The World of Paintings
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If we consider paintings as man-made objects, the problem of the ultimate reason for their existence does not arise. Homo faber delights in making things, and, in this respect, painters are in no way different from other artisans who take so much pleasure in imparting existence to things that, without them, would not exist. It seems, however, that painters, and probably sculptors as well, experience a particularly intense feeling of domination over their work. Consequently, the pleasure they take in producing it is remarkably intense. Some of them speak of it as of an exaltation similar to that which would no doubt arise from the exercise of a truly creative activity. The works of the painter are his own creatures much more deeply and genuinely than if they were the products of a merely mechanical mode of production. The reason for it is not hard to find: born of his hand under the guidance of his mind, paintings are made in the image and in the likeness of the painter.1
Another question, much less easy to answer, is why certain men seem to attach so much importance to the production of painted works of art. And, indeed, the question is a puzzling one. Artisans make tools and objects of all sorts in view of their practical usefulness in everyday life. Although, occasionally, a man may take pleasure in making perfectly useless things, for the mere pleasure of making them, the practical advantages to be derived from fabricated objects is the normal justification for their production.
Not so in the case of paintings. There is some depth in the apparently naive question of a peasant to the painter Theodore Rousseau: "Why are you painting that oak tree, since it is already there?" To duplicate real objects by a series of images without substance' of their own is, to say the least, a pastime more suitable to youth than to persons who have reached intellectual maturity. The only explanation for this phenomenon is that paintings serve some purpose of their own that is not served, or that is less well served, by the things and beings constituting the world of nature. In other words, it is to be supposed that paintings constitute a universe of their own whose purposiveness, although different from that of nature, can probably be discovered.
This can be done, at least in the beginning of the inquiry, without bringing into play any other elements than the painter himself and his work. Reduced to its simplest terms, the activity of the artist can be described as an effort to cause the existence of an object that its creator desires to see but that he does not find, ready-made, in natural reality. At the same time, the progress of artistic creation is, to the painter himself, a progressive revelation of the new being he is producing. In this sense, the artist is to himself his first public, and if we ask what he is expecting from his own work, the answer is: the pleasure of seeing it. With the artist himself begins the first moment of the long chain of expressions of like and dislike that will attend, through years, centuries, and sometimes millenniums, the existence of the work of art. True enough, there already were countless other paintings, all of them capable of giving pleasure to the eyes, even to the eyes of the painters who made them, but there still was room in the world for one more of these strange givers of pleasure. The immediate purpose of the painter is to give existence to a certain artistic being that is irreplaceable in the sense that the sight of no other one can give to its author the particular kind of pleasure this one painting is able to give. Having reached this point, the analysis must go beyond empirically given facts in order to proceed to their interpretation.
1. Paintings and Beauty
To enter a universe peopled with objects whose function is to give pleasure is also to establish contact with the order of pure beauty.
The words "beauty" and "beautiful" have become unfashionable, not indeed with artists, who use them quite freely even in our own day, but rather with the school of those aestheticians who intend to handle the realities of art with the same scientific methods that befit the realities of nature. The beautiful then is rejected as a "metaphysical" notion unworthy of our attention. But nothing is simpler, more concretely evident, than beauty, and its experience is familiar to all. In reading books, we usually content ourselves with understanding the meaning of the sentences, pages, and chapters. If we stumble upon some passage whose meaning escapes us, either on account of the obscurity of the style or because of the intrinsic difficulty of the subject, we read it again, but not for pleasure. We never desist from reading the passage in question until, owing to our renewed efforts of attention, its meaning becomes clear to our mind. Then, at last, we know what our text means. But precisely because we then are in the order of knowledge and of truth, we stop reading the sentences that have so long detained our attention. If we read a book to learn the truth it contains, the aim and purpose of our reading is to rid ourselves of the need of reading the same book again in the future. This is the kind of book of which one says: "I do not need to read it because I know what there is in it."
But there is an entirely different class of books. We have already read them, understood them, and some of them are so familiar to us that we could recite parts of them, as the saying goes, "by heart." Still we want to read them at least once more. We shall always desire to repeat our past experience, not in the least because we hope to learn from such books something they have not yet taught us, ,but simply because of the pleasure we are sure to find in reading them. This well-known experience usually attends our first contact with certain sequences of words and sounds that leave in us a sweet wound more desirable than many material satisfactions. At first, this is not a question of understanding; usually, the understandable element of the sentence is very simple, so much so that, as often, as not, there is nothing to understand at all. It can be just a singsong, or one of those playful lyrics which sound so much like a lovely nursery rhyme:
Lawn as white as driven snow;
Cyprus black as e'er was crow;
Gloves as sweet as damask roses;
Masks for faces and for noses;
Bugle bracelet, necklace amber,
Perfume for a lady's chamber . . .
Any time we feel an irresistible urge to stop, to linger upon such an experience, to repeat it for the mere pleasure of experiencing again, we can feel sure that beauty is there.
When joy is experienced by sense, and in sense, its true name is pleasure. Words always betray such experiences. In the present case, it should be made clear from the outset that, because to see is to know, the pleasure of aesthetic experience is that of cognition. The desire to repeat it is the desire of repeating an act of cognition. Moreover, since the cause of pleasure lies in the very apprehension of a certain object, the desire to repeat it expresses itself in a series of intellectual efforts whose aim and purpose it is to deepen, to clarify, and, in a word, to perfect our knowledge of its cause. This is one of those cases in which a continuous exchange takes place among pleasure, love, and knowledge, the desire to know springing from the pleasure that the sight of a certain object can give and, in turn, the pleasure itself feeding on an always more intimate knowledge of its source. The pleasure that is here at stake is exactly of the same sort as that of contemplation. And, indeed, aesthetic experience is, first and foremost, a sensible contemplation that blossoms in an intellectual inquiry into its cause. Therefore, in saying that aesthetic experience is that of a pleasure, we shall always point out the kind of emotion a man experiences in contact with an object whose apprehension is desirable for its own sake. The beautiful is that which, in the object itself, is the cause of such emotions, or of such pleasures, of such acts of cognition.
Read in the light of these simple facts, many ancient doctrines recover the fullness of a truth that has been obscured by too many misunderstandings. The Scholastics used to define the beautiful (pulchrum): that which pleases when seen.2 A similar position was upheld in the seventeenth century by Nicolas Poussin, when he defined painting: "An imitation of anything visible that is under the sun, done on a surface by means of lines and colors. Its end is delectation."3 To be sure, the word "delectation" conveys the notion of an emotion more complex than what is commonly called pleasure, but, precisely, whatever the mind contributes to the pleasure of the eyes is there in view of turning this pleasure into a protracted delectation. In the very last lines of his Journal, Delacroix has noted in pencil this ultimate reflection: "the first quality in a picture is to be a delight for the eyes."4 It would be a pity to lose sight of a position that has obtained the support of Aristotle, Poussin, and Delacroix. But the best way to ensure its survival is perhaps to examine its ultimate implications.
As has been seen in its place,5 an object is said to be a work of art for the elementary reason that it owes its very existence to the art of an artist. But it owes to the same art to be such as it is, and if it has been of such nature that its sight gives pleasure to those who experience it, the cause that makes it an object pleasing to human eyes remains inherent in it, or consubstantial with it, as long as it remains in existence. This is to say that the beautiful hangs on our actual experience of it as far as its aesthetic mode of existence is concerned, but its physical existence is as independent of the fact that it is being experienced or not as the physical existence of the work of art itself is. And no wonder, since for a work of art to be and to be fully actualized as an actually existing work of art are one and the same thing. Here, as in all similar cases, there is nothing to prevent a philosopher from adopting an idealistic attitude. We can pretend to believe that the intrinsic physical characteristics that make some Egyptian paintings such an unexpected joy to the eye simply ceased to exist during the millenniums they spent in complete darkness, invisible to human eyes. The least that can be said about such a supposition is that it is a wholly gratuitous one. Successfully achieved works of art are not beautiful because they please our eyes; they please our eyes because they are beautiful. Their beauty is coextensive with their duration as it is consubstantial with their being as works of art.
