Three Lectures on Aesthetic/Lecture 1

Three Lectures on Aesthetic
by Bernard Bosanquet
Lecture I: The General Nature of the Aesthetic Attitude — Contemplation and Creation


I
THE GENERAL NATURE OF THE AESTHETIC ATTITUDE — CONTEMPLATION AND CREATION.


All that I intend to attempt in these three lectures is (i.) to point out what we mean when we speak of aesthetic experience as contrasted with any other, say, with theory or practice; (ii.) to indicate what I take to be the chief grounds on which we distinguish and connect its different provinces, the beauty of nature, for example, and the whole body of fine art, and then again the several fine arts; and (iii.) finally to trace the divergence and connection of its contrasted qualities, such as receive the names of beauty and ugliness. Obviously, in so short a space, we must not attempt to be learned. We will describe and analyse our object straight away, to the best of our power. In the main, what we have to say will be quite elementary.

In this first lecture we will try to get a prima facie notion of the aesthetic attitude, confining ourselves to its pleasant and satisfactory form. Ugliness and the like raise further problems, which we shall attempt in the third lecture.

I must pause, however, just one moment before plunging into the subject. I must explain what sort of interest in Aesthetic I am presupposing in my audience. It is the interest of a branch of philosophy. It is to consider where in life the aesthetic attitude is to be found, and what is its peculiar form of value, as distinguished from other attitudes and objects in our experience. It is not to prescribe rules for the production of beauty, or for the criticism of artists’ work. And again, it is not the interest in aesthetic science, if that means a detailed explanation of the causes of pleasantness and unpleasantness in sensation and imagination. From such a science we have much to learn, and we may often borrow illustrations from the very elementary cases which are all that it can deal with. But science — the tissue of causal explanations and general laws — and philosophy, — the analysis of forms of reality and their values — are for us different things. And our aesthetic is a branch of philosophy.

A great deal indeed is said about philosophical aesthetic being deductive, arguing downwards from above, not inductively from below, and therefore pursuing an obsolete and metaphysical method. I confess that all this talk about method in philosophy seems to me rather foolish and wearisome. I only know in philosophy one method; and that is to expand all the relevant facts, taken together, into ideas which approve themselves to thought as exhaustive and self-consistent.

Now to plunge into our subject. The simplest aesthetic experience is, to begin with, a pleasant feeling, or a feeling of something pleasant — when we attend to it, it begins to be the latter.

Is this all? No. The peculiar quality which makes us distinguish it by a certain set of adjectives, of which the word beautiful is the type, seems to be describable by three chief characteristics, closely connected with each other.

i. It is a stable feeling — our pleasure in the something pleasant does not of itself pass into satiety, like the pleasures of eating and drinking. We get tired, e.g. at a concert, but that is not that we have had too much of the music; it is that our body and mind strike work. The aesthetic want is not a perishable want, which ceases in proportion as it is gratified.

ii. It is a relevant feeling — I mean it is attached, annexed, to the quality of some object — to all its detail — I would say “relative” if the word were not so ambiguous. One might say it is a special feeling, or a concrete feeling. I may be pleased for all sorts of reasons when I see or hear something, e.g. when I hear the dinner-bell, but that is not an aesthetic experience unless my feeling of pleasure is relevant, attached to the actual sound as I hear it. My feeling in its special quality is evoked by the special quality of the something of which it is the feeling, and in fact is one with it.[1]

iii. It is a common feeling. You can appeal to others to share it; and its value is not diminished by being shared. If it is ever true that “there is no use disputing about tastes,” this is certainly quite false of aesthetic pleasures. Nothing is more discussed; and nothing repays discussion better. There is nothing in which education is more necessary, or tells more. To like and dislike rightly is the goal of all culture worth the name.

Now it is implied in these three properties — Permanence, Relevance, Community — that the aesthetic attitude has an object. The feeling, we said, is a feeling of something. It is not, for instance, like the pleasantness of the general feeling of health, dependent on a general increased vitality. This probably contains aesthetic elements in it, or makes us sensitive to favourable aesthetic conditions; but in the main it is much more general and less relevant. The aesthetic attitude is that in which we have a feeling which is so embodied in an object that it will stand still to be looked at, and, in principle, to be looked at by everybody.

