ART FORMS IN DEVELOPMENT
Although any detailed treatment of the concrete forms of art is entirely foreign to the intention of this essay, it is desirable that we should devote a little consideration to the way in which these technical expressions arise and to the psychological effects they produce. In doing this we shall refer to the work of various artists, but only for purposes of illustration. The part of the art critic is as unnecessary to our purpose as it is beyond our powers.
To omit all reference to concrete matters seemed undesirable, as leaving the theory rather in the air. On the other hand any detailed discussion of the theory as applied to the development of concrete art-forms must necessarily introduce debatable propositions, and must be tentative. It therefore seemed desirable to relegate the discussion of concrete matters to an Appendix, and to state clearly that what was there said was meant rather to suggest ideas than to lay down definite principles. Applications that may be open to question do not invalidate a theory, while they do make for clear understanding of it.
The question whether beauty itself is a universal or a particular has already found implicit answer. Since beauty is the expression of a relation that is understood as an essential determination of Reality, the concept of beauty is a pure concept. It is expressive, it is concrete, it is universal. It is clearly expressed to the self as a cognitive product, expressible in words (definition) and symbols (technique). It answers to Croce’s test that though “universal and transcendent in relation to the single representation, it is yet immanent in the single, and therefore in all representations,” and is therefore concrete. It also transcends the[Pg 72] single representations, “so that no single representation, and no number of them can be equivalent to the concept” and so is universal.
But the foundation of every universal concept exists in an intuition of the particular. The intuition and its expression to the self come first, then follows the extension of the theoretic activity in logic. The concept of beauty must, then, have arisen, and at every fresh realisation must still arise, like all concepts, from an intuition of Reality as existent in a particular; and we must therefore seek its origin in specific individual cases.
Now we have argued that beauty is most probably associated initially with sex, since with sex the idea of personal relationship first arises. Our main thesis would not however be invalidated if it could be shown that a vague intuition of relation with inorganic or non-personal objects arose first. The intuition of relation may well have several separate starting points. Only, in this case, the reciprocal element would be absent (though its lack might not be felt except as a vague dissatisfaction) and could only arise when the sex-relation was the subject of a similar intuition. But most likely the intuition of relation did arise with sex, and, since our argument is concerned to show that ultimately the intuition of beauty leads to the expression of mutual relationship—love—and finds there the explanation both of its peculiar quality, and of the creative longing it produces, we will confine our argument mainly to this aspect.
Now if this be so, the sense of beauty is likely to be associated in its earliest stages with sight, and only in a secondary degree with sound, in the mating-call and in the beginnings of language. This is borne out by the fact that music usually lags behind, and is more primitive in expression than the visual arts—personal ornamentation and even decoration of objects. True, the first formal expression is likely to be in sound—in the beginnings of language. The dynamic relation between persons maybe accompanied and[Pg 73] expressed throughout by speech. But at this primitive level it will be a very limited intuition or understanding that is expressed, and moreover, an intuition that is based on visual stimuli. We may therefore leave the question of language for the present. Its importance in the earlier stages is mainly practical. Through sight (when the stage of simple chemiotaxis is passed) arises the perception of desirability in the opposite sex, which is the animal starting-point from which love is evolved. This desirability and this relation are expressed to the self, and this expression is beauty in its humblest beginning. Then, later, the creative aspect enters into consciousness. At first it was satisfied, unconsciously, in mating; but soon this unconscious satisfaction is felt to be inadequate. The representative process begins.
Now here we find a difficulty. According to our theory, the earliest attempts at the pictorial art should be pictures of men and women, but this is not, I believe, the case. We must, however, remember that the idea of symbolic magic arises very early. This is natural. The representation of a thing is that thing in some degree. You have power over your representations, therefore you have power over the thing. The use of such power has an anti-social aspect, which forbids its common or public use except in the form, of a magico-religious ceremony. It is unlikely, therefore, that if such representations were made, they should have come down to us. Moreover, it is unnecessary that the magic object should bear any superficial resemblance to the thing it symbolises; indeed it is undesirable that it should[Pg 74] be recognisable by others, since the practice for which it is destined is nefarious and illicit. An esoteric significance is enough. There is a very close connection between primitive art and religion. Thus the Palaeolithic drawings of animals in the dark caves of Périgord and Altamira, are undoubtedly connected with magico-religious ceremonies to give power over the beasts. For this reason then—the acquiring of aprise over the object represented—we should hardly expect to find many early drawings of men and women, other than divinities. Even to-day many savages evince the greatest fear of having their likeness drawn. Nevertheless, these Neolithic drawings do exist, proving that there was no universal tabu on such representations. Moreover such drawings as those of the Bushmen show that primitive art at times uses drawings to record historical events, such as raids by other tribes. The comparative scarcity of primitive drawings is, however, easily explicable when we take the fact of magical beliefs into account. And there are sufficiently numerous examples of drawings of animals—bear, rhinoceros, lion, mammoth, bison, reindeer, to show that prehistoric man did have an intuition of his relation to other creatures. Furthermore, since the creative impulse does receive some, if unconscious, satisfaction in sex-relationship, expressed in word and action, there is the less need for technical expression in the early stages. We find at all events enough prehistoric drawings to show the recognition of relation, and the expressive activity, and these are the desiderata for an aesthetic fact.
