‘AESTHETIC’ – ART AND BEAUTY – ART AS INTOXICATION – FREEDOM IN ART – ART AND LIFE – THE ARTIST – IMITATION and STEALING etc – KNOWLEDGE – PRACTICAL and TECHNICAL – KNOWLEDGE and LOVE – ACADEMIES – ORIGINALITY – TALENT AND GENIUS – GENIUS – EXPRESSION – EMOTION and EXPRESSION – ART and MORALITY – ART, VALUE, VALUES – ART AS EXPERIENCE – ART AS METAPHYSICS – ART AS WORLD-MAKING – ART AND IMAGINATION – ART AND SCIENCE – SEEING – PERSONAL STYLE – PAINTING – POETRY – MUSIC – CHESS – CRITICS and CRITICISM
You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul. – Shaw
The poets are quite right in decking their mistresses with the spoils of the landscape, flower-gardens, gems, rainbows, flushes of morning, and stars of night, since all beauty points at identity, and whatsoever thing does not express to me the sea and sky, day and night, is somewhat forbidden and wrong. – Emerson, Beauty
The true, original master-touches that go to the heart, must come from it. – Hazlitt, On Novelty and Familiarity
The ardours of piety agree at last with the coldest scepticism – that nothing is of us or our works – that all is of God. – Emerson, Experience
Direct endeavor can achieve almost nothing. It is as easy by taking thought to add a cubit to one’s stature, as it is to produce an idea acceptable to any of the Muses by straining for it, before it is ready to come. We haunt in vain the sacred well and throne of Mnemosyne; the deeper workings of the spirit take place in their own slow way, without our connivance. Let but their bugle sound, and we may then make our effort, sure of an oblation for the altar of whatsoever divinity its savor gratifies. – Peirce, Evolutionary Love
…a religious poet once told me that he valued his poems, not because they were his, but because they were not. He thought the angels brought them to him. – Emerson, Inspiration
Art is the spirituality of nature. And since there is no spirit apart from nature, only by reference to art can we explain the spirituality in ethics or religion. All art seeks to harmonize meaning and happiness; but if it attains aesthetic truthfulness, it achieves a further harmony. Its bestowal of value is then an act of love that creates something new and possibly beautiful while also revealing the character of nature’s own creativity. Can spirit rise higher than this? – Irving Singer, The Harmony of Nature and Spirit, p144
Art is the only serious thing in the world. And the artist is the only person who is never serious. – Wilde, A Few Maxims For The Instruction Of The Over-Educated (1894)
…to be unanalysable, and, therefore, save by the poet, indescribable, is the aim of art and the fact of beauty. – Carritt, Theory of Beauty
We seek in art of all kinds for the comforting sense of a unified self, with organised emotions and fearless world-dominating intelligence, a complete experience in a limited whole. Yet good art mirrors not only the (illusory) unity but its real disunity. Good art accepts and celebrated and meditates upon the defeat of the discursive intellect by the world. Bad art misrepresents the world so as to pretend there is no defeat. – Iris Murdoch, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, p88
We are hardly conscious of anything metaphorical when we say of one picture or of a story that it is dead, and of another that it has life. To explain just what we mean when we say this, is not easy. Yet the consciousness that one thing is limp, that another has the heavy inertness of inanimate things, while another seems to move from within, arises spontaneously. There must be something in the object that instigates it… The living being is characterized by having a past and a present; having them as possessions of the present, not just externally. And I suggest that it is precisely when we get from an art product the feeling of dealing with a career, a history, perceived at a particular point of its development, that we have the impression of life. That which is dead does not extend into the past nor arouse any interest in what is to come. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p176
…one does not play the piano with one’s fingers, one plays the piano with one’s mind. – Glenn Gould
…you should not condemn another artist’s work unless you know for what the artist was striving. – Arthur Guptill, Rendering in Pen and Ink, p96
A lot of people are offering up stuff that is really bland. It’s not really an edible kind of food. Feels kind of staid and studied and academic. You have to imagine your butt in that seat and ask if you’d really like to watch this. Is it better than what you can get on cable? Artists are not asking themselves what the experience is like. They end up editing themselves in strange ways – taking out the good stuff, the spontaneous stuff that reveals something particular to them, and leaving in the skilled stuff that everyone else is doing. – Joe Goode, choreographer, in Creating A Life Worth Living
Shall I find my heavenly bread in the reigning poets? – Emerson, English Traits, Literature
The poets are thus liberating gods…They are free, and they make free. – Emerson, The Poet
The unexpected turn, something which the artist himself does not definitely foresee, is a condition of the felicitous quality of a work of art; it saves it from being mechanical. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p139
The distinction between form and matter…is a distinction belonging to the philosophy of craft, and not applicable to the philosophy of art. – Collingwood, Principles of Art, p142
Art is the great stimulus to life: how could it be thought purposeless, aimless, l’art pour l’art? – Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, 24
The muse may be defined, Supervoluntary ends effected by supervoluntary means. – Emerson
Othello’s suicide…does not make us feel suicidal. What moves us is the way in which Shakespeare (and Verdi) made sense out of tragedy by making it part of an artistic whole. As Nietzsche realized, even tragedy is an affirmation of life. – A. Storr, Music and the Mind, p30
…art is to [children and savages] a life in which they are immersed as in a flood of warm water which bears in its course passive and effortless organisms. A grown and civilised man achieves aesthetic experience by the effort of deliberating shutting out other competing interests; he refuses to look at a given object historically or scientifically, and will see it aesthetically. Hence, for the civilized man, art has become a somewhat alien thing and difficult of approach; he bewails lost romance and thinks of the aesthetic experience as something that died with his dead childhood, or exalts beauty into a far-away goal to which some day a difficult uphill road may lead him. But art is difficult for him not because it is intrinsically difficult, but because his entire education has been designed to wean him from it; it is far away not because it is on the heights of the spiritual life, but because it is in the depths. Art is the foundation, the soil, the womb and night of the spirit; all experience issues forth from it and rests upon it; all education begins with it; all religion, all science, are as it were specialized and peculiar modifications of it. – Collingwood, Speculum Mentis, III 1
Time is a medium which appeals more than space to emotion. – Santayana, Reason in Art, Music
The classic art was the art of necessity; modern romantic art bears the stamp of caprice and chance. This is the most general distinction we can give between classic and romantic art. – Emerson, journal, 1856
All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. – Wilde
Art is the conveyor of the inexpressible; it therefore looks like folly again to attempt conveying it by words. But our effort to do this enriches our understanding in many ways, and this, in turn, is good for our potential. – Goethe, Old Ideas, Almost Out of Date
…contemporary aestheticians have reserved much of their sharpest language for casting doubt on the idea that there is a special character of experience that it is the purpose or function of artworks to impart. Artworks are not can-openers that they should be pinned down to a limited task! Both they and the experiences they afford are too varied to allow for the sort of generalization and abstraction required for identifying a function! There can be no restriction on the desiderata we seek in artworks, from moral uplift to entertainment! We must not impose prescriptively a limit on the adventurousness and originality of artists and an end to artistic change! These and similar warnings abound, and of course they are to be heeded. But they do not, in my opinion, rule out the notion of a distinctive aesthetic character. Philippa Foot has noted, judiciously, that “We do not…use works of literature, or not normally, and could not say that it is by their use that the criteria for their goodness are determined. …” yet – she adds – “the interest which we have in books and pictures determines the grounds on which their excellence is judged.” The objector will be quick to jump on the words “the interest,” and regale us with a list of various interests that artworks may sustain and satisfy. But of course this is beside the point: we are in search of a value, identified by a distinct character of experience that is worth having – though, of course, part of the justification for calling it “aesthetic” depends on showing that it has a fairly close, regular, dependable relationship to artkind instances. Those who have doubted or denied the existence of a special aesthetic character tend to rely on two negative arguments: first, that they have not succeeded in finding it, and second, that even its partisans cannot agree on what it is. To the first we may respond with commiseration, to the second with a legitimate excuse. It is fair to plead that to get at the aesthetic character is not necessarily a simple task. It may call for a good deal of subtle phenomenological inquiry, taking into account a wide range of experiences and carefully comparing our introspections with the reports of others. There is a serious problem of finding the right words to discriminate and articulate the noteworthy features of our interaction with outstanding artkind-instances. If there are continuing differences of opinion, or at least in emphasis, as for example about the precise nature of “disinterestedness” and its role in the experience of artworks, the fact is not surprising; and it neither belies the obvious truth that aestheticians have made progress in this direction nor mocks the persistent hope for further progress.
+++++Although I am unready to relinquish more substantial claims concerning the analysis of aesthetic character, I am content here to advance a fairly modest one. Let us treat the aesthetic character as compound and disjunctive. It consists of five discernible features. Experience has an aesthetic character if it has at least four of these five features, including the first one.
+++++1. A willingly accepted guidance over the succession of one’s mental states by phenomenally objective properties (qualities and relations) of a perceptual or intentional field on which attention is fixed with a feeling that things are working or have worked themselves out fittingly. Since this awareness is directed by, as well as to, the object, we may call this feature, for short, object-directedness.
+++++2. A sense of freedom, of release from the dominance of some antecedent concerns about past and future, a relaxation and sense of harmony with what is presented or semantically invoked by it or implicitly promised by it, so that what comes has the air of having been freely chosen. For short: felt freedom.
+++++3. A sense that the objects of which interest is concentrated are set a little at a distance emotionally – a certain detachment of affect, so that even when we are confronted with dark and terrible things, and feel them sharply, they do not oppress but make us aware of our power to rise above them. For short: detached affect.
+++++4. A sense of actively exercising constructive powers of the mind, of being challenged by a variety of potentially conflicting stimuli to try to make them cohere; a keyed-up state amounting to exhilaration in seeing connections between percepts and between meanings,
a sense (which may be illusory) of achieved intelligibility. For short: active discovery.
+++++5. A sense of integration as a person, of being restored to wholeness from distracting and disruptive impulses (but by inclusive synthesis as well as by exclusion), and a corresponding contentment, even through disturbing feelings, that involves self-acceptance and self-expansion. For short: a sense of wholeness.
+++++If I may appropriate…[Goodman’s colorful term] I might call these five properties “symptoms” of the aesthetic in experience.
+++++The limitations of these symptoms… – object-directedness, felt freedom, detached affect, active discovery, and a sense of wholeness – are perhaps not so obscure that they need to be emphasized by me. (Others will cheerfully accept this labor.) Their vagueness is evident and essential. Yet I believe the descriptions apply to genuine realities, which we find in our experiences of many artworks, as well as other things. The symptoms are common (though not omnipresent) in experience; they are individually often present in play, sport, mathematics, and religion. These activities are sometimes accompanied by experiences with aesthetic character, though this is generally incidental to their central purpose. Here is one aspect of the aesthetic character that has made it difficult to manage – not that it is so rare, but that it turns up so widely, in mild or fleeting forms at least.