This again brings with it two new points about the aesthetic experience. The mind’s attitude in it is “contemplative,” and its feeling is “organised,” becomes “plastic,” “embodied,” or “incarnate.” We might express the same thing by saying “rationalised” or “idealised”; but these terms are easily misunderstood.

i. “Contemplative” is a word often applied to the aesthetic attitude, and we shall have to criticise it below. Prima facie, it indicates a similarity and a contrast with theory and practice. All three are attitudes which a man takes up towards objects; but in both theory and practice he does work upon the objects and alters them; only in the aesthetic attitude he looks at the object and does not try to alter it. How this is reconcilable with the facts of creative art, we shall see below. We might say at once, however, that in creative art the production is as it were a form of perception; it is subordinate to the full imagining, the complete looking or hearing.

ii. Feeling becomes “organised,” “plastic,” or “incarnate.” This character of Aesthetic feeling is all-important. For feeling which has found its incarnation or taken plastic shape cannot remain the passing reaction of a single “body-and-mind.”[2] All the three points first mentioned are at once emphasised. Say you are glad or sorry at something. In common life your sorrow is a more or less dull pain, and its object—what it is about—remains a thought associated with it. There is too apt to be no gain, no advance, no new depth of experience promoted by the connection. But if you have the power to draw out or give imaginative shape to the object and material of your sorrowful experience, then it must undergo a transformation. The feeling is submitted to the laws of an object. It must take on permanence, order, harmony, meaning, in short value. It ceases to be a mere self-absorption. One may think of the little poem at the close of the book of Georgian poetry, or, on a larger scale, of In Memoriam. The values of which the feeling is capable have now been drawn out and revealed as by cutting and setting a gem. When I say “of which the feeling is capable,” I only record the fact that the feeling has been thus developed. For, of course, it is transformed, and the feeling as finally expressed is a new creation, not the simple pain, without large significance, which was felt at first.

It is just the same in principle if the embodiment is found and not created; it may be a mountain or a flower. You have not the feeling and its embodiment. The embodiment, as you feel it, is the aesthetic feeling.


This leads to a paradox. We can make the two statements,

i. In the aesthetic attitude, the object which embodies the feeling is valued solely for what it is in itself.

ii. In the aesthetic attitude, the object which embodies the feeling is valued solely for its appearance to perception or imagination.

This is because the embodiment of aesthetic feeling can only be an object as we perceive or imagine it. Anything in real existence which we do not perceive or imagine can be of no help to us in realising our feeling. So we may know a great deal about a thing as it really exists — its history, composition, market value, its causes or its effects; all that is as good as not there for the aesthetic attitude. It is all incidental; not present in the aesthetic object. Nothing can help us but what is there for us to look at, and that is what we perceive or imagine, which can only be the immediate appearance or the semblance. This is the fundamental doctrine of the aesthetic semblance. Man is not civilised, aesthetically, till he has learned to value the semblance above the reality. It is indeed, as we shall see, in one sense the higher reality — the soul and life of things, what they are in themselves.

So far the aesthetic attitude seems to be something like this: preoccupation with a pleasant feeling, embodied in an object which can be contemplated, and so obedient to the laws of an object; and by an object is meant an appearance presented to us through perception or imagination. Nothing which does not appear can count for the aesthetic attitude.