Leaving the most primitive level, we find the development of decoration. Pottery is shaped with some regard to form and symmetry, and simple ornament of a geometric character makes its appearance. Much might be said on[Pg 75] this subject, but we will confine ourselves to a few fundamental considerations.
In the first place we notice that here man’s art is practically unfettered by religious and magical inhibitions. Geometric forms do not generally represent any person or power. Artistic creation therefore can move freely. Next, we observe that the art is reaching a higher level, and that consciously. There is conscious elimination and abstraction at work in the construction of patterns made of simple lines and curves. We find also the rudiments of an endeavour to find a harmony and rhythm that may give a sense of satisfied understanding. Men are beginning to feel the need of unity and harmony and order, and in so far as geometric ornament gives the feeling of these and of purpose, it is beautiful, for it expresses their intuition of an ordered reality.
It is unnecessary for us to discuss the intrinsic beauty of curves, or the mental satisfaction afforded by the golden section. The Greeks, and later writers such as Fechner, have expended much ingenuity in doing this. But their conclusions amounted to little more than that the aesthetic pleasure given by geometric form was due to the sense of symmetry and order and unity that were brought about by elaborate differentiation of detail subordinated to a single idea. As we have just said, Geometric ornament expresses man’s intuition of an ordered relation and interdependence in Reality.
We have introduced the ideas of elimination and abstraction. These are present in all artistic representation, and probably in all artistic perception. Because the power is rare in any high degree of development, artistic genius is rare. Moreover it frequently happens in ordinary people[Pg 76] that the perception of beauty is first aroused consciously by pictures rather than by natural scenes. A flower is simple enough for a child to understand, and we find that in many children, especially artistic ones, the perception of beauty is first awakened by flowers. The elements of a sunset, or a moonlight scene with clear tones and silhouetted outlines, are simple enough for the untrained mind to appreciate. But it requires an artistic genius to see the beauty of a complex landscape. In representing this technically he simplifies, emphasises, eliminates and abstracts. The man who looks at his picture follows the creative process of his mind, and, the elimination being already done for him, is able to appreciate. Moreover he receives training in the process, and is the more ready to eliminate for himself; to appreciate natural beauty of a complex order. Even if our artistic development is not high, we love pictures because in looking at them and understanding them we perform a creative act ourselves; but it is the artist who has made it possible for us to perform the act by his simplification of the problem. Browning clearly understood this, for he wrote:
Sometimes the artist achieves his emphasis by means not wholly agreeable to the medium which he is using. Many artists of great technical ability link human sympathies with an admirably interpretative mise-en-scène which carries out their vision. Nevertheless the picture that tells a story calls in adventitious aid. It is like the illustrated reading book of a child; by the child mind it is created, and to the child mind it appeals. It cannot express a clear intuition by a simple representation in a single medium, but uses two, appealing not only in pictorial symbols, but in dramatic[Pg 77] as well, and the intuition itself is obscured by the process. Owing to this confusion of media and of intuition the result is unsatisfactory to minds more developed aesthetically, for reasons that we shall adduce later, while yet the double appeal makes the meaning more evident to the beginner. Again certain landscape artists of the second rank by insistence on simple elements of natural beauty, by emphasis, and by elimination of distracting ideas, open a new vision to minds hardly prepared yet for such intuition in face of the natural object. Add to this the half conscious yet acutely pleasurable process of following out the technical means by which the artist has impressed his intuition upon canvas, and we can understand the joy of looking at their pictures.
