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Criticism of non-free beauty.
book should be beautiful, but not to the extent of being difficult or impossible to read.
In respect of all this we must observe in the first place that the extrinsic purpose is not necessarily, precisely because it is such, a limit or impediment to the other purpose of being a stimulus to æsthetic reproduction. It is therefore quite false to maintain that architecture, for example, is by its nature imperfect and not free, since it must also obey other practical purposes ; in fact, the mere presence of fine works of architecture is enough to dispel any such illusion.
In the second place, not only are the two purposes not necessarily contradictory, but we must add that the artist always has the means of preventing this contradiction from arising. How ? by simply making the destination of the object which serves a practical end enter as material into his æsthetic intuition and externalization. He will not need to add anything to the object, in order to make it the instrument of æsthetic intuitions: it will be so, if perfectly adapted to its practical purpose. Rustic dwellings and palaces, churches and barracks, swords and ploughs, are beautiful, not in so far as they are embellished and adorned, but in so far as they express their end. A garment is only beautiful because it is exactly suitable to a given person in given conditions. The sword bound to the side of the warrior Rinaldo by the amorous Armida was not beautiful : “so adorned that it may seem a useless ornament, not the free instrument of war," or it was beautiful, if you will, but to the eyes and imagination of the sorceress, who liked to see her lover equipped in that effeminate way. The æsthetic activity can always agree with the practical, because expression is truth.
It cannot however be denied that æsthetic contemplation sometimes hinders practical usage. For instance, it is a quite common experience to find certain new objects seem so well adapted to their purpose, and therefore so beautiful, that people occasionally feel scruples in maltreating them by passing from their contemplation to their use. It was for this reason that King Frederick
William of Prussia showed such repugnance to sending his magnificent grenadiers, so well adapted to war, into the mud and fire of battle, while his less æsthetic son, Frederick the Great, obtained from them excellent service.
It might be objected to the explanation of the physically Stimulants beautiful as a simple aid to the reproduction of the inter- of production. nally beautiful, or expressions, that the artist creates his expressions by painting or by sculpturing, by writing or by composing, and that therefore the physically beautiful, instead of following, sometimes precedes the æsthetically beautiful. This would be a somewhat superficial mode of understanding the procedure of the artist, who never in reality makes a stroke with his brush without having previously seen it with his imagination; and if he has not yet seen it, he will make the stroke, not in order to externalize his expression (which does not yet exist), but as a kind of experiment and in order to have a point of departure for further meditation and internal concentration. The physical point of departure is not the physically beautiful instrument of reproduction, but a means that may be called pedagogic, like retiring into solitude, or the many other expedients frequently very strange, adopted by artists and scientists, who vary in these according to their various idiosyncrasies. The old æsthetician Baumgarten advised poets seeking inspiration to ride on horseback, to drink wine in moderation, and (provided they were chaste) to look at beautiful women.
We must mention a series of fallacious scientific doctrines which have arisen from the failure to understand the purely external relation between the æsthetic factor artistic vision and the physical fact or instrument which aids in its reproduction, together with brief criticisms of them deduced from what has already been said.
That form of associationism which identifies the æsthetic fact with the association of two images finds support in such lack of apprehension. By what path has it been possible to arrive at such an error, so repugnant to our æsthetic consciousness, which is a consciousness of perfect unity, never of duality ? Precisely because the physical and ästhetic facts have been considered separately, as two distinct images, which enter the spirit, the one drawn in by the other, first one and then the other. A picture has been divided into the image of the picture and the image of the meaning of the picture ; a poem, into the image of the words and the image of the meaning of the words. But this dualism of images is non-existent: the physical fact does not enter the spirit as an image, but causes the reproduction of the image (the only image, which is the æsthetic fact), in so far as it blindly stimulates the psychic organism and produces the impression which answers to the æsthetic expression already produced.
The efforts of the associationists (the usurpers of to-day in the field of Æsthetic) to emerge from the difficulty, and to reaffirm in some way the unity which has been destroyed
by their principle of association, are highly instructive. Some maintain that the image recalled is unconscious; others, leaving unconsciousness alone, hold that, on the contrary, it is vague, vaporous, confused, thus reducing the force of the æsthetic fact to the weakness of bad memory. But the dilemma is inexorable : either keep association and give up unity, or keep unity and give up association. No third way out of the difficulty exists.
From the failure to analyse so-called natural beauty Criticism of thoroughly and to recognize that it is simply an incident esthetic
physics. of æsthetic reproduction, and from having looked upon it, on the contrary, as given in nature, is derived all that portion of treatises upon Æsthetic entitled Beauty of Nature or Æsthetic Physics; sometimes even subdivided, save the mark, into æsthetic Mineralogy, Botany and Zoology. We do not wish to deny that such treatises contain many just observations, and are sometimes themselves works of art, in so far as they represent beautifully the imaginings and fancies or impressions of their authors. But we must affirm it to be scientifically false to ask oneself if the dog be beautiful and the ornithorhynchus ugly, the lily beautiful and the artichoke ugly. Indeed, the error is here double. On the one hand, æsthetic Physics falls back into the equivocation of the theory of artistic and literary kinds, of attempting to attach æsthetic determinations to the abstractions of our intellect; on the other, it fails to recognize, as we said, the true formation of so-called natural beauty, a formation which excludes even the possibility of the question as to whether some given individual animal, flower or man be beautiful or ugly. What is not produced by the æsthetic spirit, or cannot be referred to it, is neither beautiful nor ugly. The æsthetic process arises from the ideal connexions in which natural objects are placed.
The double error can be exemplified by the question Criticism of as to the Beauty of the human body, upon which whole the beauty of volumes have been written. Here we must before every- the human
body. thing turn those who discuss this subject from the abstract toward the concrete, by asking : “What do you mean by
the human body, that of the male, the female, or the hermaphrodite ? " Let us assume that they reply by dividing the inquiry into two distinct inquiries, as to male and female beauty (there really are writers who seriously discuss whether man or woman is the more beautiful); and let us continue : “Masculine or feminine beauty ; but of what race of men—the white, the yellow or the black, or any others that may exist, according to the division you prefer? ” Let us assume that they limit themselves to the white race, and drive home the argument: “To what sub-species of the white race ?” And when we have restricted them gradually to one corner of the white world, going, let us say, from the Italian to the Tuscan, the Siennese, the Porta Camollía quarter, we will proceed : “Very good; but at what age of the human body, and in what condition and stage—that of the newborn babe, of the child, of the boy, of the adolescent, of the man of middle age, and so on and of him who is at rest or of him who is at work, or of him who is occupied like Paul Potter's bull, or the Ganymede of Rembrandt ?"
Having thus arrived, by successive reductions, at the individual omnimode determinatum, or rather at “this man here," pointed out with the finger, it will be easy to expose the other error, by recalling what we have said about the natural fact, which is now beautiful, now ugly, according to the point of view and to what is passing in the soul of the artist. If even the Gulf of Naples have its detractors, and if there be artists who declare it inexpressive, preferring the “gloomy firs,” the “clouds and perpetual north winds,” of northern seas; is it really possible that such relativity does not exist for the human body, source of the most varied suggestions ?
The question of the beauty of geometrical figures is connected with æsthetic Physics. But if by geometrical figures be understood the concepts of geometry (the concepts of the triangle, the square, the cone), these are neither beautiful nor ugly, just because they are concepts. If, on the other hand, by such figures be understood bodies which possess definite geometrical forms, they will be
Criticism of the beauty of geometrical figures.