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The Enjoyment of Art.
by Carleton Noyes.
The following pages are the answer to questions which a young man asked himself when, fresh from the university, he found himself adrift in the great galleries of Europe. As he stood helpless and confused in the presence of the visible expressions of the spirit of man in so many ages and so many lands, one question recurred insistently: _Why_ are these pictures? What is the meaning of all this striving after expression? What was the aim of these men who have left their record here? What was their moving impulse? Why, why does the human spirit seek to manifest itself in forms which we call beautiful?
He turned to histories of art and to biographies of artists, but he found no answer! to the "Why?" The philosophers with their theories of aesthetics helped him little to understand the dignity and force of this portrait or the beauty of that landscape. In the conversation of his artist friends there was no enlightenment, for they talked about "values" and "planes of modeling" and the mysteries of "tone." At last he turned in upon himself: What does this canvas mean to me? And here he found his answer. This work of art is the revelation to me of a fuller beauty, a deeper harmony, than I have ever seen or felt. The artist is he who has experienced this new wonder in nature and who wants to communicate his joy, in concrete forms, to his fellow men.
The purpose of this book is to set forth in simple, untechnical fashion the nature and the meaning of a work of art. Although the ill.u.s.trations of the underlying principles are drawn mainly from pictures, yet the conclusions apply equally to books and to music. It is true that the manifestations of the art-impulse are innumerable, embracing not only painting, sculpture, literature, music, and architecture, but also the handiwork of the craftsman in the designing of a rug or in the fashioning of a cup or a candlestick; it is true that each art has its special province and function, and that each is peculiarly adapted to the expression of a certain order of emotion or idea, and that the distinctions between one art and another are not to be inconsiderately swept aside or obscured. Yet art is one. It is possible, without confusing the individual characteristics essential to each, to discuss these principles under the comprehensive rubric of Art.
The attempt is made here to reduce the supposed mysteries of art discussion to the basis of practical, every-day intelligence and common sense. What the ordinary man who feels himself in any way attracted; towards art needs is not more and constantly more pictures to look at, not added lore about them, not further knowledge of the men and the times that have produced them; but rather what he needs is some understanding of what the artist has aimed to express, and, as reinforcing that understanding, the capacity rightly to appreciate and enjoy.
It is hoped that in this book the artist may find expressed with simplicity and justice his own highest aims; and that the appreciator and the layman may gain some insight into the meaning of art expression, and that they may be helped a little on their way to the enjoyment of art.
HARVARD COLLEGE, _December tenth, 1902._
THE PICTURE AND THE MAN
At any exhibition of paintings, more particularly at some public gallery or museum, one can hardly fail to reflect that an interest in pictures is unmistakably widespread. People are there in considerable numbers, and what is more striking, they seem to represent every station and walk in life. It is evident that pictures, as exhibited to the public, are not the cult of an initiated few; their appeal is manifestly to no one cla.s.s; and this popular interest is as genuine as it is extended.
Thus reflectively scanning the crowd, the observer asks himself: What has attracted these numbers to that which might be supposed not to be understood of the many? And what are the pictures that in general draw the popular attention?
A few persons have of course drifted into the exhibition out of curiosity or from lack of something better to do. So much is evident at once, for these file past the walls listlessly, seldom stopping, and then but to glance at those pictures which are most obviously like the familiar object they pretend to represent,--such as the bowl of flowers which the beholder can almost smell, the theatre-checks and five-dollar note pasted on a wall which tempt him to finger them, or the panel of game birds which puzzles him to determine whether the birds are real or not. These visitors, however, are not the most numerous. With the great majority it is not enough that the picture be a clever piece of imitation or illusion: transferring their interest from the mere execution, they demand further that the subjects represented shall be pleasing. The crowd pause before a sunny landscape, with cows standing by the shaded pool; they gather about the brilliant portrait of a woman splendidly arrayed,--a favorite actress or a social celebrity; they linger before a group of children wading in a brook, or a dog crouching mournfully by an empty cradle. At length, with an approving and sympathetic word of comment, they pa.s.s on to the next pleasing picture. Some canvases, not the most popular ones, are yet not without their interest for a few; these visitors are taking things a little more seriously; they do not try to see every picture, they do not hurry; they seem to be considering the canvas immediately before them with concentrated attention.
