Examination, Seriatim, Of These Several Elements
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
The following may be considered to comprehend the several elements of delineation alluded to, and which are here treated of seriatim :-1. Correctness. 2. Perspicuity. 3. Fitness. 4. Consistency. 5. Contrast. 6. Energy.
(1.) Art being but the transcript of ideas typical of certain objects or sounds in nature, it follows that a strict and correct representation of these subjects must constitute the basis of art. Unless the mirror reflects truly and exactly, according to the shadows cast upon it, the figures it is intended to portray, it only misleads instead of informing us, and serves but to little purpose. Hence correctness must be deemed to ce the first of the elements of delineation.
This element is passive rather than active in its operation; and and is originating in its nature, and also independent. Its effect is direct, and it can with difficulty be dispensed with in any artistical delineation.
Correctness is, however, in reality rather a negative than a positive virtue; it implies no presence of artistical merit, but merely the absence of defect. It indicates no existence of genius, but simply the exercise of care and manual proficiency. Hence it is far removed from originality, or even taste or effect. It is seen in the productions, whether in painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry, oratory, or music, of every ordinary proficient in the school of his art, while grandeur and beauty may be entirely wanting.
Correctness in delineation is consequently attained, not by the operation or application of the faculty of taste, but by that of reason, which is in this case rendered auxiliary to it, and by which is determined the presence of this element. Reason as well as taste, as observed in a previous chapter, often influences the mind in its approval or disapproval of objects of art, as where their correctness or incorrectness, fitness or unfitness for any particular purpose, is considered to form a criterion of their excellence. But notwithstanding this, reason by itself ought strictly to have no absolute authority or power in deciding upon the merit of a work of art as such. Thus, in an equally erroneous manner, we call a well-reasoned problem or definition beautiful, which is, however, merely an allegorical mode of speaking, as the principles of taste are never appealed to here. Perhaps, however, the same kind of pleasure or satisfaction i% created in the mind, for the moment, by the one as by the other; and hence the delusion as to their both springing from the same source.
In correctly attaining the representation of objects before us, close and exact imitation in all minute particularities may sometimes be adopted with great effect. In copying certain natural figures in this mode, we aim at an absolute transcript from nature. On ordinary occasions, we merely abstract from her generally. Considerable correctness as to particular parts may however be co-existent, and quite consistent with extreme incorrectness as to others. This was the case both with Shakspeare and Michael Angelo, in many of whose particular representations we may discover much incorrectness, although in their general descriptions they are wonderfully correct and exact.
(2.) By perspicuity is here meant such a plain, and obvious, and lucid mode of describing or narrating the subject or transaction, that the order and course of it are at once apparent and certain, without any doubt, hesitation, or perplexity.
Perspicuity is, in its operation, passive rather than active, and is originating as regards its nature, and also independent. Its effect is direct, and it is indispensable in the delineation of any subject, and therefore universally resorted to for this purpose. The absence of it detracts materially from the force and effect of the design, whatever be its particular character. In all the arts, the representation with perspicuity and lucidity of the transaction described, is in every way essential.
Definity and perspicuity are of equal consequence, whether as regards form or narration. A figure whose shape is irregular and undefined and indeterminate, fails, as regards its end in creating clear ideas in the mind of the beholder, in a manner exactly corresponding with what we observe in a description in poetry or eloquence, which is confused and obscure. It is necessary, indeed, that any appeal to the mind in order to be forcible, be plain, and also direct. If it be left to the understanding gradually, and by a long tortuous process, to find out the meaning of the representation, the effect is destroyed. Besides, the primary object of most works of art is to confer pleasure, which is considerably marred if we are to incur great trouble and difficulty in unravelling the drift of the story. Those can derive but comparatively little delight in the study of the ancient classics, who are pained at every step in rendering the translation ; and the beauties become unfolded too tediously to be striking or affecting. Thus we perceive that by inattention to the important rule here laid down, both the excitement and the gratification to be produced by a work of art may be wholly lost.
In painting and sculpture, general perspicuity in the manner of the composition are absolutely and obviously essential, so that the meaning and object of the transaction represented, and the nature and qualities of the principal characters who compose it, may at once, without difficulty, be apparent. In these two arts this is peculiarly requisite, as they are destitute of the aid of language to explain what is intended. In-deed, one of the great merits of painting and sculpture is, that compositions in them are alike intelligible to those of every clime and tongue, as they appeal in the universal language of nature herself, to the hearts and the feelings of all mankind. Deficiency, therefore, in the qualities to which I am alluding, deprives them of one of their most prominent and striking advantages. In compositions in poetry, eloquence, and the other arts, the presence of this element is also important.