On the other hand, it is true that the beautiful reveals itself and reaches one of its ends in the human act of cognition by which it is being actually apprehended. In this respect even the classical formulas in which the Scholastics used to speak of the beautiful are apt to be misleading. In saying that the beautiful is that which pleases when seen ("id quod visum placet"), one seems to say that the beautiful consists in the pleasure that it gives to those who perceive it. But their complete view of the problem was more complex than one might surmise from this abbreviated formula. First of all, since the beautiful is apprehended by an act whose repetition is desirable, it is an object of love. But that which is an object of love is apprehended as a certain good. For this reason, the beautiful is a particular case of the good. It is the kind of good found in the very apprehension, by sense, of any kind of being so made that there is pleasure in the very act of apprehending it. This is not an exclusive property of works of art. Every sense perception whose act is enjoyable for its own sake is an intimation of the objective presence of beauty in its object. Things of nature, such as landscapes, seascapes, animals, human figures and faces, even the works of man's industry, such as cities, utensils, and the most modest of man-made objects—in short, everything that in any sense of the verb can be said "to be" is susceptible, under favorable circumstances, of becoming an object of pleasurable experience. One then realizes that the thing is beautiful. The nature of this experience is the same with the works of nature as it is with the works of art. The beautiful is the same in both cases. Not, indeed, our own apprehension of it, but that, in reality, whose nature is such that there is for us pleasure in the very act by which it is being apprehended: "id cujus ipsa apprehensio placet."6
There is, however, a real distinction between the naturally beautiful and the artistically beautiful. Their difference lies in their respective origins and, by the same token, in our awareness of the difference. Natural beauty belongs to things considered as so many works of nature. Artistic beauty belongs to objects considered as works of art. This is so truly perceived by artists themselves that one can find in this elementary fact one of the deepest reasons for their creative activity. To the question asked by the rustic, Rousseau could have answered: "I am painting an oak tree because the one we are seeing is not quite the one I would like to see." At the origin of the art of painting there is a vague feeling that, admirable and even unequaled in its works as it is, nature does not provide man with all the objects of apprehension he would like to perceive. The primary function of art is to provide man with such objects as nature itself does not provide, because their only aim and purpose is to be beautiful. This implies no dissatisfaction with nature qua nature; it only implies the feeling that there is a whole order of beings whose production is the responsibility of man himself, or, at least, of man as an artist.
Artists could almost be defined as the special class of persons who do not find in nature a certain class of objects that ought to be there—namely, objects whose existence, essence, and structure are exclusively justifiable by the pleasure found in apprehending them. Paintings are not simply objects that are pleasant to see; they are objects that have been produced by artists in such a way that their sight pleases the eyes. This is the cause of their existence. Because they do not find in nature objects whose exclusive raison d'etre is the aesthetic pleasure derived from their perception, artists set out to produce such objects. There are no such things in the physical world; so let us make them.
This also is one of the causes of the creative nature of the aesthetic perception, or imagination, in which we have found the germinal forms of pictures to be done. Owing to their creative imagination, painters live in a universe of their own, a sort of earthly paradise in which, because they have been made to serve this precise purpose, all objects, beings, and scenes are as they should be in order to please the perceiving powers by which they are apprehended.7 Last, not least, this is the cause of the very structure of the particular class of works of art called paintings. Each of them is such that all the elements that enter its structure, and their very order, contribute to make it an object whose apprehension delights the eye.8
At this point, the question inevitably arises: What is there, in some forms, that makes them pleasant to see? However this question is answered, and even though we failed to agree on a satisfactory explanation of the fact, the fact itself at least is there, and its reality cannot be denied. As to the theory by which it can be accounted for, although all seem to agree on its principle ever since the time of Aristotle, its scientific formulation has made little progress.
The problem of the aesthetic pleasure experienced in seeing paintings is usually conceived by analogy with the clearer case of music. The musical sounds are perceived vibrations of air, and the combination of two or more musical sounds either pleases the ear or displeases it, according to the numerical relations that obtain between their respective vibrations. At the time of Aristotle, Greek ears seem to have lagged far behind Greek eyes in their aptitude to perceive such relations. In his treatise On Sense and the Sensed, Aristotle explains that colors are like sounds, in this at least, that the cause of the pleasure they give is the same. Harmonies are most pleasing to ears when they obey numerical proportions, such as, for instance, unison, which is the perfect identity in pitch; such is also diapason, which sounds the consonance of the octave and in which, therefore, the proportion that of two to one. Aristotle still mentions the proportions of three to two (diapente), and of three to four, and so on. In short, all combinations of sounds that can be expressed in terms of numerical proportions are pleasant to hear; the others are not. The same remarks apply to colors. In his commentary on this text, Thomas Aquinas observes that, just as, in consonances, or harmonies, the most pleasing to hear are those which consist in numbers, so also, in the case of colors, "those which consist in numerical proportion are the most proportionate, and the same seen also to be the most delectable, such as yellow . [croceus] and purple [purpureus], that is, red. And just as few harmonies are pleasing to hear, so also few colors are pleasing to see. As to the other colors, which are not pleasant to see, they do not consist of numerical proportions."9
As can be seen from these words, the problem was still in its infancy at the time of St. Thomas Aquinas. The fact that he does not even speak of the consonance of several colors, but only of the numerical proportion that constitutes a single color, does not modify the essence of the problem. On the contrary, it exactly localizes the difficulty, for, indeed, he whose eye does not perceive the presence of the numerical proportions whose apprehension would be for him a cause of pleasure is exactly blind to painting and excluded from the pleasures that the sight of its works can give. The pleasure itself is not the aesthetic experience; it accompanies it whenever it takes place. At its origin is found the perfect adaptation that there is between a certain eye and a certain visible object whose structure makes it a perfect object of apprehension. Sense perception is a biological function whose exercise is normally attended by pleasure. In the case of aesthetic experience, the structure of the objects to be experienced has been selected by the artist, from among many possible ones, precisely in view of its aptitude to cause pleasurable acts of apprehension.
To such a conception of aesthetic experience and of art, the ready objection is that it is one of the many branches of hedonism—that is, of the doctrine according to which pleasure is the supreme good. It suffices for our purpose to say that, without itself being the supreme good, pleasure is intimately related to it. The dignity of pleasure is proportionate to that of its cause. Do not theologians consider the beatific vision the ultimate end of man? In the more modest case of aesthetic experience, the pleasure at stake finds its source in the very intelligibility of being.
Assuredly, aesthetic pleasure is found in sense experience, but our sensibility is that of a man. In listening to the performance of one of Beethoven's quartets, our ear perceives sonorous relations that would escape the apprehension of a non-rational animal. The formal structure of a fugue, of the first movement of a piano sonata, or of the finale of the second act of The Marriage of Figaro is as directly perceptible to a human ear as are the numerical relations that define the chords, the bars, and the musical phrases that constitute such music. What this interpretation of musical experience entails is that the pleasure it implies flows from the aptitude of human sense powers to perceive intelligible relations under the form of sensible qualities. In using the word "perceive," we mean to say that this experience is essentially distinct from intellectual knowledge,10 but we also maintain its essentially cognitive nature as well as the essentially intelligible nature of its object.11 This identity of object is unavoidable since, under all its forms, the nature of reality remains identically the same. It is the nature of being.
