Divisions Of Art Into Imitative, Illustrative, And Ideal, And Into Arts Indepent And Appendent
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
From the foregoing considerations it appears that the arts in general owe their invention to two principal circumstances :-1. The requirements or desires of mankind. 2. The imitation of nature, Those which are produced by, or whose invention springs from the first of these causes, may be to a certain extent altogether independent of any pattern in nature from which they were copied, and may have been originated or invented from the circumstance in question, to which the mind for this purpose has applied itself, and concerning which its own resources have been employed. Arts thus originating or invented are termed the ideal arts. Such are those of poetry and eloquence.
Those arts which owe their invention to the second of these causes, the imitation of nature, and are termed the imitative arts, are such as were first resorted to for the purpose of imitating some natural objects, as in the case of the arts of painting and sculpture.
Art may, however, be most properly divided into three principal kinds:-1. Imitative. 2. Illustrative. 3. Ideal.
(1.) Imitative art is such as is applied in effecting a simple and a strict imitation of nature, or of some being or feeling, so as to excite in the mind ideas exactly similar to, or closely corresponding with those which such a subject would call forth. For this purpose, painting is the most strictly and primarily applicable, as in the case of the portrait of a man, the view of a landscape, or the representation of a bunch of flowers, which are each of them purely imitative efforts. Some of the other arts, too, are occasionally employed in a directly imitative manner, as sculpture to effect the representation of the form only of a person, music to imitate a particular sound in nature, such as thunder. Poetry and eloquence are, however, never purely and primarily imitative, although they are occasionally so employed in an indirect and a secondary manner. Architecture is mainly so in its earlier stages, but not during its later career.
Poetry and also eloquence may indeed, to a certain extent, and in one respect, claim to be imitative; as, in the first place, they sometimes copy the exact sounds or expressions they re-present. Dramatic poetry, for instance, where supposed real speeches are put into the mouths of the persons introduced, is directly imitative. Descriptive poetry is for the most part suggestive only. Poetry and eloquence may, however, be con-tended to imitate by means of the metaphors that they introduce, which represent existing objects. As regards the descriptive power of these arts, they are rather illustrative than imitative; nor can they be said to be imitative because they call to the mind ideas of real subjects in nature which they describe ; for if this was to be allowed, logic and grammar might also claim to be imitative arts. Poetry, indeed, is better calculated to represent effects than to create associations with actual things.
(2.) Illustrative art is that which is capable of being used for the illustration of and rendering clear and intelligible ideas of certain transactions, such as those relating to historical events, or foreign countries. Eloquence is used for this purpose, as is also poetry. Painting is also applied in this manner, as in mere outline drawings of figures, or basso-rilievos, which cannot be said to be imitative. Sculpture is more illustrative than imitative on the whole, as it is imitative only as regards form, while it is illustrative as regards the general character and nature of the object represented.
(3.) Ideal art is one, the origin of which is independent of imitation, and the object of which is to excite the mind by the creation of, and communication to it of certain ideas of beings or things which are not actually existing, but which we desire to represent as existing. It is used to convey notions of subjects which are not real, but which live only in imagination. It is that art the foundation and principles of which originate and subsist in the mind, independent of external nature, or of any material substances, or of transactions which may have occurred. Music and architecture, when in an advanced state, are the principal of the ideal arts ; although, as already re-marked, in the early stage of art, poetry and eloquence appear to be those which are most purely ideal. Music, however, is ideal so far only as its principles exist in the mind merely, and are creations of that being; but it is imitative whenever it is employed in copying actual sounds, or describing real scenes ; so also with respect to architecture. These two arts are, therefore, directly and purely imitative, so far as they copy in any way from nature; and they are ideal so far as they affect the mind independently of this effort.
Nature should be imitated not merely in her individual works, but as a whole generally. Hence, from this general imitation springs the ideal, while, from confining the ideal to one particular object, this may degenerate into the imitative only. A work of art, like a bright object on which the sun is shining, should collect and concentrate together in itself all the various rays of beauty and excellence of each kind.
The ideal in art, as distinguished from the imitative, consists in the selection out of many objects of certain constituent parts, so as to form one perfect object, such as never existed in reality, but only in idea. Ideal, therefore, differs from imitative art in that, while the latter effects a representation of an actually existing real object, the former is a representation of an object which does not actually exist, though it is possible that this, or a similar being, may do so; it exists, indeed, in the species, although not in the individual. The ideal is an abstract of ideas, a selection from nature ; the imitative is a representation of them as they are found in nature.
