Deductions from Part I.
Nietzsche's Art Principles
1. The Spirit of the Age Incompatible with Ruler-Art.
We live in a democratic age. It is only natural, therefore, that all that belongs to the ruler should have been whittled down, diluted, and despoiled of its dignity; and we must feel no surprise at finding that no pains have been spared which might reduce Art also to a function that would be compatible with the spirit of the times. All that savours of authority has become the work of committees, assemblies, herds, crowds, and mobs. How could the word of one man be considered authoritative, now that the ruling principle, to use
The conception of Art as a manifestation of the artist's will to power and his determination to prevail, is a much too dangerous one for the present day. It involves all kinds of things which are antagonistic to democratic theory, such as: Command, Reverence, Despotism, Obedience, Greatness and Inequality. Therefore, if artists are to be tolerated at all, they must have a much more modest, humble, and pusillanimous comprehension of what their existence means, and of the purpose and aim of their work; and their claims, if they make any, must be meek, unprivileged, harmless and unassuming.
While, therefore, the artist, as Nietzsche understood him, scarcely exists at all to-day, another breed of man has come to the fore in the graphic arts, whose very weakness is his passport, who makes no claims at establishing new values of beauty, and who contents himself modestly with exhibiting certain baffling dexterities, virtuosities and tricks, which at once amaze and delight ordinary spectators or Art-students, simply because they themselves have not yet overcome even the difficulties of a technique.
Monet's pointillisme, Sargent's visible and nervous brush strokes, Rodin's wealth of anatomical detail, the Impressionist's scientific rendering of atmosphere, Peter Graham's gauzy mists, Lavery's post-Whistlerian portraits of pale people, and the
1 See his evidence before the Joint Committee on the Stage Censorship. Daily Press, September 24th, 1909.
But I am travelling too fast. I said that no pains have been spared which might reduce Art also to a function that would be compatible with the democratic spirit of the times. Now in what form have these pains been taken?
Their form has invariably been to turn the tables upon Art, and to make its beauty dependent upon Nature, instead of Nature's beauty dependent upon it. 1
Tradition, of course, very largely laid the foundation of this mode of thinking, and, from the Greeks to Ruskin, few seem to have realized how much beauty Art had already laid in Nature, before even the imitative artist could consider Nature as beautiful.
As Croce rightly observes: "Antiquity seems generally to have been entrammelled in the meshes of the belief in mimetic, or the duplication of natural objects by the artist;" 2 but when we remember that, as Schelling points out, in Greece speculation about Art began with Art's decline, 3
1 T. I., Part 10, Aph. 19: "Man believes the world itself to be overcharged with beauty, he forgets that he is the cause of it. He alone has endowed it with beauty. . . . In reality man mirrors himself in things; he counts everything beautiful which reflects his likeness. . . . Is the world really beautiful, just because man thinks it is? Man has humanized it, that is all."
2 Æsthetic (Douglas Ainslie's translation), p. 259. See also B. Bosanquet, A History of Æsthetic, pp. 1518.
3 Sämmtliche Werke, Vol. V, "Vorlesungen über die Methode des akademischen Studiums," pp. 346, 347.
In reviewing the work of æstheticians from Plato to Croce, however, what strikes me as so significant is the fact that, from the time of Plotinus who practically marks the end of the declension which started in Plato's time to the end of the seventeenth century, scarcely a voice of any magnitude was raised in Europe on the subject of Art. 2
That there was no real "talk" about Art, at the time when it was revived in the Middle Ages, and at the time when it flourished in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and that all the old Hellenic discussions on the subject should have been taken up again at a period when the last emaciated blooms of the Renaissance and of the counter-Renaissance were bowing their heads, only shows how very sorry the plight of all great human functions must be when man begins to hope that he may set them right by talking about them.
When it is remembered, however, that, from the end of the seventeenth century onward, Art was regarded either as imitation pure and simple or as idealized imitation by no less than fifteen thinkers
1 Dr. Max Schasler (Kritische Geschichte der Æsthetik, p. 73) agrees that the understanding of Art in classical antiquity seems to be quite barbaric in its stupidity ("von einer geradezu barbarischen Bornirtheit"); but he adds that this may be an argument in favour of the antique; for it may prove the unconsciousness of the artists and the absolute unity of the artistic life and of artistic appreciation in antiquity.
2 Aristotle was, of course, studied and commentated to a very great extent during these fifteen centuries; but in all the branches of science save Æsthetic. Where his Poetic was examined, the philological or literary-historical interest was paramount. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas do not differ materially from Plotinus and Plato.
It is all very well to point to men like Goethe, Heydenreich, Schelling, Hegel, Hogarth and Reynolds all of whom certainly did a good deal to brace the self-respect of artists; but it is impossible to argue that any one of them took up either such a definite or such a determined attitude against the fifteen others whom I have mentioned, as could materially stem the tide of democratic Art which was rising in Europe. And if in the latter half of the nineteenth century we have Ruskin telling us that "the art which makes us believe what we would not otherwise have believed, is misapplied, and in most instances very dangerously so"; 1 and if we find that his first principle is, "that our graphic art, whether painting or sculpture, is to produce something which shall look as like Nature as possible," 2 and that, in extolling the Gothic, he says
1 Lectures on Art (1870), p. 50.
2 Aratra Pentelici (1870), p. 118. It is true that this is
This conclusion, which was arrived at, once more, by means of a formidable array of facts, and which called itself "Evolution in Art," was, like its first cousin, "Evolution in the Organic World," absolutely democratic, ignoble, and vulgar; seeking the source of the highest human achievements either in automatic mimicry, slavish and even faulty copying, or involuntary adoption of natural or purely utilitarian forms.