Similar remarks apply to painting. It is worth noticing that some of the most daring reformers in the history of this art, despite their personal divergences, have agreed on the notion that intelligible laws are at work in aesthetic experience, and this not only in music, as is evident, but also in painting. The intention attributed to Paul Cezanne of reducing material objects to geometric structures similar to those which constitute the universe in the Timaeus of Plato,12 the quasi-esoteric speculations carried by the so-called Nabis,13" are so many signs that .this conviction has never deserted the minds of painters. Above all, it should be noted that just as it is capable of giving perfect satisfactions to the mind, mathematics is capable of offering to sense perfectly satisfactory objects of perception. Who has not stood speechless before the perfect plastic beauty of certain plaster casts stored on the shelves of the department of mathematics in some faculty of sciences? Yet these objects are nothing else than straight geometric models, unless they represent the concrete development, in space, of some algebraic formula whose intelligibility thus becomes perceptible to sense. No wonder, then, that we can now see them, or very similar ones, no longer as mathematical models, but as works of art, in the Developable Column of Pevsner, in the Spiral Theme of Naum Gabo (Museum of Modern Art, New York), or even integrated by some modern painters with their own compositions.14
The significance of this fact is considerable. It helps us to realize the true nature of the forms handled by the painter. Behind every geometrical curve, or volume, even behind a simple line and its inflections, there is present an element of mathematical intelligibility. Leibniz was fond of repeating that there is no number of dots, thrown at random on a plane surface, that it is not possible to connect by means of a single line expressing a single law. The germinal form in the mind of the painter is not such a law, but it operates in accordance with a secret feeling for intelligibility. A sort of instinct rather than a knowledge, the germinal form gropes its way toward its final embodiment in a certain matter according to an inner tendency similar to that which orientates the form toward its end in the production of a natural being. The result of the operation, to borrow the words of Baudelaire,15 is to bring about "another nature." Only, in the case of painting, the germinal form becomes incarnate in a matter exclusively structured to offer the eye a perfect object of apprehension and, so to speak, of sensible contemplation.
Thus understood, the germinal form is only perceptible to us under its first concrete expression, which is the painting; but it is the apprehension of that form in and through its body which constitutes the very core of aesthetic experience, the cause of the joy it implies, and, in short, its true object. It cannot be found in nature, or even in a revised and corrected version of nature destined to reduce it to average normality. The causes of visible forms are not themselves visible. Art is there to give them visible appearance and to reveal them to us through the medium of sense perception.
2. Being and Beauty
It is a commonly received theological truth that the universe bears witness to the existence and power of its Creator; a work of art likewise betrays at first sight the mastery of its author. It is to be regretted that the best words grow so hackneyed that the strength of their primitive meaning ultimately evaporates. In the present case, it is with good reason that painters have been called "masters," for, indeed, even apart from the fact that the germinal form is born of his own genius, an artist always remains the master of his work. A "master" is a person having control, and a painter is no master if, having conceived his work, he does not control its execution, as far as possible, in its smallest details.
Art lovers feel differently about this problem. They usually express their admiration for the boldness of conception that characterizes the great creators of art. And, true enough, inspiration (which is but another name for the germinal form) is necessary, but it is something about which artists themselves can do very little. Even when it is present, it is like unto the molten metal without which one cannot cast a statue; but the molten metal itself will never become a statue unless the sculptor forces it into a previously calculated mold. Art is essentially a know-how. It is much less inspiration itself than the wise management of inspiration. All the characters signified by the term "masterly" originate in this domination exercised by the painter over his work.
The main consequence of this fact is immediately perceptible to the eye. Dunoyer de Segonzac has expressed it in saying that one of the most essential elements in a work of art is la tenue. A man has de la tenue (tenir: to hold) when there is nothing slipshod about him or, in other words, when he holds himself well in hand, keeping a firm control over his own way of dressing, behaving, and speaking. A work of art, especially a picture, has de la tenue when it is at once experienced as the result of an attentively controlled effort.16
Artists of various schools and living in different times have resorted to different devices to ensure this domination over their works. Generally speaking, they have inserted between inspiration and execution a method, a doctrine, or theory, whose proper function it was to help them solve at least the general problems of composition and execution that arise in connection with all paintings.
Perhaps the oldest of these devices is related to the problem of dividing a surface into unequal parts, according to a universal rule and in such a way that it pleases the eye. It is called the method of the "golden number," or "golden section."17 Its origin seems to be the teaching of Pythagoras, or of his school, but it has been revived in recent years by enthusiastic disciples. Paul Serusier, one of its exponents, has been blamed for having philosophized at the expense of his creative power as an artist,18 but there is some illusion in the common belief that too much speculation must necessarily harm painting. It all depends on the painters. At any rate, in the case of Paul Serusier, it can be said that, concerning the division of surfaces and the combination of colors, he simply codified general rules that had been brought into play by countless artists before his time.19 The still more geometrical speculations followed by Juan Gris certainly did not impair his creative power or his originality.20
Another attempt to establish general forms, or canons, as guides for the painter is represented by the obscure doctrine of the pictorial "modes" imagined by Nicolas Poussin in imitation of the musical modes of the Greeks. What renders the doctrine obscure is its ambition to establish an exact correspondence between painting and music. Otherwise, the general intention is rather clear. A musician does not indifferently write in any key; he recognizes the existence of affinities between certain tonalities and the moods of the soul that he intends to express or to suggest. A universally perceptible instance is the difference between A and A flat or between any two major and minor modes. The Greek musical modes, Doric, Phrygian, Lydian, etc., were considered adapted to the expression of definite moods of the soul, and although there are no such clear-cut distinctions between the general tonalities of pictures, Poussin conceived the idea of distinguishing them according to the musical modes of the Greeks. His letter of November 24, 1647, to Chantelou seems to have unduly puzzled his historians. In Poussin's own mind, a "mode" is one of those laws, or methods, which artists establish in order to help them in executing the work. In a way, such sets of rules entail certain obligations; so they impose restrictions upon the freedom of the painter, but, on the other hand, they facilitate his task by defining a general course of action whose observance is sure to lead to certain results.
How closely related to the notion of mastery this notion of modes is clearly appears from its definition by Poussin: "The good old Greeks, inventors of all beautiful things, discovered several modes by means of which they produced marvelous effects. This word mode properly signifies the reason or the measure and form we have to resort to in order to do something. It prevents us from overstepping it; it obliges us to proceed in everything with a certain restraint and moderation. Consequently, this restraint and moderation is nothing else than a certain manner, or order, both firm and determinate, found in the process by which the thing keeps itself in existence."21 A method in execution keeps the artist within bounds and, by the same token, keeps his work within the limits that define its entity. This notion of "mode" represented, in Poussin's mind, the self-imposed disciplines without which painters find it hardly possible to achieve their works. When, two centuries later, Cezanne declared his intention to do Poussin all over again but, this time, "from nature," he clearly proved that to dominate the execution of his work by means of a setup method was, for every artist, an objective necessity.
The first sign that betrays the hand of a true master is what philosophers, theologians, and even some artists have agreed to call the "integrity" of the painting.22 The word itself can be given many meanings. In its application to paintings, however, it means that the painting at stake is a complete whole, lacking nothing of what should enter its structure as a perfectly completed being. Thus understood, the integrity of a painting is proportional to its being. If none of the elements that are essential to its structure is missing, then it enjoys wholeness and, consequently, the plenitude of being.23
Integrity should not be confused with the privilege, enjoyed by certain paintings, of causing a powerful impression of stability, of solidity, so much so that at times they seem to impart to what they represent a sort of independent reality. 24 It has rightly been said that "tactile values" are of great importance in paintings,25 but the fact that some of them succeed in imparting to visible images the apparent solidity of real objects is not exactly the same thing as the integrity of the work. Some authentic master pieces have very little tactile value; still, they have integrity if, for instance, intending to convey a dreamlike impression, they intentionally refrain from indulging in realistic accents. Odilon Redon, or even Turner, does not rely on tactile values to achieve his purpose. Integrity is there when the artist has succeeded in imparting existence to a fully constituted being.