No one of all these people is insensible to the appeal of the picturesque: their presence at the exhibition is evidence of that. In life they like to see a bowl of flowers, a sunny landscape, a beautiful woman in beautiful surroundings; and naturally they are interested in that which represents and recalls the reality. At once it is plain, however, that to different individuals the various pictures appeal in different measure and for differing reasons. To one the very fact of representation is a mystery and fascination. To another the important thing is the subject; the picture must represent what he likes in nature or in life. To a third the subject itself is of less concern than what the painter wanted to say about it: the artist saw a beauty manifested by an ugly beggar, perhaps, and he wanted to show that beauty to his fellows, who could not perceive it for themselves.
The special interest in pictures of each of these three men is not without its warrant in experience. What man is wholly indifferent to the display of human skill? Who is there without his store of pleasurable a.s.sociations, who is not stirred by any call which rouses them into play? What lover of beauty is not ever awake to the revelation of new beauty? Indeed, upon these three principles together, though in varying proportion, depends the full significance of a great work of art.
As the lover of pictures looks back over the period of his conscious interest in exhibitions and galleries, it is not improbable that his earliest memories attach themselves to those paintings which most closely resembled the object represented. He remembers the great wonder which he felt that a man with mere paint and canvas could so reproduce the reality of nature. So it is that those paintings which are perhaps the first to attract the man who feels an interest in pictures awakening are such as display most obviously the painter's skill. Whatever the subject imitated, the fascination remains; that such illusion is possible at all is the mystery and the delight.
But as his interest in pictures grows with indulgence, as his experience widens, the beholder becomes gradually aware that he is making a larger demand. After the first shock of pleasurable surprise is worn away, he finds that the repeated exhibition of the painter's dexterity ceases to satisfy him; these clever pieces of deception manifest a wearying sameness, after all; and the beholder begins now to look for something more than mere expertness. Thinking on his experience, he concludes that the subjects which can be imitated deceptively are limited in range and interest; he has a vague, disquieting sense that somehow these pictures do not mean anything.
Yet he is puzzled. Art aims to represent, he tells himself, and it should follow that the best art is that which represents most closely and exactly. He recalls, perhaps, the legend of the two Greek painters, one with his picture of the fruit which the birds flew down to peck at, the other with his painting of a veil which deceived his very rival. The imitative or "illusionist" picture pleads its case most plausibly. A further experience of such pictures, however, fails to bring the beholder beyond his simple admiration of the painter's skill; and that skill, he comes gradually to realize, does not differ essentially from the adroitness of the juggler who keeps a billiard ball, a chair, and a silk handkerchief rotating from hand to hand.
Conscious, then, of a new demand, of an added interest to be satisfied, the amateur of pictures turns from the imitative canvas to those paintings which appeal more widely to his familiar experience.
Justly, he does not here forgo altogether his delight in the painter's cunning of hand, only he requires further that the subjects represented shall be pleasing. It must be a subject whose meaning he can recognize at once: a handsome or a strong portrait, a familiar landscape, some little incident which tells its own story. The spectator is now attracted by those pictures which rouse a train of agreeable a.s.sociations. He stops before a canvas representing a bit of rocky coast, with the ocean tumbling in exhilaratingly. He recognizes the subject and finds it pleasing; then he wonders where the picture was painted. Turning to his catalogue, he reads: "37. On the Coast of Maine." "Oh, yes," he says to himself, "I was on the coast of Maine last summer, and I remember what a glorious time I had sitting on the rocks of an afternoon, with some book or other which the ocean was too fine to let me read. I like that picture." If the t.i.tle had read "Ma.s.sachusetts Coast," it is to be feared he would not have liked the canvas quite so well. The next picture which he notices shows, perhaps, a stately woman sumptuously attired. It is with a slight shock of disappointment that the visitor finds recorded in his catalogue: "41. Portrait of a Lady." He could see that much for himself. He hoped it was going to be the painter's mother or somebody's wife,--a person he ought to know about. But the pictures which appeal to him most surely are those which tell some little story,--"The Lovers," "The Boy leaving Home," "The Wreck." Here the subject, touching some one of the big human emotions, to which no man is wholly insensible, calls out the response of immediate interest and sympathy. It is something which he can understand.
