Immagini della pagina


generally called the moral consciousness, that is to say,

to the activity of the good will itself. Criticism of The explanation above given of æsthetic judgement or absolutism (in- reproduction both agrees with and condemns the absolutellectualism) tists and relativists, those who affirm and those who deny and relativism. the absoluteness of taste.

In affirming that the beautiful can be judged, the absolutists are right; but the theory on which they found their affirmation is not tenable, because they conceive of the beautiful, that is, æsthetic value, as something placed outside the æsthetic activity, as a concept or a model which an artist realizes in his work, and of which the critic avails himself afterwards in judging the work itself. These concepts and models have no existence in art, for when proclaiming that every art can be judged only in itself and that it has its model in itself, they implicitly denied the existence of objective models of beauty, whether these are intellectual concepts, or ideas suspended in a metaphysical heaven.

In proclaiming this, their adversaries, the relativists, are perfectly right, and effect an advance upon them. However, the initial rationality of their thesis in its turn becomes converted into a false theory. Repeating the ancient adage that there is no accounting for tastes, they believe that æsthetic expression is of the same nature as the pleasant and the unpleasant, which every one feels in his own way, and about which there is no dispute. But we know that the pleasant and the unpleasant are utilitarian, practical facts. Thus the relativists deny the specific character of the æsthetic fact, and again confound expression with impression, the theoretic with the practical.

The true solution lies in rejecting alike relativism or psychologism and false absolutism; and in recognizing that the criterion of taste is absolute, but absolute in a different way from that of the intellect, which expresses itself in ratiocination. The criterion of taste is absolute, with the intuitive absoluteness of the imagination. Thus any act of expressive activity, which is so really, is to be recognized as beautiful, and any fact as ugly in which


expressive activity and passivity are found engaged with one another in an unfinished struggle.

Between absolutists and relativists is a third class, Criticism which may be called that of the relative relativists. These of relative affirm the existence of absolute values in other fields, such as Logic and Ethic, but deny it in the field of Æsthetic. To dispute about science or morals seems to them to be rational and justifiable, because science depends upon the universal, common to all men, and morality upon duty, which is also a law of human nature ; but how dispute about art, which depends upon imagination ? Not only, however, is the imaginative activity universal and no less inherent in human nature than the logical concept and practical duty; but there is a preliminary objection to the thesis in question. If the absoluteness of the imagination be denied, we must also deny intellectual or conceptual truth and implicitly morality. Does not morality presuppose logical distinctions? How could these be known, otherwise than in expressions and words, that is to say, in imaginative form ? If the absoluteness of the imagination were removed, the life of the spirit would tremble to its foundations. One individual would no longer understand another, nor indeed his own self of a moment before, which is already another individual considered a moment after.

Nevertheless, variety of judgements is an indubitable Objection fact. Men disagree as to logical, ethical, and economical founded on the valuations; and they disagree equally or even more as stimulus and to the æsthetic. If certain reasons recorded by us above, of psychic

disposition. such as haste, prejudices, passions, etc., may lessen the importance of this disagreement, they do not on that account annul it. When speaking of the stimuli of reproduction we have added a caution, for we said that reproduction takes place, if all the other conditions remain equal. Do they remain equal ? Does the hypothesis correspond to reality ?

It would appear not. In order to reproduce an impression several times by means of a suitable physical stimulus it is necessary that this stimulus be not changed, and that

the organism remain in the same psychical conditions as those in which was experienced the impression that it is desired to reproduce. Now it is a fact that the physical stimulus is continually changing, and in like manner the psychological conditions.

