Passive Artistical Powers
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
We have next to inquire into the nature of the powers of the mind already specified, which, as has been already pointed out, are both passive and active. And first as to its passive powers. The mind of man, although differently constituted in different individuals, is in each person liable to be more or less affected in a pleasurable or painful manner by the ideas which it receives through the various senses, from certain subjects or objects which excite emotions in it of different kinds, in a mode corresponding with that in which, in the case of the body, certain objects coming in contact with it, cause in all persons sensations either of pain or plea sure ; although the extent to which these feelings are experienced by different persons, also varies according to the peculiar mental and physical constitution and condition of each. Hence arises the capacity of the mind to receive through the senses ideas of pleasure from the several objects around it.
The passive artistical powers possessed by man originate in three distinct departments or endowments of his nature or constitution, being-(1.) The senses of the body. (2.) The emotions or feelings of the soul. (3.) The passions of the soul.
(1.) Each of the five senses of seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling, is capable of receiving agreeable sensations, and of communicating them to the mind. Those sensations only, however, which are obtained through the two former senses, belong to the intellectual part of our nature, while the others conduce merely to animal gratifications and appetites. The sense of seeing is that in which the arts of painting, sculpture, architecture, costume, and gardening originated. This sense appeals most directly and most forcibly to the mind. It is at once the most active, the most comprehensive, and the most intellectual of all our senses. It is peculiarly the servant of the soul, while the other senses attend more or less on the wants of the body. It supplies to the soul its food, through the knowledge that it communicates, as the mouth supplies food to the material frame. And of all the senses, that of seeing serves to convey to the mind the richest variety of ideas.
In the sense of hearing originated the arts of music, poetry, and eloquence. Hearing and seeing together contributed to originate the art of dramatic acting. Hearing affects the mind as powerfully as do any of the senses ; and in many animals as well as man, the voice is adapted for notes of almost infinite variety, corresponding with the powers of the ear to receive these sounds.
But as all the senses do not serve to receive ideas applicable to art, so all sights and sounds do not contribute to this end. The very essence of works of art of either kind appears to be their capability of causing gratification, which is the ultimate object of them all, and is to be distinguished in this respect from mere pleasure, which many of the most important efforts of art do not directly produce.
This principle, that the excitement of the senses in an agreeable or gratifying manner is the origin of art, ought ever to be kept in mind not only in each art, but in each artistical representation, so that they may all, either directly or indirectly, thus affect the mind. Hence, indeed, originate many of the most important principles of design and composition, which will be considered in a future chapter.
In many cases the various senses, like the different intellectual faculties, aid one another in the reception of ideas ; as do the faculties the senses, and the senses the faculties. By this means, those of the senses which are not in their nature and results of an intellectual character, may render their assistance to those which are so, in obtaining ideas of a tasteful character.
The five senses together appear capable of embracing all the qualities of all known subjects, and of communicating them to the mind. Those qualities, however, only, and but a selection of those, which the senses of seeing and hearing can convey, are availed of in art. The arts already enumerated, therefore, comprise the arts of every kind, the invention of each of which I shall endeavour to trace out in the succeeding chapter.
The sensations that arise from the other senses, which are those of feeling or touching, tasting, and smelling, cannot claim to be classed as of an intellectual nature, or to be considered as among those which have contributed to the origin of art of any kind. But from these senses, also, arise certain sensations, causing directly in the body pleasurable emotions, and which much resemble those of art in many respects, al-though they are not entitled to rank with them, as not appealing to the mind, but only to the animal feelings; such are the pleasures of warmth and coolness, of smoothness and softness, arising from the sense of touch; and of agreeable scents obtained through the organ of smelling. Indeed, none of these sensations, although pleasurable in themselves, in any way excite the intellectual faculties, or proceed beyond the emotion which they call forth. So also on the same account, the skill which is dis-played in adapting articles of food to gratify the palate, which affects the sense of taste, or of preparing scents to stimulate the sense of smell, is not entitled to be ranked as an art; however great may have been the labour bestowed to supply these means of gratification, however extensive the gratification itself may actually be, or however extraordinary the ingenuity by which these devices were accomplished.
The culinary art, indeed, as regards the skill and even taste evinced in it, might claim to be ranked as one of the arts of the class here defined. But, on the other hand, even in its highest departments, it ministers not to the mind but to the body, not to the intellectual faculties, but to the mere animal feelings, and, as such, cannot be permitted to aspire to the rank and dignity of those pursuits which are not only efforts of the mind, but among its noblest and purest. The same may be said of scents as of applications to the palate, in the preparation of both of which much taste and ingenuity are exercised. So far indeed as these powers are exerted about them, it may be asserted that art has been applied to these pursuits ; but they themselves can never be promoted to the rank of art.
The senses of touch and taste and smell, although they do not of themselves originate or lead to the invention of any-thing which may be termed an art, yet in many cases they both of them lend their aid in directing us towards the appreciation of works of art of different kinds, as touch in sculpture, smell in gardening. And even in those cases where the sense of touch or smell is not actually affected by the work of art, yet its seeming liability to be so, as from the appearance of smoothness in a figure in painting or sculpture, or of fragrance in a flower, may possibly contribute to aid the general vigour of the representation. These lower senses are moreover often very service-able in increasing the effect of works of art, by calling forth associations of ideas.