At length there comes a day when the visitor stops before a landscape which seems to him more beautiful than anything he has ever seen in nature; or some portrait discloses a strength of character or radiates a charm of personality which he has seldom met with in life. Whence comes this beauty, this strength, this graciousness? Can it be that the painter has seen a new wonder in nature, a new significance in human life? The spectator's previous experience of pictures has familiarized him in some measure with the means of expression which the painter employs. More sensitive now to the appeal of color and form, he sees that what the artist cares to present on his canvas is just his peculiar sense of the beauty in the world, a beauty that is best symbolized and made manifest through the medium of color and form. Before he understood this eloquent language which the painter speaks, he misinterpreted those pictures whose significance he mistook to be literary and not pictorial. He early liked the narrative picture because here was a subject he could understand; he could rephrase it in his own terms, he could retell the story to himself in words. Now words are the means of expression of every-day life. Because of this fact, the art which employs words as its medium is the art which comes nearest to being universally understood, namely, literature. The other arts use each a medium which it requires a special training to understand. Without some sense of the expressiveness of color, line, form, and sounds,--a sense which can be cultivated,--one is necessarily unable to grasp the full and true meaning of picture, statue, or musical composition. One must realize further that the artist thinks and feels in his peculiar medium; his special meaning is conceived and expressed in color or form or sound. The task of the appreciator, correspondingly, is to receive the artist's message in the same terms in which it was conceived. The tendency is inevitable, however, to translate the meaning of the work into words, the terms in which men commonly phrase their experience. A parallel tendency is manifest in one's efforts to learn a foreign language. The English student of French at first thinks in English and laboriously translates phrase for phrase into French; and in hearing or reading the foreign language, he translates the original, word for word, into his native tongue before he can understand its sense: he has mastered the language only when he has reached that point where English is no longer present to his consciousness: he thinks in French and understands in French.
Similarly, to translate the message of any art into terms that are foreign to it, to phrase the meaning of music or painting, for example, in words, is to fail of its essential, true significance. The import of music is musical; the meaning of pictures is not literary but pictorial. In the understanding of this truth, then, the spectator penetrates to the artist's real intention; and he becomes aware that when he used the picture as the peg whereon to hang his own reflections and ideas, he missed the meaning of the artist's work. "As I look at this canvas," he tells himself, "it is not what I know of the coast of Maine that is of concern, but what the painter has seen and felt of its beauty and wants to reveal to me." Able at last to interpret the painter's medium, the appreciator comes to seek in pictures not primarily an exhibition of the craftsman's skill, not even a recall of his own pleasurable experiences, but rather, beyond all this, a fuller visible revelation of beauty.
