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Make them to wish, they'd ne'er been born ;
Act bravely! Act bravely my soul!
Fly away! Fly away my soul !
Be manly! Be manly my soul!
Be noble! Be noble my soul !
Have courage I Have courage my soul !
ART CULTURE AND ITS EFFECT UPON THE CON
DUCT OF LIFE.
BY MELVIN L. SEVERY.
BEING EXCERPTS FROM LECTURES GIVEN BY HIM BEFORE THE BOSTON
(Number Four.) As each one of the art articles published in THE ESOTERIC must repeat, in a very limited space, the substance of four extemporaneous lectures, it is expected that the Reader will pardon the absence of that elegance of diction, as well as the lack of that continual expression of strong, logical coherence which could only be obtained through the employment of more space than we can command, and accept in their stead, the somewhat cursory and detached statement here presented.
In the third paper of this series power was defined as ent inadequacy of the means employed to the end accomplished,” or as “ Ease in Force." It will be seen from this, that art makes a radical distinction between force and power, a discrimination which is perhaps more noticeable in oratory or dramatic art, than elsewhere. This only serves to furnish another evidence of the fact that art deals with the imagination ; for, outside of the realm of art, force and power, if not absolutely identical, are yet closely analogous.
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To the imagination, however, the mere display of energy is not necessarily suggestive of that attribute which in art is appropriately defined power. It will be readily seen that it is possible for this very energy to suggest weakness rather than power. Let us look first for an illustration of this upon the material plane. If a man, in the lifting of any weight, display great exertion, he will never impress the imagination as being powerful. This will readily be seen wherever much physical ado is made over the lifting of light bodies, but I desire, for the deductive lesson it contains, that the Reader should see that this same law of the imagination holds equally true, whether the man displays exertion in the lifting of a feather, or a ton. The knowledge that the burden is great does not impress upon the imagination the presence of power, as art defines the term, but it does impress upon the reason, after a more or less extended exercise thereof, and a comparison of present perceptions with remembered concepts, the presence of that force which physics occasionally defines as power. Now it should be stated here, lest the Reader fall in error, that that expressive attribute of art denominated power, cannot be impressed upon the imagination of the auditor, by the display of any amount of mere force, since it has its rise, not in force, nor yet in ease,but in the interrelation of ease and force. The knowledge that the resistance overcome is great, while it cannot per se, create the impression of power, yet can, by the reciprocal significance which it places upon the ease, greatly augment the depth of that impression. A single illustration should make this plain. If a man lift a weight, sweating and groaning meanwhile, he cannot, however heavy you know the object to be, suggest power to your imagination. But if, on the other hand, he lift the burden easily, he will suggest to the imagination an amount of power exactly commensurate with the resistance with which the imagination endows the object. Thus it is seen how jugglers, by their easy and graceful manipulation of “cannon balls” which in reality are pasteboard, but which they have induced the beholder to believe are iron, suggest to the imagination an idea of power far greater than would be inculcated by one who, with ill-concealed exertion, and ungraceful and laborious effort.lifted a real cannon ball. Art, remember, deals with the imagination, and its effects are not the result of what its media actually are, but simply of what the imagination considers them to be.
It will be readily seen from the foregoing that, in the exercise of the critical faculty, it is desirable to know exactly the difficulty presented by the obstacle overcome, since a just estimate of the quality and degree of the power expressed, can be attained in no other possible way. The ideal critic, therefore, must be able to reproduce those art works which he criticizes.
It is pertinent to the subject in hand to state here the reason why ease in force gives a pleasurable excitation to the imagination not obtained through the simple perception of the expenditure of force. Whenever there is an ease displayed in the conquest, the imagination is allowed to roam, as it were, unfettered, and to give the artist or artisan, according as the case may be, the credit of almost any amount of power. That is to say, ease in force suggests to the mind of the observer a reservoir of power, of which that utilized in the visible conquest, may be only as a few drops ; while, on the other hand, a laborious execution of any task, invariably suggests to the imagination of the observer that that task very nearly measures the capabilities of its executor. If we see a man straining in lifting a weight, we at once conclude that if the weight were a little henne ier, he would be unable to overcome its resistance. Thus we see that the æsthetic pleasure derived from the perception of power in an artistic work, has its rise in the fact that power, as the word is used in art, is uncircumscribed, having no limits set to it by the imagination, which is accordingly allowed free scope; while a lack of power, on the other hand, forces the imagination down to the hard, material fact that the executive possibilities of the artist, if indeed he may be called such, are only in a slight degree, if even at all, above the work accomplished,--a perception which fordoes the idea of reserve power, and checks the further pleasurable exercise of the imagination.