+++++… It may be evident that it is a good thing for an experience to have an aesthetic character – that this is one of the ways in which experiences can be worth having. But the question why this character confers value…calls for consideration of profoundly difficult questions about the nature of human goodness, what constitutes a good life, happiness, wellbeing and well-doing, and perhaps the meaning of life – though even if we differ in our answers to these questions, we may be able to agree that it is good for us to experience, at least occasionally, and to a degree seldom made possible except by artworks, the immediate sense (say) of inclusive self-integration and complex harmony with phenomenal objects. – Monroe Beardsley, In Defense of Aesthetic Value, Proceedings and Addresses of the Am. Phil. Assoc., 52/6, Aug 1979
ART AND BEAUTY
In each art the beautiful begins only when the purely logical is defeated. – Nietzsche, fragment, 1870-1
Beauty enters when the individual drives for once run parallel, but not against each other. – Nietzsche, fragment, 1870-1
Most women are so artificial that they have no sense of Art. Most men are so natural that they have no sense of Beauty. – Wilde, Maxims for the Use of the Overeducated
A subject that is beautiful in itself gives no suggestion to the artist. It lacks imperfection. – Wilde, Maxims for the Use of the Overeducated
ART AS INTOXICATION
For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication…In this condition one enriches everything out of one’s own abundance: what one sees, what one desires, one sees swollen, pressing, strong, overladen with energy. The man in this condition transforms things until they mirror his power – until they are reflections of his perfection. This compulsion to transform into the perfect is – art. – Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, Expeditions, 8
…the man who is his own master knocks in vain of the doors of poetry. – Plato
Mere enthusiasm is the all in all. – William Blake
FREEDOM IN ART
The historical point about this kind of poetry, the rhymed romantic kind, is that it rose out of the Dark Ages with the whole of this huge popular power behind it, the human love of a song, a riddle, a proverb, a pun or a nursery rhyme; the sing-song of innumerable children’s games, the chorus of a thousand campfires and a thousand taverns. When poetry loses its link with all these people who are easily pleased it loses all its power of giving pleasure. When a poet looks down on a rhyme it is, I will not say as if he looked down on a daisy (which might seem possible to the more literal-minded), but rather as if he looked down on a lark because he had been up in a balloon. It is cutting away the very roots of poetry; it is revolting against nature because it is natural, against sunshine because it is bright, or mountains because they are high, or moonrise because it is mysterious. The freezing process began after the Reformation with a fastidious search for finer yet freer forms; to-day it has ended in formlessness.
+++++But the joke of it is that even when it is formless it is still fastidious. The new anarchic artists are not ready to accept everything. They are not ready to accept anything except anarchy. Unless it observes the very latest conventions of unconventionality, they would rule out anything classic as coldly as any classic ever ruled out anything romantic. But the classic was a form; and there was even a time when it was a new form. The men who invented Sapphics did invent a new metre; the introduction of Elizabethan blank verse was a real revolution in literary form. But vers libre, or nine-tenths of it, is not a new metre any more than sleeping in a ditch is a new school of architecture. It is no more a revolution in literary form than eating meat raw is an innovation in cookery. It is not even original, because it is not creative; the artist does not invent anything, but only abolishes something. But the only point about it that is to my present purpose is expressed in the word “pride.” It is not merely proud in the sense of being exultant, but proud in the sense of being disdainful. Such outlaws are more exclusive than aristocrats; and their anarchial arrogance goes far beyond the pride of Milton and the aristocrats of the New Learning. And this final refinement has completed the work which the saner aristocrats began, the work now most evident in the world: the separation of art from the people. – Chesterton, The Romance of Rhyme
ART AND LIFE
Art, like life, should be free, since both are experimental. But it is one thing to make room for genius and to respect the sudden madness of poets through which, possibly, some god may speak, and it is quite another not to judge the result by rational standards. The bowels of the earth are full of all sorts of rumblings; which of the oracles drawn thence is true can be judged only by the light of day. If an artist’s inspiration has been happy, it has been so because his work can sweeten or ennoble the mind and because its total effect will be beneficent. Art being a part of life, the criticism of art is a part of morals. – Santayana, Life of Reason, IV p177-184
Happiness is the union of vitality with art, and in so far as vitality is a spiritual thing and not mere restlessness and vehemence, art increases vitality. It obviates friction, waste, and despair. Without art, vitality is painful and big with monsters. – Santayana, Heathenism, Egotism in German Philosophy, p153
What is abnormal in Life stands in normal relations to Art. It is the only thing in Life that stands in normal relations to Art. – Wilde, Maxims for the Use of the Overeducated
…you have to provide for your young men: first, the searching or discovering school; then the calm employment; then the justice of praise: one thing more you have to do for them in preparing them for full service – namely, to make, in the noble sense of the word, gentlemen of them; that is to say, to take care that their minds receive such training, that in all they paint they shall see and feel the noblest things. I am sorry to say, that of all parts of an artist’s education, this is the most neglected among us; and that even where the natural taste and feeling of the youth have been pure and true, where there was the right stuff in him to make a gentleman of, you may too frequently discern some jarring rents in his mind, and elements of degradation in his treatment of subject, owing to want of gentle training, and of the liberal influence of education. This is quite visible in our greatest artists, even in men like Turner and Gainsborough; while in the common grade of our second-rate painters the evil attains a pitch which is far too sadly manifest to need my dwelling upon it. Now, no branch of art economy is more important than that of making the intellect at your disposal pure as well as powerful; so that it may always gather for you the sweetest and fairest things. The same quantity of labour from the same man’s hand, will, according as you have trained him, produce a lovely and useful work, or a base and hurtful one; and depend upon it, whatever value it may possess, by reason of the painter’s skill, its chief and final value, to any nation, depends upon its being able to exalt and refine, as well as to please; and that the picture which most truly deserves the name of an art-treasure is that which has been painted by a good man. – Ruskin, A Joy For Ever, p33-34
In one half of existence we are artists – as dreamers. This entirely active world is necessary to us. – Nietzsche, fragment, 1870-1
Every child is an artist, the problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. – Picasso
Veracity therefore is that which we require in poets, – that they shall say how it was with them, and not what might be said. And the fault of our popular poetry is that it is not sincere.
+++++“What news?” asks man of man everywhere. The only teller of news is the poet. When he sings, the world listens with the assurance that now a secret of God is to be spoken. …
+++++Every writer is a skater, and must go partly where he would, and partly where the skates carry him; or a sailor, who can only land where sails can be blown. And yet it is to be added that high poetry exceeds the fact, or nature itself, just as skates allow the good skater far more grace than his best walking would show, or sails more than riding. The poet writes from a real experience, the amateur feigns one. Of course one draws the bow with his fingers and the other with the strength of his body; one speaks with his lips and the other with a chest voice. Talent amuses, but if your verse has not a necessary and autobiographic basis, though under whatever gay poetic veils, it shall not waste my time.
+++++For poetry is faith. To the poet the world is virgin soil; all is practicable; the men are ready for virtue; it is always time to do right. He is a true re-commencer, or Adam in the garden again. …
+++++Write, that I may know you. Style betrays you, as your eyes do. We detect at once by it whether the writer has a firm grasp on his fact or thought, – exists at that moment for that alone, or whether he has one eye apologizing, deprecatory, turned on his reader. In proportion always to his possession of his thought is his defiance of his readers. There is no choice of words for him who clearly sees the truth. That provides him with the best word. – Emerson, Poetry and Imagination
The mind first is only receptive. Surcharge it with the thoughts in which it delights and it becomes active. The moment a man begins not to be convinced, that moment he begins to convince. – Emerson, Natural History of Intellect
A man’s style is his mind’s voice. – Emerson
…the sensual man conforms thoughts to things; the poet conforms things to his thoughts. – Emerson
The man who never in his mind and thought travelled to heaven, is no artist. – William Blake
Foreign travel especially makes men pedants, not artists. What we seek, we must find at home or nowhere. The way to do great things is to set about something, and he who cannot find resources in himself or in his own painting-room, will perform the grand tour, or go through the circle of arts and sciences, and end just where he began! – Hazlitt, On Application to Study
The artists must be sacrificed to their art. Like the bees, they must put their lives into the sting they give. – Emerson
…it is always well to divorce an artist from his work, and to take him less seriously than it. He is, after all, only a condition of the work, the soil from which it grows, perhaps only the manure on that soil. Thus he is, in most cases, something that must be forgotten if one wants to enter into the full enjoyment of the work. – Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals, III
Women not only do not inspire creative artists to high endeavor; they actually stand firmly against every high endeavor that a creative artist initiates spontaneously. What a man’s women folks almost invariable ask of him is that he be respectable – that he do something generally approved – that he avoid yielding to his aberrant fancies – in brief, that he sedulously eschew showing any sign of genuine genius. – Mencken, Notes on a Tender Theme
Art is a jealous mistress, and if a man have a genius for painting, poetry, music, architecture, or philosophy, he makes a bad husband, and an ill provider, and should be wise in season, and not fetter himself with duties which will embitter his days, and spoil him for his proper work. – Emerson, Conduct of Life, Wealth, p75
Art is the kingdom of the child: and anyone who wants to enter that kingdom must enter it as a child. Hence we can say that not only is every child an artist, but every artist is a child. The so-called artistic temperament is the necessary psychological condition of all art: but the artistic temperament is the very opposite of the temperament necessary in a grown-up man of the world. The artistic temperament is the child’s temperament. Its marks are a certain emotional instability, a tendency to live for the moment, an unreflective and uncalculating selfishness which does not deny but simply ignores the claims of other people to consideration, a blindness to even one’s own real interests when they conflict with the impulse of the moment, an incapacity for thinking and acting in a consistent and businesslike way. In general, it is the temperament of one who does not face facts and imagines instead of thinking.
+++++The artistic temperament has its drawbacks, and these are generally recognized. We all know that artists tend to be moody, impolite, unpractical, and even vicious: precisely as a child is. It is no good blaming the artist for these faults and at the same time expecting him to go on being an artist. They are the price he pays for his artistic work. If you civilize him he ceases to be an artist. – Collingwood, Principles of Art
…one of the essential traits of the artist is that he is born an experimenter. Without this trait he becomes a poor or a good academician. The artist is compelled to be an experimenter because he has to express an intensely individualized experience through means and materials that belong to the common and public world. This problem cannot be solved once for all. It is met in every new work undertaken. Otherwise an artist repeats himself and becomes esthetically dead. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p144
…the way to perfection is through a series of disgusts… – Walter Pater, Notes on Leonardo da Vinci
Great men are more distinguished by range and extent, than by originality. If we require the originality which consists in weaving, like a spider, their web from their own bowels; in finding clay, and making bricks, and building the house; no great men are original. Nor does valuable originality consist in unlikeness to other men. The hero is in the press of knights, and the thick of events; and, seeing what men want, and sharing their desire, he adds the needful length of sight and of arm, to come to the desired point. The greatest genius is the most indebted man. A poet is no rattlebrain, saying what comes uppermost and, because he says everything, saying, at last, something good; but a heart in unison with his time and country. There is nothing whimsical and fantastic in his production, but sweet and sad, earnest, freighted with the weightiest convictions, and pointed with the most determined aim which any man or class knows of in his times. – Emerson, Shakspeare; or, The Poet
The perceiver as well as the artist has to perceive, meet and overcome problems; otherwise, appreciation is transient and overweighted with sentiment. For, in order to perceive esthetically, he must remake his past experiences so that they can enter integrally into a new pattern. He cannot dismiss his past experiences nor can he dwell among them as they have been in the past.