Now, no doubt, this attitude is actually met with in very many different degrees, and the cases on the border-line are very difficult to distinguish. I should say that there is probably some trace of the aesthetic attitude in almost all pleasant feeling. Take an ascending series of cases. There is the feeling which attends eating when you are very hungry. There is little or nothing in this pleasantness which recalls the characters we emphasised at first, as stable, relevant, and common. You cannot retain the pleasantness as the appetite becomes sated; there is little in it to dwell upon; there is very little to communicate. Tasting a fine wine, when you are not thirsty, has, on the other hand, a good deal in it of the latter kind. In Meredith’s Egoist the praises of wines ascribed to Dr. Middleton are a case in point. He is able to analyse in terms of permanent and general value the different qualities of pleasantness that characterise the different wines. And this takes us beyond the mere feeling of pleasantness, to an object of imagination, with the character of which its peculiarity is blended. The sense of heat and cold, on the other hand, can give hardly anything like this; it has no structure, no pattern, no connection of elements, to reveal. The sense of smell again gives, prima facie, nothing of the kind; and if it seemed ever to give material for an aesthetic attitude, it would surely not be the pleasantest scent that would do so, but that which had the most interesting associations, say the smell of peat or of the sea. And this, we may note, would be so far a false value, as the beauty of the sea or of the moors would not really be given in the nature of the scent, but merely attached to it because they had been perceived together in the past; more or less as the memory of Florence may be connected with my old portmanteau, which gets no aesthetic value from the connection, or very very little.

Now consider the sense of touch; I mean that by which we can follow lines and surfaces in relief. Many of the audience would be better judges here than I am. The question how far it can give aesthetic pleasure is, I suppose, the question how far it can convey to one the character of a curve or pattern or modelled surface. Without movement, I should presume, it cannot do so at all. With movement, I suppose that the hand of a blind person, for example, can convey a good deal of aesthetic quality. It seems to me in principle to be as if you had to appreciate a painting by the eye through a narrow slit moving over its surface — I suppose how far you could do it would be a matter of degree. It is difficult to answer in each particular case, but by comparing the cases it is possible to see the nature of the factor in them according to which their aesthetic quality varies. Generally speaking, as we all know, the aesthetic senses are supposed to be those of sight and hearing alone; and no doubt they possess the character we are tracing in a pre-eminent degree.

Here then we are confronted with a new statement of the character which is fundamental in the aesthetic attitude. All that we have so far observed about it is now summed up in a single monosyllable, when we say that the aesthetic attitude is that of feeling embodied in “form.”

This “form” is what is present in varying proportions in all the different grades of the aesthetic attitude which we noted, and what is absent in as far as the aesthetic attitude is absent. The conception of it is all-important both for aesthetic theory and for all philosophy, and we shall have gained something from these lectures if only we can master the right, which is also the effective, point of view for dealing with it, once for all.

We will start from two opposite statements about it.

The Form of an object is not its matter or substance.

The Form of an object just is its matter or substance.

The reason why both statements are true is that we apprehend objects with different degrees of insight or energy; and so we may only appreciate them as dull masses of stuff, or again we may appreciate them as living units connected and full of character through and through. The least and lowest interconnection an object can have is its outline in space, and this seems not to have to do with the stuff it is made of. And that is the rudimentary contrast of form and material. And, of course, we never can resolve any object into pure form, pure energy or vitality, or we should be as gods — everything would be to us all spring and life and perfection, with no residue at all. But a contrast, like that of outline and stuff, always haunts us in some degree; though we learn more and more that the two factors are inseparable; e.g. every stuff has its own characteristic outline.

So (i.) Form means outline, shape, general rule, e.g. for putting together a sentence, or an argument; or it means the metre in poetry, or the type of poem, sonnet or what not. In all these it is something superficial, general, diagrammatic. We speak of empty form, mere form, formal politeness; it is opposed to the heart and soul of anything, to what is essential, material, and so forth.

But (ii.) when you push home your insight into the order and connection of parts, not leaving out the way in which this affects the parts themselves; then you find that the form becomes (as a lawyer would say) “very material”; not merely outlines and shapes, but all the sets of gradations and variations and connections that make anything what it is — the life, soul, and movement of the object. And more than this, every form, which you might be inclined to contrast with matter, has behind it a further form in the matter itself; for this determines, as we say, “what you can do with it,” with clay or bronze or marble or oil or water-colour, with the string-vibration or the Greek or English tongue; the order and connection of the parts of these stuffs are a form which determines the more artificial shape you can give them, say, in works of art.