But where the artist’s vision goes deeper, where the reality is more clearly seen, and where in order to express this intuition, to represent it, and to bring out its less obvious harmony and order, a more sweeping process of elimination and abstraction is needed, the simple mind is unable to follow. Not everyone is at the stage to appreciate the subtle symphonies of Whistler, the bare simplicity of D. Y. Cameron, the rigorous certainty of Botticelli. The conventions and purposeful line of an early Japanese print; the vibrant light of the post-impressionist landscape artists; the wilful, obtrusive, almost harsh insistence of the cubist that you shall turn your mind away from curves that hitherto you have deemed essential, in order to grasp other truths, not only seem ugly—that is to say, meaningless—to the mind whose artistic perception is little developed, but may even distract it, in rebellious protest, from the truth the artist wishes to proclaim, though others further advanced find in some of their work a very high type of beauty. And, be it added, the artist himself fails in his expression if he overdoes the emphasis in such a way that his representation of the Reality becomes lopsided and inharmonious, as is too often the case. Further where he is not a creative artist at[Pg 78] all, but a slavish imitator of a method not really his own, we are presented with the meaningless monstrosities that here and there defile the Salon des Indépendants—and other less catholic exhibitions! In some, too, the animal basis is the only intuition expressed, and art gobbles greedily at its mess of pottage.
Yet as a whole we have moved a long way from the animal expression of a need of its complementary animal. The whole world is related to us, and in that relation we find beauty. And beautiful as it is we find it very lovable, even though we cannot but feel that our love can never be satisfied since we can give nothing back.
Yet something we can give, though not to it—something that makes things clearer. In our minds we can give to this world a meaning, as itself subordinate, yet the necessary means of our self-realisation, and we can share this meaning with others. We find a meaning in life, and that meaning is fellowship. We find a meaning in nature, and that meaning dwells in the Creative Being of the God who is Love. Beauty, more clearly day by day, becomes for us the expression of Reality, and that Reality is the reciprocal relationship of persons. Religion gives one pathway of approach, Beauty another, but both join to form the highway of our God. There is more than room for beauty in religion; there is more than room for aesthetic in theology; there is an absolute need, if they are not to be in a measure inexpressive, lopsided, and therefore ugly. Our concept of Reality must be symmetrical, or fail of adequacy.
What is true of pictorial art is equally true of other forms. Style—the higher art of language—demands education before it can be appreciated. In literature again, the general public prefers Longfellow to Keats, The Passing of Arthur to A Death in the Desert, Ella Wheeler Willcox to the Divina Commedia. Henry James demands a more intimate appreciation of the spirit of man than does Dickens. In all these there is beauty—the expression of an intuition—[Pg 79]but those who see furthest and most clearly have the smallest public. Most men cannot even follow where they lead, and few indeed are the pioneers.
Before we leave the question of literature and language, we may just glance at its development. This is comparatively an easy matter to understand. The warning, the expression of satisfaction, the mating-call are common among animals. The powers of communication and of speech develop with the development of self-consciousness. They are expressions of the relation between the self and its ‘others,’ and especially of the relation between the self and other selves. They carry the germs of understanding, and as they lead from the particular to the more general they bear in them the quality of the beautiful. The relations between the self and the other selves, and between the self and the environment, become more and more universalised. In speech they are communicated, but speech is transient. A more permanent record is required, and here again resort is had to symbolism, less generally intelligible, more esoteric, than the pictorial symbol, since there is no one universal language; the symbolism of written speech. Speech, however, is episodic and dramatic. It moves along with the march of events. So too with literature, for the most part. The Pictorial and Plastic arts represent beauty as static; yet they are not lifeless. Activity, movement, is implicit in them, while yet the beauty they express is restful, and has in it something of the quality of absoluteness and transcendence. Language, literature, drama are dynamic. In them beauty moves; immanent and unquiet at first sight; yet here too there is something that expresses the eternal meaning. Purpose moves to its fulfilment, and, while it moves, the end is in view. Nevertheless in pictorial art the static side is the most prominent, in linguistic the dynamic side. We may observe, however, that in order to counteract the transitoriness of purely episodic speech, recourse is had to visual symbolism as well. The graphic art aims at perpetuating the episode,[Pg 80] and by doing so renders possible the development to which we shall immediately draw attention.