There is one more reason why this first attribute of the beautiful should be situated in the relationship of the work of art to itself rather than to the density of the imaginary reality it represents. Two of the three panels by Botticelli preserved in the Prado tell a part of the rather long story of Nastagio degli Onesti. But the story itself is of little importance as compared with the immediately perceptible perfection of these two compositions. Since the colors cannot possibly be shown, the absolute integrity of these two works cannot be demonstrated. But it would be no less vain to attempt an analysis of these faultless paintings, because to understand them as works of art precisely consists in perceiving and enjoying, prior to any analysis, the total effect produced by the calculations of the painter. The first of the two panels (61) is perhaps still more remarkable than the other one in that, although the eye does not grasp it at once in its totality, each of the parts that it grasps is apprehended as a totality. Here, as in the case of Pisanello's Portrait of a Woman in the National Gallery or in practically any one of the panels that make up The Legend of St. Ursula, by Carpaccio, the painter has integrally realized the form that his art intended to actualize. The onlooker sees at once that this is true, and, like all evidences, this one is no object of demonstration.
Where there is integrity, there also is harmony, for, indeed, the mutual adaptation of the parts of the work of art and their over-all agreement with the whole are conditions necessarily required for its unity.26 The presence of harmony is revealed by the feeling that any attempt to modify the relationship that obtains among the colors, the masses, and the lines of a painting would result in the destruction of the whole. In the second of the Prado panels (62), the need to represent at the center of the composition a double scene, corresponding to two distinct moments of one and the same story, has necessitated a flattening and a deepening of the perspective, compensated for by a narrowing of the central space delimited by the two front trees. The second panel is a sort of triptych whose three parts so felicitously communicate that a perfect harmony obtains between the unity of the whole and that of each of the parts. No calculation is required from the mind of the onlooker; it is not even certain that the painter himself did literally calculate his work, but the numbers are in it, and they are seen by the eye.
This is so certain that even a painter of genius is not always equally happy in his choices. The scene in which the hunted woman (63) finally reaches the scene of a banquet offers the eyes an unconvincing superposition of horizontals, from the tops of the tree stumps in the foreground to the two lines of the table, then to those formed by the heads of the figures, by the lake shore, and by the dark foliage of the trees. The vertical division of the painted space, faultless in the first two panels, is sadly lacking here. It is the same painter, the same colors, and the same style, but the charm does not operate. After a perfunctory glance at the third panel, the eye lovingly returns to the two other ones as to inexhaustible sources of joy. Once more, if integrity and harmony cannot easily be defined, they can easily and delightfully be seen.
The third and last element of the beautiful is also the downfall of the metaphysicians. For once, having to speak of a quality of matter whose apprehension is an emotion, they find themselves short of words. The Latins used to call it claritas, which means neither clearness nor lucidity, but, rather, the kind of property of a beautiful thing that one often expresses in saying that it "radiates" a light of its own. A "radiant beauty" should be considered a tautology. All beauty radiates.27 A sort of diffused light seems to emanate from painted masterpieces and to enfold them in a transparent veil of which, perhaps, our own emotion is a part. This radiance is not that of color, or of form, or of any particular combination of lines; it is an effluence of the whole painting that owes its existence to the art of the painter and by which we feel softly invaded. Its veritable cause lies in the fact that we then find ourselves confronted by an object whose material elements are thoroughly spiritualized. Instead of being the colors, the shapes, the attitudes, and the motions of natural mountains, trees, animals, and men, all the sensible qualities that constitute such paintings are entirely subservient to the sole end pursued by the painter's art. And this end is a spiritual one—namely, to provide our powers of apprehension with an object integrally constructed in view of their own act. The radiance of a painting is that of a matter in a sort of state of glory, elevated by the art of man to the condition of a pure object of cognition. There are no such objects in the world of nature, but it is enough to look at the small St. John in the Desert (64a), by Domenico Veneziano, or at the St. George and the Dragon (64b), by Paolo Uccello, in order to realize that such is the very essence of authentic works of art. The painter has entirely disengaged himself from the physical reality of nature, and his reward is to have thereby given existence to a sensible reality of a specifically different kind in which the qualities of matter develop an intelligibility perceptible to sense. To be such a sensible being is truly to be a thing of beauty and a work of art.
This transfiguration of matter by art does not follow from a laborious process of composition going from the parts to the whole. A well-known engraving by Hogarth is entitled The Analysis of Beauty. If the point stood in need of demonstration, this plate would suffice to prove that the elements of beauty have very little beauty of their own. Apart from a few geometrical lines, two or three elementary solids, and some natural forms, the rest consists of stays and of heads evolving from the normal to the ludicrous. Even taking into account the dry humor proper to Hogarth, one cannot help wondering how beauty could possibly arise out of such ingredients.
In point of fact, it does not. What comes first is the form of the whole painting, and so long as he works within its salutary limits there is no reason why the artist should care for anything else. Then is the time for him to say, with Eric Gill, that "beauty takes care of itself."
But where art comes to an end, philosophy begins. If they are irrelevant to art, these notions are directly relevant to the finished work of art whose apprehension is for the philosopher a fitting object of reflection. Even so, they should not be conceived as pointing out three distinct elements that enter the structure of the beautiful as our understanding conceives it. The beautiful comes first, and, as soon as it is there, the possible plurality of our points of view concerning it appears together with it. A sign that it is so can be found in the fact that every attempt to define one of these notions taken in itself unavoidably conjures up the other ones. Like the beautiful itself, they all share in the transcendental unity of being.
3. The Quest of Beauty
According to what precedes, the very essence of painting is its power to actualize forms and, by the same token, to produce new beings whose perception is for us a cause of delectation. This creative power of forms has been acknowledged by modern aesthetics as the essence of plastic arts28 but this is no reason to ignore the fact that, for centuries, another notion of painting has generally prevailed. Living as we do in an age when painters take pride in their almost complete liberty, there is a real peril for a philosopher in neglecting the testimony of so many generations of artists whose works and words seem to tell an entirely different story. We have accumulated texts in which painters have stressed the creative side of their activity, but a no less traditional set of definitions could be quoted in which the notions of imitation and representation assume a great importance. And, indeed, these notions are almost inevitable. Even granting that the proper function of art is to create in beauty, one still has to concede that beauty is not exclusively produced by art. There is beauty in nature. In fact, there is so much of it, and of such a superlative sort, that great artists themselves sometimes wonder if there is any point in adding to natural beauty the more modest beauty of art. Hence the traditional effort carried on by generation after generation of artists to discover beauty in nature, or, rather, to find in natural beauty the very pattern of the beauty to be imitated by their art.
The fecundity of this notion is attested by the countless masterpieces accumulated in art galleries by the masters of traditional art. By and large, it can be identified with the doctrine according to which art in general, but quite especially the plastic arts, have their source in imitation. In this view, the beautiful in art has to be borrowed from the beautiful in nature and, so to speak, to be embodied in the matter of the works of art. There would be no point in attempting a dialectical discussion of a notion whose object is concerned with a definite type of action, but it will not be amiss to consult the very representatives of the schools of art whose task it has been to submit their own doctrine, along with its practice, to the acid test of artistic creation. As will be seen later, the modern conceptions of painting are not free from ambiguities, but it would be a serious error to imagine that the traditional interpretation of the plastic arts did not experience difficulties of its own.