+++++[An artist] cares about the end-result as a completion of what goes before and not because of its conformity or lack of conformity with a ready-made antecedent scheme… Like the scientific inquirer, he permits the subject-matter of his perception in connection with the problems it presents to determine the issue, instead of insisting upon its agreement with a conclusion decided upon in advance. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p138-9
[I.A. Richards] wrote that the artist need not consciously be aware of this problem, for even without knowing it he is deeply concerned with the matter of communication. If an artist occupies himself exclusively with getting a work “right” – “right” for himself, that is – it will communicate, because communication is part of its rightness. – Aaron Copland, Music and Imagination, 1952
One could not, after all, live only by mere seeing, any more than by mere doing. Both freedom through working in one’s vocation, and freedom through beholding, were partial and limited. If the first was unphilosophical, the second was irresponsible. At best, some sort of working freedom could be achieved by alternating them, and this seems in fact to have been [Emerson’s] best practical answer to the problem. As he early discovered, the active and the intellectual powers seemed to be naturally governed by a principle of undulation; his life moved with a certain regular rhythm from one to the other. The closest he came to combining them in theory was in his portrait of his final vocational hero-type, the Poet.
+++++The poet was neither Knower nor Doer, but Sayer. Undeniably there was some limitation here – a relinquished hope of power. “…Nature wished [Poets] to stand for the intellect and not for the Will…” Perhaps in some future incarnation “this genius who today can upheave…every object in nature for his metaphor” will be “capable…of playing such a game with his hands instead of his brain.” Emerson had not forgotten what he wrote in 1836, when discussing the fine arts, for which he had less feeling: “There is higher work for Art than the arts. They are abortive births of an imperfect or vitiated instinct. Art is the need to create; but…Nothing less than the creation of man and nature is its end.”
+++++But these reservations, which one would expect to play an important part in his estimate of the poet’s vocation, dwindle to nothing in comparison with the rhapsodic praise the poet receives, in verse and prose, in the 1840’s. “He is the man whose being soars higher and sinks deeper than another’s, to a softer tenderness, a holier ardor, a grander daring. This is the man who makes all other men seem less, the very naming of whose name for ages makes the heart beat quicker, and the eye glisten, and fills the air with golden dreams,” etc., etc. The very fact that he is not a doer increases his prestige. Emerson exploits the Platonic tradition of the poet’s madness. A man possessed, he is exempt from the ordinary human responsibility to be of use; no failure to act can be held against him. A born rhapsodist, his one duty is to mind his rhyme. For this reason, one may suspect, after 1840, he overshadows all other hero-types in Emerson’s gallery of ideals. What would be limitation in anyone else is irrelevance to him.
+++++Certainly there is no admission of limitation in Emerson’s portrait of the poet. “He is a sovereign, and stands on the centre.” “The poet is…the man without impediment, who sees and handles that which others dream of, traverses the whole scale of experience, and is representative of man, in virtue of being the largest power to receive and to impart.” His saying is action: “Words and deeds are quite indifferent modes of the divine energy. Words are also actions, and actions are a kind of words.” All men, as they receive, so they crave to express; the releases of energy is a need of nature. Utterance in this inclusive sense may even be the end of man. “A man should know himself for a necessary actor. A link was wanting between two craving parts of nature, and he was hurled into being as the bridge over that yawning need, the mediator betwixt two else unmarriageable facts…The thoughts he delights to utter are the reason of his incarnation.” The deliverance the poet performs best, and thus “He stands among partial men for the complete man…” Saying includes knowing and doing.
+++++The poet is the only liberator. Through his poems the ideal can become for a moment real; “one golden word leaps out immortal…and sweetly torments us with invitations to its own inaccessible homes.” He alone can in any sense abdicate a manifold and duplex life. “And this is the reward,” Emerson tells his poet; “that the ideal shall be real to thee, and the impressions of the actual world shall fall like summer rain, copious, but not troublesome to thy invulnerable essence.”
+++++In placing the poet at the center Emerson was being no more than true to his own experience; the poet was certainly his representative man. In a vocational ideal, which was in all essential respects a giant shadow of himself, a portrait of what he would truly like to be, he restored to himself in some measure the possibility of manhood, of which in a universal and unlimited sense he had despaired. And yet we can see that the victory of the poet presupposes the earlier defeat. It is only because the poetic life is not realized, perhaps cannot be, that the poet’s prophecy of such a life can make him a liberating god. If we could realize the ideal in life, it would not be such a service to realize it in words. The poet’s own liberation is a liberation of the intellect. The poet’s life is not a poetic life, but an ascetic service of his thought. His reward, the reward he brings others, is not self-union, but a magic flare of imagination, without means and without issue, an intoxicating glimpse of the inaccessible ideal. – Stephen Whicher, Freedom and Fate, p136-8
Order cannot but be admirable in a world constantly threatened with disorder – in a world where living creatures can go on living only by taking advantage of whatever order exists around them, incorporating it into themselves. In a world like ours, every living creature that attains sensibility welcomes order with a response of harmonious feeling whenever it finds a congruous order about it.
+++++For only when an organism shares in the ordered relations of its environment does it secure the stability essential to living. And when the participation comes after a phase of disruption and conflict, it bears within itself the germs of a consummation akin to the esthetic.
+++++The rhythm of loss of integration with environment and recovery of union not only persists in man but becomes conscious with him; its conditions are material out of which he forms purposes. Emotion is the conscious sign of a break, actual or impending. The discord is the occasion that induces reflection. Desire for restoration of the union converts mere emotion into interest in objects as conditions of realization of harmony. With the realization, material of reflection is incorporated into objects as their meaning. Since the artist cares in a particular way for the phase of experience in which union is achieved, he does not shun moments of resistance and tension. He rather cultivates them, not for their own sake but because of their potentialities, bringing to living consciousness an experience that is unified and total. In contrast with the person whose purpose is esthetic, the scientific man is interested in problems, in situations wherein tension between the matter of observation and of thought is marked. Of course he cares for their resolution. But he does not rest in it; he passes on to another problem using an attained solution only as a stepping stone from which to set on foot further inquiries.
+++++The difference between the esthetic and the scientific individual is thus one of the places where emphasis falls in the constant rhythm that marks the interaction of the live creature with his surroundings. The ultimate matter of both emphases in experience is the same, as is only their general form. The odd notion that an artist doesn’t think and a scientific inquirer does nothing else is the result of converting a difference of tempo and emphasis into a difference in kind. The thinker has his esthetic moment when his ideas cease to be mere ideas and become the corporate meanings of objects. The artist has his problems and thinks as he works. But his thought is more immediately embodied in the object. Because of the comparative remoteness of his end, the scientific worker operates with the symbols, words and mathematical signs. The artist does his thinking in the very qualitative media he works in, and the terms lie so close to the object that he is producing that they merge directly into it.
+++++The live animal does not have to project emotions into the objects experienced. Nature is kind and hateful, bland and morose, irritating and comforting, long before she is mathematically qualified, or even a congeries of “secondary” qualities like colors and their shapes. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p14-16
The musician we may think of as being exceedingly quick to beauty, drawn in a very rapture to it : somewhat slow to stir of his own impulse, he answers at once to the outer stimulus : as the timid are sensitive to noise so he to tones and the beauty they convey; all that offends against unison or harmony in melodies and rhythms repels him; he longs for measure and shapely pattern.
+++++This natural tendency must be made the starting-point to such a man; he must be drawn by the tone, rhythm and design in things of sense : he must learn to distinguish the material forms from the Authentic-Existent which is the source of all these correspondences and of the entire reasoned scheme in the work of art : he must be led to the Beauty that manifests itself through these forms; he must be shown that what ravished him was no other than the Harmony of the Intellectual world and the Beauty in that sphere, not some one shape of beauty but the All-Beauty, the Absolute Beauty; and the truths of philosophy must be implanted in him to lead him to faith in that which, unknowing it, he possesses within himself. – Plotinus, Enneads, On Dialectic (The Upward Way)
I was filled with nausea at the thought of being a prisoner in an office, no longer the master of my own time, compelled to devote my life’s energy to filling in forms.
+++++I was then only twelve…One day it became clear to me that I would become a painter, an artist… – Hitler, Mein Kampf
In an article published in 1938, called “My Brother Hitler”, Thomas Mann recognised in Hitler with horror and indignation “…a kinship…a brother who possessed, whether one likes it or not…a kind of artistic vocation…All the characteristics are there: the “cussedness” and laziness…the inability to adapt…the miserable existence in the lowest social and moral bohemia…the insatiable craving for compensation and self-glorification…” – Jean Gimpel, The Cult of Art, 1968
IMITATION and STEALING etc
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal. – TS Eliot
To conform to the fashion of Rome – whatever the fashion may be, and whatever Rome we may for the time be at – is among the most obvious needs of human nature. But what is not so obvious, though as certain, is that the influence of the imitation goes deep as well as extends wide. “The matter,” as Wordsworth says, “of style very much comes out of the manner.” If you will endeavour to write an imitation of the thoughts of Swift in a copy of the style of Addison, you will find that not only is it hard to write Addison’s style, from its intrinsic excellence, but also that the more you approach to it the more you lose the thought of Swift. The eager passion of the meaning beats upon the mild drapery of the words. So you could not express the plain thoughts of an Englishman in the grand manner of a Spaniard. Insensibly, and as by a sort of magic, the kind of manner which a man catches eats into him, and makes him in the end what at first he only seems. – Bagehot, Physics and Politics, III
He should begin, of course, by imitating the writers he likes. This is the way the writer becomes himself through losing himself – that strange way of double living, of living in reality as much as one can and at the same time of living in that other reality, the one he has to create, the reality of his dreams. – J.L. Borges
To do the opposite of something is also a form of imitation, namely an imitation of its opposite. – Lichtenberg
KNOWLEDGE – PRACTICAL and TECHNICAL
The things we know best are those we have not learned. – Vauvenargues
[The rationalist] sincerely believes that a training in technical knowledge is the only education worth while, because he is moved by the faith that there is no knowledge, in the proper sense, except technical knowledge. – Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics, p33
Duke Huan of Ch’i was reading a book at the upper end of the hall; the wheelwright was making a wheel at the lower end. Putting aside his mallet and chisel, he called to the Duke and asked him what book he was reading. ‘One that records the words of the Sages,’ answered the Duke. ‘Are those Sages alive?’ asked the wheelwright. ‘Oh, no,’ said the Duke, ‘they are dead.’ ‘In that case,’ said the wheelwright, ‘what you are reading can be nothing but the lees and scum of bygone men.’ ‘How dare you, a wheelwright, find fault with the book I am reading. If you can explain your statement, I will let it pass. If not, you shall die.’ ‘Speaking as a wheelwright,’ he replied, ‘I look at the matter in this way; when I am making my wheel, if my stroke is too slow, then it bites deep but is not steady; if my stroke is too fast, then it is steady, but it does not go deep. The right pace, neither too slow nor fast, cannot get into the hand unless it comes from the heart. It is a thing that cannot be put into words; there is an art in it that I cannot explain to my son. That is why it is impossible for me to let him take over my work, and here I am at the age of seventy still making wheels. In my opinion it must have been the same with the men of old. All that was worth handing on, died with them; the rest, they put in their books. That is why is said that what you were reading was the lees and scum of bygone men.’ – Chuang Tzu (Quoted in Rationalism in Politics)
KNOWLEDGE and LOVE
It has been said that the arts are forms of love, not of knowledge. While one sympathises with the spirit of this, it is misleading to say that we cannot legitimately talk of knowledge with respect to the arts, and worse to imply that knowledge precludes love. It is, unfortunately, all too often true that the methods of teaching what are popularly regarded as the central forms of knowledge do preclude love – but that is an indictment of the education system. Mathematics and the sciences, as well as the arts, should be forms of knowledge and of love. To regard the two terms as exclusive is as mistaken here as it is with respect to love of other people. So far from its being the case that love is inimical to knowledge, it is difficult to see how one could love another person without knowing him quite well. – David Best, Feeling and Reason in the Arts, p30-1
Asylums of commonplace, [Bèranger] hints, academies must ever be. But that sentence is too harsh; the true one is – the academies are asylums of the ideas and the tastes of the last age. “By the time,” I have heard a most eminent man of science observe, “by the time a man of science attains eminence on any subject, he becomes a nuisance upon it, because he is sure to retain errors which were in vogue when he was young, but which the new race have refuted.” These are the sort of ideas which find their home in academies, and out of their dignified windows pooh-pooh new things. – Bagehot, Physics and Politics, 1872
If a man has some fierce or unfamiliar point of view, he must, even when he is
talking about his cat, begin with the origin of the cosmos; for his cosmos is as private as his cat. Horace could tell his pupils to plunge into the middle of the thing, because he and they were agreed about the particular kind of thing; the author and his readers substantially sympathised about the beauty of Helen or the duties of Hector. But Blake really had to begin at the beginning, because it was a different beginning. This explains the extraordinary air of digression and irrelevancy which can be observed in some of the most direct and sincere minds. It explains the bewildering allusiveness of Dante; the galloping parentheses of Rabelais; the gigantic prefaces of Mr Bernard Shaw. The brilliant man seems more lumbering and elaborate than anyone else, because he has something to say about everything. The very quickness of his mind makes the slowness of his narrative. For he finds sermons in stones, in all the paving-stones of the street he plods along. Every fact or phrase that occurs in the immediate question carries back his mind to the ages and the initial power. Because he is original he is always going back to the origins. – Chesterton, William Blake, p126-9
TALENT AND GENIUS
Talent is what you possess; genius is what possesses you. – Malcolm Cowley
THE MORE I plow through the literature confected by the eugenists and their allies, the birth controllers, the more I am convinced that their great cause is mainly blather. Somehow, what they write so indignantly always reminds me of the music of certain of the so-called moderns, who wander around in a maze of tonalities without landing anywhere. In none of their books have I ever found a clear definition of the superiority they talk about so copiously. At one time they seem to identify it with high intelligence. At another time with character, i.e., moral stability, and yet another time with mere fame, i.e., luck. Was Napoleon I a superior man, as I am privately inclined to believe, along with many of the eugenists? Then so was Aaron Burr, if in less measure. Was Paul of Tarsus? Then so was Brigham Young. Were the Gracchi? Then so were Karl Marx and William Jennings Bryan.
