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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/70

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64
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

through the pupils, and very soon the foliage takes on a rusty hue, the esthetic charm of the creation departs and the onlooker feels a sense of depression; all because the sidelight entering the white of the eye has been cut off.[1] Such may be the physical basis of that droop in spirits which every one is apt to feel on a summer's day when a cloud suddenly obscures the sun.

Such is one indication that the universal esthetic joy of the open, as far as dependent on the color sense, is specifically subserved by the physiological reactions of the eye, reactions which would seem to impair the efficiency of the organ as a mere optical apparatus. A mechanical defect is translated by physiological intervention into a psychic triumph.

In the foregoing it has been shown that esthetic feelings may be founded directly upon anatomical and physiological peculiarities of the eye. Now I will proceed in the converse manner and attempt to account for some intuitively perceived esthetic qualities by reference to idiosyncrasies of the visual instrument. It is doubtful whether ideals of beauty can ever be embodied by the conscious mathematical synthesis of their elements as a mechanic constructs a building by laying stone on stone.

I imagine that the creation of the artist at first appears to him as an intuition, of a quality determined by his race culture, and that he uses his techniuqe to put together objective materials to represent it. But such a work is its own justification; it is accepted and graded at its face value by a general consensus of cultured opinion, according as it is fit and pleasing, irrespective of the laws of physics and physiology. If it is beautiful it may claim place as a model of taste, needing no defense. Now if beauty of whatever sort is but the outcome of certain correlations of physiological and anatomical characters, it should be possible to point out the biological substratum on which depends the excellence of any work of art.

But few works of art appeal to all men as approaching objective perfection. Possibly one such structure in architecture is represented by a ruin—the Parthenon at Athens. Many themes have been written in admiring description of this building; much has been debated the secret of its charm. With great diffidence I venture to dwell upon certain reported peculiarities of construction of the Parthenon as they appear to me related to known facts of binocular vision, and to suggest that from this interdependence springs at least part of the esthetic satisfaction aroused by the structure.

Competent observers describe one physical detail in the construction of the Parthenon which has aroused much curious comment.

  1. Sewall, "On the Physiological Effects of Light which Enters the Eye through the Sclerotic Coat," Journ. of Physiology, 1883, V., p. 132.