Oil-paintings grow dark, frescoes fade, statues lose noses, hands and legs, architecture becomes totally or partially a ruin, the tradition of the execution of a piece of music is lost, the text of a poem is corrupted by bad copyists or bad printing. These are obvious instances of the changes which daily occur in objects or physical stimuli. As regards psychological conditions, we will not dwell upon the cases of deafness or blindness, that is to say, upon the loss of entire orders of psychical impressions ; these cases are secondary and of less importance compared with the fundamental, daily, inevitable and perpetual changes of the society around us and of the internal conditions of our individual life. The phonetic manifestations or words and verses of Dante's Commedia must produce a very different impression on an Italian citizen engaged in the politics of the third Rome, from that experienced by a well-informed and intimate contemporary of the poet. The Madonna of Cimabue is still in the Church of Santa Maria Novella ; but does she speak to the visitor of to-day as to the Florentines of the thirteenth century ? Even though she were not also darkened by time, must we not suppose that the impression which she now produces is altogether different from that of former times ? And even in the case of the same individual poet, will a poem composed by him in youth make the same impression upon him when he re-reads it in his old age,

with psychic conditions altogether changed ? Criticism of

It is true that certain æstheticians have attempted a the distinction distinction between stimuli and stimuli, between natural of signs into natural and and conventional signs. The former are held to have a conventional. constant effect upon all; the latter only upon a limited

circle. In their belief, signs employed in painting are natural, those used in poetry conventional. But the difference between them is at the most only one of degree.

[ocr errors]

It has often been said that painting is a language understood by all, while with poetry it is otherwise. Here, for example, Leonardo found one of the prerogatives of his art, which hath not need of interpreters of different tongues as have letters,” and it pleases man and beast, He relates the anecdote of that portrait of the father of a family “which the little grandchildren were wont to caress while they were still in swaddling-clothes, and the dogs and cats of the house in like manner." But other

Լ anecdotes, such as those of the savages who took the portrait of a soldier for a boat, or considered the portrait of a man on horseback to be furnished with only one leg, are apt to shake one's faith in the understanding of painting by sucklings, dogs and cats. Fortunately, no arduous researches are necessary to convince oneself that pictures, poetry and all works of art only produce effects upon souls prepared to receive them. Natural signs do not exist; because all are equally conventional, or, to speak with greater exactness, historically conditioned.

Granting this, how are we to succeed in causing the The surmountexpression to be reproduced by means of the physical ing of variety. object? How obtain the same effect, when the conditions are no longer the same ? Would it not, rather, seem necessary to conclude that expressions cannot be reproduced, despite the physical instruments made for the purpose, and that what is called reproduction consists in ever new expressions ? Such would indeed be the conclusion if the varieties of physical and psychical conditions were intrinsically insurmountable. But since the insuperability has none of the characteristics of necessity we must on the contrary conclude that reproduction always occurs when we can replace ourselves in the conditions in which the stimulus (physical beauty) was produced.

Not only can we replace ourselves in these conditions as an abstract possibility, but as a matter of fact we do so continually. Individual life, which is communion with ourselves (with our past), and social life, which is communion with our like, would not otherwise be possible.


As regards the physical object, palæographers and and historical interpretation. philologists, who restore to texts their original physi

ognomy, restorers of pictures and of statues and other industrious toilers strive precisely to preserve or to restore to the physical object all its primitive energy. These efforts are certainly not always successful, or are not completely successful, for it is never or hardly ever possible to obtain a restoration complete in its smallest details. But the insurmountable is here only present accidentally and must not lead us to overlook the successes which actually are achieved.

Historical interpretation labours for its part to reintegrate in us the psychological conditions which have changed in the course of history. It revives the dead, completes the fragmentary, and enables us to see a work of art (a physical object) as its author saw it in the moment of production.

A condition of this historical labour is tradition, with the help of which it is possible to collect the scattered rays and concentrate them in one focus. With the help of memory we surround the physical stimulus with all the facts among which it arose ; and thus we enable it to act upon us as it acted upon him who produced it.

Where the tradition is broken, interpretation is arrested; in this case, the products of the past remain silent for us. Thus the expressions contained in the Etruscan or Mexican inscriptions are unattainable ; thus we still hear discussions among ethnographers as to whether certain products of the art of savages are pictures or writings ; thus archæologists and prehistorians are not always able to establish with certainty whether the figures found on the pottery of a certain region, and on other instruments employed, are of a religious or profane nature. But the arrest of interpretation, as that of restoration, is never a definitely insurmountable barrier ; and the daily discoveries of new historical sources and of new methods of better exploiting the old, which we may hope to see ever improving, link up again broken traditions.

« IndietroContinua »