If he sets out to look for beauty in reality in order to reproduce it or to interpret it in his art, a painter must have a certain notion of both reality and beauty. Now, painters are not philosophers in the usually received sense of the term. When one of them interrogates himself about reality, the meaning of his question simply is: what is paintable reality? In other words, such an artist is simply wondering what there is, in visible reality, that he could, and should, try to represent or to imitate. But since reality is one and the same for all men, it is difficult for painters not to remember, or not to rediscover by themselves, one of the few possible answers given by philosophers to the same question.
This is eminently true in the case of Plato and Aristotle, of whose doctrines Bergson used to say that they were the kind of philosophy that comes naturally to the human mind. The easiest way for a painter to define the place of the beauty he strives to achieve is to resort to the philosophy of Plato or to some simplified version of it. But there is a price to pay for a mind that finds its rest in the truth of Platonism, and since no one can define it better than Plato himself did in book X of The Republic, the only thing to do is to let him speak for himself.
The dialogue is between Socrates and Glaucon. It presupposes the recognition of a truth established at great length, in other parts of the same work—namely, that true reality does not consist in the changeable becoming of the individual objects perceived by sense, but, rather, in the self-subsisting and unchangeable Ideas of which each concrete being is but a particular expression. The feeling often experienced by artists that they are engaged in a quest whose object will always elude their best efforts finds a sort of bitter satisfaction in this answer to the problem. Their perennial sense of frustration is justified by their knowledge that, even if they were endowed with the most powerful creative genius, their works would still fall short of the ideal goal of their art. Apart from this negative consolation, the notion of an ideal beauty does very little to help artists in their work. In point of fact, as Plato himself has admirably established, it reduces the work of the artist to an imitation, not of the ideal beauty itself, but, rather, of any one of its particular embodiments in natural beings.
Starting from the hypothesis that there is an eternal Idea of the bed, and that the ambition of the painter is to imitate it, Socrates first recalls that the real beds made by joiners already are so many imitations of this Idea or Form. This leaves us confronted with three kinds of beds: the ideal and unique form of the bed, created by God, the many beds made by joiners after the model of this form, and all the beds made by painters, in doing their paintings, after the model of one of these beds. This, as Socrates makes Glaucon see it, leaves the painter far behind God, and even behind the joiner in the order of creativeness:
"Then," Socrates said, "painter, joiner, God; these three are set above three kinds of bed."
"Now whether it was that God did not elect to make more beds than one, or that some species of necessity lay on him to prevent his making more than one in nature, at all events he has produced but one, unique, which is the veritable Bed. Two beds like that, or more than two, have not been formed by God in nature, nor will they ever be."
"How so?" said he.
"Because," said I, "if God were to make but two, then yet again single bed would be revealed whose form the other two would share, and this would be the real bed, not they."
"Correct," said he.
"God knew that, I believe; he wished to be the real maker of a real bed, and not a certain artisan of a certain bed, and so created this unique authentic bed in nature."
"So it seems."
"Then you wish to call him the Creator of this form, or to use some similar term?"
"Yes, that is only just," he said, "since by creation he has made this thing along with all the rest."
"What about the joiner? Are we not to call him the artificer of a bed?"
"And the painter, too? Shall we call him the artificer and maker of the like?"
"What name then, do you say, has his relation to the bed?"
"The name," said he, "in my opinion, that best applies to him, is that of imitator of the object which the other makes."
"Good," I said. "So you denominate the author of something at the third remove from its creation 'imitator'?"
"Precisely so," said he.29
In thus reducing painting to the imitation of an imitation of a unique model, Plato was. not only turning it into a strictly noncreative activity, he also condemned it to work in utter ignorance of what it is said to imitate. As a model to be imitated by painters, the ideal Form of which Plato makes so much has this irremediable defect, that it is invisible. To be sure, it helps artists to think that their confused but intense aspiration toward an inaccessible beauty is not without an object, but the very notion of imitating what they cannot see does not make sense. So their next move is to exchange the doctrine of Plato for the revised version of it provided by Aristotle, a thing that painters have often done in the past, even though they had no. clear notion of what they were doing.
According to Aristotle, each individual is a concrete incarnation of its own species. The species itself, for instance, man, has no existence of its own; it only subsists as particularized in individual human beings, but the human intellect, starting from the sense perception of individuals, is able to form within itself the abstract notion of the species. In short, we see men. only, but we can conceive the general notion of man.
Following this Aristotelian lead, some painters have imagined individuals as so many specimens of ideal types that it was their own task to represent by their art. But the project was fraught with a fundamental difficulty. Although the point has been disputed, a philosopher can maintain that he actually succeeds in forming abstract concepts—that is to say, a common notion of man applicable to all particular men; but an artist would have a hard time proving that he can form such a monster as an abstract image. Like all visible objects, an image is an individual, and no individual reality can possibly imitate the totality of the other individual realities that belong in the same species. Artists know this even much better than philosophers themselves; they must therefore have something else in mind when they speak of types and of their beauty as of the object of their art.
The only other notion that can be present in their minds, however, is as little intelligible as the preceding ones. In the philosophy of Aristotle, the species itself does not exist apart from its individuals; otherwise it would be a Platonic Idea. On the contrary, if he turns it into an individual, such as its painted representation, the painter is attempting this impossible feat—namely, to impart artistic existence to a model of beauty that has no physical existence in reality.
To this problem, painters nevertheless have an answer. They consider themselves dedicated to the task of extracting from reality, by correcting, compensating for, or eliminating individual differences, the average type to which nature seems to be tending without ever succeeding in realizing it. In this sense, art would reveal to nature the true type that nature is eternally trying to achieve without ever completely succeeding.
If this is what the art of painting is really trying to do, then painters Should first give up describing it as an art of imitation. By definition, the ideal type of the species is not to be found ready-made in reality. In order to represent it in the fullness of its perfection arid of its beauty, painters have first to create it with the power of their imagination. But this requires an effort of which not all painters are capable, and to facilitate their task, many of those who are in quest of an ideal type of human beauty simply decide that the discovery of this type has already been made by the Greeks. To find it actualized in matter, it is enough to look at the classical Greek art of the Phidian period.30 And the thing has abundantly been done; but here, too, there have been difficulties.
The first result of such an attempt has been to turn what had been intended to be an imitation of reality into the imitation of a particular interpretation of reality. From the very moment this type of art is turned into an ideal model, a conventionalism begins to obtain, in which art feeds on art instead of feeding on reality. When it attempts to contact physical beauty in nature, the result of the painter's decision to limit himself to average types is that impersonal figures and faces everywhere prevail, as if the goal of art were to produce plastic equivalents of abstract notions. Because artists then go to classical antiquity for their models, such an art is rightly labeled classicism, and because it necessarily proceeds by teachable rules borrowed from the study of classical models, the same art finds itself at home in schools, or academies, and is aptly called academic. The proper effort of academicism is to seek beauty in the imitation of classical art instead of seeking it in the imitation of reality.
There is no better example of this attitude than Sir Joshua Reynolds' Discourses on Painting. According to this excellent painter of portraits, that is, of individuals, the end of painting was to achieve a sort of typology. If we believe him, only the common run of painters can take an interest in the differences that distinguish individuals within the same species; whereas the true artist, "like the philosopher, will consider Nature in the abstract, and represent in every one of his figures the character of the species."31 Yet, at the same time he was propounding this abstract notion of paintable reality, the same Reynolds corrected it by means of two felicitous inconsistencies. First, he observed that even if an artist turns to the Greeks for information about some species, or type, he will soon realize that there never was such a thing in their art. This is evident if we compare Greek art with itself at the successive epochs of its history, but the fact is no less certain if we consider Greek art at any given moment of its evolution. There has never been any fixed human type recognized as the model of human beauty by all the artists of ancient Greece. Secondly, Reynolds clearly realized that to paint average types—that is, cross sections of actually existing beings or things—also was to paint something that, precisely because it is abstract, cannot possibly exist.32' When it is thus understood, the object of painting no longer is to represent reality, but, paradoxically enough, unreality.