+++++This matter of superiority, indeed, presents cruel and ineradicable difficulties. If it is made to run with service to the human race the eugenist is soon mired, for many men held to be highly useful are obviously second rate, and leave third rate progeny behind them; for example, Gen. Grant. And if it is made to run with mere intellectual brilliance and originality the troubles that loom up are just as serious, for men of that rare quality are generally felt to be dangerous, and sometimes they undoubtedly are. The case of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche is in point. I suppose that no rational person today, not even an uncured Liberty Loan orator or dollar a year man, would argue seriously that Nietzsche was inferior. On the contrary, his extraordinary gifts are unanimously admitted. But what of his value to the human race? And what of his eugenic fitness?
+++++It is not easy to answer these questions. Nietzsche, in fact, preached a gospel that, to most human beings, is unbearable, and it will probably remain unbearable for centuries to come. Its adoption by Dr. Coolidge, by and with the advice and consent of the senate, would plunge this republic into dreadful woe. And Nietzsche himself was a chronic invalid who died insane – the sort of wreck who, had he lived into our time, would have been a customer of chiropractors. Worse, he suffered from a malady of a scandalous nature, and of evil effects upon the sufferer’s offspring. Was it good or bad luck for the world, eugenically speaking, that he was a bachelor?
+++++But their vagueness about the exact nature of superiority is not the only thing that corrupts the fine fury of the eugenists. Even more dismaying is their gratuitous assumption that all of the socially useful and laudable qualities (whatever they may be) are the exclusive possession of one class of men, and that the other classes lack them altogether. This is plainly not true. All that may be truthfully said of such qualities is that they appear rather more frequently in one class than in another. But they are rare in all classes, and the difference in the frequency of their occurrence between this class and that one is not very great, and of little genuine importance.
+++++If all the biologists in the United States were hanged tomorrow (as has been proposed by the Mississippi clergy) and their children with them, we’d probably still have a sufficiency of biologists in the next generation. There might not be as many as we have today, but there would be enough. They would come out of the families of bricklayers and politicians, bootleggers and bond salesmen. Some of them, indeed, might even come out of the families of Mississippi ecclesiastics. For the supply of such men, like the supply of synthetic gin, always tends to run with the demand. Whenever the supply is short the demand almost automatically augments it.
+++++Every one knows that this is true on the lower levels. Before baseball was invented there were no Ty Cobbs and Babe Ruths; now they appear in an apparently endless series. Before the Wright brothers made their flight there were no men skilled at aviation; now there are multitudes of highly competent experts. The eugenists forget that the same thing happens on the higher levels. Whenever the world has stood in absolute need of a genius he has appeared. And though it is true that he has usually come out of the better half of humanity, it is also true that he has sometimes come out of the worst half. Beethoven was the grandson of a cook and the son of a drunkard, and Lincoln’s forebears for many generations were nobodies.
+++++The fact is that the difference between the better sort of human beings and the lesser sort, biologically speaking, is very slight. There may be, at the very top, a small class of people whose blood is preponderantly superior and distinguished, and there may be, at the bottom, another class whose blood is almost wholly debased, but both are very small. The folks between are all pretty much alike. The baron has a great deal of peasant blood in him and the peasant has some blood that is blue. The natural sinfulness of man is enough to make sure of that. No man in this world can ever be quite certain that he is the actual great-great-grandson of the great-great-grandfather whose memory he venerates.
+++++Thus when the relatively superior and distinguished class ceases to be fecund (a phenomenon now visible everywhere in the world) natural selection comes to the rescue by selecting out and promoting individuals from the classes below. These individuals are probably just as sound in blood as any one in the class they enter. Their sound blood has been concealed, perhaps for generations, but it has been there all the time. If Abraham Lincoln’s ancestry were known with any certainty it would probably be found to run back to manifestly able and distinguished men. There are many more such hidden family trees in the folk.
+++++The eugenists simply overlook them. They are also singularly blind to many familiar biological phenomena – for example, the appearance of mutations or sports. It is not likely that a commonplace family will produce a genius, but nevertheless it is by no means impossible: the thing has probably happened more than once. They forget, too, the influence of environment in human society. Mere environment, to be sure, cannot produce a genius, but it can certainly help him enormously after he is born. If a potential Wagner were born to a Greek bootblack in Toledo, O., tomorrow, the chances of his coming to fruition and fame would be at least even. But if he were born an Arab in the Libyan desert or to a fundamentalist in Rhea county, Tenn., the chances are that he would be a total loss.
The eugenists constantly make the false assumption that a healthy degree of human progress demands a large supply of first rate men. Here they succumb to the modern craze for mass production. Because a hundred policemen, or garbage men, or bootleggers are manifestly better than one, they conclude absurdly that a hundred Beethovens would be better than one. But this is not true. The actual value of a genius often lies in his singularity. If there had been a hundred Beethovens the music of all of them would be very little known today, and so its civilizing effect would be appreciably less than it is.
+++++The number of first rate men necessary to make a high civilization is really very small. If the United States could produce one Shakespeare or Newton or Bach or Michelangelo of Vesalius a century it would be doing better than any nation has ever done in history. Such culture as we have is due to a group of men so small that all of them alive at one time could be hauled in a single Pullman train. Once I went through Who’s Who in America, hunting for the really first rate men among its 27,000 names – that is, for the men who had really done something unique and difficult, and of value to the human race. I found 200. The rest of the 27,000 were simply respectable blanks.
+++++An overproduction of geniuses, indeed, would be very dangerous, for though they make for progress they also tend to disturb the peace. Imagine a country housing 100 head of Aristotles! It would be as unhappy as a city housing 100 head of Jesse Jameses. Even quasi-geniuses are a great burden upon society. There are in the United States today 1,500 professional philosophers – that is, men who make their living at the trade. The country would be far better off if all save two or three of them were driving taxicabs or serving with the Rum Fleet. – Mencken, Chicago Tribune, 15/5/1927
The young man reveres men of genius, because, to speak truly, they are more himself than he is. – Emerson, The Poet
The genius is a genius by the first look he casts on any object. Is his eye creative? – Emerson, Representative Men
Genius is a delicate sensibility to the laws of the world, adding the power to express them again in some new form. – Emerson, Natural History of Intellect
…genius is the power of getting knowledge with the least possible experience… – Nettleship, Lectures on Plato’s Republic, p128-9.
Genius is not a lazy angel contemplating itself and things. It is insatiable for expression… You must formulate your thought or ’tis all sky and no stars. – Emerson, Natural History of Intellect
It is true, though somewhat sad, that every fine genius teaches us how to blame himself. Being so much, we cannot forgive him for not being more. – Emerson, Thoughts on Modern Literature
It is in the gift for employing all the vicissitudes of life to one’s own advantage and to that of one’s craft that a large part of genius consists. – Lichtenberg
We read so much about genius nowadays that everyone believes he is one. The man who early on regards himself as a genius is lost. – Lichtenberg
[Whistler] was not a great personality, because he thought so much about himself. And the case is stronger even than that. He was sometimes not even a great artist, because he thought so much about art. Any man with a vital knowledge of the human psychology ought to have the most profound suspicion of anybody who claims to be an artist, and talks a great deal about art. Art is a right and human thing, like walking or saying one’s prayers; but the moment it begins to be talked about very solemnly, a man may be fairly certain that the thing has come into a congestion and a kind of difficulty.
+++++The artistic temperament is a disease that afflicts amateurs. It is a disease which arises from men not having sufficient power of expression to utter and get rid of the element of art in their being. It is healthful to every sane man to utter the art within him; it is essential to every sane man to get rid of the art within him at all costs. Artists of a large and wholesome vitality get rid of their art easily, as they breathe easily, or perspire easily. But in artists of less force, the thing becomes a pressure, and produces a definite pain, which is called the artistic temperament. Thus, very great artists are able to be ordinary men – men like Shakespeare or Browning. There are many real tragedies of the artistic temperament, tragedies of vanity or violence or fear. But the great tragedy of the artistic temperament is that it cannot produce any art.
+++++Whistler could produce art; and in so far he was a great man. But he could not forget art; and in so far he was only a man with the artistic temperament. There can be no stronger manifestation of the man who is a really great artist than the fact that he can dismiss the subject of art; that he can, upon due occasion, wish art at the bottom of the sea. Similarly, we should always be much more inclined to trust a solicitor who did not talk about conveyancing over the nuts and wine. What we really desire of any man conducting any business is that the full force of an ordinary man should be put into that particular study. We do not desire that the full force of that study should be put into an ordinary man. We do not in the least wish that our particular law-suit should pour its energy into our barrister’s games with his children, or rides on his bicycle, or meditations on the morning star. But we do, as a matter of fact, desire that his games with his children, and his rides on his bicycle, and his meditations on the morning star should pour something of their energy into our law-suit. We do desire that if he has gained any especial lung development from the bicycle, or any bright and pleasing metaphors from the morning star, that they should be placed at our disposal in that particular forensic controversy. In a word, we are very glad that he is an ordinary man, since that may help him to be an exceptional lawyer.
