« IndietroContinua »
a sort of hypocrisy. Chemical, physical and physiological laboratories became Sybilline grottoes, resounding with the questions of credulous inquirers concerning the profoundest problems of the human spirit; and many of those who were really conducting their inquiries on inherently philosophic principles pretended or deluded themselves into believing that they followed the Method of Natural Science. A proof of this illusion or pretence is Hippolyte Taine's Philosophy of Art.” “If by studying the art of various peoples and various epochs,” says Taine, “we could define the nature and establish the conditions of the existence of each art, we should have arrived at a complete explanation of the fine arts and of art in general, i.e. at what is called an AEsthetic.” A historical AEsthetic, not a dogmatic, which fixes characters and indicates laws “like Botany, and studies with equal attention orange and ivy, pine and birch ; indeed it is a sort of botanical science applied to the works of man instead of to plants’’; an AEsthetic which shall follow “the general movement which tends daily more and more to join the moral to the natural sciences and by extending to the former the principles, the safeguards and the rules of the latter, enables both to attain the same security and maintain the same progress.” ” The naturalistic prelude is followed by definitions and doctrines indistinguishable from those offered by philosophers whose infallibility is not guaranteed by scientific methods, indeed, from those of the wildest of such philosophers. For, says Taine, art is imitation, an imitation so carried out as to render sensible the essential character of objects; the essential character being “a quality from which all other qualities, or many others, are derived and follow unalterably from it.” The essential character of a lion, for example, is to be “a great carnivore ”; this determines the formation of all its limbs; the essential character of Holland is to be “a country formed by alluvial soil.” This is why art is not restricted to objects existing in
* Philosophie de l'art, 1866–1869 (4th ed. Paris, 1885).
reality, but is able, as in architecture or in music, to
Taine's metaphysic and moralism.
it turns on the degree of importance of the character, i.e. the greater or less generality in idea, and the degree of beneficent effect (degré de bienfaisance), i.e. the greater or less moral value of the representation (two grades which are aspects of one single quality, viz. power, considered first for its own sake and then in its connexion with others): in the second instance upon the degree of convergence of effects, i.e. the fulness of expression, the harmony between idea and form.” This intellectualistic, moralistic, rhetorical doctrine is interrupted now and then by the usual naturalistic protests: “We shall, according to our custom, study this question in the manner of the natural scientist; that is to say methodically, by analysis; hoping to raise not merely a song of praise, but a code of laws,” etc.;” as though that sufficed to alter the substance of the method adopted and the doctrine expounded. Taine finally gave himself over to dialectical treatments and solutions, and asserted that in the primitive period of Italian art, in the pictures of Giotto, we have soul without body (thesis); under the Renaissance, in Verrocchio's pictures, body without soul (antithesis); in the sixteenth century, in Raphael, there is harmony of expression and anatomy, soul and body (synthesis).” The same protests and similar methods are to be found in the works of Gustav Theodor Fechner. In his Introduction to Æsthetic (1876), Fechner claims to “abandon the attempt at conceptual determination of the objective essence of beauty,” since he desires to compose not a metaphysical AEsthetic from above (von oben), but an inductive AEsthetic from below (von unten) and to achieve clearness, not sublimity; metaphysical AEsthetic should bear the same relation to inductive, as the Philosophy of Nature to Physics.” Proceeding on inductive lines, he discovers a long series of aesthetic laws or principles: the aesthetic threshold; assistance or increment; unity in variety; absence of contradictions; clarity; association ; contrast; consequence; conciliation; the correct mean ; economic use ; persistency; change ; measure ; and so on without end. This chaos of concepts he expounds with a chapter apiece, pleased and proud to show himself so highly scientific and so wholly inconclusive. Next he describes the experiments he can recommend to his readers. They are of this type. Take ten rectangular pieces of white cardboard of fairly equal area (say ten square inches), but with sides variously proportioned from a ratio of I : I to one of 2:5, including the ratio of the golden section, 21 : 34; mix all these together on a black table and collect persons of every kind and character, but all belonging to the educated classes, and applying the method of choice ask these people first to free their minds of all questions as to a particular use and then to pick out the pieces of cardboard which give them the highest sensation of pleasure and those which inspire them with the strongest feelings of disgust ; the answers to be most carefully noted, keeping male and female subjects apart, and tabulated. Then see what follows. Fechner admits that the chosen cardboardpickers often made reservations when questioned by himself, not knowing (very naturally) how to tell whether they liked a shape or disliked it without referring it to a definite use; sometimes they refused point-blank to make any selection at all ; and they almost always seemed vague and perplexed in mind and generally, when submitted to a second test, answered in a way totally different from the first. Still, we all know that errors cancel out ; and anyhow the tabulations showed that the highest sensations of delight were aroused not by the square, but by rectangular forms most nearly approaching the square, an enthusiastic rush being made for the proportion 21 : 34." This method of selection received an extraordinarily felicitous definition ; it was known as “an average of arbitrary judgements by an arbitrary number of persons arbitrarily selected.” ” Fechner also informs us (always in tabular form) of the result of a statistical inquiry of his own, by means of countless heaps of catalogues and galleryguides, as to the dimensions and shapes of pictures in relation to the subjects they depict." Nevertheless, when he tries to tell us what beauty is, he falls back on using— whether well or ill—the old speculative method, which he prefaces with the remark that for him the concept of beauty is “merely an expedient in conformity with linguistic usage for indicating briefly the link which unites the prevailing conditions of immediate pleasure.” ” He distinguishes three meanings of the word “beauty " : first, in a broad sense, the pleasing in general : secondly, in a narrow sense, a higher pleasure, but still sensuous: thirdly, in the narrowest sense, true beauty, which “not only pleases, but has the right of pleasing, possesses value in pleasing ”; in it are united the concepts of beauty (the pleasing) and of goodness.” Beauty, in fact, is that which must please objectively and as such it corresponds with the good of action. “The Good,” says Fechner, “is like a serious man, the capable organiser of his whole domestic life, sagaciously weighing the present and future, setting himself to extract the greatest benefit from both. Beauty is his florid spouse, careful of the present and mindful of her husband's wishes. The Pleasing is the baby, all senses and play: the Useful is the servant who puts his hands at his master's disposal and is given bread solely in accordance with his deserts. Truth, lastly, is the preacher and teacher to the household ; preacher in matters of faith, teacher in those of learning : he gives an eye to the Good and a helping hand to the Useful, and holds up a looking-glass to Beauty.” “ When speaking of art, he sums up all essential laws or rules into the following: (1) art chooses a valuable or, at any rate, an interesting, idea for representation : (2) it expresses the idea in sensible material in the manner most suitable to its contents: (3) from amongst the various means at its disposal, it selects those which in themselves are more pleasing than
G. T. Fechner.
* Philos. de l'art, ii. pp. 257-400.