Now the untrained mind appreciates the dynamic aspect of literature, whether it be the originative mind or the mind of the reader. This explains the output and the popularity of the thrilling tale of adventure. At its lowest we find the Penny Dreadful. Through Stanley Weyman and Dumas we move towards Conrad and Meredith and Hardy, where the dynamic element is thrillingly present (as present it must be indeed even in the most quiet essays) but where it is subordinated to a clear vision of the permanent and eternal which we have mis-termed static. In poetry this truth is obvious. Even in drama, though our attention is distracted by the action, it is the chief quality if the drama is really great. In Sophocles, in Euripides, in Shakespeare; perhaps almost too consciously in Galsworthy, and Paul Claudel and Synge, for conscious art loses the sincerity of a first vision; it is not the episodic sequence that interests us, except from the point of view of technique. Our attention is focussed upon the motive, the fundamental intuition to which the dramatist is trying to give technical expression. Moreover in all the infinite variety of literary art the motive is the same. One definite intuition is expressed—that of relationship; relation between person and person, relation between person and machine, relation between person and some ever-ruling Order, be it Fate, Chance, or God also personal. It is the reality of personal inter-relationship that underlies all literature, be it love-poem, novel, or some drama of Fate in which personal relationship is overshadowed by the impersonal, or at least the unsympathetic; or else it is the one-sided relation of a person to a thing, as in descriptive science, which has only the beauty of order. But can we say that the intuition which the pictorial artist represents is the same as this? Hardly, unless the picture tells a story; and in so far as it does this we feel that the realm of pictorial art is invaded by an alien influence. It may at first sight[Pg 81] seem surprising that art should not gain by the introduction of various intuitions of relation; that it does not, as a rule, is certain. All the arts overlap; we shall see the most marked example of this when we come to consider music and deal further with this point; but intrinsically each is peculiar in its scope and method.
Now it is worth while to observe that the longing aroused by the beauty of literature is rather different from that induced by pictures. It is less vague. Because literature deals with the relation between persons our attention is directed towards the persons we know—our longings and aspirations reach out consciously towards them and towards God. We think of particular people and our relation to them. Our creative longing is directed towards them, in active relation, or towards creative literary work of which, more or less consciously to ourselves they are the background. Moreover we always identify ourselves, in a greater or less degree, with one or more of the protagonists of the story; in them we suffer, we love, we adventure at second-hand. This phenomenon of identification, closely allied as it is to day-dreaming, has of late come much under the attention of psychoanalysts under the title of phantasy; a term covering all attempts to achieve through the imagination the satisfaction denied to us in actual life. For our present purpose this is only noteworthy as confirming the truth of our observation that in literary creation, whether at first or second hand, it is human relation—the relation of ourselves and others—that lies behind our intuition and its expression.
In some pictorial art this relation between persons, this personal touch, does not obtain. In landscape the artist’s intuition obviously deals with the relation of things to men—a relation much more onesided. Correspondent to this, we find our intuition and our longing far more vague, far more dissatisfied. There needs a higher knowledge of Reality to understand how man has relation to things. The[Pg 82] intuition of this relation is generally expressed with far less understanding. Human relations may intrude, and we get the story-picture and the problem-picture. Moral relations may intrude, and we get the symbolic picture, such as those of Watts and Blake. Drama, myth and legend may intrude and we get the Ladies of Shallot, the Ledas, and the Calumnies of Apelles.
But pictorial art reaches its highest plane in the religious picture and the portrait. Have we not, here, the intrusion of the story in the first case; and in the second have we not the purely human relations between artist and sitter?
I think it is just to say that the religious picture is not episodic. It represents what, for want of a better word, we have termed a static intuition. In the greatest Madonnas, even those of the beginning of the decadence, such as Raphael’s, all the birth-pangs, all the pain, and all the achievement of life at its highest go to make up the intuition of the artist. I venture to think that in one picture at least, the Madonna of the Magnificat, the artist even hints subtly that he is expressing in an image the whole meaning of the world, by distorting his figures and modifying his lights as they would be distorted and modified when reflected in a convex mirror. διὰ κάτοπτρον is for all art, but the fact is not evident to him who only glances. The artist’s intuition must be understood, by a mind that follows it creatively; even if its creation be at times over-ingenious.