Taking the beauty of Nature for granted an
followed by a restriction; but what does this restriction amount to? Ruskin says: "We must produce what shall look like Nature to people who know what Nature is.
1 On the Nature of the Gothic (Smith, Elder, 1854), p. 19.
2 "Der Stil in der technischen und tektonischen Künsten, oder praktische Æsthetik."
This was a new scientific valuation of Art foreshadowed, as I have shown, by philosophical æsthetic, but arriving independently, as it were, at the conclusion that Art was no longer a giver, but a robber.
Volumes were written to show the origin in technical industry of individual patterns and ornaments on antique vases. And as Alois Riegl rightly observes, the authors of these works spoke with such assurance, that one might almost have believed that they had been present when the vases were made. 1
Even Semper, however, as Riegl points out, did not go so far as his disciples, and though he believed that art-forms had been evolved a fact any one would be ready to admit he did not press the point that technical industry had always been their root.
When we find such delicate and beautifully rhythmic patterns as those which Dr. A. C. Haddon gives us in his interesting work on Evolution in Art, and are told that they originated in
1 See the excellent work, Stilfragen, p. 11.
This is nonsense, and of a most pernicious sort. No mechanical copying or involuntary simplification will necessarily lead to designs of great beauty. One has only to set a class of children to make dozens of copies of an object each more removed than the last from the original in order to discover that if any beauty arises at all, it is actually given or imparted to the original by one particular child, who happens to be an artist, and that the rest of the class will be quite innocent of anything in the way of embellishments, or beauty of any kind.
1 Evolution in Art, by A. C. Haddon. See especially figures 26, 27, 30, 31, 32, pp. 4952. See also figure 106, p. 181.
2 The Evolution of Decorative Art, by Henry J. Balfour, p. 50.
3 Evolution in Art, by A. C. Haddon, p. 76.
4 A word Dr. Colley March introduced to express the idea of an ornament due to structure.
Riegl, Lipps, and Dr. Worringer very rightly oppose this view of Semper and others. In his book, Stilfragen, Riegl successfully disposes of the theory that repetitive patterns have invariably been the outcome of technical processes such as weaving and plaiting, and points out that, very often, a vegetable or animal form is given to an original ornamental figure, only after it has been developed to such an extent that it actually suggests that vegetable or animal form. 1
Dr. Worringer goes to great pains in order to show that there is an Art-will which is quite distinct from mimicry of any kind, and that this Art-will, beginning in the graphic arts with rhythmic and repetitive geometrical designs, such as zigzags, cross-hatchings and spirals, has nothing whatsoever to do with natural objects or objects of utility, such as baskets and woven work, which these designs happen to resemble. 2
1 Stilfragen, p. 208 et seq. See also Dr. W. Worringer's really valuable contribution to this subject: Abstraktion und Einfühlung, p. 58.
2 Abstraktion und Einfühlung, pp. 4, 8, 9, 11.
The author also shows very ably that, even where plant forms are selected by the original geometric artist, it is only owing to some peculiarly orderly or systematic arrangement of their parts, and that the first impulse in the selective artist is not to imitate Nature, but to obtain a symmetrical and systematic arrangement of lines, 4 to gratify his will to be master of natural disorder.
These objections of Riegl and Worringer are both necessary and important; for, as the former declares: "It is now high time that we should retreat from the position in which it is maintained
1 Abstraktion und Einfühlung, p. 51. See also Grosse, The Beginnings of Art, pp. 166169 et seq.
2 For confirmation of this point see Felix Clay, The Origin of the Sense of Beauty, p. 97.
3 Abstraktion und Einfühlung, p. 44.
4 Abstraktion und Einfühlung, p. 58.
Even in the camp of the out-and-out evolutionists, however, there seems always to have been some uncertainty as to whether they were actually on the right scent. One has only to read Grosse, where he throws doubt on the technical origin of ornament, and acknowledges that he clings to it simply because he can see no other, 2 and the concluding word of Dr. Haddon's book, Evolution in Art, 3 in order to understand how very much a proper concept of the Art-instinct would have helped these writers to explain a larger field of facts than they were able to explain, and to do so with greater accuracy.
Nobody, of course, denies that the patterns on alligators' backs, the beaks of birds, and even the regular disposition of features in the human face, have been incorporated into designs; but what must be established, once and for all, is the fact that there is a whole ocean of difference between the
1 Stilfragen, p. 12.
2 The Beginnings of Art, pp. 145147.
3 p. 309: "There are certain styles of ornamentation which, at all events in particular cases, may very well be original, taking that word in its ordinary sense, such, for example, as zigzags, cross-hatching, and so forth. The mere toying with any implement which could make a mark on any surface might suggest the simplest ornamentation [N.B. It is characteristic of this school that even original design, according to them, must be the result of "toying" with an instrument, and of a suggestion from chance markings it may make] to the most savage mind. This may or may not have been the case, and it is entirely beyond proof either way, and therefore we must not press our analogy too far. It is, however, surprising and is certainly very significant that the origin of so many designs can be determined although they are of unknown age."
It is an important controversy, and one to which I should have been glad to devote more attention. In summing up, however, I don't think I could do better than quote the opening lines of the Rev. J. F. Rowbotham's excellent History of Music, in which the same questions, although applied to a different branch of Art, are admirably stated and answered.
