Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/205

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AESTHETICS
AESTHETICS
175

takes in the arts of oratory as well, though mere eloquence, because of its eminently practical character, is generally omitted. Originally, æsthetics was chiefly occupied with poetry, the laws of which are the most easily explained. With poetry the ancillary arts of rhythm and acting are inseparably connected. If vocal music be added to these, we have all those which are the direct, though transient, outcome of voice and gesture. Man, however, soon progresses to the use of musical instruments and gives his artistic productions a permanent existence by means of written notes or marks. The constructive arts, on the other hand, always make use of extraneous material, such as colour, wood, stone, or metal, with results that are not at the same time complete and visible. The graphic and textile arts are grouped with that of painting; with sculpture, ceramics, relief-work, and every kind of engraving; the lesser decorative arts with painting and architecture. The æsthetics of the individual arts does not bear the abstract impress of æsthetics in general; for although it everywhere seeks out the deeper-lying principles of æsthetic satisfaction, it often invades the domain of art-history in search of illustration, in order to prove the laws of art by means of characteristic types.

Systems and Methods.—This peculiar method of dealing with the subject ensures to Æsthetics the position of an independent and valuable science. For this reason various methods and systems have grown up in it, as in art itself, which lay stress on one aspect rather than on another. Idealism loves great subjects, a lofty conception, monumental execution; it looks to find the divine and the spiritual in all things, be it only allegorically and symbolically. It treats æsthetics from above, and guards most effectually against the debasement of art, but is exposed (as was Platonism in philosophy) to the risk of losing itself in abstraction and, moreover, of not giving due importance to the form of art. With æsthetic formalism, on the contrary, this is the most important matter; it does not ask What, but How; it does not look at the content, but at the form which the artist gives it. It defines what forms are "pleasing" in the absolute sense; that is, combine to make up the image of beauty. When, moreover, it goes beyond experience, and confirms the verdict of the senses by that of the mind, it draws, with perfect justice, the characteristic distinction between artistic conception and scientific treatment. Form, however, without content would be empty; it should be rather, as it were, the blossoming of the idea, and a great subject, unless, indeed, it surpass the powers of the artist, gives his genius an impulse towards the highest possible expression. Realism brings into prominence only the truth and palpable actuality of this content. It sets art on a sure foundation and opens the treasures of the visible world of matter. It brings art into living relationship with life and nature, with national characteristics and current ideas, and leads it, through the favouring influence of artistic industries, into the home life of the people. This system, however, does not always safeguard the true worth of the highest art, whose part it is not to imitate, but to idealize reality, to seek its materials in the world of ideas as well as in that of phenomena; which sets a greater, unchangeable truth side by side with one which is lower in this world of experience, and does not, to take one example, regard, after the coarser manner of realistic art, mere fishermen of Galilee, in working garb and with Jewish features, as true and fitting presentations of the Lord's Apostles. It may, therefore, be said with a measure of truth that the chief task of art begins precisely at the point where the truth of nature reaches its perfection. Naturalism, again, goes much further than Realism, in that it not only insists on fidelity to nature, to the point of illusion, in all arts, whether of painting, drama, romance, or other, but also suppresses as far as possible all that is spiritual or supersensuous. Relapse into merest sensuousness becomes, in such case, inevitable. Not anatomical and organic fidelity of presentation, but the nude, with its allurement, then easily becomes of chief importance, and the artistic conception sinks likewise, with regard to other things, to the level of crude naturalism and sensuous pleasure. In so far, however, as Naturalism holds aloof from this abyss, it champions the autonomy of art in order to maintain its independence of religion and morality. It thereby sets itself in open contradiction to Christianity; since all things human, even art, are subject to the eternal law. Artistic expression is indeed neither the act of a blindly toiling genius nor that of an understanding governed by its own laws, but is the act of a free, responsible will. It affects not only the sight and perception of the spectator, but also his mental disposition and his will. It is in this respect that the laws of morality apply to art as a practical calling. Likewise, as against Naturalism, a moral and religious aim in art must be recognized. "Art is its own aim" (art for art's sake), is a principle which holds true only of the immediate or inner aim (finis operis). The work must of course, above all, comply with the laws of the art in order to be a complete work of art. But it may, even so, serve other ends, such as the mental and religious betterment of mankind, and, above all, the glory of God. The systems hitherto referred to are old, and have their source in certain fundamental views of art; those which follow owe their origin rather to reflection and reaction. The names: "Classicism", "Byzantinism", "Orientalism", "Romanticism", "Archaism" and even "Renaissance" (in the ordinary sense of the word) indicate certain tendencies of art, and of æsthetics, which discern the conditions of progress in a reversion to earlier periods of art-development. Witness the æsthetic conceptions of the "Nazarenes", who laid stress on the poetic, national, and religious temper, in contradistinction to academic stiffness and classical coldness, and who, therefore, reverted to the Italian art of the fifteenth century (the Overbeck school). These ideas exercised an important influence upon the Christian art of Germany, down to the period of Steinle and the Düsseldorf school. Pre-Raphaelitism shares with the Nazarenes their predilection for the Early Renaissance, with its fresh-blossoming, freely-evolving simplicity; shares still more their distaste for a narrowing routine and a conventional uniformity. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (Rossetti, Holman Hunt, Millais), made noteworthy by Ruskin's writings on the subject; sought to give English art a greater independence, fidelity to nature, and poetic spirit, by linking it to the "primitive" painters of Italy. This tendency, which showed itself somewhat earlier than the middle of the nineteenth century, endured, under the name of Æstheticism, partly in England, and partly in America, until the end of the last century (Burne-Jones, William Morris). Its representatives sought chiefly the oldest and best forms of art, and devoted themselves, not without eccentricities, to furniture and draperies. "Individualism" seeks salvation not in history, but in denial of the historical. It is the so-called "Secession", however, which has attracted most attention. Having at first been mainly a social movement of revolt (in Munich), it has tended to eschew learning and aspired to create all things anew, with results which are sometimes original, sometimes astonishing, and occasionally ludicrous. Whether the new style sought for will develop from this, is more than doubtful; never, certainly, from the purely negative theory of the tendency, since it tends to do away with ideas, form,