The essential significance of art, that art is revelation, is ill.u.s.trated not only by painting but by the other arts as well. In music, to take but a single example, are present the same elements that const.i.tute the appeal of pictures,--skill in the rendering, a certain correspondence with experience, and the power of imaginative interpretation of the facts of life. The music-hall performer who wins the loudest and heartiest applause is he who does the greatest number of pyrotechnic, wonderful things on the piano, or holds a high note on the cornet for the longest time. His success, as with the painter whose aim is to create illusion, rests upon men's instinctive admiration for the exhibition of skill. Again, as the imitative picture involves not only the display of dexterity, but also likeness to the thing represented and the consequent possibility of recognizing it immediately, so in the domain of music there is an order of composition which seems to aim at imitation,--the so-called "descriptive" music. A popular audience is delighted with the "Cats'
Serenade," executed on the violins with overwhelming likeness to the reality, or with, the "Day in the Country," in which the sun rises in the high notes, c.o.c.ks crow, horses rattle down the road, merrymakers frolic on the green, clouds come up in the horns, lightning plays in the violins, thunder crashes in the drums and cymbals, the merrymakers scatter in the whole orchestra, the storm pa.s.ses diminuendo, and in the muted violins the full moon rises serenely into a twilight sky. Here the intention is easily understood; the layman cannot fail to recognize what the composer wanted to say. And as in the case of pictures which interest the beholder because he can translate their subject into the terms which are his own medium of expression, that is, words, so with descriptive music, broadly speaking, the interest and significance is literary and not musical. Still another parallel is presented. Just as those pictures are popular whose subjects lie within the range of familiar experience, such as cows by the shaded pool, or children playing, or whose subjects touch the feelings; so, that music is popular which is phrased in obvious and familiar rhythms such as the march and the waltz, or which appeals readily and unmistakably to sentiment and emotion. It is after the lover of music has traversed these pa.s.sages of musical expression and has proved their imitations that he comes to seek in music new ranges of experience, unguessed-at possibilities of feeling, which the composer has himself sounded and which he would communicate to others. He is truly the artist only as he leads his auditors into regions of beautiful living which they alone and of themselves had not penetrated. For it is then that his work reveals.
Only such pictures, too, will have a vital meaning as reveal. The imitative and the iterative alike, that which adds nothing to the object and that which adds nothing to the experience of the beholder, though once pleasing, now fail to satisfy. The appreciator calls for something fuller. He wants to pa.s.s beyond the object, beyond his experience of it, into the realm of illumination whither the true artist would lead him. The development of appreciation, as the amateur has come to realize in his own person, is only the enlargement of demand. The appreciator requires ever fresh revelations of beauty.
He discovers, too, that in practice the tendency of his development is in the direction of exclusion. As he goes on, he cares for fewer and fewer things, because those works which can minister to his ever-expanding desire of beauty must needs be less numerous. But these make up in largeness of utterance, in the intensity of their message, what they lack in numbers. Nor does this outcome make against a fancied catholicity of taste. The true appreciator still sees in his earlier loves something that is good, and he values the good the more justly that he sees it now in its right relation and apprehends its real significance. As each in its turn led him to seek further, each became an instrument in his development. For himself he has need of them no longer. But far from contemning them, he is rightly grateful for the solace they have afforded, as by them he has made his way up into the fuller meaning of art.
THE WORK OF ART AS SYMBOL
In the experience of the man who feels himself attracted to pictures and who studies them intelligently and with sympathy, there comes a day when suddenly a canvas reveals to him a new beauty in nature or in life. Much seeing and much thinking, much bewilderment and some disappointment, have taught him that in the appreciation of pictures the question at issue is not, how cleverly has the painter imitated his object, is not, how suggestive is the subject of pleasing a.s.sociations; he need simply ask himself, "What has the artist conceived or felt in the presence of this landscape, this arrangement of line and color, this human face, that I have not seen and felt, and that he wants to communicate to me?"
The incident of the single canvas, which by its illuminating revealment first discloses to the observer the true significance of pictures, is typical of the whole scope of art. The mission of art is to reveal. It is the prophet's message to his fellow men, the apocalypse of the seer. The artist is he to whom is vouchsafed a special apprehension of beauty. He has the eye to see, the temperament to feel, the imagination to interpret; it is by virtue of these capacities, this high, transfiguring vision, that he is an artist; and his skill of hand, his equipment with the means of expression, is incidental to the great fact that he has somewhat to express that the common man has not. To his work, the manifestation of his spirit in material form, his perception made sensible, is accorded the name of art.