+++++Whistler never ceased to be an artist. As Mr. Max Beerbohm pointed out in one of his extraordinarily sensible and sincere critiques, Whistler really regarded Whistler as his greatest work of art. The white lock, the single eyeglass, the remarkable hat – these were much dearer to him than any nocturnes or arrangements that he ever threw off. He could throw off the nocturnes; for some mysterious reason he could not throw off the hat. He never threw off from himself that disproportionate accumulation of aestheticism which is the burden of the amateur.
+++++It need hardly be said that this is the real explanation of the thing which has puzzled so many dilettante critics, the problem of the extreme ordinariness of the behaviour of so many great geniuses in history. Their behaviour was so ordinary that it was not recorded; hence it was so ordinary that it seemed mysterious. Hence people say that Bacon wrote Shakespeare. The modern artistic temperament cannot understand how a man who could write such lyrics as Shakespeare wrote, could be as keen as Shakespeare was on business transactions in a little town in Warwickshire. The explanation is simple enough; it is that Shakespeare had a real lyrical impulse, wrote a real lyric, and so got rid of the impulse and went about his business. Being an artist did not prevent him from being an ordinary man, any more than being a sleeper at night or being a diner at dinner prevented him from being an ordinary man.
+++++All very great teachers and leaders have had this habit of assuming their point of view to be one which was human and casual, one which would readily appeal to every passing man. If a man is genuinely superior to his fellows the first thing that he believes in is the equality of man. We can see this, for instance, in that strange and innocent rationality with which Christ addressed any motley crowd that happened to stand about Him. “What man of you having a hundred sheep, and losing one, would not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which was lost?” Or, again, “What man of you if his son ask for bread will he give him a stone, or if he ask for a fish will he give him a serpent?” This plainness, this almost prosaic camaraderie, is the note of all very great minds.
+++++To very great minds the things on which men agree are so immeasurably more important than the things on which they differ, that the latter, for all practical purposes, disappear. They have too much in them of an ancient laughter even to endure to discuss the difference between the hats of two men who were both born of a woman, or between the subtly varied cultures of two men who have both to die. The first-rate great man is equal with other men, like Shakespeare. The second-rate great man is on his knees to other men, like Whitman. The third-rate great man is superior to other men, like Whistler. – Chesterton, Heretics, ch.17, On the Wit of Whistler
There is no rule for expression. It is got at solely by feeling. …Rules are applicable to abstractions, but expression is concrete and individual. – Hazlitt, On Genius and Common Sense
Art is not the possession of the few who are recognized writers, painters, musicians; it is the authentic expression of any and all individuality. Those who have the gift of creative expression in unusually large measure disclose the meaning of the individuality of others to those others. In participating in the work of art, they become artists in their activity. They learn to know and honor individuality in whatever form it appears. The fountains of creative activity are discovered and released. The free individuality which is the source of art is also the final source of creative development in time. – Dewey, Time and Individuality
Science states meanings; art expresses them. …The instance of a signboard may help. It directs one’s course to a place, say a city. It does not in any way supply experience of that city even in a vicarious way. What it does do is to set forth some of the conditions that must be fulfilled in order to procure that experience. …”Science” signifies just that mode of statement that is most helpful as direction. …Such, however, is the newness of scientific statement and its present prestige (due ultimately to its directive efficiency) that scientific statement is often thought to possess more than a signboard function and to disclose or be “expressive” of the inner nature of things. If it did, it would come into competition with art, and we should have to take sides and decide which of the two promulgates the more genuine revelation.
+++++The poetic as distinct from the prosaic, esthetic art as distinct from scientific, expression as distinct from statement, does something different from leading to an experience. It constitutes one. …The poem, or painting, does not operate in the dimension of correct descriptive statement but in that of experience itself. Poetry and prose, literal photograph and painting, operate in different media to distinct ends. Prose is set forth in propositions. The logic of poetry is super-propositional even when it uses what are, grammatically speaking, propositions. The latter have intent; art is an immediate realization of intent. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p84-5
There is another great difference between expression and statement. The latter is generalized. An intellectual statement is valuable in the degree in which it conducts the mind to many things all of the same kind. The meaning of an expressive object, on the contrary, is individualized. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p90
EMOTION and EXPRESSION
The expression of an emotion by speech may be addressed to someone; but if so it is not done with the intention of arousing a like emotion in him. If there is any effect which we wish to produce in the hearer, it is only the effect which we call making him understand how we feel. But…this is just the effect which expressing our emotions has on ourselves. – Collingwood, Principles of Art, p110
…Until a man has expressed his emotion, he does not yet know what emotion it is. The act of expressing it is therefore an exploration of his own emotions. He is trying to find out what those emotions are. – Collingwood, Principles of Art, p111
Speaking of the production of poetry, Samuel Alexander remarked that “the artist’s work proceeds not from a finished imaginative experience to which the work of art corresponds, but from passionate excitement about the subject matter…The poet’s poem is wrung from him by the subject which excites him.”
+++++…when excitement about subject matter goes deep, it stirs up a store of attitudes and meanings derived from prior experience. As they are aroused into activity they become conscious thoughts and emotions, emotionalized images. To be set on fire by a thought or scene is to be inspired. What is kindled must either burn itself out, turning to ashes, or must press itself out in material that changes the latter from crude metal into a refined product.
+++++…Materials undergoing combustion because of intimate contacts and mutually exercised resistances constitute inspiration. On the side of the self, elements that issue from prior experience are stirred into action in fresh desires, impulsions and images. These proceed from the subconscious, not cold or in shapes that are identified with particulars of the past, not in chunks and lumps, but fused in the fire of internal commotion. They do not seem to come from the self, because they issue from a self not consciously known. Hence, by a just myth, the inspiration is attributed to a god, or to the muse. The inspiration, however, is initial. In itself, at the outset, it is still inchoate.
+++++…Inflamed inner material must find objective fuel upon which to feed. Through the interaction of the fuel with material already afire the refined and formed product comes into existence. The act of expression is not something which supervenes upon an inspiration already complete. It is the carrying forward to completion of an inspiration by means of the objective material of perception and imagery.
+++++An impulsion cannot lead to expression save when it is thrown into commotion, turmoil. Unless there is com-pression nothing is ex-pressed. The turmoil marks the place where inner impulse and contact with the environment, in fact or in idea, meet and create a ferment. The war dance and the harvest dance of the savage do not issue from within except there be an impending raid or crops that are to be gathered. To generate the indispensable excitement there must be something at stake, something momentous and uncertain – like the outcome of a battle or the prospects of a harvest. A sure thing does not arouse us emotionally. Hence it is not mere excitement that is expressed but excitement-about-something; hence, also, it is that even mere excitement, short of complete panic, will utilize channels of action that have been worn by prior activities that dealt with objects. Thus, like the movements of an actor who goes through his part automatically, it simulates expression. Even an undefined uneasiness seeks outlet in song or pantomime, striving to become articulate.
+++++Erroneous views of the nature of the act of expression almost all have their source in the notion that an emotion is complete in itself within, only when uttered having impact upon external material. But, in fact, an emotion is to or from or about something objective, whether in fact or in idea. An emotion is implicated in a situation, the issue of which is in suspense and in which the self…is vitally concerned. Situations are depressing, threatening, intolerable, triumphant. Joy in the victory won by a group with which the person is identified is not something internally complete, nor is sorrow upon the death of a friend anything that can be understood save as an interpenetration of self with objective conditions.
+++++This latter fact is especially important in connection with the individualization of works of art. The notion that expression is a direct emission of an emotion complete in itself entails logically that individualization is specious and external. For, according to it, fear is fear, elation is elation, love is love, each being generic, and internally differentiated only by differences of intensity. Were this idea correct, works of art would necessarily fall within certain types. This view has infected criticism but not so as to assist understanding of concrete works of art. Save nominally, there is no such thing as the emotion of fear, hate, love. The unique, unduplicated character of experienced events and situations impregnates the emotion that is evoked. Were it the function of speech to reproduce that to which it refers, we could never speak of fear, but only fear-of-this-particular-oncoming-automobile, with all its specifications of time and place, or fear-under-specified-circumstances-of-drawing-a-wrong-conclusion from just-such-and-such-data. A lifetime would be short to reproduce in words a single emotion. In reality, however, poet and novelist have an immense advantage over even an expert psychologist in dealing with an emotion. For the former build up a concrete situation and permit it to evoke emotional response. Instead of a description of an emotion in intellectual and symbolic terms, the artist “does the deed that breeds” the emotion. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p64-7
Emotion in music is something I don’t usually care to express, let alone manipulate. Universal truths, heightened states, the wonder and beauty of all that it is to be human, most certainly, but emotion? Dreadful muck. I leave that to opera. – Lloyd Swanton, reply to John Litweiler, SIMA website
ART and MORALITY
The narrow notion that an artist may not teach is pretty well exploded by now. But the truth of the matter is, that an artist teaches far more by his mere background and properties, his landscape, his costume, his idiom and technique – all the part of his work, in short, of which he is probably entirely unconscious, than by the elaborate and pompous moral dicta which he fondly imagines to be his opinions. The real distinction between the ethics of high art and the ethics of manufactured and didactic art lies in the simple fact that the bad fable has a moral, while the good fable is a moral. – Chesterton, Varied Types, Tolstoy and the Cult of Simplicity
I am sometimes accused of trying to make art too moral; yet, observe, I do not say in the least that in order to be a good painter you must be a good man; but I do say that in order to be a good natural painter there must be strong elements of good in the mind, however warped by other parts of the character. There are hundreds of other gifts of painting which are not all involved with moral conditions, but this one, the perception of nature, is never given but under certain moral conditions. – Ruskin
In spite of the tiresome half-truth that art is unmoral, the arts require a certain considerable number of moral qualities, and more especially all the arts require courage. The art of drawing, for example, requires even a kind of physical courage. Anyone who has tried to draw a straight line and failed knows that he fails chiefly in nerve, as he might fail to jump off a cliff. And similarly all great literary art involves the element of risk, and the greatest literary artists have commonly been those who have run the greatest risk of talking nonsense. Almost all great poets rant, from Shakespeare downwards. – Chesterton, Varied Types, Elizabeth Barrett Browning
[The] bias against morality among the modern aesthetes…is not really a bias against morality; it is a bias against other people’s morality. It is generally founded on a very definite moral preference for a certain sort of life, pagan, plausible, humane. The modern aesthete, wishing us to believe that he values beauty more than conduct, reads Mallarme, and drinks absinthe in a tavern. But this is not only his favourite kind of beauty; it is also his favourite kind of conduct. If he really wished us to believe that he cared for beauty only, he ought to go to nothing but Wesleyan school treats, and paint the sunlight in the hair of the Wesleyan babies. He ought to read nothing but very eloquent theological sermons by old-fashioned Presbyterian divines. Here the lack of all possible moral sympathy would prove that his interest was purely verbal or pictorial, as it is; in all the books he reads and writes he clings to the skirts of his own morality and his own immorality. The champion of l’art pour l’art is always denouncing Ruskin for his moralizing. If he were really a champion of l’art pour l’art, he would be always insisting on Ruskin for his style.