The Reader will have perceived from the foregoing that he should never, in any art production, allow himself to appear laborious. In view of this fact, it is generally safest for one never to display all the power of which he is capable, but rather to keep back a portion, as a reserve force, since in the former case there is much danger, by some unintentional expression, of showing his limitation, as well as the fact that he is laboring to the utmost of his abilicy. This is especially true in the matter of voice, and a most significant lesson may be learned in this connection.
An orator, for example, should never allow himself to venture, in public, upon the lowest note of his compass, since, by some vocal slip most likely to occur at either extreme of one's range, he may indicate to his audience that that is the limit of his vocal possibilities. Let the rule be then, never in public to essay an effect which you are not sure of accomplishing without displaying any effort, lest you would tether that mental faculty of your audience, in whose wild, unhindered and limitless excursions, all æsthetic pleasure has its source.
Next in the series of ideas capable of being received from art productions, come those classified under the head of Ideas of Imitation. There is scarcely any particular in the whole domain of art which is the subject of more frequent, greater, or more disastrous misconception than the subject of imitation. There are not a few pseudo-artists quite high in public estimation, who openly aver that the highest end of art is absolute imitation. Actors can be found by the score who maintain that they should shriek, when apparently stabbed upon the stage, exactly as they would if they were in reality wounded. Even Ruskin, so accurate and exhaustive in all matters pertaining to the art of painting, overlooks, in this regard, the fact that what is true of one art is true of all others, for, speaking of imitation, he makes the following remarks, which I am constrained to quote somewhat at length, for the sake of the context:
Thirdly, these ideas (ideas of imitation) are contemptible, because no ideas of power are associated with them. To the ignorant, imitation, indeed, seems difficult, and its success praiseworthy, but even they can by no possibility see more in the artist than they do in the juggler, who arrives at a strange end by means with which they are unacquainted. To the in. structed, the juggler is by far the more respectable artist of the two, for they know sleight of hand to be an art of immensely more difficult acquirement, and to imply more ingenuity in the artist, than a power of deceptive imitation in painting, which requires nothing more for its attainment than a true eye, a steady hand, and moderate industry — qualities which in no degree separate the imitative artist from a watch-maker, pin-maker, or any other neat-handed artificer. These remarks do not apply to the art of the Diorama, or the stage, where the pleasure is not dependent on the
imitation, but is the same which we should receive from nature herself, only far inferior in degree. It is a noble pleasure ; but we shall see in the course of our investigation, both that it is inferior to that which we receive when there is no deception at all, and why it is so."
In the first place, imitation is just as contemptible on the stage as it is in any other art, - indeed, it is more so, for its exercise there prostitutes the most comprehensive and noblest of arts. Another fallacy in Mr. Ruskin's reasoning, and one of which it seems scarcely possible a gentleman of his high critical and analytical acumen should be guilty, is found in the expression, " It is a noble pleasure ; but we shall see in the course of our investigation, both that it is inferior to that which we receive when there is no deception at all, and why it is so.” Now I maintain that there is no deception whatever in legitimate dramatic art, and, furthermore, I am constrained to deny in toto the above quoted assertion that the pleasure derived from the stage “is the same which we should receive from nature herself, only far inferior in degree." In the first place, who, that witnesses a tragedy, is deceived into the belief that the characters are really killed? Why, I would ask, has the onward march of art forced the dagger loaded with “ cranberry juice” into harmless disuse? Is it not because the verisimilitude resulting from its use was found obnoxious, and injurious to the artistic pleasure otherwise derivable from tragic action? Who, when enjoying a series of Shakespearian performances, actually believes for a moment that Othello smothers Desdemona; that Hamlet stabs Polonius; that Macduff butchers Macbeth ; that Richmond kills Richard, or that Cleopatra actually kills herself with “Nile-worm ?" No one, I am sure, who is in any wise able to appreciate lofty tragedy, believes for a moment that what he sees is a verity, nor does the pleasure derivable from the drama depend upon any such misconception. Is it not a well-known fact that those who are most tender-hearted find a keener, higher relish in tragedy, than those who are brutal? How many, I would ask, of those who find the most intense pleasure in a praiseworthy production of