Bearing in mind this graded distinction, we can easily see the rights and* wrongs of applying such terms as “form” and “formal” to any experience. It all depends on the degree of insight with which the object of experience is appreciated. and, of course, on the degree of life and structure which a thing actually possesses. In principle, form and substance are one, like soul and body. But we continue to contrast them as we do soul and body, because there is always some failure to bring them quite together, perhaps on their own part, and certainly on ours.

“Degree of life and structure which a thing actually possesses.” That affects its aesthetic quality less than one might think, for this reason.

The “object” in the aesthetic attitude, we saw, can only be the appearance, not what we call the real thing, what we say we know about. Therefore our imagination, or imaginative perception, has a practically infinite choice of objects, because all appearances of things, in any context or connection, are open to it. Now, obviously, the possibilities of discerning “form” vary as much as the apparent objects do. A cloud, e.g., we know to be a mass of cold wet vapour; but taken as we see it with the sun on it, it has quite different possibilities of revealing aesthetic form, because its wonderful structure is all variously lit up, and so lit up it is the object or semblance which matters. And that appearance is all our feeling needs to attach itself to, to find form in. This explains an interesting point. It has been thought that you must come to higher aesthetic quality as you go up the scale of creation, because in that way you come to higher structures. But the fact is, that in a sense these higher structures, e.g. of animals, limit your imagination. They do not merge in a new context so readily as do the sea or the clouds, which can take on innumerable variations of appearance. And it is the task of aesthetic perception — perception when it passes into imagination — to choose or create the object, the appearance, whose form or soul or life will satisfy feeling.

Now the principle which it is necessary to grasp is the gradual drawing out or making more of feeling, as a fuller degree of form is appreciated in aesthetic experience. In addition to the examples which I suggested above, one might select cases within the same progression — a square, a cube, a Doric column, a decorative pattern. As the object reveals more form the feeling which is united to it has, as we say, “more in it”; more to take hold of, to dwell upon, to communicate. Great objects of art contain myriads of elements of form on different levels, knit together in more and more complex systems, till the feeling which they demand is such as to occupy the whole powers of the greatest mind, and more than these if they were to be had.

We have spoken constantly of the fusion of feeling with the object or semblance, and more especially with its form, or connecting and pervading correlations — what we have briefly summarised as its life or soul. The root of this possibility we mentioned at the beginning; it is that every feeling is a feeling of something. It is the sense of the special difference made in the vitality of our body-and-mind by living in a certain experience. How exactly a feeling can be identified with an object seems to demand some further explanation, and as a mere illustration we may refer to a theory which sometimes sets itself up as almost the whole of aesthetic. It is of this kind. You see a mountain on the horizon,[3] and you say it rises from the plain. This idea of the mountain rising is full of all sorts of associations of life and energy and courage. How is it at once a feeling in you and a characteristic of the mountain? The answer given is that in your act of perception of the lofty object you actually raise your eyes and strain your head and neck upwards, and this fills you with the feeling of an effort of exaltation, and this, with all its associated imaginative meaning, you unconsciously use to qualify the perception of the mountain, which as a perceived object is the cause of the whole train of ideas, and this, it is said, is so throughout. You always, in contemplating objects, especially systems of lines and shapes, experience bodily tensions and impulses relative to the forms which you apprehend, the rising and sinking, rushing, colliding, reciprocal checking, etc. of shapes. And these are connected with your own activities in apprehending them; the form, indeed, or law of connection in any object, is, they say, just what depends, for being apprehended, upon activity of body-and-mind on your part. And the feelings and associations of such activity are what you automatically use, with all their associated significances, to compose the feeling which is for you the feeling of the object or the object as an embodied feeling.

This theory gives a very vivid illustration of the way in which a feeling and an object can become identified.