+++++The doctrine of the distinction between art and morality owes a great part of its success to art and morality being hopelessly mixed up in the persons and performances of its greatest exponents. – Chesterton, Heretics, ch.17
ART, VALUE, VALUES
…what does all art do? does it not praise? does it not glorify? does it not select? does it not highlight? By doing all that it strengthens or weakens certain valuations… Is his basic instinct directed towards art, or is it not rather directed towards the meaning of art, which is life? – Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, Expeditions, 24
ART AS EXPERIENCE
What we play is life. – Louis Armstrong
…all but the very greatest [writers] fail to render adequately what they have not felt and been. – JA Symonds, Personal Style
Esthetic experience is imaginative. This fact, in connection with a false idea of the nature of imagination, has obscured the larger fact that all conscious experience has of necessity some degree of imaginative quality. – Dewey, Art as Experience
Artworks provide new ways of structuring our experience in terms of these natural dimensions. Works of art provide new experiential gestalts and, therefore, new coherences. From the experientialist point of view, art is, in general, a matter of imaginative rationality and a means of creating new realities.
+++++Aesthetic experience is thus not limited to the official art world. It can occur in any aspect of our everyday lives – whenever we take note of, or create for ourselves, new coherences that are not part of our conventionalized mode of perception or thought. – Lakoff/Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, p236
Poets do not really write epics, pastorals, lyrics, however much they may be deceived by these false abstractions; they express themselves, and this expression is their only form. There are not, therefore, only three or ten or a hundred literary kinds; there are as many kinds as there are individual poets. – JE Springarn, Creative Criticism (quoted in Mencken’s Criticism of Criticism of Criticism)
The Greek identification of good conduct with conduct having proportion, grace, and harmony, the kalon-agathon, is a more obvious example of distinctive esthetic quality in moral action. One great defect in what passes as morality is its anaesthetic quality. Instead of exemplifying wholehearted action, it takes the form of grudging piecemeal concessions to the demands of duty. But illustrations may only obscure the fact that any practical activity will, provided that it is integrated and moves by its own urge to fulfillment, have esthetic quality. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p39
The comparison of the emergence of works of art out of ordinary experiences to the refining of raw materials into valuable products may seem to some unworthy, if not an actual attempt to reduce works of art to the status of articles manufactured for commercial purposes. The point, however, is that no amount of ecstatic eulogy of finished works can of itself assist the understanding of the generation of such works. Flowers can be enjoyed without knowing about the interactions of soil, air, moisture, and seeds of which they are a result. But they cannot be understood without taking just these interactions into account – and theory is a matter of understanding. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p12
Direct experience comes from nature and man interacting with each other. In this interaction, human energy gathers, is released, dammed up, frustrated and victorious. There are rhythmic beats of want and fulfillment, pulses of doing and being withheld from doing. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p16
Emotion is the moving and cementing force. It selects what is congruous and dyes what is selected with its color, thereby giving qualitative unity to materials externally disparate and dissimilar. It thus provides unity in and through the varied parts of an experience. When the unity is of the sort already described, the experience has esthetic character even though it is not, dominantly, an esthetic experience.
+++++Two men meet; one is the applicant for a position, while the other has the disposition of the matter in his hands. The interview may be mechanical, consisting of set questions, the replies to which perfunctorily settle the matter. There is no experience in which the two men meet, nothing that is not a repetition, by way of acceptance or dismissal, of something which has happened a score of times. The situation is disposed of as if it were an exercise in bookkeeping. But an interplay may take place in which a new experience develops. Where should one look for an account of such an experience? Not to ledger-entries nor yet to a treatise on economics or sociology or personnel-psychology, but to drama or fiction. Its nature and import can be expressed only by art, because there is a unity of experience that can be expressed only as an experience. The experience is of material fraught with suspense and moving toward its own consummation through a connected series of varied incidents. The primary emotions on the part of the applicant may be at the beginning hope or despair, and elation or disappointment at the close. These emotions qualify the experience as a unity. But as the interview proceeds, secondary emotions are evolved as variations of the primary underlying one. It is even possible for each attitude and gesture, each sentence, almost every word, to produce more than a fluctuation in the intensity of the basic emotion; to produce, that is, a change of shade and tint in its quality. The employer sees by means of his own emotional reactions the character of the one applying. He projects him imaginatively into the work to be done and judges his fitness by the way in which the elements of the scene assemble and either clash or fit together. The presence and behavior of the applicant either harmonize with his own attitudes and desires or they conflict and jar. Such factors as these, inherently esthetic in quality, are the forces that carry the varied elements of the interview to a decisive issue. They enter into the settlement of every situation, whatever its dominant nature, in which there are uncertainty and suspense. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p42-43
There are…common patterns in various experiences… The outline of the common pattern is set by the fact that every experience is the result of interaction between a live creature and some aspect of the world in which he lives. …An experience has pattern and structure, because it is not just doing and undergoing in alternation, but consists of them in relationship. …The doing may be energetic, and the undergoing may be acute and intense. But unless they are related to each other to form a whole in perception, the thing done is not fully esthetic. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p43-50
…no experience of whatever sort is a unity unless it has esthetic quality. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p40
ART AS METAPHYSICS
There is a higher work for Art than the arts. They are abortive births of an imperfect or vitiated instinct. Art is the need to create; but…Nothing less than the creation of man and nature is its end. – Emerson, 1836
A musician is a philosopher and a scientist and he uses the science of music to project the particular philosophy he subscribes to. – Lester Young
The conception that objects have fixed and unalterable values is precisely the prejudice from which art emancipates us. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p95
…the arts must be taken no less seriously than the sciences as modes of discovery, creation, and enlargement of knowledge in the broad sense of advancement of the understanding, and thus the philosophy of art should be conceived as an integral part of metaphysics and epistemology. – Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking, p102
In the fin de siecle atmosphere every one was crying out that literature should be free from all causes and all ethical creeds. Art was to produce only exquisite workmanship, and it was especially the note of those days to demand brilliant plays and brilliant short stories. And when they got them, they got them from a couple of moralists. The best short stories were written by a man trying to preach Imperialism. The best plays were written by a man trying to preach Socialism. All the art of all the artists looked tiny and tedious beside the art which was a byproduct of propaganda.
+++++The reason, indeed, is very simple. A man cannot be wise enough to be a great artist without being wise enough to wish to be a philosopher. A man cannot have the energy to produce good art without having the energy to wish to pass beyond it. A small artist is content with art; a great artist is content with nothing except everything. So we find that when real forces, good or bad, like Kipling and G. B. S., enter our arena, they bring with them not only startling and arresting art, but very startling and arresting dogmas. And they care even more, and desire us to care even more, about their startling and arresting dogmas than about their startling and arresting art. – Chesterton, Heretics
[Music:] …our utopia calling to itself… – Bloch
Since Mahler is, as any composer must be who makes the symphony his chief objective, a musical philosopher,… – Harold Truscott, in The Symphony 2, ed. R. Simpson
ART AS WORLD-MAKING
The essential nature of art will be found neither in the production of objects to satisfy practical needs, nor in the expression of religious or philosophical ideas, but in its capacity to create a synthetic and self-consistent world…a mode, therefore, of envisaging the individual’s perception of some aspect of truth. In all its essential activities, art is trying to tell us something, something about the universe, something about nature, about man, or about the artist himself. – Herbert Read, Art and Society
ART AND IMAGINATION
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter – Keats
ART AND SCIENCE
Art, literature and music create order. Science searches for order that already exists. – Anon.
All science touches on art, all art has its scientific side. The worst scientist is he who is not an artist; the worst artist is he who is not a scientist. – Armand Trousseau
Art is long, but science is fleeting;… – Chesterton, Hamlet and the Psycho-analyst
…the arts must be taken no less seriously than the sciences as modes of discovery, creation, and enlargement of knowledge in the broad sense of advancement of the understanding, and thus the philosophy of art should be conceived as an integral part of metaphysics and epistemology. – Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking, p102
…my rejection of the usual contrasting of the scientific-objective-cognitive with the artistic-subjective-emotive depends as much on the artificiality of fact as on the factuality of aesthetic rightness, and as much on the variety and dynamics of worldmaking and the pervasive role of the worldmaker as upon the difference of right from wrong in the arts. I do not deny that our experience of art is highly variable but rather insist that so also is our experience of everything else. I do not hold that there are “autonomous aesthetic objects” but rather deny that there are any “autonomous objects” at all. I do not suppose that judgments of art can be established by proof from observational premisses certified by confrontation with a fixed and found world, but neither do I suppose that any other judgments can be so established.
+++++Standards of rightness in science do not rest on uniformity and constancy of particular judgments. Inductive validity, fairness of sample, relevance of categorization, all of them essential elements in judging the correctness of observations and theories, do depend upon conformity with practice – but a tenuous conformity hard won by give-and-take adjustment involving extensive revision of both observations and theories. Standards of rightness in the arts are likewise arrived at, tentatively and imperfectly, by a codification founded upon but also amending a ragged practice. Our ways of seeing may test and be tested against a way shown in a painting.
+++++…What I want to emphasize is that pleasure or even ecstasy alone, without insight or inquiry, without recognition of significant distinctions and relationships, without effect on the way we see and understand a world including the object itself, can hardly be considered aesthetic. …
+++++Emotions and feelings are…required for aesthetic experience; but they are not separable from or in addition to the cognitive aspect of that experience. They are among the primary means of making the discriminations and the connections that enter into an understanding of art. Emotion and feeling, I must repeat once more, function cognitively in aesthetic and in much other experience. We do not discern stylistic affinities and differences, for example, by “rational analysis” but by sensations, perceptions, feelings, emotions, sharpened in practice like the eye of a gemologist or the fingers of an inspector of machined parts. Far from wanting to desensitize aesthetic experience, I want to sensitize cognition. In art – and I think in science too – emotion and cognition are interdependent: feeling without understanding is blind, and understanding without feeling is empty. – Nelson Goodman, reply to Ackerman, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 39/3, 1981, p273-80
“Art aspires to beauty; science, to truth. Art is creative; science, descriptive. Art appeals to emotion; science, to reason.” Convenient cliches segregate the arts from the sciences, expressing the widespread conviction that each would be contaminated through association with the other. Philosophy long sustained popular opinion, demarcating purportedly impenetrable boundaries between domains. But border crossings were common; and neither art nor science suffered for them.
+++++Only philosophy suffered. Strangled by its own strictures, it could not explain the interanimation of aesthetic and scientific concerns. Moreover, the domestic affairs of a discipline are inextricably tied to its foreign relations. So philosophy’s failure filtered inward, spreading confusion throughout aesthetics and the philosophy of science. – Catherine Z. Elgin and Nelson Goodman, Changing the Subject, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 46, 1987
…science scorns vague, ambiguous, and imprecise symbols; art welcomes them. In science, symbols normally refer singly and directly; in art, reference is often complex, multiple, and indirect. Scientific symbols are fairly attenuated; aesthetic ones, relatively replete. Science thus seeks nearly invisible windows through which its objects can be clearly discerned. Art tends to focus on symbols themselves. This is no accident. A discipline’s aspirations and objectives shape and are shaped by the symbols it employs.