(3.) The due maintenance of the relative fitness of the different parts of a design one with another, is also a very essential principle to be observed in artistical delineation and composition.
Fitness, as an element, must be deemed to be passive as regards its operation, and entirely derivative from other elements, instead of being originative in itself. It is also auxiliary to them, and not independent; but its effect is nevertheless direct, and its application can seldom, if ever, be dispensed with in any artistical design which aims at perfect and exact delineation.
This principle of fitness is one that runs through all nature. We see it beautifully and perfectly exemplified in the forms of animals of every variety, as also of vegetables, and indeed, in the general design and architecture of the universe itself. Beasts and birds, and insects and fishes and reptiles, differ extensively in their general shape and formation one from another; yet in each of these, in the relative size and adaptation of the parts one to another,—of the head to the body, and the limbs to the trunk,—a degree of proportion and fitness ever prevails, although it may not be in every case at once discernible. So is it also through the wide range of the vegetable world. Were this fitness in any one instance to be materially deviated from, the utmost unsightliness in appearance, and confusion, and in-convenience would at once ensue. Fitness, nevertheless, wins our admiration more in works of art than in works of nature, because in the former it affords evidence of conformity with the latter, by which alone we test their correctness. Works of nature are bound by no rules of art themselves, although by the principles which they observe they give law to works of art.
Fitness derives a great part of its effect from the reason actively exerting itself to procure an acquiescence of the mind in this principle. We may infer, indeed, that taste has not by itself, independent of this circumstance, much influence here in approving or disapproving of any object.
It may, however, be said that flowers, which constitute some of the most pleasing objects in nature, owe nothing in this respect to fitness, as they are singularly deficient here in their formation. But may there not be a due fitness, as to other portions of the plant, preserved between the different parts of the flower and the leaves, discernible through all their irregularities of shape, and which may be one of the principal causes of their agreeable effect ? Flowers, nevertheless, owe their main beauty in most cases, not to the excellence of their shape, but to the splendour of their tints. The fitness existent here is with respect to the leaves of the flower one with another, not as regards the other part of the vegetable and its leaves, which are so far altogether independent of it.
Among animals the swan and the peacock are pleasing objects ; but they owe this quality by no means entirely to their shape, much less to the fitness between their different parts. The latter is indebted almost wholly to colour for its beauty. Possibly also the apparent want of fitness and proportion detracts much from the appearance of the swan. In the human form the obviously perfect fitness of one part to the other is very remarkable, and is probably the main cause which excites our admiration of it.
Fitness, consequently, if not absolutely essential to the pleasing effect of any object, conduces greatly to it. Gross want of fitness between the parts of a figure, amounting to actual deformity, necessarily detracts much from its appearance, and is displeasing to the mind, especially in objects we are accustomed to behold more perfectly framed ; but this is mainly through the operation of the reason, which points out and condemns the defect. What we have to consider here, how-ever, are not the elements conducive to the picturesque, which are the subject of a subsequent chapter, but what are the general principles that regulate delineation in art. Picturesqueness, in-deed, implies and includes the due application of the principles of delineation, although the application of these principles alone is wholly inadequate to produce the picturesque.
The rules of perspective are adapted both to enforce and illustrate the correctness of the principle here maintained as to the necessity of fitness as an element of delineation. Perspective originates in the circumstance of our vision being by nature so constituted as that to every object is allotted its due proportion of size and space in appearance, according to our position in viewing it, so that each form has its apparent fitness with regard to the other subjects in relation to it.
In architecture this is one of the most important directing elements; and poetry and eloquence are wholly unable to dispense with its observance. In music also it is almost in-variably resorted to as a very necessary principle, not only as regards the regulation of the notes, but the division with propriety of the different parts of the composition. Indeed, in musical composition this is obviously one of the most essential elements. Nor are the other arts of dramatic acting, costume, and gardening less indebted for the pleasing effects they are calculated to produce, to the exhibition of fitness in designs displayed in those arts.
(4.) Consistency is an element of delineation which may be considered to be active rather than passive as regards its operation, and derivative rather than originating as regards its nature. It is, nevertheless, more to be regarded as an important auxiliary with other elements in the composition, than an independent means by itself of effecting the end in view. And it acts rather indirectly than directly. However useful for this particular purpose, it is not absolutely indispensable; and although generally, is not in every instance resorted to.