In this book the author says
"The twittering of birds, the rustling of leaves, the gurgling of brooks, have provoked the encomiums of poets. Yet none of these has ever so powerfully affected man's mind that he has surmised the existence of something deeper in them than one hearing would suffice to disclose, and has endeavoured by imitating them to familiarize himself with their nature, so that he may repeat the effect at his own will and pleasure in all its various shades. These sounds, with that delicate instinct which has guided him so nicely through this universe of tempting possibilities, he chose deliberately to pass over. He heard them with pleasure maybe. But pleasure must possess some æsthetic value. There must be a secret there to fathom, a mystery to unravel, before we would undertake its serious pursuit.
"The savage who, for the first time in our world's history, knocked two pieces of wood together, and took pleasure in the sound, had other aims than his own delight. He was patiently examining a mystery; he was peering with his simple eyes into one of Nature's greatest secrets. The something he was examining was rhythmic sound, on which rests the whole art of
Thus, as you see, there is a goodly array of perfectly sensible people on the other side. Still, the belief that graphic art took its origin in imitation must undoubtedly have done a good deal of damage; for the numbers that hold it and act upon it at the present day are, I am sorry to say, exceedingly great.
By identifying the will to imitate with the instinct of self-preservation pure and simple, however, we immediately obtain its order of rank; for having already established that the will to Art is the will to exist in a certain way that is to say, with power, all that which ministers to existence alone must of necessity fall below the will to Art. In helping us to make this point, Dr. Worringer and Mr. Felix Clay have done good service, while Riegl's contribution to the side opposed to the Art-Evolutionists cannot be estimated too highly.
We are now able to regard the realistic rock-
1 The History of Music, by J. F. Rowbotham, 1893, pp. 7, 8. See also Dr. Wallaschek's Anfänge der Tonkunst (Leipzig, 1903).
It seems a pity, before laying down the principles of an art, that it should be necessary to clear away so many false doctrines and prejudices heaped upon it in perfect good faith by scientific men. It is only one proof the more, if such were needed, of the vulgarizing influence science has exercised over everything it has touched, since it began to become almost divinely ascendant in the nineteenth century.
Wherever one may turn, wherever one inquires, one will discover that, at the present day, however
1 The Bertillon system of identification and Madame Tussaud's, together with a large number of modern portraits and landscapes, are the highest development of this art.
This instinct to obey, says Nietzsche, is the most natural thing in the world, and it must be gratified.
"Inasmuch as in all ages," says Nietzsche, "as long as mankind has existed, there have always been human herds (family alliances, communities, tribes, peoples, states, churches), and always a great number who obey in proportion to the small number who command in view, therefore, of the fact that obedience has been most practised and fostered among mankind hitherto, one may reasonably suppose that, generally speaking, the need thereof is now innate in every one, as a kind of formal conscience which gives the command: 'Thou shalt unconditionally do something, unconditionally refrain from something.' In short, 'Thou shalt.' This need tries to satisfy itself and to fill its form with a content; according to its strength, impatience and eagerness, it thereby seizes, as an omnivorous appetite, with little selection, and accepts whatever is shouted into its ear by all sorts of commanders parents, teachers, laws, class prejudices, or public opinion." 1
Everywhere, then, "he who would command finds those who must obey" 2 this is obvious to the most superficial observer; because it is easier to obey than to command.
"Wherever I found living things," says Zarathustra, "there heard I also the language of
1 G. E., p. 120.
2 W. P., Vol. I, p. 105.
"And this I heard secondly: whatever cannot obey itself, is commanded. Such is the nature of living things.
"This, however, is the third thing I heard: to command is more difficult than to obey. And not only because the commander beareth the burden of all who obey, and because this burden easily crusheth him:
"An effort and a risk seemed all commanding unto me; and whenever it commandeth, the living thing risketh itself.
"Yea, even when it commandeth himself, then also must it atone for its commanding. Of its own law must it become the judge and avenger and victim." 1
For opinions are a matter of will; they are always, or ought to be always, travelling tickets implying a certain definite aim and destination, and the opinions we hold concerning Life must point to a certain object we see in Life; hence there is just as great a market for opinions, and just as great a demand for fixed values to-day as there ever was, and the jealous love with which men will quote well-established views, or begin to believe when they hear that a view is well established a fact which is at the root of all the fruits of modern popularity shows what a need and what a craving there is for authority, for authoritative information, and for unimpeachable coiners of opinions.
Now all the arts either determine values or lay
1 Z., II, XXXIV.
The purpose of the graphic arts, then, has remained the same as it ever was. It is to determine the values "ugly" and "beautiful" for those who wish to know what is ugly and what is beautiful. The fact that painters and sculptors have grown so tremulous and so little self-reliant as to claim only the right to imitate, to please and to amuse, does not affect this statement in the least; it is simply a reflection upon modern artists and sculptors.
Since, however, these values beautiful and ugly are themselves but the outcome of other more fundamental values which have ruled and moulded a race for centuries, it follows that the artist who would accentuate or determine the qualities beautiful or ugly, must bear some intimate relation to the past and possible future of the people.
Place the Hermes of Praxiteles and especially the canon of Polycletus in any part of a cathedral of the late Gothic, and you will see to what extent the values which gave rise to Gothic Art were incom-
1 T. I., Part 10, Aph. 24: "A psychologist asks what does all art do? does it not praise? does it not glorify? does it not select? does it not bring into prominence? In each of these cases it strengthens or weakens certain valuations. . . . Is this only a contingent matter? an accident, something with which the instinct of the artist would not at all be concerned? Or rather, is it not the pre-requisite which enables the artist to do something? Is his fundamental instinct directed towards art? or is it not rather directed towards the sense of art, namely, life? towards a desirableness of life?"