+++++Nevertheless, science is not completely alien to art. For syntactic and semantic categories cross disciplinary lines. Syntactic density is common to scientific and artistic drawings; syntactic differentiation, to scientific and literary discourse. Proofs as well as poems literally exemplify their forms and may metaphorically exemplify properties like elegance, economy, and power. In science and literature, metaphor bridges gaps, forging connections between remote realms. – Catherine Z. Elgin and Nelson Goodman, Changing the Subject, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 46, 1987
Science is what we understand well enough to explain to a computer. Art is
everything else we do. …
+++++Science advances whenever an Art becomes a Science. And the state of the Art advances too, because people always leap into new territory once they have understood more about the old. – Donald Knuth, in Foreword to A=B, by Petkovsek, Wilf and Zeilberger, 1995
Art is the complement of science. Science as I have said is concerned wholly with relations, not with individuals. Art, on the other hand, is not only the disclosure of the individuality of the artist but also a manifestation of individuality as creative of the future, in an unprecedented response to conditions as they were in the past. Some artists in their vision of what might be but is not, have been conscious rebels. But conscious protest and revolt is not the form which the labor of the artist in creation of the future must necessarily take. Discontent with things as they are is normally the expression of the vision of what may be and is not, art in being the manifestation of individuality is this prophetic vision. – Dewey, Time and Individuality
…the task is, not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what no one has yet thought about that which everybody sees. – Schrödinger
…those parts of the work of art which he could not in some sort have invented for himself will pass by him unseen. “How much, as one grows older, one finds in so-and-so,” people say, “that one never saw before!” Yes, and how much one has not even seen! For one never sees anything in anybody’s work but what one brings to it, and it is as true of art as of nature that
“we receive but what we give,
And in our life alone doth Nature live,
Ours is her wedding-garment, ours her shroud.”
– Collingwood, Speculum Mentis, p68
We see because we have found a path; we do not find a path because we can see. – Simon May, The Pocket Philosopher
A way of seeing is always a way of not seeing. – Kenneth Burke, Permanence and Change
When he is confronted with the great Masters, an artist learns to think. But when he confronts Nature, he learns to see. – Cezanne
The metaphor is much more subtle than its inventor, and so are many things. Everything has its depths. He who has eyes sees all in everything. – Lichtenberg
…the artist as such does not first determine the facts and then convert them into art. The raw material out of which he selects and adapts what will serve his purpose is an imaginative, not a factual, raw material. We say that the artist holds up the mirror to nature, or that he transcribes what he has seen in real life; but this is mere error if it means that the artist bases his work on the ascertaining and remembering of historical facts. The real life or the nature to which he holds up his mirror is not the world of science or history, but the world as imaginatively apprehended, the world of imagination. Everybody knows that there is one frame of mind in which one regards an object scientifically, and another in which one regards it aesthetically; the pathologist is as blind to the beauty of the stained section which he is examining as the landscape-painter to the optical conditions of the sunset; and we pass over from one of these attitudes to the other by a deliberate and familiar act of will. But the aesthetic and the scientific attitudes are not merely different attitudes toward the same object, namely a sunset. The object is different. The scientist “sees” in the sunset a concrete embodiment of certain scientific laws; the artist “sees” in it a harmonious pattern of colours. The very word “see” is ambiguous; with the scientist it means primarily to think, with the artist primarily to imagine, and the world of imagination which is the object confronting the artist’s mind when he looks at a sunset is not present to the scientist’s mind at all. Indeed, the scientist as such is committed to the denial of its existence; for beauty is the secret of the universe or nothing, and for the scientist it is certainly not the secret of the universe.
+++++Thus the artist’s world is not a world of facts or laws, it is a world of imaginations. He is all made of fantasy, and the world in which he is interested is a world made of the stuff of dreams. For him, from his point of view, these dreams are neither real nor unreal; that is a distinction of which he knows nothing. They are simply dreamt. The artist as such does not know what the word reality means: that is to say, he does not perform that act which we call assertion or judgement. His apparent statements are not statements, for they state nothing; they are not expressions, for they express no thought. They do not express his imaginations, for they are his imaginations. What he imagines is simply those fantasies which compose the work of art. – Collingwood, Speculum Mentis, III 1, p62-3
…The picture, as it is, is good enough for the age and for the public. If it had been ten times better, its merits would have been thrown away: if it had been ten times better in the more refined and lofty conception of character and sentiment, and had failed in the more palpable appeal to the senses and prejudices of the vulgar…it would never have done. The work might have been praised by a few, very few, and the artist himself have pined in penury and neglect. – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, On the Qualification Necessary to Success in Life
The sun may shine, or a galaxy of suns; you will get no more light than your eye will hold. What can Plato or Newton teach, if you are deaf or incapable? A mind does not receive truth as a chest receives jewels that are put into it, but as the stomach takes up food into the system. It is no longer food, but flesh, and is assimilated. The appetite and the power of digestion measure our right to knowledge. He has it who can use it. – Emerson, Natural History of Intellect
To the idle blockhead Nature is poor, sterile, inhospitable. To the gardener her loam is all strawberries, pears, pineapples. – Emerson, Natural History of Intellect
But not only is there a partial and variable mystery thus caused by clouds and vapours throughout great spaces of landscape; there is a continual mystery caused throughout all spaces, caused by the absolute infinity of things. WE NEVER SEE ANYTHING CLEARLY. …What we call seeing a thing clearly, is only seeing enough of it to make out what it is… – Ruskin, Modern Painters, IV, Part V, ch.iv
When we say of a new thing that it “has style,” we mean that it is done as we have seen things done before. Bunyan, De Foe, or Charles Lamb were to their contemporaries men without style. The English, to this day, complain of Emerson that he has no style.
+++++If a man writes as he talks, he will be thought to have no style, until people get used to him, for literature means what has been written. As soon as a writer is established, his manner of writing is adopted by the literary conscience of the times, and you may follow him and still have “style.” You may to-day imitate George Meredith, and people, without knowing exactly why they do it, will concede you “style.” Style means tradition. – JJ Chapman, Robert Louis Stevenson
A really great and original writer is like nobody but himself. In one sense, Sterne was not a wit, nor Shakespear a poet. It is easy to describe second-rate talents, because they fall into a class and enlist under a standard: but first-rate powers defy calculation or comparison, and can be defined only by themselves. They are sui generis, and make the class to which they belong. I have tried half-a-dozen times to describe Burke’s style without ever succeeding: its severe extravagance, its literal boldness, its matter-of-fact hyperboles, its running away with a subject and from it at the same time; but there is no making it out, for there is no example of the same thing any where else. We have no common measure to refer to; and his qualities contradict even themselves. – Hazlitt, The Spirit of the Age, Mr Cobbett
What was to be done in the world in Shakespeare’s way Shakespeare has for the most part done. – Lichtenberg
One might almost establish the axiom that there is no such thing as subject. Style in itself being an absolute manner of seeing things. – Flaubert
Not so much matter what as how men do and speak. …Style not matter gives immortality. – Emerson, journals, 1823
A man’s style is his mind’s voice. Wooden minds have wooden voices. Truth is shrill as a fife, various as a panharmonicon. – Emerson, journals, 1832
The abstract thinker differs from the concrete thinker in his choice of terms; the analytical from the synthetic; the ratiocinative from the intuitive; the logical from the imaginative; the scientific from the poetical. One man thinks in images, another in formal propositions. One is diffuse, and gets his thought out by reiterated statement. Another makes epigrams, and finds some difficulty in expanding their sense or throwing light upon them by illustrations. One arrives at conclusions by the way of argument. Another clothes assertion with the tropes and metaphors of rhetoric.
+++++…The sedentary student does not use the same figures of speech as come naturally to the muscular and active lover of field sports. According as the sense for colour, or for sound, or for light, or for form shall preponderate in a writer’s constitution, his language will abound in references to the world, viewed under conditions of colour, sound, light, or form. He will insensibly dwell upon those aspects of things which stimulate his sensibility and haunt his memory. …
+++++…A man’s vocabulary marks him out as of this sort or that sort – his preference for certain syntactical forms, for short sentences or for periods, for direct or inverted propositions, for plain or figurative statement, for brief or amplified illustrations. Some compose sentences, but do not build paragraphs – like Emerson; some write chapters, but cannot construct a book. – JA Symonds, Personal Style
PAINTING, n. The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary
PICTURE, n. A representation in two dimensions of something wearisome in three. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary
You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally. That’s the way all the experts do it. – Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, p318
In writing, you have to contend with the world; in painting, you have only to carry on a friendly strife with Nature. You sit down to your task, and are happy. From the moment that you take up the pencil, and look Nature in the face, you are at peace with your own heart. – Hazlitt, Table Talks, On the Pleasure of Painting
How strongly I have felt of pictures, that when you have seen one well, you must take your leave of it; you shall never see it again. – Emerson, Experience
All colours are the friends of their neighbours and the lovers of their opposites. – Chagall
It is no valid accusation against a poet that the sentiment he expresses is commonplace. Poetry is always commonplace; it is vulgar in the noblest sense of that noble word. Unless a man can make the same kind of ringing appeal to absolute and admitted sentiments that is made by a popular orator, he has lost touch with emotional literature. Unless he is to some extent a demagogue, he cannot be a poet. A man who expresses in poetry new and strange and undiscovered emotions is not a poet; he is a brain specialist. Tennyson can never be discredited before any tribunal of criticism because the sentiments and thoughts to which he dedicates himself are those sentiments and thoughts which occur to anyone. These are the peculiar province of poetry; poetry, like religion, is always a democratic thing, even if it pretends the contrary. The faults of Tennyson, so far as they existed, were not half so much in the common character of his sentiments as in the arrogant perfection of his workmanship. He was not by any means so wrong in his faults as he was in his perfections. – Chesterton, Varied Types, Tennyson
The English Bible…with its archaic homeliness and majesty, sets the mind brooding, not less than the old ballad most redolent of the native past and the native imagination; it fills the memory with solemn and pungent phrases; and this incidental spirit of poetry in which it comes to be clothed is a self-revelation perhaps more pertinent and welcome to the people than the alien revelations it professes to transmit. – Santayana, Character and Opinion in the US
In the innermost part of all poetry is the nursery rhyme, the nonsense that is too happy even to care about being nonsensical. – Chesterton, The Romance of Rhyme
Our poets are things of shreds and patches; they give us episodes and studies, a sketch of this curiosity, a glimpse of that romance; they have no total vision, no grasp of the whole reality, and consequently no capacity for a sane and steady idealization. The comparatively barbarous ages had a poetry of the ideal; they had visions of beauty, order, and perfection. This age of material elaboration has no sense for those things. Its fancy is retrospective, whimsical, and flickering; its ideals, when it has any, are negative and partial; its moral strength is a blind and miscellaneous vehemence. Its poetry, in a word, is the poetry of barbarism.