Consistency is nearly allied to the element of fitness. In-deed, the main difference between them seems to be this that while fitness is a positive principle prescribing certain requisites for the due regulation of the design, consistency is rather of a negative or corrective nature, serving to point out what particular subjects or qualities will constitute any in-congruity as regards others already existent. Reason rather than taste appears to be the faculty which is employed during this process.
It may here be remarked that it is quite possible for the several portions of a particular figure, or the several figures in a particular composition, to fit well together, and yet the several parts of the piece may be wholly inconsistent one with another ; fitness depending on their relation being pleasing to the eye, the determination of which, although pronounced by reason, is aided by taste ; and consistency arising from the accordance of these several constituents with the decision of the reason as to their propriety in this respect in regard to the whole.
Thus, in a composition in painting or sculpture, the several features and limbs depicted may agree well with one an-other as regards their relative fitness; and yet the contrariety of feelings or actions represented may be entirely at variance with all the rules of consistency. So also in a poem, the narrative may be correct as regards the fitness one with another of the objects portrayed; while there is an utter want of harmony in the description as a whole, so as to mar its effect, and render it repugnant to the decision of the reason.
It is in nature that we may observe the most exact and perfect accordance with this rule ; and a due attention to nature is the surest means of ensuring its observance. And this proves more than anything its value and its necessity.
(5.) But although it is so essential that a general fitness and consistency should be preserved throughout the composition in each of these different arts, in accordance with, and after the exquisite, and indeed perfect pattern afforded us by nature ; yet when properly controlled and limited, the introduction of strong contrasts into a work of each kind serves to add greatly to the excellence and the completeness of the delineation. Contrast of itself, by which is meant the bringing into conjunction and into juxtaposition one with another of two qualities, or subjects, or ideas, of a nature entirely dissimilar and opposite, forms, therefore, a distinct element in the process of delineation. In its operation it is active, and it is originating in its nature. Its effect is also direct, and it is independent of the other elements ; but its application is only to be resorted to occasionally, according to the description of the subjects or composition to be delineated.
By two opposite qualities being placed and contrasted together, each appears in itself more vivid than when viewed in-dependently ; just as black and white, when arranged side by side, exhibit more distinctly, and more forcibly their opposite hues, than when by themselves, or when compared with any other colours.
Nor is this principle at all inconsistent with nature, or with the application of the element previously considered. Nature herself, indeed, abounds in contrasts, and in every department of her scenery. Thus the clouds contrast with the sky, and both with the earth ; the mountains with the plains, and water with the land; woods and rocks also contrast strongly together. Indeed, nowhere do we see greater contrasts exhibited than in nature herself, especially in those scenes which are the grandest and the most perfect, such as a mountain prospect affords. For instance, while a part of the mountain is shrouded in deep gloom, and vested in rich purple,—the true royal robe of majestic nature,—other parts will be radiant with the glory of sunshine, and its snowy peaks sparkling in the full brightness of Heaven. The frowning rock, too, contrasts effectively with the rich verdure, and the roaring torrent with the placid lake. A cloud will also sometimes serve to set off a mountain in the most forcible manner when placed in immediate juxtaposition with it, the strong contrast between the qualities of the two conducing much to this end.
The application of the element of contrast ought, however, in each case to be exercised very sparingly, and but seldom; while the preceding one, that of consistency, is of general, and ordinary, and constant avail. Thus in a poem or a landscape, the continual recurrence of strong contrasts throughout it would produce a jarring, inharmonious, disagreeable effect, quite contrary to anything observable in nature. But, on the other hand, the occasional recourse to this mode on pro-per occasions, adds greatly to the vigour of the design. Like medicinal regimens, this is an extreme but seldom to be re-sorted to, and only on emergencies. When so used its value may be great, while its constant application would not only prevent any beneficial ends from resulting from it, but eventually ruin the constitution. A picture or poem made up of contrasts, is like a body whose action is caused by convulsions.
The greatest contrasts are those of colour, and the greatest contrasts in colour are those of black and white, representative of dark and light in nature. Contrasts admit, nevertheless, of many gradations, the judicious management of which serves to enable the painter to effect various important results. In the application of contrasts nature is a safe and a judicious guide, always using them sparingly and cautiously, and in which the strong and direct contrasts are very rare, and consequently so much the more striking and effective when they are resorted to.
