Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

the others: (4) the same procedure is observed in all particulars: (5) in the event of conflict between these rules, one is made to give way to another in such a way that the greatest possible pleasure and that of highest value is attained (das grosstmogliche und werthvollste Gefallen).1 But why should Fechner, who had this eudemonistic theory of beauty and art (as he calls it) all ready made in advance,2 take the trouble to enumerate principles and laws and conduct experiments and tabulate statistics wholly incapable of illustrating or proving it? One is tempted to believe that these pseudo-scientific operations were to him, and still are to his followers, a pastime or hobby neither more nor less important than playing Patience or collecting stamps.

Another example of the superstitious cult of the Ernst Grosse. natural sciences is to be found in Professor Ernst Grosse's %"££"" Origins of Art? Contemner of all philosophical research and the into art, which he dismisses under the title of " Specula- science°farttive AEsthetic," Grosse invokes a Science of art (Kunstwissenschaft) whose mission is to dig out all the laws lying hidden in the mass of historical facts collected to date. It is his opinion that all ethnographic and prehistoric material should be united to historical matter proper, there being no possibility, according to him, of framing general laws when study is restricted to the art of cultured peoples "just as a theory of generation must necessarily be imperfect if founded exclusively on the form of that function predominant among mammals." 4 But immediately after his declaration of abhorrence for philosophy, and of faith in scientific methods, Grosse finds himself in the same difficulty as Taine and Fechner. Indeed, there is no escape; in order to examine the artistic productions of primitive and savage peoples, a start must be made from some sort of concept of art. All the scientific metaphors, all the verbal emollients employed by Grosse cannot hide the nature of the plan he is forced to adopt, or its striking resemblance to the despised speculative

1 Vorschule der Asth. ii. pp. 12-13. * Op. tit. i. p. 38.

3 Die Anfdnge der Kunst, Freiburg i. B. 1894. * Op. cit. p. 19.

^Esthetic. "As a traveller who desires to explore an unknown land must provide himself with a general outline of the country and have some knowledge of the direction in which his path should lie, if he does not wish to lose his way entirely; so we, before beginning our enquiry, need a general preliminary orientation concerning the essence of the phenomena (uber das Wesen der Erscheinungen) about to engage our attention." Most certainly "we may count upon having an exact and exhaustive answer, at earliest, when our enquiry is finished; and it is not yet begun. That characteristic which we seek to determine at the outset . . . may be most radically modified by the time we reach the end :" there is no question, fie on the suggestion! of imitating the old aestheticians: the only question is how "to give a definition which may serve as provisional scaffolding, to be broken away on completion of the edifice." 1 Words, words, words: the mite of general ideas and artistic laws to be found in his book has been quarried by Grosse not from study of the reports brought back by travellers in savage lands, but from speculation on the forms of the spirit; and (inevitably) his interpretation of the former is reached by the light thrown on it by the latter. In his final definition, Grosse concludes by considering art as an activity which in its development or as its result, possesses immediate feeling-value (Gefuhlswerth), and is an end to itself; practical and aesthetic activity are in direct mutual opposition between which as a middle term lies the activity of play, which like the practical activity has its end outside itself, but, like the aesthetic, finds its enjoyment not in its external end, which is more or less insignificant, but in its own activity.2 At the end of his book he remarks that the artistic activity of primitive peoples is hardly ever unaccompanied by the practical; and that art began by being social and became individual only in civilized times.3

The ^Esthetics of Taine and Grosse have also been described by the epithet sociological. But since no one Sociological knows what the science of Sociology is, we must deal with ^Bsthfttcthe sociological superstition as we dealt with the naturalistic; that is to say, by skipping the preface with its proposals that can never be carried out, and seeing what it is that the objective necessities of the case have forced the author to assert, and which of the possible alternative views he accepts, or between what selection of them his allegiance wavers. During this examination we shall ignore the fairly common case of an author who while pretending to construct an ^Esthetic simply compiles a list of facts connected with the history of art or civilization.

1 Die Anfdnge der Kunst, pp. 45-46. * Op. cit. pp. 46-48.

> Op. cit. pp. 293-301.