+++++This poetry should be viewed in relation to the general moral crisis and imaginative disintegration of which it gives a verbal echo; then we shall avoid the injustice of passing it over as insignificant, no less than the imbecility of hailing it as essentially glorious and successful. We must remember that the imagination of our race has been subject to a double discipline. It has been formed partly the school of classic literature and piety, partly in the school of Christian piety. This duality of inspiration, this contradiction between the two accepted methods of rationalizing the world, has been a chief source of that incoherence, that romantic indistinctness and imperfection, which largely characterize the products of the modem arts. A man cannot serve two masters; yet the conditions have not been such as to allow him wholly to despise the one or wholly to obey the other. – Santayana, The Poetry of Barbarism, in Interpretations of Poetry and Religion
…religion and poetry are identical in essence, and differ merely in the way in which they are attached to practical affairs. Poetry is called religion when it intervenes in life, and religion, when it merely supervenes upon life, is seen to be nothing but poetry.
+++++It would naturally follow from this conception that religious doctrines would do well to withdraw their pretension to be dealing with matters of fact. That pretension is not only the source of the conflicts of religion with science and of the vain and bitter controversies of sects; it is also the cause of the impurity and incoherence of religion in the soul, when it seeks its sanctions in the sphere of reality, and forgets that its proper concern is to express the ideal. For the dignity of religion, like that of poetry and of every moral ideal, lies precisely in its ideal adequacy, in its fit rendering of the meanings and values of life, in its anticipation of perfection; so that the excellence of religion is due to an idealization of experience which, while making religion noble if treated as poetry, makes it necessarily false if treated as science. Its function is rather to draw from reality materials for an image of that ideal to which reality ought to conform, and to make us citizens, by anticipation, in the world we crave. – Santayana, Interpretations of Poetry and Religion, Preface
In one’s prose reflections one may be legitimately occupied with ideals, whereas in the writing of verse one can only deal with actuality. – TS Eliot
[Poesy] was ever thought to have some participation of divineness, because it doth raise and erect the mind, by submitting the shows of things to the desires of the mind; whereas reason doth buckle and bow the mind into the nature of things. – Bacon
(FO Matthiessen calls this an “over-simplified debasement of Aristotle…poetry as escape”, unlike tragedy)
…poetry and song, our parliaments for discussing the heart’s essentials. – AC Grayling, The Meaning of Things, Love
In every man’s heart there is a revolution; how much more in every poet’s? – Chesterton, Varied Types, Tennyson
POETRY, n. A form of expression peculiar to the Land beyond the Magazines. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary
…music is a means of giving form to our inner feelings without attaching them to events or objects in the world. Music is articulate, but articulate in a language which avoids, or at least veils the articulation of the world we live in; it is, therefore, the chosen art of a mind to whom the world is still foreign. If this seems in one way an incapacity, it is also a privilege. Not to be at home in the world, to prize it chiefly for echoes which it may have in the soul, to have a soul that can give forth echoes, or that can generate internal dramas of sound out of its own resources – may this not be a more enviable endowment than that of a mind all surface, a sensitive plate only able to photograph this not too beautiful earth? In any case, for better or for worse, inward sensibility, unabsorbed in worldly affairs, exists in some people; a life, as it were, still in the womb and not yet in contact with the air. But let these inspired musicians, masters in their own infinite realms, beware of the touch of matter. Let them not compose a system of the universe out of their Gemüth, as they might a symphony. Let them not raise their baton in the face of the stars or of the nations, and think to lead them like an orchestra. – Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy, German Genius, p161
Just as some people are naturally enthralled and refreshed by music, so others are by landscape. Music and landscape make up the spiritual resources of those who cannot or dare not express their unfulfilled ideals in words. Serious poetry, profound religion (Calvinism, for instance), are the joys of an unhappiness that confesses itself; but when a genteel tradition forbids people to confess that they are unhappy, serious poetry and profound religion are closed to them by that; and since human life, in its depths, cannot then express itself openly, imagination is driven for comfort into abstract arts, where human circumstances are lost sight of, and human problems dissolve in a purer medium. The pressure of care is thus relieved, without its quietus being found in intelligence. To understand oneself is the classic form of consolation; to elude oneself is the romantic. In the presence of music or landscape human experience eludes itself; and thus romanticism is the bond between transcendental and naturalistic sentiment. The winds and clouds come to minister to the solitary ego. – Santayana, Winds of Doctrine, p197-200 (?)
Beethoven’s real teaching, then, was not to preserve the old forms, still less to follow in his early steps. We must throw wide the windows to the open sky; they seem to me to have only just escaped being closed forever. – Debussy
I have no sympathy with the composer who produces works according to pre-conceived formulas or theories. Or with the composer who writes in a certain style because it is the fashion to do so. Great music has never been produced in that way – and I dare say it never will.
+++++…I say again and again that music must first and foremost be loved; it must come from the heart and must be directed to the heart. Otherwise, it cannot hope to be lasting, indestructible art.
+++++…it is my own pet belief that, if you have something important to say, you don’t need a new language in which to say it. The old language is sufficiently rich and resourceful. The young composers make the mistake of believing that you achieve originality through technique. Actually, the only originality worth achieving is that which comes from substance. A composer can use all the accepted tools of composition and produce a work far different in style and subject matter from any ever produced, because he has put into music his own personality and experiences. – Rachmaninov
A musicologist is a man who can read music but cannot hear it. – Sir Thomas Beecham
The attraction of the virtuoso for the public is very like that of the circus for the crowd. There is always a hope that something dangerous may happen. – Debussy, M. Croche the Dilettante-Hater
Virtuoso instrumentalists not only play music which is technically inaccessible to the amateur, but also give people the same sort of pleasure which they gain from seeing a great athlete or juggler in action. This may not be directly connected with the appreciation of music itself; but it does underline the physicality of musical performance. – Storr, Music and The Mind, p31-2
This music seems perfect to me. It approaches lightly, supplely, politely. It is pleasant, it does not sweat. “What is good is light; whatever is divine moves on tender feet”: first principle of my aesthetics. – Nietzsche, The Case of Wagner, On Bizet’s Carmen
Classical music is about form. – Richard Gill [no!]
The startling effects which many credit to the natural genius of the composer, are often achieved with the greatest ease by the use and resolution of the diminished seventh chord. – Beethoven
Even the most insensitive ear detects the shabbiness and exhaustion of the diminished seventh chord and certain chromatic modulatory tones in the salon music of the 19th century. For the technically trained ear, such vague discomfort is transformed into a prohibitive canon. – Adorno, Philosophy of Modern Music
For Adorno, tonal implications in a piece of modern music sound as false as would atonal chords in Haydn. …Adorno has confused two kinds of “falsehood”: the wrong note, and the wrong sentiment. – Roger Scruton, Aesthetics of Music, p288
Schoenberg and Adorno are right to say that there are musical cliches. But can a chord be one of them?…
+++++Suppose that an art critic were to say of a certain shade of red…that it had “become banal”, Would we understand him?…The idea of a colour that is banal in itself, and without reference to a context, is surely mysterious. …The same goes for a chord. – Roger Scruton, Aesthetics of Music, p290-2
By overlooking everything except unity, abstractly described, Schoenberg makes the task of replacing tonality seem far easier than it is. – Roger Scruton, Aesthetics of Music, p286
Once while walking over Waterloo Bridge, in London, with stout-hearted Teichmann, we conversed of the ingredients that associate to make a chessplayer. I ventured a remark that, if he would name one indispensable ingredient, I would name an able player wholly destitute of it. And Richard very tolerantly said, “Have you given any thought to ‘vanity’?” – WE Napier, Napier’s Amenities and Background of Chess-Play
The real psychological opponent of every player is himself.
– C.J.S. Purdy, Psychology in Chess, Chess World, Nov 1957
Alexander Alekhine…said with regard to his victory over Capablanca at Buenos Aires: “Psychology is the most important factor in chess. My success was due solely to my superiority in the sense of psychology. Capablanca played almost entirely by a marvellous gift of intuition, but he lacked the psychological sense.”
+++++From the commencement of the game, the champion continued, a player must know his opponent. “Then the game becomes a question of nerves, personality and vanity. Vanity plays a great part in deciding the result of a game.” – British Chess Magazine, Jan 1929, p19
In the laboratory, the gambits all test unfavourably, but the old rule wears well, that all gambits are sound over the board. – WE Napier, Napier’s Amenities and Background of Chess-Play
John McCutcheon, of Pittsburgh and undying fame for his research in the French Defense, often said about opening moves, “Not new, but old enough to be new.” – WE Napier, Napier’s Amenities and Background of Chess-Play
It is not enough to be a good player; one must also play well. – Tarrasch
The form of a game of chess and even that of the Talmud and the old scholastic philosophy are good, but the matter is not of much use. One exercises one’s powers, but what one learns in doing so has no value. – Lichtenberg
CRITICS and CRITICISM
Of the faults of Scott as an artist it is not very necessary to speak, for faults are generally and easily pointed out, while there is yet no adequate valuation of the varieties and contrasts of virtue. We have compiled a complete botanical classification of the weeds in the poetical garden, but the flowers still flourish, neglected and nameless. – Chesterton, Varied Types, The Position of Sir Walter Scott
…true criticism means an attempt to find out what something is, not for the purpose of judging it, or of imitating it, nor for the purpose of illustrating something else, nor for any other ulterior purpose whatever.
+++++The so-called canons of criticism are of about as much service to a student of literature as the Nicene Creed and the Lord’s Prayer are to the student of church history. They are a part of his subject, of course, but if he insists upon using them as a tape measure and a divining-rod he will produce a judgment of no possible value to any one, and interesting only as a record of a most complex state of mind. – JJ Chapman, Walt Whitman
The supreme business of criticism is to discover that part of a man’s work which is his and to ignore that part which belongs to others. Why should any critic of poetry spend time and attention on that part of a man’s work which is unpoetical? Why should any man be interested in aspects which are uninteresting? The business of a critic is to discover the importance of men and not their crimes. It is true that the Greek word critic carries with it the meaning of a judge, and up to this point of history judges have had to do with the valuation of men’s sins, and not with the valuation of their virtues. – Chesterton, Varied Types, Tennyson
CRITIC, n. A person who boasts himself hard to please because nobody tries to please him. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary
The only thing that the artist cannot see is the obvious. The only thing that the public can see is the obvious. The result is the criticism of the journalist. – Wilde, Maxims for the Use of the Overeducated
No man can be criticized but by a greater than he. Do not then read the reviews. – Emerson, journal, 26 Nov 1842
A critic is a bundle of biases held loosely together by a sense of taste. – Whitney Balliett
The critic…is as much concerned with the health of the mind as any doctor with the health of the body. To set up as a critic is to set up as a judge of values…For the arts are inevitably and quite apart from any intentions of the artist an appraisal of existence. Matthew Arnold, when he said that poetry is a criticism of life, was saying something so obvious that it is constantly overlooked. The artist is concerned with the record and perpetuation of the experiences which seem to him most worth having. …he is also the man who is most likely to have experiences of value to record. He is the point at which the growth of the mind shows itself. – IA Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism, p61
Tschaikovsky has been criticized for what has been called the intrinsic unimportance of these figurations and for their obvious and immediate appeal, just as he has been criticized for the “vulgarity” of his orchestrations. These criticisms are, of course, based on the myth that beauty and artistic worth are in some profound way connected with what is hidden and difficult, and that therefore all with is immediately pleasing and accessible must, of its very essence, be inferior. Like so many of such almost unconscious beliefs, this is rooted, of course, in the old Manichean or “Puritan” heresy, the belief that matter is of itself evil and that anything which immediately pleases the senses must be of the devil. – Martin Cooper, in Tschaikovsky, 1945, p44