Popular Science Monthly/Volume 85/September 1914/The Picture and the Text
|THE PICTURE AND THE TEXT|
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY
THE place of illustration in book-making is found to vary through a wide range of values as one reviews a series of volumes at haphazard. In some the pages are flooded with pictures, from thumb-nail sketches on the margins to full-page prints in the natural colors of the original; in others page succeeds page in unbroken letter-press, without an illustration from cover to cover. Here, too, the picture is a true illustration of the text it accompanies; there it has scarcely more relation to the contents of the page it fronts than the engraving on a drawing-room wall bears to the volumes that may lie on a table before it. The significance of the picture, as an illustration, varies as much as, let us say, the artistic merit of its execution; and its value in any individual case may lie anywhere between zero and ideal adequacy.
The reasons for such fluctuation in the employment of illustration are of course legitimate as well as illegitimate. In one case, illustration may be indispensable, in another, inadmissable; the book-maker, whether author or publisher, is guided by the nature of his subject. In general, the material dealt with must be picturable if illustration is to be practicable. Only a small part of what the mind deals with in representative thought is thus picturable, and reflection itself is but one of the many interests which life comprises. To be presented in this spatial and visible manner the subject must be both concrete and material. Not all such subject-matter, indeed, can be successfully represented; but to conform to the conditions of picture-making it must at least fulfill these requirements.
Much of our interest, both speculative and practical, falls outside this field of sensible reality. The relations and laws of things in the material world, for example, are abstractions which we formulate from the observation of a series of such individual concrete objects; and these abstractions, or generalizations, can not be represented pictorially, except figuratively, in a symbolic scheme. Such principles are aspects of the material world, though unpicturable; but there is another range of reality which does not offer itself to such treatment at all. Subjective experience has no sensible or representable content upon which to seize as the basis of an appeal to the eye. The absurdity of such a conception may be indicated by asking the shape of a thought, the color of anger, or the speed of a desire. When things belonging to this realm are written of, some other phase of the reader's understanding must be appealed to than that of visual imagination.
If the elementary content of subjective reality be unpicturable, much less can its abstract aspects be rendered in spatial forms and relations. Thus scientific and logical analysis, explanation and philosophical reflection, and the whole literature of appreciation are debarred by the nature of their subject-matter from direct appeal through illustration. Works on logic and metaphysics—proverbially hard thinking—are rendered more unrelievedly so by the pages of close-packed type which follow one another in unbroken succession from beginning to end of the book. Yet it is just in such fields as this that illustration is most needed. Discussion of concrete things is readily apprehended by the ordinary mind, for it finds little difficulty in representing its substance in imagination; but to follow a process of abstract thought for any continuous period necessitates a more sustained act of attention and a mind disciplined by reflection. To make them generally comprehensible such abstract works imperatively demand illustration; and since a pictorial commentary is out of the question exposition must proceed by an exemplification of the concept or law to which the term illustration in its wider sense is of course commonly extended.
Pure science labors under the same difficulty as logic and metaphysics. The work of reflective thought, in all its forms alike, is to extract from a multitude of vivid but confusing facts some common type or law to which they conform, and the elaboration of norms and principles in this field is found by the average mind hardly less repellant than in philosophy itself. The process is laborious; it is insecure; it is unsubstantial. Works on pure science are not read as are those on experimental science and natural history, because their abstractness makes them more difficult; and the writer, especially if he appeal to a technical class of readers, feels that his concern is primarily in making clear the theory he is developing, together with its evidence—not in illustrating each aspect of it by concrete examples.
The limits of illustration and the function it logically performs thus involve a certain contradiction. Its availability and its desirability stand in inverse relations. Where it is least needed—that is, when the concrete things of the sensible world are dealt with, it is entirely feasible to introduce it; but where it is most needed—in facilitating apprehension of abstract conceptions, its use is practically impossible. There is therefore to be expected a surfeit of pictures in the one case and a dearth, if not a complete absence, of them in the other.