The religious picture, no doubt, could not have been painted but for the historic episode which it represents. But there is a strong presumption that it does not owe its intuition to one episode, nor even to the whole history of a life; though a Crucifixion, an Entombment, and indeed a Madonna, would only be intelligible in their fulness to one who knew the life of Christ. It is the relation of a whole Life, Divine yet Human, to the life of each one of us that lies at the bottom of the artist’s vision. Only a great Christian can paint a great Madonna, however sin-stained[Pg 83] he may be. Magdalene, who loved much, could see deeper than jesting Pilate, deeper than the self-righteous Pharisee.
There is here no intrusion of an alien element; a vision of Reality is represented in one medium. The episode no doubt is there, but it is incidental, and does not constitute the vision. Episode is always there, even in a landscape; the question is whether the appeal—the original intuition—is episodic or universal. But no doubt the human relation is emphasised; and in this respect we have moved far away from landscape. The relation of man to inanimate nature is however included and interpreted in the artist’s vision. I think that the half-conscious perception of this lies behind the frequent introduction of landscape in such pictures. It may be said that these simply help to complete the composition, but to say this is to beg the question. Why do they complete the composition? Why do they satisfy us? Is it not that they form an intrinsic part of the artist’s intuition; that in the harmony of figures and landscape he symbolises, and we after him, the universal harmony which he has seen?
In a portrait, too, we read not only the relation between sitter and artist, which must be a relation of deep sympathy and understanding if the portrait is to be anything but an imitation, but also the relation of the sitter to all the events of his life. Think of Raeburn’s portrait of James Wardrop. The strength, the kindliness, the rugged purpose, the humour with which the old man faced his life all through are there. It is the face of a man who has fought and won, and in fighting and winning has learned much wisdom. Think of Giorgione’s Portrait of a Gentleman, with its wealth of refinement; with its conviction that “manners makyth man,” sustained with gentleness already many times when courtesy and calm were not easy. Yet here too there is no representation of episode. The painter’s art is faithful to itself and allows no alien intrusion. The harmony, the unity of a man’s life, compounded though that life be of sequent episodes, makes the artist’s intuition. History has become philosophy. An absolute thing, an aspect of Reality, is presented, and we feel somehow that it is not set against the world but includes the world.
The same kind of thing may be said of lapidary art, and we will not dwell on it in detail. The sculptor sees beauty in the human or animal form and in three dimensional representation generalises from it, whether his work represent an individual or an ideal; for the individual is used to express an ideal, the ideal is localised in an individual. The problem of the architect is somewhat different, being on the theoretic side the attempt to portray in three dimensions that which the designer of geometric patterns expresses in two—rhythm and order; multiplicity that establishes a unity; unity that interprets a multiplicity. But here, more than in other arts, the practical has to be kept in mind, and a harmony preserved between the economic and the theoretic activities. Generally one or other predominates, no one clear idea is expressed, and in consequence, much modern architecture, especially domestic and civic architecture, is unpleasing. To build a house is harder than to paint a picture, because men have to live in a house; and in a contention between two ideas the artistic side is overbalanced by the practical. Moreover the idea of relationship is comparatively subordinate here just because two ideas are set over against one another. The relationship of a thing to a man is in view. The aim is primarily economic, and beauty takes a second place because the intuition of harmony is vague and its expression imperfect.
If, however, a house is built, as some Tudor and Georgian houses were, with an eye to simple proportion which must not be violated, but otherwise with the realisation that it had to be lived in, and that it must be designed solely with this end in view, the result is eminently pleasing. There is no falsity, no attempt to mingle irreconcileables, no striving after a beauty that cannot be achieved because it is without meaning in such a connection.
We may now turn to music, in some ways the most difficult of all. Beginning with the evolutionary aspect, as with linguistic art we find its origin in the relation of beasts to each other and to the world. The mating-call, the crooning of passion and of satisfied well-being, the warning of danger, the hunting call, the sound of the wind, the sea, the river, the “going in the tops of the trees,” provide the ground-work of both, expressing the relation of beast to beast, and beast to thing. But, as we have seen, such calls, such sounds, and the language to which they give rise, are episodic. The sense of unity and endurance is lost. Just as, over against the visual symbols of episode which constitute the beginnings of literature we find the visual symbols of unity and static endurance which characterise pictorial art, so too we find the auditory symbols of episode that make speech, and the auditory symbols of unity that make music. We saw that, to preserve the episode of speech, visual symbolism is eventually called in. Even to-day the untrained reader has to form the sound with his lips as he reads; for the more expert the visual symbol definitely represents the sound: the written symbols have their own timbre. So too with music. To preserve the unity from being lost, it comes at last to be symbolised visually, and there are many who can hear the music as they read the score. Both the letter on the page and the notes on the stave are symbols of the second degree—symbols of symbols—for what they symbolise is in itself the symbol of the artist’s intuition of a unity in multiplicity. This in parenthesis.