Works of art which are imitative are of two kinds :-1. Those where we directly aim at representing nature, as in a portrait, or a landscape painting, in which each tree and rock is coloured just as it is seen in nature, so as to appear to bring, the real original scene before us ; and which is accomplished still more nearly in a painting of flowers or dead game, where the size of the objects in the picture exactly corresponds with those in the actual objects. 2. Those works through which we describe nature by merely suggesting ideas associated with those which she excites, as is the case in a pencil drawing, or plain engraving of any view or object, where no attempt at closely representing or imitating the original by colour or otherwise is made. The former kind of imitative art (which alone is strictly imitative) we may term representative, the other suggestive.
In many instances, indeed, works of art which appear directly imitative, are so merely in a qualified sense, and are, properly speaking, rather suggestive altogether than actually imitative, inasmuch as they excite ideas rather by association than by direct representation. This is the case generally in sculpture, which is always as a whole more suggestive than imitative ; and even in arts which are purely imitative, it is only in those performances which are of the lowest kind, such as pictures of fruit and flowers and dead animals, which have been alluded to, that the representation is so close and servile as to be strictly imitative.
Perhaps, moreover, in strictness, the correct term for efforts in art, which serve not so much to suggest ideas to the mind originally as merely to direct it in the precise way in which it should arrange them, is that of being directive rather than suggestive.
Ideal art is also of two kinds :-1. We may term any representation ideal which is not intended to be the image or copy of any particular object, as a man or a horse, but to be the type only of the species through the representation of a real man or horse ; and which we may designate the ideal real. 2. We may term a representation ideal which is of a being purely fictitious, such as never by itself or its species actually existed in nature, as for instance a griffin, a sphinx; and which we may designate the ideal imaginary.
Both painting and poetry, and also sculpture, are capable of being applied in the ideal, as in representations of ideal beings or transactions, such as spirits or imaginary subjects. Here, however, the representation being of actual, or supposed actual objects, it is primarily imitative; although the objects being unreal, it is secondarily ideal.
Each art is, however, more or less of a mixed character, and partakes of each of these kinds. This, as already observed, is the case with painting and sculpture; and it is also to be observed that the more advanced in its career and cultivation any art becomes, the more mixed in its character it becomes also.
Thus, on the one hand, painting is most perfect as an art when it is not only imitative, but also illustrative and ideal. Music, on the other hand, in some of its highest efforts is imitative as well as ideal, and also illustrative; it is only in the earlier stages of the art that it is pure and unmixed as regards its character in this respect.
While art as an imitative medium is less perfect than nature, as an ideal one it is its rival, as it supplies omissions which are observable in nature, which does not in every case aim at excellence of this sort, although when it does so aim, it at once and it alone attains full perfection here. Art, indeed, of the ideal kind occasionally affords a sample of perfection which originates in the soul itself.
At the risk of repetition it appears desirable, before closing the present section, to recapitulate some of the observations already offered on certain points relating to the topic now under consideration.
Imitation in painting, sculpture, and acting is literal. Acting is the most imitative of all the arts, and after that sculpture. The latter, indeed, as followed by some of the ancient artists, may be said to have been entirely so, inasmuch, as I have already stated, they not only represented the human form in shape and size, but also in colour, having painted their statues so as to effect the closest resemblance to nature. Painting is next in order the most imitative art, as the colour of the object is exactly copied; and by the aid of perspective, the observance of due proportion between the different objects, and the effective management of light and shade, a tolerably accurate re-presentation of a landscape scene is attained.
Painting, in its advanced stages, is still imitative, and endeavours after an imitation of nature, although other aims may be blended with this object as the art rises higher. Its original aim, indeed, expands as the art progresses, but it continues to attempt imitation ; moreover, painting is always imitative as a representation of actual nature, while it is always ideal as an imaginary representation of any real transaction.
In the advanced stages of architecture the imitation is ideal rather than literal. Architecture remains a strictly imitative art, but the very imitation itself becomes ideal; objects are indeed imitated, the imitation is, however, wrought and moulded into an ideal form.
In poetry, eloquence, and music the imitation is generally almost wholly ideal ; its object there is not to copy any material being, but feelings and passions, and the sounds expressive of them; to imitate emotions rather than substances. In this respect, perhaps, these latter arts are, in a certain sense, as strictly imitative as the other arts ; as an emotion or passion, and particularly the expression of them, may be contended to be as capable of imitation as the form of a man, or a landscape, or building. In tragic poetry, indeed, the very speeches and expressions and ejaculations, which were uttered by the persons represented, may be exactly followed and copied. A curious instance is afforded in Shakspeare's ` Julius Cæsar' of the scrupulous ex-tent to which this is sometimes carried, in that scene where the death of Cæsar occurs, where our immortal dramatist has put the very words, though in Latin, which Caesar uttered as he fell, into his mouth : "Et to Brute I" all the rest of the tragedy being in English.