Within the field where pictorial illustration offers itself as an adjunct to literary treatment the further question arises of the relation which text and picture logically bear to one another, and the specific service which illustration renders to the reader. It may be assumed that the function is thus specific, and that text and picture theoretically form parts of a single exposition. The crudest defect in illustration is a neglect of this fundamental requirement, yet it is a fault which has wide prevalence in certain forms of book-making to-day. A fixed amount of illustration per chapter, or hundred pages, is supposed to be expected by the reader, and an illustrator is engaged to furnish the required number of pictures. In the class of books where this custom prevails—for example, in light fiction—the quality of the demand for illustration falls to its lowest point. There is practically no situation the understanding of which requires visual exemplification. The story itself is commonly little more than a succession of pictures, each relatively simple and having a completely obvious relation to its neighbors. It is partly, at least, because the reader's demand is so far from exacting that such slight consideration is given to the really illustrative character of pictures in works of this class.
When the primary function of the picture has thus lapsed, the reason for its introduction is to be sought elsewhere; for value of some kind it must possess if its introduction is not to be regarded as a sheer misconception of the reader's desire. This reason is to be found, it need hardly be said, in the mere decorative function of the picture. It is a trivial motive, which also ignores a fundamental canon of esthetics, yet one which has a distinct psychological value. It neglects the requirements of esthetics, for if the making of a book be treated as a work of art, everything which appears between its covers should be instrumental to the development of the central conception for which the work stands. No picture, from this point of view, is admissible which does not help—in the strictest sense, which is not indispensable—to make the meaning clear. But if the principle of function be neglected, a multitude of pictures may be introduced in a merely illustrative, as opposed to explanatory, way. One might, for example, insert the picture of a pen or inkstand each time the article was mentioned, though an acquaintance with these things on the part of the reader is fairly to be assumed. Such illustration of course has its place wherever the objects in question are unfamiliar and the reader is liable to construct in imagination a wrong representation of them.
Further, if the principle of unity be ignored the illustrations which are introduced may be chosen in virtue of any element of desirability which they possess. Value of this kind has a wholly indefinite range. It may be merely quantitative: so many pictures to so many pages of text; no bunching of illustrations in one part of the work while another is left bare; and the like. But such rules refer only to the distribution of pictures, not to their introduction itself. If illustration be not invariably an elucidation of the text, as it clearly is not, it must satisfy some other human need, or pictures would not then be found in books. One such motive has already been mentioned: the decorative sense. The picture satisfies an elementary esthetic demand. It is introduced as the picture is placed on the wall, because it has a beauty in itself. An illustrated book is more attractive to casual inspection than one which lacks such an adjunct. One likes to look at pictures even when dissociated from sustained interest and lacking a common thread of connection. The occupation makes little demand upon mental energy and is accompanied by a sense of ease, while the vivid or novel aspects of the world which are passed in review give rise to a pleasurable state of consciousness through the mild and equitable stimulation which they afford.
The picture thus becomes in a way correlative with the text, each adding an independent element of value to the whole. Within its own field each then seeks a characteristic excellence, and a set of canons is developed in regard to the making of such illustrations. In the first place, they are enriched in their positive values as pictures. They must be well composed and correctly drawn; they must have vigor and refinement in their execution; if colored, the tones must have splendor and harmony; and so on. In the second place, as in literary art dignity in the surroundings, noble birth, beauty and virtue in the characters are invoked to deepen the impression, so in this use of book-illustration the backgrounds must be rich, the scenery beautiful, the figures of either dignified age or noble youth. The men are all handsome, according to the illustrator's individual conception of good looks, the women in a like manner beautiful; the dress worn is irreproachable in fit and of the latest pattern. All the accessories of success, luxury and style reinforce the more direct values of health, vigorous action and beauty. Or, if this special class of effects be not involved, the esthetic appeal is still to some equally general and elementary sense, such as that of romantic pity in which a certain stereotyped pathos affords the underlying motive of treatment.
The illustrations, in such a case, become a gallery of pictures by a single artist who commonly emphasizes, in a highly conventional way, a particular style of treatment or specific human type. When such an illustrator has achieved a vogue his work is likely to be sought by publishers for the meretricious excellence of these features, however poor his illustrative capacity may be.
The high degree of mechanical development which process reproduction has attained tends to foster this use of illustration. One can not imagine a book overloaded with mere diagrams which in no way help in the elucidation of the text, for such drawings have no other value which can be substituted for this primary service. So long also as the illustrator's art is crude, or the process of reproduction difficult and expensive, pictures will be introduced only where there is an evident purpose to be served, and little abuse of illustration will arise. Photographic, chromo-lithographic and other processes, however, have made possible such a high degree of success in transferring to a prepared surface of paper the features of the original in all their refinement of details and values that to look on the reproduction in a book is now comparable with looking on the scene or composition itself. The result has been a still further widening of the breach between text and illustration; and the temptation must often be great to introduce a picture because it is good in subject and admirably reproduced, though in its composition little regard has been paid to the situation which it is intended to represent. This defect is no less noticeable in the flotsam of periodical literature and the daily press than in the more elaborate composition of book-illustrations. When pictures are looked for, pictures will be forthcoming, whether appropriate or not. The waste corners of the newspaper are often filled with odds and ends of wit, humor and anecdote, in which the union of text and illustration too often suggests that the items have been thrown together and then drawn forth in pairs at haphazard.