This is exactly what academicism has always done, at all times and in all countries. The insipidity of its conventionalism is the penalty it must pay for its initial decision to break away from actually existing individual things. The deplorable products of Ingres' imagination when he had no model under his very eyes are a sufficient confirmation of this truth.
If reality is neither a Platonic Idea nor an Aristotelian species, only one way still remains open for the painter as well as for the philosopher. In the schools of the Middle Ages, those who did not believe in the reality of self-subsisting ideas, or in the reality of the species, had no other choice than to identify reality with concrete individuals. This is the very reason the reaction against the conventionalism of the schools and academies regularly assumes the form of a return to realism.33 The fidelity of the painter to reality as given in actually existing objects or beings is a good cure for the anemia endemic in the abstract types favored by academic painting. Within the limits of imitational art, no other kind of reaction seems to be conceivable. Beauty has to be found where it is, and if concrete individuals are the only true realities, then the painter has to find beauty in them, taken as they are, or he will never find it. The solid realism of Courbet, not always pure of vulgarity, well exemplifies the normal reaction of a born artist against the mannerism of the schools.
Another illustration of the same problem is provided by the question endlessly disputed among painters: what use should one make of the model? If beauty has to be looked for in given reality, all the preceding problems arise again. If he simply uses the model as an invitation to conceive the very Idea of which the concrete reality is but a shadow, his work is likely to lack substance. If the painter reduces his model to some abstract type, he can do as well without looking at it. If he follows his model with close attention and almost slavish fidelity, the artist can hardly avoid the pitfall of vulgarity. At any rate, his only merit will be to offer to nature, in the mirror of art, an image of its own beauty, not an expression of the beauty of art.
It is hardly possible to read the writings of any traditional painter without finding him at grips with one or more of these difficulties.34 An attentive examination of their works often reveals traces of this problem whose reality is beyond doubt. What makes it insoluble is the false belief that artistic beauty is found, not made. As soon as this illusion goes, all these difficulties go together with it.
Beauty certainly is found in nature, but it is the beauty of nature, not that of art. The power of illusion of painting must be very great indeed to make good minds hesitate on its very essence. A painter does not produce real beings, or moving and operating robots such as those which engineers produce. A painter does not even turn out solid bodies like the statues carved or modeled by sculptors. The flimsy films of colors produced by the painter have no substance beyond that of the surface they determine. Behind this envelope of imaginary beings, there is nothing but stone, plaster, wood, or canvas. But this lack of all other responsibility than that of pleasing the eye is precisely for painting the source of its aesthetic liberty. There is not a single real being that has not something else to do than to please. There is not a single work of art that, taken precisely qua work of art, has anything else to do than to cause in us the contemplative pleasure of enjoying its sight. Nature produces no works of art; nature produces artists who, in turn, produce works of art.
Nor should we imagine a painter as imitating in his limited way the activity of some higher artist whose example he is following. Aesthetic speculation is not qualified to determine the final cause of creation. This is the business of theology. So far no theologian has yet imagined that the end of creation was the production, by the Creator, of beings whose essential and unique function it is to be pleasing when seen. Yet, taken precisely as an artist, the painter does nothing else and his work serves no other immediate purpose. Art galleries represent the modest contribution of one of God's creatures to the embellishment of his own creation. In their own way, and judged at the level of man, they are a priceless contribution, but they are nothing else. God does not seem interested in creating paintings, nor does nature produce any such beings. Men, women, animals, trees, even stones, and the colossal masses of the mountains or seas, lakes, and streams that cover the planet are beings entirely different from works of art, and none of them is primarily intended to serve some artistic purpose. The remark has often been made that artists and their works teach us to see nature as a collection of works of art, and not only nature, but cities, suburbs, and discarded junk—down to the pathetic pair of old shoes in which, if he has the talent to do so, a painter can make us perceive the presence of some beauty. Man is too small and too weak a creature to create other objects of nature, but he is just engaged enough in matter to be able to mold parts of it in view of a spiritual end with which nature itself does not seem to be concerned. This is the portion of man; a modest one, indeed; it just so happens that he is the only being to which that share has been allotted:
Dein Nissen teilest du mit vorgezognen Geistern,
Die Kunst, O Mensch, hast du allein.35
These conclusions are not supposed to bring any controversy to a close. There is no obligatory point of view from which art should be considered, not even the point of view of art. Ever .since the time of Plato, it has been customary to describe, to define, and to appreciate art from the point of view of truth rather than of beauty. The consequences are well known. The city needs carpenters because the city needs beds, but the city does not need people whose only job is to paint images of real carpenters or images of real beds that only real carpenters can make. Along with poets, painters should be politely invited to leave the territory of a philosophically ordered state. Under a less brutal form, a very large number of men, perhaps even the majority of those who stop to consider the nature of art, feel likewise inclined to conceive it as the expression of a second or third-rate knowledge. The very last place they would think of in their quest of the source from which flows the beauty of art is themselves.
But this takes us to the threshold of another problem. Why do we all have to resist a similar tendency? How is it that it takes us a special effort of reflection to reconcile ourselves to the notion that there is at least one human activity whose effects should not be judged with reference to an already given reality? The answer to this question cannot be found in the consideration of the art of painting alone. We now have to consider it in its relationship to a world foreign to its essence, the world of language. In the last analysis, the quest of beauty always ends in conversations.
1. "A great painter concentrates the interest by suppressing details that are useless, offensive, or foolish; his mighty hand orders and prescribes, adding to or taking away from the objects in his pictures, and treating them as his own creatures; he ranges freely throughout his kingdom and gives you a feast of his own choosing, whereas, with a second-rate artist, you feel that he is master of nothing" (The Journal of Eugene Delacroix, p. 227 [April 28, 18541). — Cf. Reynolds, Discourses, p. 42, and the personal experience related by Eric Gill, below, ch. 8, n. 37. — The following anecdote concerning Theodore Rousseau and the rustic is found in the memoirs of the painter Jules Breton (La Vie d'un artiste, p. 291).
2. "Beautiful and good in a thing are identical fundamentally, for they are based upon the same thing, namely, the form; and this is why good is praised as beautiful. But they differ in the mind. For good properly relates to appetite (since good is that which all desire), and therefore it has the nature of an end (since desire is a sort of movement towards a thing). On the other hand, beautiful relates to a cognitive power. For those things are said to be beautiful which please when seen. Hence beautiful consists in due proportion, for sense delights in things duly proportioned, as in what is like itself, because the sense too is a sort of proportion [other texts: reason], as is every cognitive power. Now since knowledge is by assimilation, and likeness relates to form, beautiful properly relates to the notion of formal cause." (Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, 5, 4, ad 1.) — Cf. Ia, IIae, 27, 1, ad 3. In this latter text, note the important remark that, just as desire finds its rest in good, so also does apprehension, be it that of sense or that of intellectual knowledge, find its rest in beautiful: "Sed ad rationem pulchri pertinet quod in ejus aspectu seu cognitione quietetur apprehensio." This nature of aesthetic apprehension, conceived as the intrinsic perfection of cognitive apprehension as such, will remain for us, as will be seen later, the last word on the question. — A different approach to the problem is to be found in Harold Osborne, Theory of Beauty, especially ch. 3, pp. 32-60 ("Metaphysical Aesthetic Theories"), and ch. 4, pp. 61-90 ("Subjective and Objective Theories of Beauty"). Elements of bibliography (pp. 205-15) give a faint notion of the multitude of studies devoted to the question. Cf. Thomas Munro, "The Concept of Beauty in the Philosophy of Naturalism," Revue internationale de philosoplzie, XXXI (1955), 33-77.