In painting and sculpture this principle is also exercised by the introduction of characters of opposite qualities into the same composition, such as old men and young females or children ; or in landscape scenery by describing in the same view a bold and rugged prospect, as of barren mountains and dark thunder-clouds, and verdant fields and gleams of sun-shine.
In music this element is frequently introduced with great success, by strongly contrasting different sounds together ; and in architecture it is sometimes advantageously availed of in setting off to particular objects.
But the best example that I can here afford of the application of this element, is in the art of poetry, in which it is introduced very effectively. The following quotation from Milton affords a striking illustration, where we shall perceive with what admirable dexterity the poet causes Satan to contrast the happiness of his past life in heaven, and the bliss of the celestial regions, with the gloom and terrors of his new abode, as he contemplates his fall, and his imprisonment in the regions of woe :
" Farewell, happy fields,
The joyous fields of Paradise, and the horrors of the infernal world, with its fathomless abyss, are here brought together in close juxtaposition, and the direct and vivid contrast resulting is extremely effective. In eloquence also contrasts may be availed of in the same manner, and with corresponding results. A very perfect illustration of this principle in the art of eloquence, and of its value, is afforded by St. Paul in the following passage :—
" As deceivers, and yet true.
A forcible example of the result and power of contrast is also furnished by the following quotation from one of Addison's Spectators, descriptive of his emotions while meditating among the tombs in Westminster Abbey; in which will be observed the result produced, as regards the heightening both the vigour and the effect of the description, from the introduction of contrasts which are brought together, and repeated in a series of reflections following one upon another :
"When I look upon the tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies in me; when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out ; when I meet with the grief of parents upon a tombstone, my heart melts with compassion; when I see the tombs of the parents themselves, I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow.
When I see kings lying by those who deposed them; when I see rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind. When I read the several dates of the tombs, of some that died yesterday, and some six hundred years ago; I consider that great day when we shall all of us be contemporaries, and make our appearance together."
So also as regards the different parts of a design in architectural composition, corresponding results from the judicious introduction of the present element may be obtained. In acting, the sudden contrasts of passion and feeling of opposite kinds are often very striking, when contrived with due skill and according to nature ; and both in costume and gardening, the use of contrasts of different sorts in the design, if properly availed of, may contribute greatly to their effect.
Nevertheless, contrast, although of great value in aiding design, is one of the elements of delineation only, not of the picturesque. It can contribute nothing to either grandeur or beauty. It adds force and effect merely to delineation, and is quite as serviceable in a plan or a map as in a picture.
(6.) The regulation of the design so as to represent the transaction or object with due energy and effect, is necessarily one of the most essential principles in art.
The element of energy, by which is here meant the delineation of the subject or composition with proper force and vigour, independent of any picturesque properties that it may possess, may therefore be considered as the last of those to be availed of in the process now under consideration. In its operation it is active, and in its nature originating. It is, however, auxiliary to other elements rather than independent of itself; but its result is direct, and it should be always resorted to in every representation of the nature now under discussion.
In this respect, the wonderful and natural imitation of flesh, which has been accomplished by some sculptors, must be regarded as a great, although perhaps a merely mechanical merit in their performances ; by means of which substance soft and elastic is nearly represented by one which is precisely the re-verse of it as regards its hardness and immobility. The renowned Torso, which is contained in the Vatican at Rome, is a splendid instance of the power with which this is sometimes attained. The statue in question, although only a mutilated relic, is one of the most striking and effective of all the antique sculptures.
But besides giving energy and vigour to a painting, or a statue, or a poem, there is a vital freshness which may be infused into it that brings it still nearer to living nature, by means of which, as in viewing her, we shall never tire of the scene, but at each repeated gaze discover additional beauties and new charms, which seem ever to be proceeding from her apparently inexhaustible store. Objects in nature are subject to changes of great variety, as regards shape and position and motion, and also colour, and light and shade. A work of art is ever the same and immutable, except so far as a mere alteration of position is concerned. All the vitality and expression which we can infuse into the work, will not compensate for its want of reality. We must, nevertheless, as far as we can, endeavour to supply the deficiency by such means as are within our power.