We have said that in purely episodic sound such as the danger-call and the mating-call the sense of unity is absent. Doubtless no call is really and wholly episodic, in man at any rate, but it cannot be questioned that the episode is predominant. The sense of relation is transient; the economic need is all important.
But the theoretic activity cannot be left out of account for long. The man of to-day, when he feels his whole being[Pg 86] in harmony, his body tingling from the cold bath, sings lustily. When we are well and cheerful we sing. So too when a bird is well and cheerful, with all his bodily needs satisfied or soon to be satisfied—so readily satisfied as to be themselves a pleasure of anticipation—he sings. No doubt the cave-mother sang to her baby in quiet murmurs; no doubt the cave-father hummed as he lolled in the cave-mouth after dinner, idly binding an arrow-head upon the shaft. Somehow, in a rhythmic sequence of sound the satisfaction of a body in harmonious rhythm with itself and its surroundings is expressed. Then, we may imagine, the singer becomes aware of his song, and begins to think about it. The beauty of the song as a whole, the beauty of a sequence in sound that makes a unity, is consciously perceived, and a new art dawns. It is an art very similar to that of the designer of geometric patterns. Unity is established through infinite multiplicity of details, in forming no one of which is the unity forgotten. The music mirrors an intuition of harmony in a Reality that owes its unity to its multiplicity and its multiplicity to its unity; a Reality that is based on relationship of parts.
In music, then, we find rhythm, order, sequence. It is both episodic and static, though episode and unity are in symbolic form. In the individual sequences, the internal multiplicity, the episode is given; in the whole, the unity of Reality, the static, or better, the absolute element.
Because in good music these two aspects must of necessity be perfectly balanced, music can rouse the keenest, highest sense of beauty in a greater degree than any other of the arts.
But often music falls short of this. Mendelssohn for instance, too often sacrifices everything to prettiness. The individual sequences are trivial and empty. Multiplicity of episode is lost sight of in a rather petty unity; the two are not balanced. The fourth sound is simply a fourth note, not a star. Not only is the intuition limited, but the balance is not preserved between the notes and the whole in its[Pg 87] expression. Bach owes his pre-eminence to the perfect balance between attention to detailed sequence and expression of a great intuition. Future musicians may see further than he did, but unless they can achieve his perfect balance they will fail to express what they see, and in so far as they fail they will be rewarded with ugliness.
The music-hall tune has but a very paltry vision to express; generally the relationship it portrays is one of vulgar intrigue or animal desire, at best one of elementary aspiration; and its notes have a purely subordinate and utilitarian rôle. If it is pretty or ingenious it has got far beyond the average. Generally, moreover, it is constrained by considerations alien to music. The words are written, and the tune has to illustrate them. In this it differs from folk-tunes, where words and music grow together, each shaping, moulding, modifying the other, till the song is one thing.
This brings us back to a question which we have several times touched upon, and as often shelved—the question of the overlapping of different arts. Opera, oratorio, and ballet give us excellent examples, and from them we will draw the material of our brief discussion.
In Opera we have drama, episode expressed in language, set in a more or less accordant scene with histrionic accompaniment, and woven in with a musical interpretation. In Oratorio we have the same thing without the scenery and the histrionics. In Ballet—and of this art the Russian Ballet is especially in my mind—we have the drama, the scene, the histrionic accompaniment in choregraphic form, and the music.
