« 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 H. Taine's Hippolyte Taine's Philosophy of Art.1 “If by studying Æsthetic. the art of various peoples and various epochs,” says
Taine, we could define the nature and establish the
Op. cit. i. pp. 13-15.
reality, but is able, as in architecture or in music, to represent essential characters without natural objects to correspond.1 Now, in what do these essential characters, Taine's this carnivorosity and this alluviality differ, save perhaps metaphysic in extravagance of example, from the
types ” and “ideas” which intellectualistic or metaphysical Æsthetic had always considered as the proper content of art ? Taine himself clears away every doubt in the matter by explicitly stating that “this character is what philosophers call the essence of things,' in virtue of which they affirm that the aim and end of art is to make manifest the essence of things”; he adds that, for his part, he“ refuses to make use of the word 'essence' as being a technical term":2 of the word itself, maybe ; not of the concept for which it stands. There are two ways (says Taine, for all the world as though he were a Schelling) leading to the higher life of man, to contemplation : the way of science and the way of art : "the former investigates the causes and fundamental laws of reality, and expresses them in exact formulæ and abstract terms: the latter makes manifest these causes and laws, not in dry definitions inaccessible to the vulgar, and intelligible only to the select few, but in a sensible manner, appealing not merely to the reason but to the heart and senses of the most commonplace man; it has the power of being both elevated and popular, of manifesting what is most noble and elevated, and of manifesting it to every one.'
"3 For Taine, as for the Hegelian æstheticians, works of art are arranged in a scale of values ; so that, having begun by condemning as absurd every judgement of taste (every one to his taste 4), he ends by asserting that
personal taste has no value whatever,” and that some common measure should be abstracted and set up as a standard of progress and retrogression, ornamentation and degeneracy; a standard by which to approve and disapprove, praise and blame. The scale of values set up by him is twofold or threefold, in the first instance 1 Philosophie de l'art, i. Pp. 17-54.
? Op. cit. i. p. 37. 3 Op. cit. i. p. 54. Op. cit. i. p. 15. 6 Op. cit. ii. p. 277.
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.;2 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). 3 G. T. Fechner. The same protests and similar methods are to be found Inductive
in the works of Gustav Theodor Fechner. In his IntroducÆsthetic.
tion 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 Æsthetic from above (von oben), but an inductive Æsthetic from below (von unten) and to achieve clearness, not sublimity; metaphysical Æsthetic should bear the same relation to inductive, as the Philosophy of Nature to Physics. Proceeding on inductive lines, he discovers a long series of æsthetic laws or principles : the æsthetic threshold; assistance or increment; unity in variety ; absence of contradictions; clarity; association;
1 Philos. de l'art, ü. pp. 257-400.
3 op. cit. ii. p. 393. * Vorschule der Asthetik, 1876 (2nd ed. Leipzig, 1897–1898).
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. Experiments. 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 1:1 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 sélection 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: 34.1 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.” 2 Fechner also informs us (always
1 Vorschule der Asthetik, i. ch. 19.
in tabular form) of the result of a statistical inquiry of his own, by means of countless heaps of catalogues and gallery
guides, as to the dimensions and shapes of pictures in Trivial nature relation to the subjects they depict. Nevertheless, when of his ideas on he tries to tell us what beauty is, he falls back on usingBeauty and Art. 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.” 2 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.” 4 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
1 Vorschule der A sth. ii. Pp 273-314.
2 op. cit. pref. p. iv. 4 Op. cit. i. p. 32.