By descriptive poetry notions of objects are conveyed, and the sensations excited by the event itself are indeed imitated. Thus a picture is drawn by bringing together the same ideas that the original object would produce in the mind ; but this is the ideal rather than the imitative exercise of the art ideal as regards its power of enchanting and enrapturing the mind through its strains.
Ideal music is generally more effective and powerful than that which is imitative, although it moves the mind in a different manner : the former entering directly into it, and of itself exciting it ; the other appealing to it through the associations which it creates, and the images that are reflected on its surface. Thus animals are affected by music quite in-dependent of any imitative power that it possesses ; and the notes of the nightingale owe nothing to association or imitation.
Architecture is in the strictest sense in its earlier stages an imitative art, as nearly all the various forms which it adopts are either copied from or suggested by forms in nature. Thus the shapes of mountains, and of caves and woods and groves, as has already been pointed out, have served to suggest the outlines of buildings ; the trunks of trees, figures of leaves, and the entwining of branches, the details of the several parts of the structure. The trunk of the tree was imitated in the column supporting the edifice, and the bark on the trunk by its fluting. The leaves of the tree in wreaths or festoons at the head of the trunk were, as has already been observed, variously copied in the different mouldings at the summit of the column; and in some cases, stems entwined round the tree were also imitated. The bending over of the branches in a grove has been remarked to be represented in the aisle; and the openings through the interlaced boughs, by the trellised windows and their mouldings. In other instances, even the artificial cutting of the trunk to adapt it for its purpose, has been also typified in the shape of the column. As architecture advances, it however becomes not only more ideal and less imitative, but ultimately far more ideal than imitative. The imitation becomes so lost or merged in the ideal, that at last it is forgotten, and it is even denied that the art itself in any way originated in imitation.
The ideal of architecture, and of costume as well, which, like architecture, becomes less imitative as it advances, might be termed the emblematical. Thus a building may be emblematical of religious worship, a dress may be emblematical of mourning for the dead.
It is surely incorrect and illogical to deny acting to be an imitative art, as is done by Sir Joshua Reynolds,* merely on the ground that the spectators cannot be actually deceived by the representation. Acting is imitative to a very large extent, and it is equally successful here with any of the arts. Besides which, actual illusion is in no way essential to imitation.
The art of gardening is imitative so far as regards the imitation of scenes in nature which do or may exist; and it is ideal as regards the arbitrary arrangement of objects that it effects, which is perhaps often altogether different from whatever did or ever can exist in real nature. It is imitative as regards the mode in which nature in her most perfect form is here copied and it is ideal in respect to the quality of the composition itself. As regards the combination of natural beau-ties, it resembles a landscape view in painting, in which various picturesque objects are united together so as to please the eye.
It does not, however, appear that this art can, in any case, be considered as in its nature illustrative. All inventive and original pieces fall within the sphere of the ideal arts. All mere copies belong to the imitative. Most artistical works, of whichever art, are of the mixed kind. But these different kinds must not be confounded, as they are both distinct and independent in themselves, and though often united together, this by no means renders them the same.
Hence, we see that several of the arts are in their invention partly ideal and partly imitative; and as they advance towards perfection, some of them partake more of both qualities. Thus painting, sculpture, and architecture, in their earlier stages are almost if not entirely imitative ; but during their progress, they become gradually more ideal, as their various capacities and powers are more fully developed. Poetry, eloquence, and music, on the other hand, are in their earlier stages principally ideal ; but, as they advance to maturity, and their capacities expand, they become more imitative. They continue, nevertheless, ideal in the description of nature and real objects and transactions, such as might form more apt subjects for arts purely imitative.
The arts may be also further distinguished or subdivided (in pursuance of what I observed at the commencement of this chapter) into those which subsist independently by themselves, and require no sustaining medium for their support, as the arts painting, sculpture, music, and acting, each of which exists as a separate independent art complete in itself; and those arts which have no real existence by themselves, but can only exist appendent to some science or manual pursuit, such as eloquence, which is but the embellishment of language; architecture, which is the art of building with beauty and grandeur, and with due regard to the principles of taste; and gardening and costume, which are but the ornamental or tasteful embellishment or adaptation of the occupation connected with them. Nevertheless, in the early stages of these arts, painting, sculpture, and poetry were in certain instances each used for practical purposes, independent of their application as purely fine arts. Indeed, there is in many cases considerable difficulty in effecting this classification correctly, and in adjusting fairly the claims of each art to be placed under its proper division. Thus, not only poetry but painting and sculpture might, for the reasons stated, be contended to be appendent rather than independent arts ; and, perhaps, with equal reason, certain other arts here ranked as appendent might be contended to be more properly independent.