You may ask, then, why or how such an art as Ruler-art can please? Since it introduces something definitely associated with a particular set of values, and commands an assent to these values, how is it that one likes it?
The reply is that one does not necessarily like it. One often hates it. One likes it only when one feels that it reveals values which are in sympathy with one's own aspirations. The Ruler-art of Egypt, for instance, can stir no one who, consciously or unconsciously, is not in some deep secret sympathy with the society which produced it; and as an example of this sympathy if you wish to know why the realism which comes from poverty 1 tends to increase and flourish in democratic times, it is only because there is that absence of particular human power in it which is compatible with a society in which a particular human power is completely lacking.
For it is absolute nonsense to speak of l'art pour l'art and of the pleasure of art for art's sake as acceptable
1 See p. 119.
2 W. P., Vol. I, p. 246. See also T. I., Part 10, Aph. 24, and G. E., p. 145.
What is so important in the artist is, that disorder and confusion are the loadstones that attract him. 1 Though, in stating this, I should ask you to remember that he sees disorder and confusion where, very often, the ordinary person imagines everything to be admirably arranged. Still, the fact remains that he finds his greatest proof of power only where his ordering and simplifying mind meets with something whereon it may stamp its two strongest features: Order and Simplicity; and where he is strong, relative disorder is his element, and the arrangement of this disorder is
1 W. P., Vol. II, p. 368.
Thus, even his will to eternalize, and to stamp the nature of stability on Becoming, must not be confounded with that other desire for Being which is a desire for rest and repose and opiates, 2 and which has found its strongest expression in the idea of the Christian Heaven. It is, rather, a feeling of gratitude towards Life, a desire to show thankfulness to Life, which makes him desire to rescue one beautiful body from the river of Becoming, and fix its image for ever in this world, 3 whereas the other is based upon a loathing of Life and a weariness of it.
Defining ugliness provisionally as disorder, it may have a great attraction for the artist, it may even be the artist's sole attraction, and in converting it the thing he despises most into beauty, which we shall define provisionally as order, he reaches the zenith of his power. 4
"Where is beauty?" Zarathustra asks. "Where I must will with my whole will; where I will love and perish, that an image may not remain merely an image. 5
"For to create desireth the loving one, because he despiseth." 6
1 W. P., Vol. II, p. 241.
2 W. P., Vol. II, p. 280.
3 W. P., Vol. II, p. 281.
4 W. P., Vol. II, p. 244.
5 Z., II, XXXVII.
6. Z., I, XVIII.
Now, what is important in the ideal and purely hypothetical layman is, that he has a horror of disorder, of confusion, and of chaos, and flees from it whenever possible. He finds no solace anywhere, except where the artist has been and left
1 T. I., Part 10, Aph. 7: "Nature, estimated artistically, is no model. It exaggerates, it distorts, it leaves gaps. Nature is accident. Studying 'according to nature' seems to me a bad sign; it betrays subjection, weakness, fatalism; this lying-in-the-dust before petit faits is unworthy of a complete artist. Seeing what is that belongs to another species of intellects, to the anti-artistic, to the practical."
2 See Woltmann and Woermann, History of Painting, Vol. I, p. 62.
3 B. T., p. 59. See also Schopenhauer, Parerga und Paralipomena, Vol. II, p. 447.
"Logical and geometrical simplification is the result of an increase of power: conversely, the mere aspect of such simplification increases the sense of power in the beholder." 2 To see what is ugliness to him, represented as what is beauty to him, also impresses the spectator with the feeling of power; of an obstacle overcome, and thereby stimulates his activities. Moreover, the spectator may feel a certain gratitude to Life and Mankind. It often happens, even in our days, that another world is pictured as by no means a better world, 3 and the healthy and optimistic layman may feel a certain thankfulness to Life and to Humanity. It is then once more that he turns to the artist who has felt the same in a greater degree, who can give him this thing be it a corner of Life or of Humanity who can snatch it from the eternal flux and torrent of all things into decay or into death, and who can carve or paint it in a form unchanging for him, in spite of a world of Becoming, of Evolution, and of ebb and flow. Just as the musician cries Time! Time! Time! to the cacophonous medley of natural sounds that pour into his ears from all
1 W. P., Vol. II, p. 255.
2 W. P., Vol. II, p. 241.
3 W. P., Vol. II, p. 95: "A people that are proud of themselves, and who are on the ascending path of Life always picture another existence as lower and less valuable than theirs."
In an ideal society, the artist's standpoint would be esoteric, and the layman's exoteric.
Nowadays, of course, owing to the process of universal levelling which has been carried so far that it is invading even the department of sex, it is hard to find such distinctions as the artist's and the layman's standpoint in art sharply and definitely juxtaposed. And this fact accounts for a good deal of the decrease in æsthetic pleasure, which is so characteristic of the age. In fact, it accounts for the decrease of pleasure in general, for only where there are sharp differences can there be any great pleasure. Pessimism and melancholia can arise only in inartistic ages, when a process of
1 W. P., Vol. II, pp. 255, 256.
Let me give you a simple example, drawn from modern life and the pictorial arts, in order to show you to what extent the standpoint of the people or of the layman has become corrupted by the standpoint of the artist, and vice-versâ.
Strictly speaking, artists in search of scope for their powers should prefer Hampstead Heath or the Forest of Fontainebleau 1 to the carefully laid-out gardens of our parks and of Versailles. Conversely, if their taste were still uncorrupted, the public ought to prefer the carefully arranged gardens of our parks and of Versailles to Hampstead Heath or the Forest of Fontainebleau.