The significance of such variations in the place of illustration, as well as the factors in their production, will perhaps be more clearly apprehended if the changes of value which the picture undergoes in individual mental development are recalled. In adult literature the text has complete meaning in itself, the picture has not; the text is made first, then the picture is composed; for the latter aims simply to present in a concrete visual image what has been set forth through verbal analysis in the text. The picture is thus completely subordinate to the text; it serves only to reinforce a feeble visual imagination in its effort to get before the mind a scene which the writer of necessity presents in fragments by successive statements.
But this is not the primitive way of conceiving the relation between these two constituents, nor is it the association which at first existed for the child. The picture, in those earliest days, was primary, the text secondary. For the adult the picture illustrates the text; for the young child the text explains the picture—it is needful only in case the picture can not be understood by itself. The text marks the imperfection of the picture, or series of pictures, in telling a story, and is added to supplement its deficiencies.
Pictures have a meaning for the child long before he begins to read or understand printed words. From babyhood they form part of his perennial delights, and are among the most treasured of his sources of pleasure. They have splendor of color and never-failing variety of forms; they represent objects of enduring interest, whether familiar or novel; they are full of action or suggestive of manifold and significant relationships; they tell, singly or in series, stories vivid and direct in their appeal, which are made scarcely the less alluring by their partial incomprehensibility.
The appreciation of pictures is a part of the child's introduction to language and representative thought. They have something of the controllability of images and, except for motion, the vividness and naturalness of real objects. Through them the absent world is brought back, each picture affording the point of departure for a supplementary imaginative process which grows richer and richer as the years pass. Pictures thus form a natural mode of transition from the intuition of the world to its representation in thought by means of the conventional symbols of written language.
In primitive peoples as well as in the life of the child the line of development is through pictorial representation of reality to its description in analytic terms by means of verbal symbols. The evolution of language is marked by an increasing importance in the rôle played by the explanatory text and a corresponding decline in the use made of pictures. In the stages of barbaric culture picture and text are habitually associated. Vast series of figures, on temple wall and tomb and tablet, represent the scenes and events to be recorded, while beneath or at the side is put the running commentary of lettering or other text—the text itself commonly a modified picture-series, as in hieroglyphs and ideographs. Among civilized peoples the picture drops back to a purely accessory position. The text is now completely intelligible by itself—at least it aims to be so; while the introduction of pictures either marks a sense of insufficiency in the verbal medium or reflects purely an appeal to esthetic values.
The child, if not the barbarian, apprehends and employs pictures in a way different from the adult, as regards their relation both to the text and to other pictures. This difference marks a characteristic distinction between the two mental types; for the individual's conception of illustration and its function reflects from year to year the nature and development of the mind. At any moment the child will be interested in those pictures which appeal to the needs and impulses then dominant, and at each successive stage of his history only such as conform to the conditions and limitations of his mind will be intelligible. If a picture exhibit the complex relations of many component figures it will not be appreciated by a mind incapable of apprehending the synthetic unity of a complex group or multitude; and if it represent a single phase in such a connected system of actions or events as can be presented only in a series of pictures, it can not be apprehended by a mind that lacks the capacity to seize their unity in a dramatic concept and thus in imagination to construe the successive elements as a single action.
For such a mind the complex composition will exist only as a multitude of separate figures, among which indeed the mind may wander renewing its delight as each attracts attention, but which receive no added significance through their synthesis as members of a common system. The various pictures which represent the successive phases of a dramatic action will likewise be apprehended only in isolation from one another, each being treated as a story or situation in itself or, if the mind be elementary enough, as a mere collection of individual figures and objects.
The way one expresses himself in pictures or writing, and the way one interprets illustration or text, thus reflects the level of organization which the mind itself has reached. The single figure, the composition, the pictorial series and the textual description mark successive stages in the evolution of representative functions in the individual human mind. The child passes through each of these stages in turn as he advances toward maturity in synthetic thought, and a customary dependence upon any given type fixes the developmental level which has then been reached.