3. As quoted in Artists on Art, ed. Goldwater and Treves, p. 151. — The French original is found in a letter of Poussin to M. de Chambray, Rome, March 1, 1665 (reprinted in Lhote, De la Palette a l'ecritoire, p. 57).
4. The note (Journal, p. 414) ends as follows: "This does not mean that there need be no sense in it; it is like poetry which, if it offend the ear, all the sense in the world will not save from being bad. They speak of having an ear for music: not every eye is fit to taste the subtle joys of painting. The eyes of many people are dull or false; they see objects literally, of the exquisite they see nothing."
5. See above, p. 12.
6. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, Ia, The, 27, I, ad 3 (ed. Andre Blot, vol. II, p. 298). The text says: "We do not speak of beauty in connection with the sensible qualities perceived by other senses [i.e., other than sight and hearing] ; for we do not say that tastes or odors are beautiful. And thus it appears that beautiful adds to good a certain relationship to cognitive power. So, something is called good simply because it gives satisfaction to desire, whereas something is called beautiful because its very apprehension pleases [id cujus ipsa apprehensio placet]." — Cf. "Beautiful things are those which please when seen—and, of course, I mean mentally seen, and therefore pleasing to the mind. . . . Anything is beautiful if it be made in such a way as to give pleasure to the mind which perceives it, and the question as to what should or should not give pleasure to the mind is no more and no less difficult than the question as to what should or should not give annoyance." (Letters of Eric Gill, p. 259: letter to The Architect's Journal, March 4, 1931.) — On the "indestructible relationship of . . . aesthetic beauty, to the kingdom of intelligence," see the excellent passage in Maritain, pp. 165-66.
7. "To a lady who, looking at an engraving of a house, called it an ugly thing, he [Constable] said, 'No, madam, there is nothing ugly; I never saw an ugly thing in my life: for let the form of an object be what it may,—light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful. It is perspective which improves the form of this' " (Leslie, p. 280).
8. "But in referring to nature we in vain look for those combinations which, in the works of Titian and other great colourists, produce such wonderful effects" (Burnet's note to Reynolds, Discourses, pp. 24-25, n. 2).
9. Aristotle, On Sense and the Sensed, ch. 3 (in Thomas Aquinas' commentary, ed. R. Spiazzi, p. 32, n. 101) .
10. There is a curious reluctance on the part of some philosophers to accept the classic definition of the beautiful and of its aesthetic experience. It seems to them that it does not do justice to the part played in it by the mind. Hence, for instance, its modification by Eric Gill: "The aesthetic is that which is pleasing to the mind by means of the sense" (Work and Property, p. 49). One feels tempted to invert the formula and to say: "The aesthetic is that which is pleasing to the senses by means of the mind." —Besides, Gill himself adds (pp. 128-29) that the aesthetic pleasure is only mental pleasure "in exactly the same way as toothache is mental pain" and, in the last analysis, that "aesthetic pleasure is grounded in the physical rather than the spiritual."
11. Cf. Lhote (La Peinture, p. 26) : "In order to sum up the method of Cezanne, one must distinguish two moments. First, at the contact of a spectacle, the painter experiences an essentially plastic emotion. Under the appearances, he discerns the existence of a hidden order that calls forth in his consciousness an adequate geometrical construction. Sensation here replaces inspiration in its classical sense, and it remains endowed with the same powers. The first work, direct, spontaneous, consists in enriching the fleeting structure of sensation with colored materials that contain the essential of the object at stake. The second part of the work, which takes place after reflection, consists in submitting to a mechanical rhythm—a reflection of universal rhythm—the elements born of the foregoing analysis." Cf. ch. 5, n. 32.
12. For an interpretation of Cezanne's geometrical constructions and their relationship to sense perception, see Lhote, La Peinture, pp. 23-24. Note, however, that Lhote's personal views are involved in this interpretation. According to him, what Cezanne was painting at the time of his maturity was plastic equivalents of the relationship that obtains between the objects of sense perception and some transcendental figures (sphere, cylinder, cone) or some more complex figure resulting from their combinations. Thus conceived, paintings can be defined as "mental architectures born of the painter's sensation" (p. 29).
13. Paul Serusier, A B C de la peinture, pp. 15-21. — Cf. Osborne, Theory of Beauty, pp. 174-87.
14. See the various polygons designed by Leonardo da Vinci for the book De diving proportione, by Fra Luca di Pacioli (in Matila C. Ghyka, Le Nombre d'or, 1, pls. vii-ix; the extraordinarily beautiful samples of shells, pls. xv and xvi). — Andre Sainte-Lague, Le Monde des formes, "golden number," pp. 110-16: representation (after the Swedish mathematician G. Gylstrom) of the "integral curves of two complex differential equations"; geometrical surfaces made up of threads stretched out on brass frames, p. 200. Compare especially the figure on p. 201, which seems to have haunted the imagination of Pester and Gabon. — Incidentally, compare the trace left by the motion of a particle of matter in the Brownian movement (p. 179) with some drawings by Paul Lee.
15. The Mirror of Art, p. 61.
16. Dunoyer de Segonzac, in P. Janet, Dunoyer de Segonzac, quoted in Lhote, De la Palette a l'ecritoire, p. 408. The same passage attributes to this tenue "rhythm, harmony, and the complete satisfaction given by certain works of art."
17. The most complete discussion of the problem is found in Ghyka, Le Nombre d'or. A large number of excellently selected and commented illustrations will convince any reader of the reality of the problem and of its relevancy to art.
18. Do rival, Lees Et apes de la peinture francaise, I, 116. Ingres, Delacroix, Cezanne, Juan Gris, and many others have constantly speculated about their art; it never did them any harm. It is all a problem of mastery in execution. In some cases, it is a plain problem of nerves.
19. Those who deride Serusier for having considered his own theories as one of the origins of cubism seem to have misunderstood the meaning of his statement. They mentally compare his own paintings with those of Picasso, Gris, or Braque, and they are quite right in failing to notice the resemblance. But Serusier had in mind his Platonist conviction that beauty is essentially intellectual, as well as his speculations on the geometrical proportions observed by ancient painters (A B C de la peinture, pp. 15-20). This intellectualism was entirely shared at least by Juan Gris: "Artists have believed that they will achieve their poetic end by means of beautiful models or of beautiful motifs. We rather trust we shall reach it by means of beautiful elements, for indeed the most beautiful of elements are certainly those of the mind." (Kahnweiler, Juan Gris, p. 276.)
20. See Juan Gris' remarks: "Cezanne makes a cylinder out of a bottle, whereas I start from a cylinder in order to create an individual with a special type; out of a cylinder, I make a bottle, a certain bottle" (Kahnweiler, Juan Gris, p. 277). Cf. below, Appendix III, pp. 318-19.
21. This letter of Poussin to Chantelou is partly printed in Lhote, De la Palette al'ecritoire, pp. 49-51; English translation in Artists on Art, ed. Goldwater and Treves, pp. 151-53.
22. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, pt. I, qu. 39, art. 7, answer to the question.— The complete passage runs as follows: "Three things are required for beauty. First, integrity, or perfection [integritas, sive perfectio]; for indeed things are ugly to the extent that they are incomplete [diminutae]. Then due proportion, or harmony [consonantia] And again brightness [claritas], from whence it comes that things which have bright colors are called beautiful." Parallel texts are found in the Summa, IIa, lIae, 145, 2, answer, and 180, 2, ad 3m. — St. Thomas Aquinas' doctrine is a realism; according to him, beauty is being itself considered under one of its transcendental aspects. Modern idealism begins by turning the transcendentals into "values," after which it declares unsound. the position it has thus deformed (Osborne, p. 69). A new definition then becomes necessary in order to eliminate its realistic implications from the notion of "work of art." It runs as follows: "A work of art is not a material thing but an enduring possibility, often embodied or recorded in a material medium, of a specific set of sensory impressions, which is characterized by what we call beauty" (Osborne, p. 202; cf. pp. 93-94). Cf. ch. 1, n. 10.