Art is expression. It is not a display of skill; it is not the reproduction of external forms or appearances; it does not even, as some say, exist for itself: it is a message, a means. To cry "Art for Art's sake!"
is to converse with the echo. Such a definition but moves in a circle, and doubles upon itself. No; art is for the artist's sake. The artist is the agent or human instrument whereby the supreme harmony, which is beauty, is manifested to men. Art is the medium by which the artist communicates himself to his fellows; and the individual work is the expression of what the artist felt or thought, as at the moment some new aspect of the universal harmony was revealed to his apprehension. Art is emotion objectified, but the object is subordinated to the emotion as means is to an end. The material result is not the final significance, but what of spiritual meaning or beauty the artist desired to convey. Not what is painted, as the layman thinks, not how it is painted, as the technician considers, but why did the artist paint it, is the question which sums up the truth about art. The appreciator need simply ask, What is the beauty, what the idea, which the artist is striving to reveal by these symbols of color and form? He understands that the import of the work is the _idea,_ and that the work itself is beautiful because it symbolizes a beautiful idea; its significance is spiritual. The function of art, then, is through the medium of concrete, material symbols to reveal to men whatever of beauty has been disclosed to the artist's more penetrating vision.
In order to seize the real meaning of art it is necessary to strip the word beauty of all the wrappings of customary a.s.sociations and the accretions of tradition and habit. As the word is current in ordinary parlance, the attribute of beauty is ascribed to that which is pleasing, pretty, graceful, comely; in fine, to that which is purely agreeable.
But surely such is not the beauty which Rembrandt saw in the filthy, loathsome beggar. To Rembrandt the beggar was expressive of some force or manifestation of the supreme universal life, wherein all things work together to a perfect harmony. Beauty is the essential quality belonging to energy, character, significance. A merely agreeable object is not beautiful unless it is expressive of a meaning; whatever, on the other hand, is expressive of a meaning, however shocking it may be in itself, however much it may fail to conform to conventional standards, is beautiful. Beauty does not reside in the object. No; it is the artist's sense of the great meaning of things; and in proportion as he finds that meaning--the qualities of energy, force, aspiration, life--manifest and expressed in objects do those objects become beautiful. Such was the conception of beauty Keats had when he wrote in a letter: "What the Imagination seizes as Beauty must be Truth--whether it existed before or not,--for I have the same idea of all our pa.s.sions as of Love: they are all, in their sublime, creative of essential Beauty." And similarly; "I can never feel certain of any truth, but from a clear perception of its Beauty." It his verse he sings:--
"'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,'--that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
When it is said here, then, that the artist sees beauty in nature, the phrase may be understood as a convenient but inexact formula, as when one says the sun rises or the sun sets. Beauty is in the landscape only in the sense that these material forms express for the artist an idea he has conceived of some aspect of the universal life.
The artist is impelled to embody concretely his perception of beauty, and so to communicate his emotion, because the emotion wakened by the perception of new harmony in things is most fully possessed and enjoyed as it comes to expression. Thus to make real his ideal and find the expression of himself is the artist's supreme Happiness.
A familiar ill.u.s.tration of the twin need and delight of expression may be found in the handiwork produced in the old days when every artisan was an artist. It may be, perhaps, a key which some craftsman of Nuremberg fashioned. In the making of it he was not content to stop with the key which would unlock the door or the chest It was his key, the work of his hands; and he wrought upon it lovingly, devotedly, and made it beautiful, finding in his work the expression of his thought or feeling; it was the realization for that moment of his ideal. His sense of pleasure in the making of it prompted the care he bestowed upon it; his delight was in creation, in rendering actual a new beau which it was given him to conceive.
In its origin as a work of art the key does not differ from a landscape by Inness, an "arrangement" by Whistler, a portrait by Sargent. The artist, whether craftsman or painter, is deeply stirred by some pa.s.sage in his experience, a fair object or a true thought: it is the imperious demand of his nature, as it is his supreme pleasure, to give his feeling expression. The form which his expression takes--it may be key or carpet, it may be statue, picture, poem, symphony, or cathedral--is that which most closely responds to his idea, the form which most truly manifests and represents it.
All art, as the expression of the artist's idea, is in a certain definite sense representative. Not that all art reproduces an external reality, as it is said that painting or literature represents and music does not; but every work of art, in painting, poetry, music, or in the handiwork of the craftsman, _represents_ in that it is the symbol of the creator's ideal. To be sure, the painter or sculptor or dramatist draws his symbols from already existing material forms, and these symbols are like objects in a sense in which music is not But line and color and the life of man, apart from this resemblance to external reality, are representative or symbolic of the artist's idea precisely as the craftsman's key, the designer's pattern, or the musician's symphony.