The aim of education in this regard is to develop in the individual a capacity to represent experience and to express thought adequately through a system of analytic and verbal symbols. It seeks also an ability to translate these symbols fluently into terms of significant thought when they are thus employed by others and to create imaginatively the forms of original experience which they are designed to describe. It marks an arrest of development in the mind not to be thus a master of words, whether in their use or their understanding. To need pictures in order to make the thought plain means either that the writer has not mastered his craft thoroughly and does not know how to use his tools, or that the reader's mind is immature or has momentarily lapsed from the habits which characterize maturity.
The child's love of pictures obviously persists in adult life; it is eradicated in few, if any, natures and to their distinct loss. We, as well as they, on taking up a book, often look first to see the pictures, and turn to the text only when the illustrations have been explored. The pictures are a mental appetizer which whets our appetite to a keener edge as we approach the solid courses of the printed page. How often, too, when we are tired or disinclined for strenuous mental effort, do we explore the pictures of an illustrated book or magazine, which can be understood and enjoyed without exertion! It is not only at such moments of intellectual idling, however, that we thus turn to pictures in connection with our reading. How often, when a point of difficulty arises do we long for a pictorial representation which would make all plain to us, as by a flash of lightning the dark landscape is revealed at night! How gratefully do we turn to a satisfactory illustration and find there the realization of our own conception which the artist has made still more rich and splendid by his craft! And when the subject matter is such as to put our logical reflection under severe or continuous strain, how constantly do we have recourse to the device of tabulating or schematizing the substance of discussion in some spatial way that shall present it concretely and visibly!
Illustration has thus a distinct and important place in literature. The use of pictures is twofold—they serve understanding and they increase enjoyment. In the latter case, however, they are not, in the proper sense, part of the discussion which they accompany, but form an independent source of value. Their service to the understanding is also twofold—they make clear to us relations too complex to be successfully conveyed by words, or conveyable only at inordinate length. Of this class of pictures the spatial diagram is typical. Their second function is to bring before us a scene whose splendor and richness can not be successfully represented in imagination. The latter bears to material content the relation which explanatory diagrams sustain to formal synthesis. Pictures of buildings and natural scenery, of the human figure and organic forms at large, indeed all concrete objects which are either unfamiliar or present subtle complications and gradations of quality, fall within this category.
While pictures have their own distinct place in literature, they can not be substituted for the textual description in any degree without affecting the place of the whole composition in the evolutionary scale. Language sets as its ideal the development of an adequate system of symbols for the representation of experience. The spoken sentence has fulfilled its function only when, through its own elements and syntactical form alone, it has adequately expressed the content of meaning intended by him who utters it. Writing is a transliteration of speech, and merely substitutes another medium in its performance of the same ideal office. Each in its own field aims at the development of a pure system of symbols, that is, a system which without accessories is capable of indicating the whole range of distinctions with which thought is concerned. Among civilized peoples both speech and writing approach adequacy in this regard, but in so far as pantomime persists in the one case, or illustration is relied on in the other, it marks a deficiency in the medium. In its ideal form language should no more depend upon gestures and pictures than upon the presence of the original objects and relations themselves which it seeks to represent through conceptual forms.
One has mastered the uses of language only when he is able to make a continuous translation of experience into its symbols and, with a similar facility, to interpret these signs in terms of their ideal meanings. In writing, then, such mastery is attained when adequacy in the expression of thought has been secured without any recourse to pictures, diagrams, models or objects. It is part of the mental training at which a cultivation of language aims to render the mind so far as possible independent of pictorial or other concrete ways of presenting the materials with which discourse deals. Like the use of the abacus in numbering, these aids may be indispensable in certain forms and at particular stages of development, but they must be superseded if any high degree of attainment is to be secured
Language will doubtless always fall short of this ideal aim. Speech will continue to be made more picturesque as well as intelligible by gesture, and illustration will enrich while it illuminates the printed page. Nevertheless to make use of a picture where a verbal description can be given is to fall back upon a more primitive mode of representing experience, and the tendency to do so marks a degeneration either in the mental habits of those who employ such methods or on the part of the readers to whom they are addressed.