With regard to this theory in this very limited form, I will make four observations.

i. In dealing with the whole range of aesthetic imagination I very greatly diStrust all highly specialised explanations. I have seen books which said that all decorative patterns sprang originally from the lotus flower; others which said that they sprang from the shapes of garden beds; others ascribed many of them to conventionalisation of curves when adapted to basket work; another theory I have seen which referred all expression to the concavity and convexity of curves, the concave being receptive and the convex repellent; and there is some one reviving an old theory of spirals to-day. I believe the store of such suggestions to be unlimited. And I do not doubt that they and thousands like them indicate sources of stimuli by which now and again one or another person’s imagination has been set in motion.

ii. I quote a portion of an explanation of this kind. “Here[4] is a jar, equally common in antiquity and in modern peasant ware. Looking at this jar one has a specific sense of a whole. To begin with, the feet press the ground while the eyes fix the base of the jar. Then one accompanies the lift up, so to speak, of the body of the jar by a lift up of one’s own body. . . . Meantime the jar’s equal sides bring both lungs into equal play; the curve outwards of the jar’s two sides is simultaneously followed by an inspiration as the eyes move up to the jar’s highest point.” This very nearly means, “that we have to make a jar of ourselves in order to be absorbed in the jar before us.” In the first place, this gives an unreal prominence to lines and shapes. It is a great mistake to confuse aesthetic form with spatial shape, though shape, as we saw, is very likely the first occasion of our distinguishing form.. And lines and shapes are no more form-giving than colour and tones. Colour-contrast and gradation, as also the harmonic relations of tones, belong to aesthetic form just as much as shape in space or rhythm in time. In the second place, all these bodily tensions and movements would really be inconsistent with each other. Our practised imagination or perception does not require all these detailed auxiliaries, and would in fact be impeded by them.

How sharp the silver spearheads charge
Where Alp meets heaven in snow.

One cannot believe that these lines appeal to us through bodily movements.

iii. A good example is the case of movements of the eye. It has been supposed[5] that when we take pleasure in a graceful curve, our eye is executing this same curve, “that we feel pleasure in this movement, or in the ease of it, and turn this pleasure into a quality of the object whose outlines we follow.” Well, it simply is not so. The eye in following a curve moves with jerks and in straight lines. “The muscles of the eye are mere scene-shifters.”[6] The curve is an object of perception, and the character with which our imagination invests it comes, no doubt, from something in our experience. But there is no possible reason, with the whole world of experience to draw upon, why it should come from the movement of our eyes, and, as we have seen, it could not possibly do so. Of course it remains true that we must be able to live, or live in the detail of the object if our pleasant feeling is to become a property of it, so that it (the object) is the body of our pleasure. But in order to do this we have the whole world of imagination, about which we must speak directly.

iv. But before going on to speak of Imagination there is one point of principle to notice. Such a theory as we have just referred to carries very different weight if we believe it to be a vehicle of illusion, and if we believe it to be an interpretation of truth. You might say, indeed, “Why surely it is much more important if it conveys the truth than if it promotes illusion.” But that is not so in every respect. If what it conveys is truth — if there really is in Nature and the world a pervading life and divinity — then this special theory is only one among innumerable illustrations of the ways in which we can come to the realisation of this truth; to penetration of the open secret of the world as the manifestation of a central life and spirit. But if what it conveys is in principle an illusion, then our imagination has nothing to support it but just this machinery of transferring our own activities to an object, with which they really have nothing to do. And in this case the special theory which explains how the transference is possible seems necessary to justify our aesthetic attitude, though really in explaining it, it explains it away. It is the difference between a fancy and a revelation.