Nevertheless, although we complain of artistical representations, of whatever kind, as deficient in force and vigour, from their want of life and reality ; yet, on the other hand, we must bear in mind how very limited is the effect upon us of actual scenes and events, where the issue of them does not in any way immediately concern us. Indeed, in the case alike of reality and of representation, the narrative depends far more for its effect upon the mode of its striking us, than upon the facts themselves, whether real or ideal.
As both in the scenes of nature and in the transactions of life which form the subjects of art, their adaptation to affect us is something quite beyond the aim and design of their formation; so in works of art themselves, results of this kind may be occasionally discernible beyond what the artist endeavoured to produce, or they may be of a description beyond his power voluntarily to have accomplished.
Even arts directly and purely imitative will sometimes accomplish far more through the energy of the representation, than by the closest accuracy with which they carry out the imitation aimed at. Effect is essential to confer upon them their lustre. It is the polish that makes the diamond glitter, which was as much diamond, and as valuable too, before as after the polish, although its merit was not then made manifest.
As in an oratorical composition, each separate word and expression serves to suggest some particular ideas to the mind, which no other language could so forcibly or so aptly effect ; and by the whole sentence, feelings and thoughts and desires, corresponding with those in the soul of the speaker, are at once excited in his audience : so in a design in painting, each tint and each form contributes essentially to the production, and to the perfection of the whole piece. Many various expedients are moreover resorted to in a pictorial effort to infuse energy into the representation, and to atone for the want of that vivacity which real scenes and objects in nature possess.
Among the main conducives to the result achieved through the proper application of the element now under consideration, are the following :-1. The bringing together, as it were to one focus or point, a number of sublime and exalted ideas or images of the same kind. 2. Attributing to each being or object the character most appropriate, and of a corresponding noble nature. This is very perfectly accomplished in the following quotation from the `Tempest':
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
Now the extreme vigour and effect which the above lines undoubtedly possess must be acknowledged to be principally owing to the two following causes :-1. The assemblage together into one point of so many great and noble ideas and images, as of towers, temples, palaces, the globe. 2. Each subject being invested with the most suitable and striking and exalted character, as the towers cloud-capped, which denotes their great height ; the palaces gorgeous ; the temples solemn.
Nevertheless, the result here produced, however affecting, as also agreeable to the mind, lies strictly and entirely within the province of delineation merely, and has no claim to be ranked among those far higher efforts which appertain to the principles of the picturesque. The passage quoted may doubtless as a whole be considered as one of the latter class; but what I here aim to exemplify is solely the result of vigour and energy as regards mere effective and forcible description or delineation in any art, and which belongs indeed, really and essentially, rather to rhyming than to poetry, and to rhetoric rather than to eloquence.
In Chaucer's description of the figure and face of the Sompnour, much effect is given to it by the addition that
" Of his visage, children were sore aferd."
Occasionally, indeed, merely a few well-directed strokes from a master-hand, serve to create a very vivid and energetic sketch. This is seen in painting, in the rough designs of several of the greatest geniuses. In poetry also it is sometimes the case, as may be instanced in the following description by Chaucer, which is as striking as it is concise, and to the effect of which a detailed account could add but little. It is that of the "blinde man," who is simply represented as
Croked and olde, with eyen faste yshette."
But the most perfect illustration afforded by poetry with respect to delineation generally, more especially as regards vigour and energy in efforts of this kind, is supplied by Spenser in his `Faërie Queene,' the following quotations from which will be found to owe their power and effect, in a great measure to the observance of the foregoing principles, and the due application of the elements already enunciated. In the sketch of Envy, we may remark how many striking images and similes are brought together, and how suitable are the characters with which every object is invested. The correctness, perspicuity, and fitness of each of the descriptions and images will here be noticed; while there is at the same time maintained a proper consistency with regard to the whole narrative, although direct contrasts are introduced, and the entire scene is depicted with extraordinary vigour and energy. In many respects, indeed, as forcible illustrations of the application of the principles of the picturesque, the same quotations will to a large extent suffice :
" And next to him malicious Envy rode
" All in a kirtle of discolourd say
The description of a night-hag possesses the same characteristics, although the ideas and objects which are collaterally introduced into it for the purpose of effect, are more naturally connected with the subject than are those in the former : ---
" And hym behynd a wicked hag did stalke
The same observations will also apply to the following description of Hypocrisy, by the same great poet : ---
"At length they chaunst to meet upon the way
The description of Ignorance by the same author is similar in style, and possesses corresponding characteristics : ---
" At last, with creeping crooked face forth came
" But very uncouth sight was to behold,