Let us take Opera first. There are two appeals to the ear and two to the eye. The music and the words; the acting and the scenery. The scenery, if subdued and perfectly in accord with the action, does not much distract the attention, for it is purely a pictorial setting. Nevertheless a sense is growing that in drama it ought to be so much subordinated that it does not distract the attention at all, being confined to a[Pg 88] few patterns that help in our understanding of the motive, or to simple draperies. As far as I am aware this has not yet been attempted in opera, but opera is such a jumble of incongruities that it can never be an artistic whole, much as we may rejoice in individual parts of it. The words, however, do constrain the music in a manner thoroughly unjustifiable: “In composing an opera the stage should be the musician’s first thought, he must not abuse the confidence of the theatre-goer who comes to see as well as to hear…. The stage often paralyses a composer’s inspiration, that is why symphonic and chamber music are so far superior to opera. A symphony or a sonata imposes no limitations, but in opera, the first necessity is to speak the musical language of the great public.” Moreover the action and the music are so incompatible that we are forced to leave our sense of humour outside the theatre door. When the hero explains for ten minutes that the heroine is in acute danger and that therefore he must hurry away; when Tristan and Isolde sing their passion with complete detachment for more than half an hour; we cannot feel that the action helps the music or the music the action. In Oratorio, since action is absent, we feel this particular incongruity less, for we manage mentally to eliminate time; but few will be found to defend the oratorio as a form of aesthetic expression. It is the anthem prolonged into a “useless Alexandrine,” “which like a wounded snake drags its slow length along.” The fatal fact about opera and oratorio is that the music is constrained to do something that is alien to itself. It is interpretive of episode, and the episode forces it into shape. It is not free. This is the root trouble always when two arts overlap. Art must be completely free to express its intuition technically, subject only to the inevitable restrictions of the technique proper to it. From[Pg 89] these restrictions it even gains, since the lines of simplification are to some extent determined, and this very determination helps the artist towards clear expression of a clear intuition. It would, of course, be absurd to say that music does not express definite intuitions that are expressible through other media as well. “I do not in the least agree with you that music cannot interpret the universal nature of love,” writes Tchaikovsky to Nadejda von Meck. “On the contrary, I think only music is capable of doing so. You say words are necessary. O no! This is just where words are not needed, and where they have no power; a more eloquent language comes in, which is music. Look at the poetical forms to which poets have recourse in order to sing of love; they simply usurp the spheres which belong inseparably to music. Words clothed in poetical forms cease to be mere words; they become partly music.” But if there is a restriction alien to the art and imposed from without, which prevents full expression in that medium, the result is bound to be more or less a failure. The dramatic episode and the verbal form in opera constitute such a restriction, introducing a vein of unreality that is fatal to aesthetic expression. In oratorio, where the words demand a representation they do not get, and where yet the music is bound by the words, we feel the same thing. Even to take a poem and set it to music is almost bound to lead to aesthetic disappointment. The intuition of the artist is not single nor free. The writer of the melody may recreate the intuition of the poet, he may try to express the same intuition in his setting, but the setting is none the less constrained by the words. The musician is not at liberty to form one clear intuition and give it free play. The form of the expression[Pg 90] is already fixed in part, and the knowledge of this fixation forms a second intuition which generally obscures and confuses the main one. Moreover both expressions appeal to the same sense, that of hearing, and this, apparently, produces greater confusion, more lack of clarity, in the auditor. The same fact accounts for the unsatisfactoriness of music which moves out of its proper sphere and endeavours to tell a definite story or paint a definite scene. The 1812 Overture, fine though it is, can never be said to be pre-eminent as music; nor can Haydn’s Creation, nor any of the music that, intentionally or unintentionally, is not single-hearted, but calls up visual images as well as depending on them. This statement does not constitute an indictment of programme-music. The Adagio of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony cannot be thus lightly dismissed. In Tchaikovsky’s introspective letters we find most interesting accounts of the inspiration from which he worked, and an eloquent defence of programme-music in general, and his own Fourth Symphony in particular. To N. F. von Meck he writes: “Laroche is entirely opposed to a programme. He thinks the composer should leave the hearer to interpret the meaning of the work as he pleases; that the programme limits his freedom; that music is incapable of expressing the concrete phenomena of the physical and mental world…. If you care to hear my opinion on the subject, I will give it in a few words…. I think the inspiration of a symphonic work can be of two kinds: subjective or objective. In the first instance it expresses the personal emotion of joy or sorrow, as when a lyric poet lets his soul flow out in verse. Here a programme is not only unnecessary, but impossible. It is very different when the composer’s inspiration is stirred by the perusal of some poem, or by the sight of a fine landscape, and he[Pg 91] endeavours to express his impressions in musical forms. In this case a programme is indispensable…. To my mind, both kinds of music have their raison d’être, and I cannot understand those who will only admit one of these styles. Of course every subject is not equally suitable for a symphony, any more than for an opera; but, all the same, programme-music can and must exist. Who would insist, in literature, upon ignoring the epic and admitting only the lyric element?”