We have often referred to imagination. There is a tendency to think of imagination as a sort of separate faculty, creative of images; a tendency which puts a premium on the arbitrary and fantastic in beauty, rather than the logical and the penetrative. But this, I take it, is simply a blunder. The imagination is precisely the mind at work, pursuing and exploring the possibilities suggested by the connection of its experience. It may operate, of course, in the service of logical enquiry, and of exact science itself — the scientific use of the imagination is a well-known topic. The only difference is that when imagination is free, when the mind is operating, for instance, not in the service of theoretical truth, but in that of aesthetic feeling, .then it altogether ceases to be bound by agreement with what we call reality as a whole. It cannot help starting from what we call experience, from what we have felt and seen, because there is nothing else to start from; but its guiding purpose is the satisfaction of feeling, and not the construction of a system in which every fact shall have its logically appropriate place. The only test is, whether it satisfies the feeling which inspires it. And its method need not be logical, though it often is so, and I incline to think is so in the best imaginative work. By saying it need not be logical, I mean that in following out a suggestion it need not adhere to the main thread of connection. It may start afresh on any incidental feature that presents itself. Practically, imagination is the mind working under great reservations which set it free; pursuing trains of images or ideas which comparison with the complete fabric of fact — from which its reservations protect it — would arrest or disfigure. It is a curious question how far a great work of imagination might conceivably be more consistent and more solid than what we call real reality. The objection of principle would be, that, just because imagination and reality only differ in degree, any such solid and consistent . imagination would of itself pass over to the enemy and fortify and enlarge the world of real facts, just as Shakespeare’s imagination reinforces our knowledge of real human nature. You cannot say “Shakespeare’s world of fancy is greater and more thorough than our world of fact,” because Shakespeare’s world of fancy has inserted itself into our world of fact. But the world of imagination is in no way subordinate to the total structure of real fact and truth. It is an alternative world, framed, no doubt, on the same ultimate basis, but with a method and purpose of its own, and having for its goal a different type of satisfaction from that of ascertained fact.

This being so, we have the mind working freely upon the entire resources of our direct and indirect experience, when our imagination is presenting us with an object as the embodiment of our pleasant feeling. And we do not need a special doctrine of how we come to attach what we feel to the object any more than of how we come to attach to it qualities of colour, shape, or sound. Take a square or a cube — the simplest possible cases. Four-square with out a flaw; four-square to all the winds that blow; the same in all directions; almost impossible to upset, and so forth. The shape is full of feeling for us the moment it is seen imaginatively — that is, freely.


So far, we have got something like this. The aesthetic attitude is an attitude in which we imaginatively contemplate an object, being able in that way to live in it as an embodiment of our feeling.

Now I am uneasy about this word “contemplate.” No doubt it makes a very good distinction against the practical and the theoretical frames of mind; which in contrast with it are very like each other. For, I think, we must distinguish the theoretical, at least in modern usage, from the “theoretic.” “Theoretic” is pretty much “contemplative,” while “theoretical” indicates a very busy activity aimed at putting together hypotheses and testing them by facts. It is in this sense that it is so sharply opposed to “theoretic” or contemplative.

This word contemplative seems to fit the attitude of three kinds of people — the lover of Nature, the looker-on at the spectacle of art, and the critic. But it does not seem to me to fit, prima facie, the attitude of the person who is surely most to be considered in aesthetic, that is, the artist. And I should not be easily persuaded that an attitude in the spectator and the nature-lover, which is wholly alien to that of the creative artist, can be the true aesthetic attitude. The arts which appeal to the eye exercise too much glamour over us. Think of singing, acting, dancing; the feeling of following music or reading poetry with true poetic appreciation.

Then go back to the simple case, say, of a mountain, or of the sea in a storm, when you call it splendid. Surely we enter into these objects in some way; we are absorbed; they carry us away. I find some difficulty here in recent aesthetic books; they want you to maintain a contemplative attitude and yet to be absorbed in the object, which involves, I should say, being carried away by it, e.g. in music.

You find the same problem if you look for the aesthetic attitude in the “judgment of taste.” It implies a tradition which is not altogether wholesome. Taste, a metaphor drawn, we note, from an unaesthetic sense, suggests a rather superficial judgment of how things go together; like William James’s malicious example of aesthetic judgment, “lemon juice goes well with oysters.” Starting from the judgment of taste goes along with the idea that the aesthetic attitude is mainly critical, external. Some great men have rebelled altogether against this suggestion, and Lave said that good taste pretty generally fails to appreciate genius.