Hamlet, with the half a dozen deaths of which its action takes particular cognizance, could be induced to witness the barbarities of a bull-fight, though the matador and every picador escaped unscathed? No; assuredly the pleasure of tragedy, or of the drama at large, does not arise out of any notion that the piece produced is true in all its action. If such were the case, then, by the analogy which is found between literature and art, no man would take pleasure in the perusal of a novel which he did not believe to be true, which, of course, is contrary to all experience. Verisimilitude, to be sure, has its place in art, as will be shown in due time, but it has nothing whatever to do with imitation. Again, with reference to Mr. Ruskin's assertion that the pleasure we receive from the drama is the same which we should receive from nature herself, (I am considering the drama independently of the diorama,)-only far inferior in degree, I would ask if the pleasure derived from witnessing an artistic rendition of “ Iago” is the same, “ only far inferior in degree,” as that which we should derive from an intimate and uctual acquaintance with an Iago ? Is the pleasure received from a praiseworthy performance of Edipus the same,“ only far inferior in degree,” as we should experience if we witnessed his sufferings in actual life? Emphatically no! It were less than justice to the drama and its patrons to ascribe its pleasures either to cruelty, or weak-mindedness.
The fact that imitation is considered the final end and aim of so many pseudo-artists, is due largely to a misconception of what imitation is, and of the effects it produces. Those who espouse the cause of imitation as an end, do so generally upon the assumption that the more perfectly they imitate an effect, the nearer they approach to truth. Nothing could be farther from the actual fact. Imitations are never true, the despicable thing about them being that they pretend to be what they are not, and are invariably evidences of a trickster. It cannot be impressed too strongly upon the Reader's mind, that the pleasure derived from an artistic production does not have its rise in any idea that the paint on the canvas is a veritable mountain range; that the tragic dagger actually enters the actor's heart, or that the Apollo Belvedere is actually a man, — nobody ever thought so for a moment. Art has a higher and a nobler use than can be exemplified in the most perfect deception of imitation. Ideas of Imitation then, arise from the perception that the thing produced appears to be something which it is not. This impression is quickly followed by the comparison of the imitation with the thing imitated, in order to see in what particulars it is false; and this, in its turn, by the final impression that the imitation is not what it seems to be, or, in other words, that it is false and tricky. It is perceived at once, in the case of imitation, what the imitation pretends to be, a little later that it is not what it pretends to be, and finally the mind is overwhelmed with the idea that it pretends to be what it is not; that is to say, the mind, throughout the entire perusal of an imitation is occupied with the idea of falsity. Such being the case, all noble impressions which a true work of art would produce, are lost, and the observer's mind is not only thoroughly occupied with the vehicle of the thought, feeling, or purpose to be expressed, which in itself would fordo all artistic pleasure or benefit, but, what is far worse, it is occupied with the falsity of that vehicle, which makes imitation contemptible indeed.
If the Reader will think for a moment of the dramatic imitations which he has seen and heard, he will be able to learn a valuable lesson on the subject in hand, from the recollection which will doubtless occur to him, that, in every instance where the imitation was sufficiently accurate to enable him to tell for whom it was meant, the imitative effects were simply suggestions of the original's mannerisms, or short-comings, and never of anything praiseworthy in his production. It is a very easy matter to imitate a mannerism, or a wart upon the nose of the person whose portrait you are painting, but all grand truths of nature defy imitation. In this immediate connection let me mention the attempt of one of our ablest comedians to give imitations of popular actors. After impersonating a score of lesser lights, which the audience immediately recognized, he imitated Lawrence Barrett, and the enthusiastic audience applauded to the echo, saying; " Barrett! Barrett to perfection !” Then he impersonated Henry Irving, and the audience cried ; “ Irving! Irving out and out! Then he essayed to imitate Edwin Booth, and his auditors whispered to one another; “Who is it that he is imitating now?"
The explanation is simple: Mr. Barrett and Mr. Irving have each marked mannerisms of speech, qualities of voice, etc., and the latter, decided eccentricities of movement as well. The imitative faculty of the comedian easily caught these peculiarities and rendered them, while the audience instantly associated them with their proper sources. It was not necessary for the comedian to express any of Mr. Barrett's or Mr. Irving's finer qualities, —