It must, however, be confessed that, even in our much boasted intellectual and highly civilized age, far more is spent in gross sensual appliances, in feasting and wines and scents, than in the patronage of art, and the encouragement of the delights of the nobler endowments. Thus, the senses, and even the grossest of them, are preferred to the soul ; the pleasures of the palate to those of the mind. But the higher we are raised above such objects, the higher is our aim; and it is the prerogative of art to exalt us above the influence of the lower feelings.
(2.) Not only, however, are the senses excited in the manner I have described by the ideas of tasteful objects and subjects, but, through them, emotions are called forth in the mind, of different kinds in respect to their nature, yet all of them of a gratifying or pleasurable quality as to their general effect ; in-deed unless their tendency is of this order, it is not art which causes them. Hence, the excitement in the mind of the emotion of gratification, although in many ways varied and modified, and mingled with other emotions, is the real and only foundation of art of each kind. Unless gratification is produced, it is not art which affects the mind. Nor, on the other hand, are all pleasurable emotions to be ascribed to art, but those only which spring from ideas through those of the senses which I have described as the originators of ideas of art.
It is necessary, however, sometimes to excite for the moment, even in a work of art, a sensation the reverse of gratification, not indeed as the ultimate end of the art, but as a means of attaining that end; as in the case of an orator who desires to stimulate his audience by impelling as well as leading them. So also with a poet.
The liability to be so affected by sensations and emotions of this nature, and to derive gratification from them, is not, how-ever, peculiar to man; but animals of several kinds are greatly, if not equally so moved. Birds, as everybody knows, are de-lighted by music, and not only listen attentively to its notes, but actively engage in its exercise. They display, moreover, evident tokens of admiration for gaudy plumage; and in the construction of their nests, might be said to show a love similar to that which man possesses for beauty in form. They are also observed to exhibit a preference for certain colours. Beasts too are much excited by music ; and travellers inform us that this is used by the Arabs, and is found efficient to revive the drooping spirits of their camels while being led across the sandy deserts. But what may appear more extraordinary is, that reptiles, and even insects, have been discovered to evince a very great love for beautiful and harmonious, and a corresponding dislike to disagreeable sounds. Animals have also been remarked to possess a similar preference for certain particular colours.
From the foregoing considerations it will therefore be obvious that, not only are animals, as well as man, capable of being affected by sensations of beauty and sublimity ; but that the cause of these is entirely owing to some internal and natural constitution of the feelings, and is not dependent on any mere arbitrary preference which we show for, or any exercise of the judgment by which we determine on approving or being delighted with, particular objects. And as the material taste may be nauseated by what is too sweet as well as by what is bitter, or with an excess of delicacies ; so the mental taste is offended by too much excitement, too gaudy colours.
(3.) The constitution and operation of the passions, and other feelings of the mind, may have an extensive influence as regards the capacity of an individual for art, and his liability to be affected by works of this nature. The sensibility of his soul to these impressions is often of as much importance as is the acuteness of his organs of sense ; and his whole moral character may in this respect influence his artistical power. The heart may here be of equal consequence with the head ; probably, indeed, every one of these causes affects in an important degree each of the others ; and this applies both to those who practise and to those who only admire art.
Passion, therefore, if properly acted upon, and directed aright, may be rendered nearly as useful in art as taste itself. In many cases, indeed, its operation is quite as indispensable as is that of the latter ; it calls forth all the powers of the soul, and gives force to every idea that strikes the mind. Passion, indeed, is only here considered as the aid to art. But it is said to have been also the actual originator of certain of the arts.
Men differ much from one another as regards their senses, their emotions, and their passions ; and here not only with respect to the extent, but as regards the quality of each of these. This circumstance, moreover, affects both the turn and the nature of their pursuits. Hence, the difference of tastes, of style, and of opinions on matters of art ; and this is more varied still by habit and cultivation.
The emotions, passions, and other excitements of the mind, and the liability of the soul to be thus affected, must therefore be considered as largely contributing both to the origin and the enjoyment of art. On these endowments the intellectual faculties act, and these endowments in turn influence and stimulate the action of the intellectual faculties.
The liability above described to be affected by sensations, emotions, and passions of this kind, although it may vary in different persons, is certainly no mere acquired or arbitrary endowment ; however, it may be increased by exercise, or be refined or ex-tended by this means. It also admits of a criterion for determining as to the correctness of the impressions ; for, although persons may and do differ as regards the degree of pleasure which they derive from particular objects, yet there are certain subjects by which all mankind will be to some extent gratified, as there are also certain literary works to which all mankind have rendered their tribute of praise, and have been unanimous to some extent in approving. And as the soft and varied melody of music is agreeable to all alike, both men and animals ; so harsh grating sounds are alike distasteful to all, both animals and men. The soul is liable to be affected by sensations and emotions in a corresponding manner with the body; and ideas of different kinds strike the former in a mode somewhat similar to that in which the sensations caused by various substances coming in contact with it, affect the latter, and whence is the real origin of the effect of the arts on the feelings.
Each of the arts may be considered as a means or vehicle of expression, through particular senses, of the feelings of the soul, and as a medium between external nature and the internal mind. They constitute, indeed, the language of nature as spoken by her in her own native tongue, without being translated or formed into the artificial vehicle or mode of uttering it ordinarily in use.