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beautiful or ugly, like every natural fact, according to the
ideal connexions in which they are placed. Some hold
that those geometrical figures are beautiful which point
upwards, since they give the suggestion of firmness and
of power. We do not deny that this may be so. But
it must not be denied on the other hand that those also
may possess beauty which give the impression of in-
stability and weakness, where they represent just the
insecure and the feeble ; and that in these last cases the
firmness of the straight line and the lightness of the cone
or of the equilateral triangle would seem to be on the
contrary elements of ugliness.
Certainly, such questions as to the beauty of nature
and the beauty of geometry, like others analogous as to
the historically beautiful and human beauty, seem less
absurd in the AEsthetic of the sympathetic, which really
means by the words “aesthetic beauty" the representa-
tion of the pleasing. But the claim to determine scientifi-
cally what are sympathetic contents and what are irre-
mediably antipathetic is none the less erroneous, even in
the sphere of that doctrine and after laying down those
premises. One can only answer such questions by repeat-
ing with an infinitely long postscript the Sunt quos of the
first ode of the first book of Horace, and the Havvi chi
of Leopardi's letter to Carlo Pepoli. To each man his
beautiful (= sympathetic), as to each man his fair one.
Philography is not science.
The artist sometimes has naturally existing facts
before him, in producing the artificial instrument, or
physically beautiful. These are called his models : bodies,
stuffs, flowers and so on. Let us run over the sketches,
studies and notes of artists: Leonardo noted down in his
pocket-book, when he was working on the Last Supper :
“Giovannina, weird face, is at St. Catherine's, at the
Hospital; Cristofano di Castiglione is at the Pietà, he has
a fine head ; Christ, Giovan Conte, of Cardinal Mortaro's
suite.” And so on. From this comes the illusion that
the artist imitates nature, when it would perhaps be
more exact to say that nature imitates the artist, and
Criticism of another aspect of the imitation of nature.
Criticism of the theory of the elementary forms of the beautiful.
Criticism of the search for the objective conditions of the beautiful.
obeys him. The illusion that art imitates nature has some-
times found ground and support in this illusion, as also in
its variant, more easily maintained, which makes of art
the idealizer of nature. This last theory presents the
process out of its true order, which indeed is not merely
upset but actually inverted; for the artist does not
proceed from external reality, in order to modify it by
approximating it to the ideal; he goes from the impression
of external nature to expression, that is to say, his ideal,
and from this passes to the natural fact, which he employs
as instrument of reproduction of the ideal fact.
Another consequence of the confusion between the
aesthetic fact and the physical fact is the theory of the
elementary forms of the beautiful. If expression, if the
beautiful, be indivisible, the physical fact on the contrary,
in which it externalizes itself, can easily be divided and
subdivided : for example, a painted surface, into lines and
colours, groups and curves of lines, kinds of colours, and
so on ; a poem, into strophes, verses, feet, syllables; a
piece of prose, into chapters, paragraphs, headings,
periods, phrases, words and so on. The parts thus
obtained are not aesthetic facts, but smaller physical facts,
arbitrarily divided. If this path were followed and
the confusion persisted in, we should end by concluding
that the true elementary forms of the beautiful are atoms.
The aesthetic law, several times promulgated, that
beauty must have bulk, could be invoked against the
atoms. It cannot be the imperceptibility of the too small,
or the inapprehensibility of the too large. But a great-
ness determined by perceptibility, not by measurement,
implies a concept widely different from the mathematical.
Indeed, what is called imperceptible and inapprehensible
does not produce an impression, because it is not a real
fact, but a concept : the demand for bulk in the beautiful
is thus reduced to the actual presence of the physical fact,
which serves for the reproduction of the beautiful.