Some of the public, of course, still do hold the proper views on these points, but their number is rapidly diminishing, and most of them assume the airs of artists now, and speak with sentimental enthusiasm about the beautiful ruggedness of craggy rocks, the glorious beauty of uncultivated Nature, and the splendour of wild scenery. 2
1 In regard to this point it is interesting to note that Kant, in his Kritik der Urteilskraft, actually called landscape-painting a process of gardening.
2 I do not mean to imply here that all the sentimental gushing that is given vent to nowadays over rugged and wild scenery is the outcome only of a confusion of the artist's and layman's standpoints. The influence of the Christian and Protestant worship of pointless freedom, together with that of their contempt of the work of man, is largely active here; and the sight of unhandseled and wild shrubs, and of tangled and matted grasses, cheers the heart of the fanatical believer in the purposeless freedom and anarchy which Christianity and Protestantism have done so much to honour and extol. That the same man who honours government and an aristocratic ideal may
- facing p. 123 -
The Marriage of Mary
- p. 123 -
This is an exceedingly important point, and its
often be found to-day dilating upon the charms of chaotic scenery, only shows how muddle-headed and confused mankind has become.
1 The Brera at Milan.
2 The National Gallery, London. Raphael was very much infected with the people's point of view, hence the annoying stiltedness of many of his pictures.
3 Pinakothek, Munich.
4 See particularly, Ruysdael's "Rocky Landscape," "Landscape with a Farm" (Wallace collection); Hobbema's "Outskirts of a Wood" and many others in the Wallace collection; and Constable's "Flatford Mill" and "The Haywain" (National Gallery).
Looking at Rubens' "Ceres," 1 in which the architecture is viewed also in a frontal position, you may be tempted to ask why such a picture is not displeasing, despite the original symmetry of the architecture in the position in which the painter chose to paint it. The reply is simple. Here Rubens certainly placed the architecture full-face; but besides dissimulating the greater part of it in shadow which in itself produces unsymmetrical shapes that have subsequently to be arranged by tone composition lie carefully disordered it by means of garlands and festoons, and only then did he exercise his artistic mind in making a harmonious and orderly pictorial arrangement of it, which also included some cupids skilfully placed.
All realism, or Police Art, therefore, in addition to being the outcome of the will to truth which Christianity and its offshoot Modern Science have infused into the arts, may also be the result of the artist's becoming infected either with the public's pure taste, or with the public's corrupted or artist-infected taste, and we are thus in possession of one more clue as to what constitutes a superior work of graphic art.
1 Hermitage Gallery, St. Petersburg.
6. The Meaning of Beauty of Form and of Beauty of Content in Art.
But there is another aspect of Beauty in Art which has to be considered, and that is the intrinsic beauty of the content of an artistic production. You may say that, ex hypothesi, I have denied that there could be any such beauty. Not at all!
1 If this book be read in conjunction with my monograph on Nietzsche: his Life and Works (Constable), or my Who is to be Master of the World? (Foulis), there ought to be no difficulty in understanding this point.
What, then, constitutes the beauty of the content in an artistic production, as distinct from the beauty of the treatment? In other words, what is beauty in a subject?
For the notion that the subject does not matter in a picture is one which should be utterly and severely condemned. It arose at a time when art was diseased, when artists themselves had ceased from having anything of importance to say, when the subjects chosen had no meaning, and when technique was bad. And it must be regarded more in the light of a war-cry coming from a counter-movement, aiming at an improved technique and rebelling against an abuse of literature in the graphic arts, than in the light of sound doctrine, taking its foundation in normal and healthy conditions.
The intrinsic beauty of the content or substance
Volumes, stacks of volumes, have been written on this question. The most complicated and incomprehensible answers have been given to it, and not one can be called satisfactory; for all of them would be absolute.
When, however, we find a modern writer defining the beautiful as "that which has characteristic or individual expressiveness for sense perception or imagination, subject to the conditions of general or abstract expressiveness in the same medium," 1 we feel, or at least I feel, that something must be wrong. It is definitions such as these which compel one to seek for something more definite and more lucid in the matter of explanation, and if, in finding the latter, one may seem a little too prosaic and terre-à-terre, it is only because the transcendental and metaphysical nature of the kind of definition we have just quoted makes anything which is in the slightest degree clearer, appear earthly and material beside it.
It is obvious that, if we could only arrive at a subject-beauty which was absolute, practically all the difficulties of our task would vanish. For having established the fact that the purpose of the graphic arts is to determine the values beautiful and ugly, it would only remain for us to urge all artists to advocate that absolute subject-beauty with all the eloquence of line and colour that our concept of
1 B. Bosanquet, A History of Æsthetic, p. 4.
But we can postulate no such absolute in subject-beauty. "Absolute beauty exists just as little as absolute goodness and truth." 1 The term "beautiful," like the term "good," is only a means to an end. It is simply the arbitrary self-affirmation of a certain type of man in his struggle to prevail. 2 He says "Yea" to his type, and calls it beautiful. He cannot extend his power and overcome other types unless with complete confidence and assurance he says "Yea" to his own type.
You and I, therefore, can speak of the beautiful with an understanding of what that term means, only on condition that our values, our traditions, our desires, and our outlook are exactly the same. If you agree with me on the question of what is good, our agreement simply means this, that in that corner of the world from which you and I hail, the same creator of values prevails over both of us. Likewise, if you and I agree on the question of what is beautiful, this fact merely denotes that as individuals coming from the same people, we have our values, our tradition and our outlook in common.
