and luxurious indulgence in the case of the body.
It has, however, been urged by some, that as a man born blind, and suddenly restored to sight, could not at once determine, if the most beautiful object were to be presented before him, whether it was beautiful or not; so there can be no innate natural power or principle of taste in the mind. But in this case the incapacity of determining arises, not from want of taste, but from want of experience; a neglect to cultivate and develope the taste, without which it cannot be fairly tested as to its power. We all of us vary our decisions as regards matters of taste, according to our advantages in the foregoing respect, and also as our education proceeds, and our experience is extended.
Hence, genius for art, being so entirely dependent on the natural constitution and adaptation of the mind for this pursuit, is exemplified as much by the exhibition of an early turn for it, as by an early proficiency in it. Indeed, the latter induces the former; and the intuitive knowledge of a capacity for any study, urges on the mind to its cultivation.
In addition to the faculties here referred to, there are also two principles, or rather propensities, which are particularly observable in human nature, both of which have an extensive effect and productive result as regards art. The first is the innate proneness of the mind to animate every subject, however remote in its nature from life, which actuates man in general, and leads him to speak of the sea, the planets, the mountains, and other inanimate objects, as gifted with reason, and capable of speech. The other is the disposition of man to reduce to materiality every being, however spiritual in its nature, or removed or remote from materiality. Both these propensities have undoubtedly exercised a powerful influence upon art, more especially as regards poetry and painting, and particularly with respect to the generation of metaphor and allegory in each of these arts.