The beautifully wrought key, the geometric pattern of oriental rug or hanging, the embroidered foliation on priestly vestment, are works of art equally with the landscape, the statue, the drama, or the symphony, in that they are one and all the sensuous manifestation of some new beauty spiritually conceived.
The symbolic character of a work of art must not be lost from sight, for it is the clue to the interpretation of pictures, as it is of all art.
The painter feels his way through the gamut of his palette to a harmony of color just as truly as the musician summons the notes of his scale and marshals them into accord. The painter is moved by some sweep of landscape; it wakens in him an emotion. When he sets himself to express his emotion in the special medium with which he works, he represents by pigment the external aspect of the landscape, yes; but not in order to imitate it or reproduce it: he represents the landscape because the colors and the forms which he registers upon the canvas express for him the emotions roused by those colors and those forms in nature. He does not try to match his grays with nature's grays, but this nuance which he gropes for on his palette, and having found it, touches upon his canvas, expresses for him what that particular gray in nature made him feel. His one compelling purpose is in all fidelity and singleness of aim to "translate the impression received." The painter's medium is just as symbolic as the notes of the musician's nocturne or the words of the poet's sonnet, equally inspired by the hour and place. Color and line and form, although they happen to be the properties of _things,_ have a value for the emotions as truly as musical sounds: they are the outward symbol of the inward thought or feeling, the visible bodying forth of the immaterial idea.
The symbolic character of the material world is not early apprehended. In superficial reaction upon life, men do not readily pa.s.s beyond the immediate actuality. That the spiritual meaning of all things is not perceived, that all things are not seen to be beautiful, or expressive of the supreme harmony, is due to men's limited powers of sight and feeling. Therefore is it that the artist is given in order that he may reveal as yet unrealized spiritual relations, or new beauty. The workaday world with its burden of exigent "realities"
has need of a Carlyle to declare that things are but a wonderful metaphor and the physical universe is the garment of the living G.o.d.
In the realm of thought an Emerson, seer of transcendent vision, must come to restore his fellows to their birthright, which is the life of the spirit. As in life, so in art men do not easily pa.s.s the obvious and immediate. The child reads "Gulliver's Travels" or "The Pilgrim's Progress" for the story. As his experience of life both widens and deepens, he is able to see through externals, and he penetrates to the real significance, of which the narrative is but the symbol. So it is with an insight born of experience that the lover of art sees no longer the "subject," but the beauty which the subject is meant to symbolize.
In the universal, all-embracing const.i.tution of things, nothing is without its significance. To be aware that everything has a meaning is necessary to the understanding of art, as indeed of life itself. That meaning, which things symbolize and express, it cannot be said too often, is not necessarily to be phrased in words. It is a meaning for the spirit. A straight line affects one differently from a curve; that is, each kind of line means something. Every line in the face utters the character behind it; every movement of the body is eloquent of the man's whole being. "The expression of the face balks account," says Walt Whitman,
"But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face, It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists, It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees, dress does not hide him, The strong sweet quality he has strikes through the cotton and broadcloth, To see him pa.s.s conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more, You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side."
Crimson rouses a feeling different from that roused by yellow, and gray wakens a mood different from either. In considering this symbolic character of colors it is necessary to distinguish between their value for the emotions and merely literary a.s.sociations. That white stands for purity or blue for fidelity is a conventionalized and attached conception. But the pleasure which a man has in some colors or his dislike for others depends upon the effect each color has upon his emotions, and this effect determines for him the symbolic value of the color. In the same way sounds are symbolic in that they affect the emotions apart from a.s.sociated "thoughts." Even with a person who has no technical knowledge of music, the effect of the minor key is unmistakably different from the major. The tones and modulations of the voice, quite apart from the words uttered, have an emotional value and significance. Everything, line, form, gesture, movement, color, sound, all the material world, is expressive. All objective forms have their meaning, and rightly perceived are, in the sense in which the word is used here, beautiful, in that they represent or symbolize a spiritual idea.