"Beautiful," then, is a purely relative term which may be applied to a host of dissimilar types and which every people must apply to its own type
1 W. P., Vol. II, p. 246. See also T. I., Part 10, Aph. 19: "The 'beautiful in itself' is merely an expression, not even a concept."
2 T. I., Part 10, Aph. 19: "In the beautiful, man posits himself as the standard of perfection; in select cases he worships himself in that standard. A species cannot possibly do otherwise than thus say yea to itself."
But assuming, as we must, that all people, the Chinese, the Negroes, the Hindus, the Red Indians, and the Arabs between themselves apply the word beautiful only to particular individuals among their own people, in order to distinguish them from less beautiful or mediocre individuals what meaning has the term in that case?
Obviously, since the spirit of the people, its habits, prejudices and prepossessions are determined by their values, and values may fix a type, that creature will be most beautiful among them who is the highest embodiment and outcome of all their values, and who therefore corresponds most to the ideal their æsthetic legislator had in mind when he created their values. 1 Thus even morality can be justified æsthetically. 2 And in legislating for primeval peoples, higher men and artist-legis-
1 W. P., Vol. II, p. 361: "Legislative moralities are the principal means by which one can form mankind, according to the fancy of a creative and profound will: provided of course, that such an artistic will of the first order gets the power into its own hands, and can make its creative will prevail over long periods in the form of legislation, religions and morals." See p. 79 in the first part of this lecture.
2 W. P., Vol. II, p. 185.
The most beautiful negro or Chinaman thus becomes that individual negro or Chinaman who is rich in those features which the life-spirit of the Ethiopian or Chinese people is calculated to produce, and who, owing to a long and regular observance of the laws and traditions of his people, by his ancestors for generations, has inherited that regularity of form in his type, which all long observance of law and order is bound to cultivate and to produce. 1 And in reviewing the peoples of Europe alone, we can ascribe the many and different views which they have held and still hold of beauty, only to a difference in the values they have observed for generations in their outlook, their desires and their beliefs.
It is quite certain, therefore, that, in the graphic arts, which either determine or accentuate the values "ugly" and "beautiful," every artist who sets up his notion of what is subject-beauty, like every lover about to marry, either assails or confirms and consolidates the values of his people. 2
Examples of this, if they were needed, are to be found everywhere. See how the Gothic school of painting, together with men like Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, El Greco, and subse-
1 G. E., p. 107: "The essential thing 'in heaven and earth' is, apparently, that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living; for instance, virtue, art, music, dancing, reason, spirituality anything whatever that is transfiguring, refined, foolish, or divine."
2 T. I., Part 10, Aph. 24.
Note, too, how hopeless are the attempts of artists who stand for the Pagan ideal, when they paint Christian saints and martyrs, and how singularly un-Pagan those figures are which appear in the pictures of the advocates of the Christian ideal when they attempt Pagan types. Christ by Rubens is not the emaciated, tenuous Person suffering from a wasting disease that Segna represents him to be; while the Mars and Venus of Botticelli in the National Gallery would have been repudiated with indignation by any Greek of antiquity.
When values are beginning to get mixed, then, owing to an influx of foreigners from all parts of the world, we shall find the strong biological idea of absolute beauty tending to disappear, and in its place we shall find the weak and wholly philosophical belief arising that beauty is relative. Thus, in Attica of the fifth century B.C., when 300,000 slaves, chiefly foreigners, were to be counted among the inhabitants, the idea that beauty was a relative term first occurred to the "talker" Socrates.
Still, in all concepts of beauty, however widely separated and however diametrically opposed, there is this common factor: that the beautiful person
1 T. I., Part 10, Aph. 47: "Even the beauty of a race or family, the pleasantness and kindness of their whole demeanour, is acquired by effort; like genius, it is the final result of the accumulated labour of generations. There must have been great sacrifices made to good taste; for the sake of it, much must have been done, and much refrained from the seventeenth century in France is worthy of admiration in both ways; good taste must then have been a principle of selection, for society, place, dress, and sexual gratification, beauty must have been preferred to advantage, habit, opinion, indolence. Supreme rule: we must not 'let ourselves go,' even when only in our own presence. Good things are costly beyond measure, and the rule always holds, that he who possesses them is other than he who acquires them. All excellence is inheritance; what has not been inherited is imperfect, it is a beginning."
2 W. P., Vol. II, p. 245: "'Beauty,' therefore, is, to the artist, something which is above order of rank, because in beauty contrasts are overcome, the highest sign of power
Once again, therefore, though it is impossible to posit a universal concept of subject-beauty, various concepts may be given an order of rank, subject to the values with which they happen to be associated.
Ugliness of form in Art, therefore, will tend to become prevalent in democratic times; because it is precisely at such times that a general truth for all is believed in, and, since reality is the only truth which can be made common to all, democratic art is invariably realistic, and therefore, according to my definition of the beautiful in form, ugly.
In this matter, I do not ask you to take my views on trust. A person who will seem to you very much more authoritative than myself a man who once had the honour of influencing Whistler, and who, by the bye, is also famous for having flung
thus manifesting itself in the conquest of opposites; and achieved without a feeling of tension." See also Hegel, Vorlesungen über Æsthetik, Vol. I, pp. 130, 144.
