The Beautiful: An Introduction to Psychological Aesthetics
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
What is the nature of attraction; what is it that makes us regard one person, object or artwork as visually or aesthetically pleasing, while considering another to be unattractive? In a series of engaging and well-argued essays, author Vernon Lee, who is credited for introducing the concept of empathy into the English language, tackles this issue from a number of different perspectives. This book takes beauty as already existing and enjoyed, and seeks to analyze and account for Beauty's existence and enjoyment. More strictly speaking, it analyzes and accounts for Beauty not inasmuch as existing in certain objects and processes, but rather as calling forth (and being called forth by) a particular group of mental activities and habits. It does not ask: What are the peculiarities of the things (and the proceedings) which we call Beautiful? but: What are the peculiarities of our thinking and feeling when in the presence of a thing to which we apply this adjective? The study of single beautiful things, and even more, the comparison of various categories thereof, is indeed one-half of all scientific aesthetics, but only inasmuch as it adds to our knowledge of the particular mental activities which such "Beautiful" (and vice versa "Ugly") things elicit in us. For it is on the nature of this active response on our own part that depends the application of those terms Beautiful and Ugly in every single instance; and indeed their application in any instances whatsoever, their very existence in the human vocabulary.
on paper or of sound vibrations in time, so as to provoke perceptive activities similar to those which would, ceteris paribus, have been provoked in himself if that shape had not existed first of all only in his mind. A further illustration of the principle that shape-perception is a combination of active measurements and comparisons, and of remembrance and expectations, is found in a fact which has very great importance in all artistic dealings with shapes. I have spoken, for simplicity's,
active? And if this shape belongs to a thing possessing activity of its own, is its locomotion of that slow regular kind we call the growth and spreading of plants? Or of the sudden, wilful kind we know in animals and men? What does this shape tell us of such more formidable locomotion? Are these details of curve and colour to be interpreted into jointed limbs, can the thing fling out laterally, run after us, can it catch and swallow us? Or is it such that we can do thus by it? Does this shape
Bearing this example in mind we cannot fail to understand that, just as the thought of locomotion is opposed to the thought of movement of lines, so, in more or less degree, the thought of the objects and actions represented by a picture or statue, is likely to divert the mind from the pictorial and plastic shapes which do the representing. And we can also understand that the problem unconsciously dealt with by all art (though by no means consciously by every artist) is to execute the order of
whose peculiarities have been averaged in what we call the school whence Michelangelo issued. He can no more depart from these shapes than he can paint Rembrandt's Pilgrims of Emmaus without Rembrandt's science of light and shade and Rembrandt's oil-and-canvas technique. There is no alternative, hence no choice, hence no feeling of a problem to resolve, in this question of shapes to employ. But there are dozens of alternatives and of acts of choice, there is a whole series of problems when
said, first of all, pleasure in colour. Also, because pleasure in colour, like pleasure in mere sound-quality or timbre, is accessible to people who never go any further in their aesthetic preference. Children, as every one knows, are sensitive to colours, long before they show the faintest sensitiveness for shapes. And the timbre of a perfect voice in a single long note or shake used to bring the house down in the days of our grandparents, just as the subtle orchestral blendings of Wagner