Thus it is that beauty is not in the object but in man's sense of the object's symbolic expressiveness. The amateur may be rapt by some artist's "quality of color." But it is probable that in the act of laying on his pigment, the artist was not thinking of his "quality" at all, but, rapt himself by the perception of the supreme harmony at that moment newly revealed to his sense, he was striving sincerely and directly to give his feeling its faithfullest expression. His color is beautiful because his idea was beautiful. The expression is of the very essence of the thought; it _is_ the thought, but the thought embodied. "Coleridge," says Carlyle, "remarks very pertinently somewhere that whenever you find a sentence musically worded, of true rhythm and melody in the words, there is something deep and good in the meaning, too. For body and soul, word and idea, go strangely together here as everywhere." Not to look beyond the material is to miss the meaning of the work.
In an art such as music, in which form and content are one and inextricable, it is not difficult to understand that the medium of expression which the art employs is necessarily symbolic, for here the form cannot exist apart from the meaning to be conveyed. In the art of literature, however, the case is not so clear, for the material with which the poet, the novelist, the dramatist works, material made up of the facts of the world about us, we are accustomed to regard as objective realities. An incident is an incident, the inevitable issue of precedent circ.u.mstances, and that's all there is to it Character is the result of heredity, environment, training, plus the inexplicable _Ego._ To regard these facts of life which are so actual and immediate as a kind of animate algebraic formulae seems absurd, but absurd only as one is unable to penetrate to the inner meaning of things. "Madame Bovary," to take an example quite at random, is called a triumph of realism. Now realism, of all literary methods, should register the fact as it is, and least of all should concern itself with symbols. But this great novel is more than the record of one woman's life. Any one who has come to understand the character and temperament of Flaubert as revealed in his Letters must feel that "Madame Bovary" is no arbitrary recital of tragic incident, but those people who move through his pages, what they do and what goes on about them, expressed for Flaubert his own dreary, baffled rebellion against life. That the artist may consciously employ the facts of life, not for the sake of the fact, but to communicate his feeling by thus bodying it forth in concrete symbols, there is explicit testimony. In an essay dealing with his own method of composition, Poe writes: "I prefer commencing with the consideration of an _effect._ Keeping originality _always_ in view . . . I say to myself, in the first place, 'of the innumerable effects or impressions of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?' Having chosen a novel first, and secondly, a vivid effect, I consider whether it can be best wrought by incident or tone . . . afterwards looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event or tone as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect." Yes, physical circ.u.mstances, the succession of incident, shifting momentary grouping of persons, traits of character in varied combination and contrast,--all these are significant for the literary artist of spiritual relations.
As the symbol of what the artist feels and strives to express, the individual work of art is necessarily more than any mere transcript of fact. It is the meeting and mingling of nature and the spirit of man; the result of their union is fraught with the inheritance of the past and holds within it the limitless promise of the future. The work of art is a focus, gathering into itself all the stored experience of the artist, and radiating in turn so much to the beholder as he is able at the moment to receive. A painter is starting out to sketch. Through underbrush and across the open he pushes his way, beset by beauty on every side, and storing impressions, sensations, thoughts. At last his eye lights upon some clump of brush, some meadow or hill, which seems at the instant to sum up and express his acc.u.mulated experience. In rendering this bit of nature, he pours out upon his canvas his store of feeling. It is the single case which typifies his entire course. "The man's whole life preludes the single deed." His way through the world has been just such a gathering up of experience, and each new work which he produces is charged with the collected wealth of years.
The special work is the momentary epitome of the artist's total meaning. He finds this brief pa.s.sage in nature beautiful then and there because it expresses what he feels and means. He does not try to reproduce the thing, but uses the thing for what it signifies. The thing is but for that moment: it signifies all that has gone before. As he watches, a cloud pa.s.ses over the sun and the face of nature is darkened. Suddenly the scene bursts into light again. In itself the landscape is no brighter than before the sun was darkened. The painter feels it brighter for the contrast, and inevitably his rendering of its aspect is heightened and intensified.