1 W. P., Vol. II, p. 252.
At the Congress of Antwerp in 1861, after he had criticized other artists and other concepts of art, this man concluded his speech as follows: "By denying the ideal and all that it involves, I attain to the complete emancipation of the individual, and finally to democracy. Realism is essentially democratic." 1
As you all must know, this man was Gustave Courbet, of whom Muther said that he had a predilection for the ugly. 2
Artists infected with the pure or the corrupt layman's view of Art, as described in the previous section, and artists obsessed by the Christian or scientific notion of truth, will consequently produce ugly work. They will be realists, or Police-artists, and consequently ugly.
But how can content- or subject-ugliness be understood? Content- or subject-ugliness is the decadence of a type. 3 It is the sign that certain features, belonging to other peoples (hitherto
1 A. Estignard, Gustave Courbet (Paris, 1896), p. 118.
2 Geschichte der Malerei, Vol. III, p. 204.
3 W. P., Vol. II, pp. 241, 242, 245. See also T. I., Part 10, Aph. 20: "The ugly is understood as a sign and symptom of degeneration; that which reminds us in the remotest manner of degeneracy prompts us to pronounce the verdict 'ugly.' Every indication of exhaustion, gravity, age or lassitude; every kind of constraint, such as cramp or paralysis; and above all the odour, the colour, and the likeness of decomposition or putrefaction, be it utterly attenuated even to a symbol: all these things call forth a similar reaction, the evaluation 'ugly.' A hatred is there excited: whom does man hate there? There can be no doubt: the decline of his type."
The hatred amounts to a condemnation of usurping values, or of discordant values; in fact, to a condemnation of dissolution and anarchy, and the judgment "ugly" is of the most serious import.
Thus, although few of us can agree to-day as to what constitutes a beautiful man or woman, there is still a general idea common to us all, that a certain regularity of features constitutes beauty, and that, with this beauty, a certain reliable, harmonious, and calculable nature will be present. Spencer said the wisest thing in all his philosophy when he declared that "the saying that beauty is but skin deep, is but a skin-deep saying." 2
For beauty in any human creature, being the result of a long and severe observance by his ancestors of a particular set of values, always denotes some definite attitude towards Life; it always lures to some particular kind of life and joy as Stendhal said, "Beauty is a promise of
1 T. I., Part 10, Aph. 20.
2 Essays, Vol. II (1901 Edition), p. 394.
This explains why beauty is regarded with suspicion by negative religions, and why it tends to decline in places where the sway of a negative religion is powerful. Because a negative religion cannot tolerate that which lures to life, to the body, to joy and to voluptuous ecstasy.
It is upon their notion of spiritual beauty, upon passive virtues, that the negative religions lay such stress, and thus they allow the ugly to find pedestals in their sanctuaries more easily than the beautiful.
Now, eliminating for a moment all those pseudo-artists who have been reared by the two strongest public demands on the Art of the present age I speak of portrait-painting and dining-room pictures
As I say, they are becoming extremely rare; their rarity, which may be easily accounted for, 1 is one of the evil omens of the time.
The ruler-artist is he who, elated by his own health and love of Life, says "Yea" to his own type and proclaims his faith or confidence in it, against all other types; and who, in so doing, determines or accentuates the values of that type. If he prevails in concepts in so doing, he also ennobles and embellishes the type he is advocating.
He is either the maker or the highest product of an aspiring and an ascending people. In him their highest values find their most splendid bloom. In him their highest values find their strongest spokesman. And in his work they find the symbol of their loftiest hopes.
By the beauty which his soul reflects upon the selected men he represents in his works, he establishes an order of rank among his people, and puts each in his place.
The spectator who is very much beneath the beauty of the ruler-artist's masterpieces feels his ignominious position at a glance. He realizes the impassable gulf that is for ever fixed between himself and that 1 And this sudden revelation tells him his level. Such a man, after he has contemplated the ruler-artist's work, may rush headlong
1 G. E., p. 120.
"Unto many life is a failure," says Zarathustra, "a poisonous worm eating through into their heart. These ought to see to it that they succeed better in dying.
"Many-too-many live. . . . Would that preachers of swift death might arise! They would be the proper storms to shake the trees of life." 1
In the presence of beauty, alone, can one know one's true rank, and this explains why the Japanese declare that "until a man has made himself beautiful he has no right to approach beauty," 2 for "great art is that before which we long to die." 3
But, to those who see but the smallest chance of approaching it, beauty is an exhortation, a stimulus, a bugle-call. It may drive them to means for pruning themselves of ugliness; it may urge them to inner harmony, to a suppression of intestinal discord.
"Beauty alone should preach penitence," 4 says Zarathustra. And in this sentence you have the only utilitarian view of beauty that has any aristocratic value, besides that which maintains that beauty lures to Life, and to the body.
Hence, beauty need not impel all men to the river. There are some who, after contemplating
1 Z., I, XXI.
2 The Book of Tea, p. 152.
3 Ibid., p. 199.
4 Z., I, XXVI.
The ruler-artist, therefore, in order that his subject-beauty may have some meaning, must be the synthesis of the past and the future of a people. Up to his waist in their spirit, he must mould or paint them the apotheosis of their type. Only thus can he hope to prevail with his subject Man.