Some social reformers of our day, like Proudhon, have revived the condemnations of Plato, or the mitigated moralism of antiquity and the Middle Ages. Proudhon denied the formula Art for Art's sake; he looked on art as a mere purveyor of sensuous pleasure, something which must be subordinated to legal and economical ends; poetry, sculpture, painting, music, romance, history, comedy, tragedy had for him no aim save exhortation to virtue and dissuasion from vice.1 Development of social sympathy is the whole duty of art in the estimation of J. M. Guyau, who became famous as the founder of Social /• ^Esthetic and was, according to certain French critics, inaugurator of the third epoch in the history of Esthetic, the first being the aesthetic of the ideal (Plato), the second that of perception (Kant), and the third that of " Social Sympathy" (Guyau). In his Problems of Contemporary ^Esthetic (1884) Guyau combats the theory of play, and substitutes that of Life; in a posthumous publication Art in Its Sociological Aspect (1889) he explains more clearly that the life of which he speaks is social life.2 If the beautiful be the intellectually pleasing, certainly it cannot be identified with the useful which is only searching for what is pleasing; but the useful (says Guyau, in the

1 />n principe de I'art et de sa destination sociale, Paris, 1875.

1 M. Guyau, V'Art au point de we sociologique, 1889 (3rd ed. Paris, 1895); l.ts ProbUmes de I'esthttique contemporaine, Paris, 1884; cf. Fouille*, pref. to the former work, pp. xli-xliii.

belief that he is correcting both Kant and the evolutionists) does not always exclude the beautiful, of which indeed it often forms the lowest degree. The study of art is embraced partly,1 not wholly, by Sociology: for art fulfils two ends, firstly and primarily that of provoking pleasant sensations (of colour, sound, etc.) and in this sense finds itself in the presence of practically incontestable scientific laws which connect ^Esthetic with the physics (optics, acoustics, etc.), mathematics, physiology and psychophysics. Sculpture, in fact, rests especially on anatomy and physiology: painting on anatomy, physiology and optics: architecture on optics (golden section, etc.): music on physiology and acoustics: poetry on metrics, whose most general laws are acoustical and physiological. The second function of art is to produce the phenomena of " psychological induction," which bring to a head ideas and sentiments of most complex nature (sympathy with personages represented, interest, pity, indignation, etc.), in short all the social feelings, which constitute it "the expression of life." Whence are derived the two tendencies recognised in art; one inclining towards harmony, consonance, and everything delightful to ear and eye: the other towards the transfusion of life into the domain of art. Genius, true genius is destined to preserve the balance of the two tendencies: decadents and degenerates deprive art of its social sympathetic aim by setting aesthetic sympathy at war against human sympathy.2 Translating all this into familiar terms, we may say that Guyau asserts one purely hedonistic art, above which he superimposes another art, also hedonistic, but serviceable to the cause of morality.

M. Nordau. The same polemic against decadents, degenerates and individualists is carried on by another writer, Max Nordau, who gives art the task of re-establishing the wholeness of life amongst the fragmentary specialisation characteristic of industrial society; he asserts that art for art's sake, art as the simple expression of internal states or the objectification of the artist's feelings, no doubt exists, but is merely " the art of Quaternary man, the art of the cave-dweller." 1

1 L''Art mi point de vue sociologique, pref. p. xlvii. 1 Op. cit., passim, esp. ch. 4; cf. pp. 64, 85, 380.

Naturalistic is the best term with which to qualify the Naturalism. ^Esthetic derived from that identification of genius with c- Lombrosodegeneracy which made the fortune of Lombroso and his school. This identification derives its chief strength from the following piece of reasoning. Great mental efforts, total absorption in one dominating thought, often bring about physiological disorders in the bodily organism and weakness or atrophy of various vital functions. But such derangements come under the head of the pathological concept of illness, degeneration, madness. Therefore genius is identical with illness, degeneration and madness. A syllogism from particular to general, in which case, according to traditional Logic, non est consequentia. But with sociologists such as Nordau, Lombroso and company, we almost overstep the line separating respectable error from that grosser form which we call a blunder.

A mere confusion between scientific analysis and historical inquiry or description is visible in the works of certain sociologists and anthropologists. Thus one of them, Carl Biicher, in studying the life of primitive peoples, asserts that poetry, music and work were originally fused in one single act; that poetry and music were used to regulate the rhythms of labour.2 This may be historically true or false, important or no: it has nothing whatever to do with aesthetic science. In the same way Andrew Lang maintains that the doctrine concerning the origin of art as disinterested expression of the mimetic faculty finds no confirmation from what we know of primitive art, which is decorative rather than expressive : 3 as though primitive art, which is a mere fact awaiting interpretation, could ever be converted into a criterion for the interpretation of art in general.

The same vague naturalism exercised a baneful in- Decline of

1 Max Nordau, Social Function of Art, 2nd ed., Turin, 1897. "''"

1 Karl Biicher, Arbeit u. Rhythmus, 2nd ed., Leipzig, 1899. 3 Custom and Myth, p. 276; quoted by Knight, The Philosophy of the Beautiful, vol. i. pp. 9-10.

« IndietroContinua »