23. The notion of "integrity" takes us back to the previously studied notions of being, individuality, and even the personality of paintings: "In affirming the autonomy of the work of art, Cubists—unbeknowst to themselves, of course—were ambitioning for it that integritas which, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is required before anything else ad pulchritudinem. The pictures which they created had to be 'individuals,' this term being taken in the precise sense of : an organized being that cannot be divided without ceasing to be the same person, each one of these 'persons' having its own unique 'personality' and occupying its own place in history." (Kahnweiler, Juan Gris, p. 142.)
24. James Joyce renders integritas "wholeness," which is a perfectly legitimate rendering, and he means by this word the property inherent in all being to constitute a self-sufficient whole, distinct from other beings. "In order to see that basket, said Stephen, your mind first of all separates the basket from the rest of the visible universe which is not the basket. The first phase of apprehension is a bounding line drawn about the object to be apprehended. An esthetic image is presented to us either in space or in time. What is audible is presented in time, what is visible is presented in space. But temporal or spatial, the esthetic image is first luminously apprehended as self bounded and self contained upon the immeasurable background of space or time which is not it. You apprehended it as one thing. You see it as one whole. You apprehend its wholeness. That is integritas." (James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, ch. V.) This has been described (above, pp. 121-25) as the separative power of the form.
25. Bernard Berenson, Aesthetics and History, pp. 69-73. It should be superfluous to say that Berenson's tactile values are wholly unrelated to any kind of visual deception and trompe-l'oeil.
26. "Harmony is an arrangement of sensations that we do not wish to be different. It satisfies, at one and the same time, our senses, whose functioning it facilitates, and our mind, which finds in it obedience to the laws by which it itself is ruled." (Serusier, p. 10.) — Cf. Matisse's remarks as related by R. Escholier in Lhote, De la Palette a l'ecritoire, p. 378.
27. For a different interpretation, see Joyce, ch. V. This artist first tries to interpret claritas, in Thomas Aquinas, as meaning the artistic unveiling of the reality of which the work of art is the symbol. But he seems to reject this as "literary talk." He then suggests that the radiance of which Thomas Aquinas speaks is the Scholastic quiddity, the whatness of a thing, "felt by the artist when the esthetic image is first conceived in his imagination." One could object that this interpretation is "literary talk," too, if Joyce himself did not here issue a timely reminder that what he is saying refers to beauty "in the sense which the word has in the literary tradition." In the field of painting, the revelation of the whatness of things would give whole satisfaction to the aesthetics of academicism. See below, n. 32.
28. Focillon has stated his ultimate conclusion from the very beginning of his Vie des formes. The world of forms is not an image of the physical world; it is "a metaphor of the universe" (p. 2). Even when art borrows forms from nature, these forms acquire a new value and beget completely new systems from the very moment they are included in the world of art (p. 3). Only, because they still retain the mark of their natural origin, we find it hard to consider them as truly foreign to nature. We shall always remain tempted to consider artistic forms as meaning something else besides themselves. In other words, we are tempted to "confuse the notion of form with that of image, which implies the representation of an object"; we are particularly tempted to confuse the notion of form with that of sign. Now, "sign signifies, whereas form signifies itself" (p. 4). Focillon has firmly maintained this absolute position ("the fundamental content of form is a formal content," p. 5) , but, at the same time, he has clearly seen that, as soon as it appears, form can be read in several different ways. To read it as signifying itself is to read it as an artist, but it can be read as representing a natural being (a man, a horse, a tree, etc.) or as signifying a meaning (a crucifix). The problem raised by these other ways of reading the forms is to know if they are relevant to painting taken precisely qua painting. — Cf. Luigi Pareyson, "Contemplation du beau et production des formes," Revue internationale de philosophic, XXXI (1955), 16-32 (particularly pp. 19-21).
29. Plato, Republic, bk. X, tr. Lane Cooper, pp. 344-45. — See the perplexities of the Platonist painter in Jules Breton: "The truth of art is the essence of visible truth, and this essence is the beautiful" (La Vie d'un artiste, p. 292). The moments of his dialectic are as follows: (1) the goal of art is to achieve an expression of the beautiful; (2) but "this beautiful, what is it? Where is it?" (pp. 278-79) ; reason is powerless to answer this question, but the best solution of the problem is Plato's, the beautiful is the splendor of the true; it also is its "intensity"; and it still could he defined "the essence of life" (p. 279).
30. On this point, the best witness is Ingres. To him, the eternally beautiful and the naturally beautiful are one and the same thing. It has been found a long time ago. "Everything has been done, everything has been found. Our own task is not to invent, but to continue." (Ingres raconte par lui-meme, p. 42.) "All the great study of art consists in learning to imitate these [earthly] objects" (p. 44). We must needs start from nature in order to form all our ideas, including that of the gods. "Phidias reached the sublime by correcting nature with the help of nature itself" (p. 44). The formula "ideal beauty," or the "ideally beautiful," is misleading. It must be conceived as pointing out the association of the most beautiful elements scattered in nature but gathered together by the artist (pp. 44-45). On the use of the model in which the beautiful is to be found, p. 47. The beautiful is found in the submission to nature (pp. 48-49). To sum up (p. 47), the beautiful, nature, and the ancients are one and the same thing: "Look at the model; it is like the ancients and the ancients are like that. . . . If you sincerely translate that which is there, you will be proceeding like the ancients, and, like them, you will arrive at the beautiful."
31. Discourse III, pp. 47-48.
32. Reynolds has successively upheld all the possible positions, which does credit to his feeling for the realities of his own art. "The idea of the perfect state of nature, which the artist calls the Ideal beauty, is the great leading principle by which works of genius are conducted" (Discourses, p. 41). "By this Phidias acquired his fame" (ibid.). "Thus it is from a reiterated experience, and a close comparison of the objects in nature, that an artist becomes possessed of the idea of that central form, if I may so express it, from which every deviation is deformity" (p. 42). The. investigation of this form is painful, but there is "one method of shortening the road"—namely, the study of the ancients (ibid.). To this principle, "that the idea of beauty in each species of beings is an invariable one," it may be objected that, in every species, there are various types; in "the human figure, for instance, the beauty of Hercules is one, of the Gladiator another, of Apollo another; which makes so many different ideas of beauty." Yes, but "perfect beauty in any species must combine all the characters which are beautiful in that species. It cannot consist in any one to the exclusion of the rest; no one, therefore, must be predominant, that no one may be deficient" (p. 44). — John Burnet, Reynolds' commentator, has his doubts. In his commentary (p. 41, n. 7), he observes that "this ideal beauty is different according to the different perceptions of the several artists." Although "the Ancients seldom varied the proportion of their figures from eight heads in height, yet . . . Raffaelle's are sometimes only six and a half, and Parmegiano frequently reduces the head to one tenth." This, of course, marks the end of the line in so far as the quest of artistic beauty in nature is concerned.
33. This truth has been well expressed by Delacroix in a remarkable passage of his Journal (p. 397 [February 22, 18601) : "Realism is the grand expedient which innovators use to revive the interest of an indifferent public, at periods when schools that are listless and inclined to mannerism do nothing but repeat the round of the same inventions. Suddenly a return to nature is proclaimed by a man who claims to be inspired. . . ." On this problem, see below, pp. 249-50.
34. See Delacroix's remarks On the use of the model (Journal, p. 195 [.October 12, 1853] ).
35. Friedrich von Schiller, Die Kunstler, 11. 32-33: "Knowledge you share with other favored minds, / But art, Mankind, is yours alone." (Tr. B. Q. Morgan.)
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