The function of the picture, in a certain large class of writings, has recently been undergoing change, and the direction of this modification seems to indicate a loss of intellectual fiber in the commonalty of readers. The present day is marked by an enormous increase in the amount of illustration which accompanies the text we read. In our books no less than in the daily press, in what is written for adults equally with what is prepared for children, in technical journals and scientific monographs as well as in popular magazines, this progressive encroachment of picture upon text is apparent. The newspaper strives for illustration in connection with all classes of news, and its staff of photographers rivals the corps of reporters in numbers and importance. Every page has its pictures, and even the gist of editorial comment is sometimes indicated by thumb-nail sketches used as paragraph-spacing.
It is probably materially true—and if so it is a significant fact—that the cheaper the journal the greater the amount of space given to pictorial matter. In such cases the aim seems often to make the story intelligible by means of pictures alone, with only secondary dependence upon the text. The appeal to pictorial representation in this way includes an immensely greater range of cases than newspaper and magazine illustration; and in this larger field its uses are of course legitimate as well as vicious. When we advertise, everything which can be represented is pictured within a frame of type or spread upon the poster, the fences and the farm-buildings. When we go abroad, our correspondence no longer takes the form of twelve-page letters, but that of a dozen picture post-cards. Our records of travel do not consist in a description of places and people or a dramatic recital of events, but in a gallery of representations of cities and buildings, of landscapes and portraits. We never describe a thing if we can procure a photograph of it; for writing an account of any occurrence—though it presents phases of the event which no picture can ever convey—is difficult and time-consuming.
Our popular magazines no longer depend upon the excellence of their literary contributions as their sole claim upon attention, but are filled with varied and mechanically admirable pictures. With the increasing dependence upon illustration the value of the text has correspondingly declined. In cheaper periodicals the contents are not uncommonly reduced to a group of departments—travel and places, the drama, celebrities, oddities, jokes—in each of which the substance is largely composed of detached pictures with minor explanatory comment. How far this demoralization has gone is indicated by the character of the text in such periodicals; for where it is not a mere commentary on the illustrations it is still commonly a scrap-work—of information, humor, anecdote, etc., with the sketch or short story as the climax of its demands upon synthetic thought.
The mere change in average length of article which, with a few striking exceptions, has steadily declined during the past generation, is suggestive of this alteration of attitude; and the rise of the short story to a dominant place in our popular magazines is probably part of the same intellectual reaction. We seem no longer to desire sustained attention and consecutive thought. As a consequence we turn from criticism, reflection upon human affairs and constructive theory to fiction, which as a class of literature presents its materials concretely and pictorially; while in fiction itself we prefer the short story, which must deal with a single dramatic action or situation, rather than the novel with its more complex plot and sustained analysis of character and motive.
Lapsing still further, we demand that our intellectual food shall be put up in the form of mouthfuls, or boluses, in notes of travel, places, events; in anecdote, verse, personalia and the like; until each page of the publication exists in practical isolation from the rest. In such connection "mental pabulum" is a misnomer. No real intellectual stimulation, enlightenment or discipline enters into the case. Mental activity is practically limited to the pleasurable sensation of the moment. Beading becomes a stimulant, not in the sense of arousing a heightened intellectual functioning, but only in its provoking a momentary excitement of the imagination; and the mental content of the reader is reduced to a series of such crudely exhilarating moments, unprovocative of subsequent reflection and without any enduring illumination of mind. One who falls into such a habit has become an intellectual drug-fiend, for the securing by artificial means of a heightened or quieted consciousness is not restricted to the use of the needle and the pipe alone. It is a matter of common experience that we turn from the editorial page and critical discussion to more trivial and inconsequential items as the mental energies flag, and for many of us the approach of exhaustion is marked by an assiduous and almost involuntary reading of the advertising columns of our daily paper. Men of intellectual force have similarly confessed to a habit of devouring shilling shockers when tired from a long bout of work, the jaded mind still craving an activity which it was unable to sustain and finding satisfaction in the violent stimulation and elementary situations which yellow-back literature offered.