Continuing the search for the physical laws or for the
objective conditions of the beautiful, it has been asked : To
what physical facts does the beautiful correspond 2 To
what the ugly 2 To what unions of tones, colours, sizes, mathematically determinable 2 Such inquiries are as if in Political Economy one were to seek for the laws of exchange in the physical nature of the objects exchanged. The persistent fruitlessness of the attempt should have given rise before long to some suspicion of its vanity. In our times, especially, necessity for an inductive AEsthetic has been often proclaimed, of an AEsthetic starting from below, proceeding like natural science and not jumping to its conclusions. Inductive 2 But AEsthetic has always been both inductive and deductive, like every philosophical science; induction and deduction cannot be separated, nor can they separately avail to characterize a true science. But the word “induction ” was not pronounced here by
chance. The intention was to imply that the aesthetic
fact is really nothing but a physical fact, to be studied by the methods proper to the physical and natural sciences. With such a presupposition and in such a faith did inductive AEsthetic or AEsthetic from below (what pride in this modesty 1) begin its labours. It conscientiously began by making a collection of beautiful things, for example, a great number of envelopes of various shapes and sizes, and asked which of these give the impression of beauty and which of ugliness. As was to be expected, the inductive aestheticians speedily found themselves in a difficulty, for the same objects that appeared ugly in one aspect appeared beautiful in another. A coarse yellow envelope, which would be extremely ugly for the purpose of enclosing a love-letter, is just what is wanted for a writ served by process on stamped paper, which in its turn would look very bad, or seem at any rate an irony, enclosed in a square envelope of English paper. Such considerations of simple common sense should have sufficed to convince inductive aestheticians that the beautiful has no physical existence, and cause them to desist from their vain and ridiculous quest. But no : they had recourse to an expedient, as to which we should hardly like to say how far it belongs to the strict method of natural science. They sent their envelopes round
and opened a referendum, trying to settle in what beauty or ugliness consists by the votes of the majority. We will not waste time over this subject, lest we should seem to be turning ourselves into tellers of comic tales rather than expositors of aesthetic science and of its problems. It is a matter of fact that the inductive aestheticians have not yet discovered one single law. The Astrology He who despairs of doctors is apt to abandon himself ** to charlatans. This has befallen those who have believed in the naturalistic laws of the beautiful. Artists sometimes adopt empirical canons, such as that of the proportions of the human body, or of the golden section, that is to say, of a line divided into two parts in such a manner that the less is to the greater as is the greater to the whole line (bc: ac-ac : ab). Such canons easily become their superstitions, and they attribute to them the success of their works. Thus Michael Angelo left as a precept to his disciple Marco del Pino da Siena that “he should always make a pyramidal serpentine figure multiplied by one two and three,” a precept which did not enable Marco da Siena to emerge from that mediocrity which we can yet observe in many of his paintings that exist here in Naples. Others took Michael Angelo's words as authority for the precept that serpentine undulating lines were the true lines of beauty. Whole volumes have been composed on these laws of beauty, on the golden section and on the undulating and serpentine lines. These should in our opinion be looked upon as the astrology of Æsthetic.
THE ACTIVITY OF EXTERNALIZATION. TECHNIQUE AND THE THEORY OF THE ARTS
THE fact of the production of physical beauty implies, as
has already been remarked, a vigilant will, which persists
in not allowing certain visions, intuitions or representa-
tions to be lost. Such a will must be able to act with the
utmost rapidity and as it were instinctively, and may also
need long and laborious deliberations. In any case, thus
and thus only does the practical activity enter into
relations with the aesthetic, that is to say, no longer as its
simple accompaniment, but as a really distinct moment
of it. We cannot will or not will our aesthetic vision :
we can however will or not will to externalize it, or
rather, to preserve and communicate to others, or not,
the externalization produced.
This volitional fact of externalization is preceded by a
complex of various kinds of knowledge. These are known
as technique, like all knowledge which precedes a practical
activity. Thus we talk of an artistic technique in the same
metaphorical and elliptic manner that we talk of the
physically beautiful, that is to say (in more precise
language), knowledge at the service of the practical activity
directed to producing stimuli to aesthetic reproduction. In
place of employing so lengthy a phrase, we shall here
avail ourselves of ordinary terminology, whose meaning
we now understand.
The possibility of this technical knowledge, at the
service of artistic reproduction, is what has led minds
astray to imagine the existence of an aesthetic technique
of internal expression, which is tantamount to saying, a
The practical activity of externalization.
The technique of externalization.