The German philosopher, Karl Heinrich Heydenreich, was one of the first to recognize this power of the ruler-artist, and the necessity of his being intimately associated with a particular people, although above them; and in his little book, System der Æsthetik, he makes some very illuminating remarks on this matter. 1
Thus Benedetto Croce rightly argues that in order to appreciate the artistic works of bygone and extinct nations, it is necessary to have a knowledge and understanding of their life and history in other words, of their values. 2 What he does not
1 System der Æsthetik (1790), pp. 9, 10, 11, where, in replying to the question why the arts were not only pursued with more perfection by the ancients, but also judged with more competence by them, he says: "Their material was drawn from the heart of their nation, and from the life of their citizens, and the manner of representing it and of framing it was in keeping with the character and needs of the people. . . . If the Greek lent his ear to the poet, or his eye to the painter and sculptor, of his age, he was shown subjects which were familiar to his soul, intimately related to his imagination, and, as it were, bound by blood-relationship to his heart." On pp. 12, 13, he also shows that if Art is less thrilling nowadays, it is because peoples are too mixed, and a single purpose no longer characterizes their striving.
2 Æsthetic (translated by Douglas Ainslie), p. 210 et seq.
All great ruler-art, then, is, as it were, a song of praise, a magnificat, appealing only to those, and pleasing only those, who feel in sympathy with the values which it advocates. And that is why all art of any importance, and of any worth, must be based upon a certain group of values in other words, must have a philosophy or a particular view of the world as its foundation. Otherwise it is pointless, meaningless, and divorced from life. Otherwise it is acting, sentimental nonsense, or l'art pour l'art.
All great ruler-art also takes Man as its content; because human values are the only values that concern it. All great ruler-art also takes beauty within a certain people as its aim; because the will-to-power is its driving instinct, and beauty, being the most difficulty thing to achieve, is the strongest test of power. Finally, all great ruler-art is optimistic; because it implies the will of the artist to prevail.
But what constitutes the form of the ruler-artist's work? In what way must he give us his content?
Hence the belief all through the history of æsthetic that high art is a certain unity in variety, a certain single idea exhaled from a more or less complex whole, or, as the Japanese say, "repetition with a modicum of variation." 2
1 W. P., Vol. II, p. 277: "The greatness of an artist is not to be measured by the beautiful feelings which he evokes: let this belief be left to the girls. It should be measured according to the extent to which he approaches the grand style, according to the extent to which he is capable of the grand style. This style and great passion have this in common that they scorn to please; that they forget to persuade; that they command; that they will. . . ." See also p. 241.
2 This was first brought to my notice by my friend, Dr. Wrench. See The Grammar of Life, by G. T. Wrench (Heinemann, 1908), p. 218. Although the development of this idea really belongs to a special treatise on the laws of Style in painting, it is interesting to note here that this excellent principle is quickly grasped if the powerfully alliterative phrases: "Where there's a will there's a way,"
Perhaps the greatest test of all, however, in
or "Goodness gracious!" or "To-morrow, to-morrow, and not to-day" be spoken before certain pictures, or written beneath them The first phrase, for instance, written beneath the "Aldobrindini Marriage," or Botticelli's "Birth of Venus," is seen immediately to be next of kin to these pictures as an art-form; and the same holds good of the second written beneath Reynolds's "John Dunning (First Lord Ashburton) and his Sister," or Manet's "Olympia."
1 W. P., Vol. II, p. 277.
2 W. P., Vol. II, p. 288. "The most convincing artists are those who make harmony ring out of every discord, and who benefit all things by the gift of their power and their inner harmony: in every work of art they merely reveal the symbol of their inmost experiences their creation is gratitude for their life." See also p 307.
If the first, the work will make nobody richer. It will rather rob them of what they have. It is likely to be either (A) true to Nature, (B) uglier than Nature, or (C) absurdly unnatural. A is the product of the ordinary man, B is the product of the man below mediocrity, save in a certain manual dexterity, and C is the outcome of the tyrannical will of the sufferer, 2 who wishes to wreak his revenge on all that thrives, and is beautiful and happy, and which bids him weave fantastic worlds of his own, away from this one, where people of his calibre can forget their wretched ailments and evil humours, and wallow in their own feverish nightmares of overstrained, palpitating and neuropathic yearnings. A is poverty-realism or Police Art. B is pessimism and incompetent Art. C is Romanticism.
Where superabundance is active, the work is the gift and the blessing of the will to power of some higher man. It will seem as much above Nature to mediocre people as its creator is above them. But, since it will brook no contradiction, it will actually value Nature afresh, and stimulate them to share in this new valuation.
Where poverty is active, the work is an act of robbery. It is what psychologists call a reflex
1 W. P., Vol. II, p. 280: "In regard to all æsthetic values I now avail myself of this fundamental distinction: in every individual case I ask myself has hunger or has superabundance been creative here?"
2 W. P., Vol. II, p. 281.
The Art which must have experience and which is not the outcome of inner riches brought to the surface by meditation this is the art of poverty. The general modern belief in experience and in the necessity of furnishing the mind by going direct to Nature and to reality shows to what extent the Art of to-day has become reactive instead of active.
The greater part of modern realism is the outcome of this poverty. It is reactive art, resulting from reflex actions; and, as such, is an exceedingly unhealthy sign. Not only does it show that the power of resisting stimuli is waning or altogether absent; but it also denotes that that inner power which requires no stimulus to discharge itself is either lacking or exceedingly weak.
With these words upon the subject of realism, I shall now conclude this part of Lecture II.
I shall return to realism in my next lecture; but you will see that it will be of a different kind from that of which I have just spoken. It will be superior, and will be the outcome of riches rather than of poverty. Although beneath genuine Ruler-art, which transfigures reality, it will nevertheless be superior to the poverty-realism which I have just discussed; for it will be of a kind which is forced upon the powerful artist who, in the midst of a world upholding other values than his own,
In discussing mediæval. Renaissance and Greek Art, in my next lecture, this distinction will, I hope, be made quite plain to you.