Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 85.djvu/159

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


I. Unaccustomed Power of Vision

OUR tastes in pictures do not by any means agree—even those of very wise critics, who ought to know the good from the bad. We might get into all sorts of difficulties with the words good and bad; but most of us look at pictures because we enjoy them, and our varying choices have some elements in common. These common factors are a sort of minimum wage which we ask in return for our attention, and our pay must be immediately convertible into pleasure.

Perhaps the requirement most nearly universal is that a picture shall look like what it is intended to represent. The popular ideal of art has always been to paint grapes so nearly like the real fruit that the birds will peck at them, and the only excuse for not responding to this widespread demand is that the artist is unskillful.

The people's doctrine has good evolutionary reason back of it. Vision was first developed in the animal by its use in recognizing objects, and recognition is still its chief function and greatest pleasure. The easier the recognition, the greater our sense of capacity; and perhaps the largest element in the enjoyment of pictures is the sense of unaccustomed capacity of vision. We notice this most easily in a portrait that is a "striking likeness;" that is, one that gives us such a sense of the person represented that we react to it more than we should to a view of the person himself, for we are not struck by the appearance of our friend. As we look at such a picture we have a visual experience keener than is our habit; our eyes have communicated to us the subject with great force and yet with ease. Though we may say that it is the artist who has been clever, the reason we believe so is that he has lent ability to our eyes. Our feeling is closely akin to the one we have in golf when with an easy swing of our club we feel the ball lifted and shot far beyond our expectation; we experience an unwonted power within ourselves, and a consequent sense of abundant life.

This portrait of "Innocent X." by Velasquez shows us a man with whom we are not acquainted; yet if we should enter the presence of this pope himself he could hardly have upon us the electrifying effect made by his portrait as we come upon it in a cabinet of the Doria Gallery in Rome. It is as though some vital fluid were poured through our veins. Admiration of the artist's ability plays no part in producing this first feeling. The forcefulness which causes our whole organism to react to