It is pretty much the same problem when you ask how the spectator’s enjoyment is related to the creative artist’s. Take a drama, for instance. The spectator must be absorbed and move along with it. His is really a lower degree of the creative artist’s feeling. Then what about the critic? Has he the same attitude, and if not, which is the right one?

The word that will help us here and show us how to appreciate all these points of view is perhaps that we discussed above, “Imagination.” From the simplest perception of a square or a cube, or of a rock or stream, upwards to the greatest achievements of music or the drama, it is plain, I think, that the aesthetic attitude must be imaginative. That is to say, it must be the attitude of a mind which freely tracks and pursues the detail of experience for the sake of a particular kind of satisfaction — not the satisfaction of complete and self-consistent theory, but the automatic satisfaction, so to speak, of a complete embodiment of feeling. The important point seems to me to be that “contemplation” should not mean “inertness,” but should include from the beginning a creative element. I have avoided, indeed, throughout this lecture, the word which I myself believe to be the keyword to a sound aesthetic, because it is not altogether a safe word to employ until we have made ourselves perfectly certain of the true/ relation between feeling and its embodiment. But to say that the aesthetic attitude is an attitude of expression, contains I believe if rightly understood the whole truth of the matter. Only, if we are going to use this language, we must cut off one element of the commonplace meaning of expression. We must not suppose that we first have a disembodied feeling, and then set out to find an embodiment adequate to it. In a word, imaginative expression creates the feeling in creating its embodiment, and the feeling so created not merely cannot be otherwise expressed, but cannot otherwise exist, than in and through the embodiment which imagination has found for it.

When we say then, that the aesthetic attitude is contemplative, we do not mean much more than that in it there is always an appearance before us, and that it is in the character and detail of this appearance that we find the gratification of an em bodied feeling. We do not mean to deny that throughout, from beginning to end, from James’s example onwards and upwards, imagination is active and creative, in other words, that the mind is freely reconstructing and remodelling all that perception presents to it in the direction which promises the maximum of “form.” The manual practice of art is not, I take it, an obstacle to this creative work of imagination, but on the contrary, as we shall see, is its essential medium and intensification. And the spectator’s attitude I take to be merely a faint analogue of the creative rapture of the artist.

The relation of the purely critical attitude to that of the spectator who enjoys and the artist who creates, does not seem to me altogether an easy problem. I think we shall be on the right lines if we demand in principle that the substratum of the critical attitude shall be the full imaginative experience, certainly of the spectator who enjoys, and as far as possible of the artist who creates. The true critic, indeed, is he, and he only, who can teach us rightly to enjoy. And we must bear in mind that the imagination itself is necessarily very sensitive to checks and failures in its efforts after satisfactory form — and this genuine sensitiveness, I should suppose, must be the basis of the true critical estimate.

But I should suppose that for the complete realisation of the critical attitude something further is required. I take it that the critic must go back in memory and reflection upon his full imaginative experience, and draw out and emphasise the points at which failure or success in expression have forced themselves on his feelings with a completeness of analysis which would hardly be compatible with the full enjoyment of the imaginative experience itself. And we have to remember that the critic’s principal duty after all is not to point out blemishes, but rather to teach us to enjoy. And therefore even for him the greatest possible fulness of the imaginative experience is the main and indispensable condition.

We may conclude then that the aesthetic attitude so far as enjoyable may fairly be described in some such words as these: The pleasant awareness of a feeling embodied in an appearance presented to imagination or imaginative perception; or, more shortly, “Feeling expressed for expression’s sake.”

In the following lecture we shall speak of the relation of nature and art, and of the distinction of the latter into kinds.

NotesEdit

  1. There is a problem about this where meaning or representation come in. We shall return to it.
  2. This expression, written as I write it here, is essential for aesthetic discussion. In it mind is all body and body is all mind.
  3. Vernon Lee, The Beautiful, p. 61 ff. This falls under the doctrine of Empathy or Einfühlung, but is far from giving an account of it.
  4. Vernon Lee, cited in Mitchell’s Structure and Growth of the Mind, p. 504.
  5. Mitchell, op cit. p. 501.
  6. Ibid.