Immagini della pagina

Criticism of the beautiful as that which pleases the higher senses.


As we are opposed to hedonism in general, that is to say,
to the theory based upon the pleasure and pain intrinsic
to the economic activity and accompanying every other
form of activity, which, confounding container and con-
tent, fails to recognize any process but the hedonistic;
so we are opposed to aesthetic hedonism in particular,
which looks at any rate upon the aesthetic, if not also
upon all other activities, as a simple fact of feeling, and
confounds the pleasurable expression, which is the
beautiful, with the simply pleasurable and all its other
The aesthetic-hedonistic point of view has been pre-
sented in several forms. One of the most ancient con-
ceives the beautiful as that which pleases sight and hearing,
that is to say, the so-called higher senses. When analysis
of aesthetic facts first began, it was, indeed, difficult to
avoid the false belief that a picture and a piece of music
are impressions of sight or hearing and correctly to
interpret the obvious remark that the blind man does
not enjoy the picture, nor the deaf man the music. To
show, as we have shown, that the aesthetic fact does not
depend upon the nature of the impressions, but that
all sensible impressions can be raised to aesthetic expres-
sion and that none need of necessity be so raised, is an
idea which presents itself only when all other doctrinal
constructions of this problem have been tried. Any one
who holds that the aesthetic fact is something pleasing to
the eyes or to the hearing, has no line of defence against

him who consistently proceeds to identify the beautiful with the pleasurable in general, and includes in AEsthetic cooking, or (as some positivists have called it) the viscerally beautiful. The theory of play is another form of aesthetichedonism. The concept of play has sometimes helped towards the realization of the activistic character of the expressive fact : man (it has been said) is not really man, save when he begins to play (that is to say, when he frees himself from natural and mechanical causality and works spiritually); and his first game is art. But since the word “ play ” also means that pleasure which arises from the expenditure of the exuberant energy of the organism (which is a practical fact), the consequence of this theory has been that every game has been called an aesthetic fact, or that the aesthetic function has been called a game, because like science and everything else, it may form part of a game. Morality alone cannot ever be caused by the will to play (for it will never consent to such an origin), but on the contrary itself dominates and regulates the act itself of playing. Finally, some have tried to deduce the pleasure of art from the echo of that of the sexual organs. And some of the most recent aestheticians confidently find the genesis of the aesthetic fact in the pleasure of conquering and in that of triumphing, or, as others add, in the wish of the male to conquer the female. This theory is seasoned with much anecdotal erudition, heaven knows of what degree of credibility, as to the customs of savage peoples. But there was really no need for such assistance, since in ordinary life one often meets poets who adorn themselves with their poetry, like cocks raising their crests, or turkeys spreading out their tails. But any one who does this, in so far as he does it, is not a poet but a poor fool, in fact, a poor fool of a cock or turkey, and the desire for the victorious conquest of women has nothing to do with the fact of art. It would be just as correct to look upon poetry as economic, because there once were court poets and salaried poets, and there are poets now

Criticism of

the theory of play.

Criticism of the theories of sexuality and of triumph.

of the AEsthetic
of the sym-
Meaning in it
of content
and form.

AEsthetic hedonism and moralism.

who find in the sale of their verses an aid to life if not a
complete living. This deduction and definition has not
failed to attract some zealous neophytes in historical
Another less vulgar current of thought considers
AEsthetic as the science of the sympathetic, as that with
which we sympathize, which attracts, rejoices, arouses
pleasure and admiration. But the sympathetic is nothing
but the image or representation of what pleases. And
as such it is a complex fact, resulting from a constant
element, the aesthetic element of representation, and
a variable element, the pleasing in its infinite forms,
arising from all the various classes of values.
In ordinary language, there is sometimes a feeling of
repugnance at calling an expression “beautiful,” unless
it is an expression of the sympathetic. Hence the
continual conflicts between the point of view of the
aesthetician or art critic and that of the ordinary person,
who cannot succeed in persuading himself that the image
of pain and baseness can be beautiful or at least that
it has as much right to be beautiful as the pleasing and
the good. -
The conflict could be put an end to by distinguishing
two different sciences, one of expression and the other of
the sympathetic, if the latter could be the object of a
special Science ; that is to say, if it were not, as has been
shown, a complex and equivocal concept. If predomin-
ance be given to the expressive fact, it enters AEsthetic
as science of expression ; if to the pleasurable content,
we fall back to the study of facts essentially hedonistic
(utilitarian), however complicated they may appear. The
particular origin of the doctrine which conceives the rela-
tion between form and content as the sum of two values
is also to be sought in the doctrine of the sympathetic.
In all the doctrines just now discussed, art is con-
sidered as a merely hedonistic thing. But aesthetic
hedonism cannot be maintained, save by uniting it with
a general philosophical hedonism, which does not admit
any other form of value. Hardly has this hedonistic
conception of art been received by philosophers who
admit one or more spiritual values, truth or morality,
when the following question must necessarily be asked :
What must be done with art 2 To what use should it
be put 2 Should a free course be allowed to the pleasures
it procures 2 And if so, to what extent 2 The question
of the end of art, which in the AEsthetic of expression is
inconceivable, has a clear significance in the AEsthetic of
the Sympathetic and demands a solution.
Now it is evident that such solution can have but
two forms, one altogether negative, the other of a re-
strictive nature. The first, which we shall call rigoristic
or ascetic, appears several times, although not frequently,
in the history of ideas. It looks upon art as an inebria-
tion of the senses and therefore as not only useless but
harmful. According to this theory, then, we must exert
all our strength to liberate the human soul from its
disturbing influence. The other solution, which we
shall call pedagogic or moralistic-utilitarian, admits art,
but only in so far as it co-operates with the end of
morality; in so far as it assists with innocent pleasure
the work of him who points the way to the true and the
good; in so far as ###edge of the cup of
wisdom and morality with sweet honey.
It is well to observe that it would be an error to
divide this second view into intellectualistic and moral-
istic-utilitarian, according as to whether be assigned to
art the end of leading to the true or to what is practically
good. The educational task which is imposed upon
it, precisely because it is an end which is sought after
and advised, is no longer merely a theoretical fact, but
a theoretical fact already become the ground for practical
action ; it is not, therefore, intellectualism, but pedagog-
ism and practicism. Nor would it be more exact to
subdivide the pedagogic view into pure utilitarian and
moralistic-utilitarian ; because those who admit only the
satisfaction of the individual (the desire of the individual),
precisely because they are absolute hedonists, have no
motive for seeking an ulterior justification for art.

The rigoristic negation, and the pedagogic justification of art.

Criticism of pure beauty.

But to enunciate these theories at the point to which we have attained is to confute them. We prefer to restrict ourselves to observing that in the pedagogic theory of art is to be found another of the reasons why the claim has erroneously been made that the content of art should be chosen with a view to certain practical effects.

The thesis that art consists of pure beauty has often been brought forward against hedonistic and pedagogic AEsthetic, and eagerly taken up by artists: “Heaven places all our joy in pure beauty, and the Verse is everything.” If by this be understood that art is not to be confounded with sensual pleasure (utilitarian practicism), nor with the exercise of morality, then our AEsthetic also must be permitted to adorn itself with the title of Æsthetic of pure beauty. But if (as is often the case) something mystical and transcendent be meant by this, something unknown to our poor human world, or something spiritual and beatific, but not expressive, we must reply that while applauding the conception of a beauty free from all that is not the spiritual form of expression, we are unable to conceive a beauty superior to this and still less that it should be purified of expression, or severed from itself.

« IndietroContinua »