Tchaikovsky seems to me to ignore the deepest side of music, however; that intuition of an ordered, universal harmony which gives to Bach his pre-eminence. Programme-music, then, is not necessarily limited to any great extent by that which it represents, provided the representation is sufficiently generalised to allow the music free scope. But it is always in danger of losing touch with the universal in over-emphasis of the particular, becoming constrained by its subject. Moreover it loses something of the freedom, and independence of phenomenal existence, which is the peculiar privilege of music and its unique prerogative among the arts, taking on something that belongs to painting or language. In so far as the wrong technical medium is used, just so far aesthetic expression fails.
These strictures do not apparently apply, at any rate in the same degree, where two media appealing to two different senses are used simultaneously. We are accustomed to correlate sight and hearing and to form through them a single intuition. This may explain the extraordinary satisfyingness of the Russian Ballet, in spite of its frequent artificiality and the perverted themes and imagery that pass unnoticed by the more healthy-minded public of England. The episodic side, made rhythmical and ordered in its choregraphic presentation, parallels, but does not constrain in any great degree, the musical side. In Les Sylphides especially the same intuition is expressed in two media. The choregraphic artist has studied and followed out the[Pg 92]intuition of Chopin, and has expressed it in a different medium. But music and dancing have much ground in common, and consequently both are capable of serving as the technical medium for one or the same intuition. Therefore Les Sylphidesis more of an artistic whole than almost any other compound aesthetic expression. Art must be free, and if it use two media, both must express the same intuition—this is the root of the matter. You may appeal simultaneously to two senses, but you must do so in the medium proper to each sense and the intuition must be capable of expression in those media. To appeal to one sense through the medium proper to another is to court disaster. We see that this must be so if, as is the case, the aesthetic intuition has to be founded on the particular before it can move out to discover the universal; and the particular cannot be faithfully represented if the representation is not as clear-cut as the intuition and the reality intuited. Art must be free, for it is the intuition of a relation free on one side at least, and not finally satisfied till it finds rest in mutuality, love, free on both sides. It is the expression of our growing understanding of the meaning of Reality.
No doubt music, like all other arts, has been transformed from its original character. It is no longer imitative, though it may have been first roused by imitative attempts; it is no longer dependent on the harmony of bodily well-being, though it may first have expressed such harmony. In it spirit calls to spirit, no longer body to body. But this need not surprise us. The foundations contribute nothing to the beauty of a building, though upon them the building is reared. All that is greatest in man had a very humble beginning. Even his limbs and lungs had a plebeian ancestry.
We have said nothing of the aesthetic problem of simple tone and colour. Though Plato, and even Hegel, discussed[Pg 93] these, it is generally accepted to-day that they do not in fact exist in isolation from other suggestions. They always derive a value from their suggested relations and cannot be conceived apart from these. Such aesthetic value as clear tones and colours have is due to the fact that the elements they suggest and imply are few, like a sunset sky, and therefore they do not demand any great degree of elimination in the mind of the observer.
Neither have we dealt with the problem of the relative importance of colour and form, except implicitly. The essential factor here is, of course, that colour does not exist per se. You cannot isolate a thing from its colour, in aesthetic intuition. To begin with, colour is the basis of visual perception, for the light by means of which the eye perceives an object must be of some definite series of wave-lengths of certain amplitudes balanced against one another in some definite manner through the selective absorption of that object, and wave-length is the physical basis of colour. Then, secondly, colour belongs to, and is an integral part of form. Form is not mere shape; it is determined by tone (or wave-amplitude) and colour (or wave-frequency) as well as by outline; and these are essential factors in the unity and order of the whole, and so are essential factors of the intuition.
What we have said, then, of symmetry and geometric form, and of clearness of expression, together with what we have said of the elimination that is involved in aesthetic intuition, really covers the problem.
Together, yet each in its own way, colour and form arouse in us the sense of unity and appeal to us as being in harmony with the intuition derived from other particulars; that in the world, under all its apparent multiplicity, there subsists a unity which relates all things together.
Beauty and the Beast
AN ESSAY IN EVOLUTIONARY AESTHETIC
BY STEWART A. McDOWALL, B.D.
Chaplain and Assistant Master at Winchester College
Author of Evolution and the Need of Atonement,
Evolution and Spiritual Life, Evolution and
the Doctrine of the Trinity, etc.
CAMBRIDGE: PRINTED BY J. B. PEACE, M.A., AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1920