The significance of certain changes in the place of illustration to which attention has already been called in the case of books and periodicals is still more strikingly exhibited in the recent history of platform speaking. The public lecture has been an important factor in the development of American culture. Before the multiplication of periodical literature and the rise of the illustrated magazine its position was supreme. Upon the system of Lyceum lecturing the intelligent public largely depended for the dissemination of general knowledge as well as for the presentation of social and political problems. It afforded an almost ideal method of developing a vigorous and independent public opinion through the stimulation of reflection and discussion. The limitations of opportunity which made the lecture course a characteristic form of entertainment in New England during the greater part of the nineteenth century had the fortunate effect of fostering an appreciation of good thinking and a demand for it in public speakers. By intellectualizing amusement it stimulated the habit of criticism, and through the inducements it offered to scholars and thinkers of the first rank it secured the spread of philosophical ideas and helped to sustain general interest in public questions.
One has only to contrast with all this the popular lecture of to-day to realize how far we have traveled from these earlier intellectual preoccupations. Leaving out of question the field of political discussion, which has had an unlike as well as independent development, and limiting consideration to matters of common interest, to general information and culture, science, art, literature and philosophy—the transformation will not only be found radical, but will be seen to follow a course parallel to that which has been traced in magazine and book-making. Dependence is no longer upon the substance of what is presented alone; in many cases it has not even chief place. In lyceum days the lecturer relied upon his own resources. Success and failure turned upon the question of his ability alone; there was no dispersion of responsibility. Except for rhetoric and wit he had no means of tricking out his wares. There was no second line of defences to fall back upon; for his discussion of art was not illustrated with music and Greek dances, nor his lecture on natural history supplemented by lantern slides and moving pictures. What the speaker had to say was all that counted, and it is only when audience and lecturer stand in this direct relation that the intellectual quality of public speaking can be sustained.
That it has not been sustained is beyond question, and its decline is closely associated with the increased use of pictures. Practically all popular lectures are now illustrated. One scarcely dares come on the platform alone or in full light; whatever one's subject, the text must be supplemented by pictures. If a human life is to be studied, not only are portraits secured, but pictures of parents, birthplace, and associates, copies of autographs and human documents of all kinds. If history is to be discussed, archives and museums are similarly ransacked for illustrative materials which are reproduced upon the screen. If countries are to be described, their physical features, cities, monuments, architecture, dress, customs and industries are pictured; and an exhibit of natives in their national garb as well as of their implements and products is not infrequently brought upon the stage.
All this, in the first place, has of course added an extraordinary richness and definition to our imaginative representation of the distant and unseen. Places and persons, forms of life and manufacturing processes are thus brought actually before our vision, if not before our senses, in their completeness. We are made familiar in advance with things which are to be seen only later in life, if at all; and our sympathetic participation in affairs at large is deepened as well as broadened. The greater world must be brought to the individual through the imagination if he is to come into contact with it at all, and pictorial representation vitalizes and reinforces this sense of understanding and community with mankind.
In more specific relations the picture-supplement facilitates our understanding, and this service has made it indispensable in bringing before the mind objects or processes whose constitution is too complex to be presented analytically, or to be reconstructed from a purely verbal description. In the lecture, just as in the book, illustration has a place not only legitimate, but important. Comprehension begins in intuition, and our sense of security in any general conception is weakened in proportion to the vagueness which marks our mental picture of its field. So long as photographs, stereopticon views and moving pictures perform this service, their use by the platform lecturer must be welcomed. Nevertheless, their function is a distinctly subordinate one—namely, the illustration of a theme which is itself still the essential preoccupation of the mind.
This relation has now significantly altered; the picture is advanced to the front rank and the theme has correspondingly fallen back. The very relation of speaker and screen in the illustrated lecture symbolizes this change. The lecturer stands in an obliterating shadow while all the energy of illumination is concentrated upon the stereopticon sheet. Even in its most elementary physical relations the focus of attention is thus shifted, and the change is significant of a profound modification in the relations of audience and lecturer. Language is an appeal to the mind, not to the eye; and its function is imperiled whenever this fact is obscured. The focusing of vision plays an important part in maintaining this intimate spiritual contact, and nothing more effectual in destroying it can well be conceived than the substitution of another point of regard so violent and alluring as the illuminated screen.
The extraordinary mechanical perfection of photography, its extension into the fields of panoramic, telescopic and micro-photography, and above all the development of motion pictures, have accelerated this adoption of a new attitude and the creation of a novel demand on the part of the audience. For one does not merely introduce a new medium in substituting pictures for discourse; the appeal is to a different side of human nature and satisfies an independent craving. Confronting facts is different from understanding them. Merely to go into the fields is not to study botany, and unless we carry that definite aim with us the stroll is much more likely to add to our dumb enjoyment than to extend our knowledge. The eye may be filled while the mind is left untouched; for it is just when sense is thus completely satisfied that reflection is most likely to lie unstirred.
The vogue of illustration, as an adjunct of public lecturing, marks such a change of habitual attitude. We go to the lecture, as to the theater, to be entertained, not to be instructed; and are so absorbed in looking that we cease to think. A swift succession of vivid impressions, resplendent in color or palpitating with motion, passes before the gaze. There is as little leisure for reflection as directive stimulation to thought. The senses are stimulated and at last jaded, as picture succeeds picture and topic replaces topic; until, breathless with the dizzying rush of scenes, we are at last tossed back, momentarily bewildered, into normal relations with the world about us.
Under such conditions the verbal commentary of the lecturer becomes a matter of secondary importance, and we accept a mediocrity of merit, or even a literal incoherence, which would never have been tolerated under the more exacting conditions of the lyceum. Indeed, if the pictures be only chosen skilfully enough the text may be rendered wholly negligible, as the kinetoscopic theater indicates by its elimination. In a word, the speaker has been replaced by the picture-machine, and a corresponding change in our conceptions of merit has accompanied the substitution. We require better and ever better pictures and promote a race for mechanical perfection. We stimulate the ingenuity of inventors to devise fresh marvels of reproduction; color is added to form, and motion to color; but still we demand more. The world is ransacked for its treasures of picturesqueness or beauty, and men's brains racked to conceive new dramas and burlesques of action. As a result these pictorial and esthetic demands finally supersede the lecturer's original function of interpretation.
This trend has perhaps been most striking where it has been least justifiable, in connection with the presentation of scientific materials. The change is at least suggested in the subordination of theoretical to experimental and demonstration methods in teaching. The aim of scientific instruction is to put the mind in possession of a system of explanatory concepts. These are necessarily abstract and can not be set forth in the form of concrete examples. There is therefore a danger that attention, detained by its purely picturesque aspects, may recall the demonstration merely as an impressive spectacle, and thus lose sight of the principles which it illustrates. The use of demonstration methods in the class-room, however, presents less subversion of aim than that of platform illustration. The lantern-slide has won a secure place in the technique of instruction, within the school system as well as beyond it, and it is only its abuses that are to be deplored. But these have not only crept into the rapidly growing extra-mural work of higher institutions, but even pervade the programs of scientific societies themselves.
With the preferences of an audience which confessedly seeks entertainment one can not well quarrel on the ground that it ought to desire instruction instead; one can only note the appearance of new predilections in the social habits of a people. But against an institution devoted to the advancement of knowledge, or the fostering of an interest in science, protest lodges whenever these aims are lost sight of or subordinated. The past decade has seen a rapidly growing tendency on the part of such societies to allow the presentation of purely illustrative materials to trespass upon the formal discussion of their common subject matter. The change is one which affects the very ideals for which these bodies stand. The science of geology, for example, has perfectly definite aims which are not attained by the photographic reproduction, however copious or admirable, of rock strata and erosion effects, of talus slopes and detritus, of shifts, faults, dykes and lava-flow—though an acquaintance with all these things is essential to the prosecution of its general undertaking. The science of geography, likewise, is no more adequately represented in the flood of charming pictures to which we have grown accustomed in periodicals and platform lectures alike than is a knowledge of the development of any people embodied in the impressions one carries away from those ingenious pageants to which—still as picture lovers—we are turning with equal enthusiasm in the field of history.
In public lecturing and the methods of instruction, as in magazine and book-making, these phenomena have a common significance. They indicate a change in the point of support on which the speaker rests, as well as in the nature of his appeal to the hearer. The new demand is not less strenuous than the old, but it is of a different kind. Instead of requiring a definite constructive activity, stimulated and directed—but never supplanted—by the mind of the speaker, it titillates the imagination with a series of agreeable shocks. The mind is not taxed but appeased; the soi-disant teacher exerts himself to anticipate the moment of flagging attention, and out of an abundant store to supply it at each turn with a novel and pleasurable stimulus. Education and discipline are not attainable by any such process. It is only by thinking that knowledge comes, and thought is a function that can neither be assumed by a deputy nor taken over by any other faculty. Instruction and entertainment, though equally essential to human life, can not be confused as specific aims without the sacrifice of their several values. Every normal individual resents the instruction that is disguised as entertainment; but the ultimate effects of a systematic pretense that entertainment is instruction are no less to be feared.