IN the preceding chapters we have seen ritual emerge from the practical doings of life. We have noted that in ritual we have the beginning of a detachment from practical ends; we have watched the merely emotional dance develop from an undifferentiated chorus into a spectacle performed by actors and watched by spectators, a spectacle cut off, not only from real life, but also from ritual issues; a spectacle, in a word, that has become an end in itself. We have further seen that the choral dance is an undifferentiated whole which later divides out into three clearly articulate parts, the artist, the work of art, the spectator or art lover. We are now in a position to ask what is the good of all this antiquarian enquiry? Why is it, apart from the mere delight of scientific enquiry, important to have seen that art arose from ritual?
The answer is simple--
The object of this book, as stated in the preface, is to try to throw some light on the function of art, that is on what it has done, and still does to-day, for life. Now in the case of a complex growth like art, it is rarely if ever possible to understand its function--what it does, how it works--unless we know something of how that growth began, or, if its origin is hid, at least of the simpler forms of activity that preceded it. For art, this earlier stage, this simpler form, which is indeed itself as it were an embryo and rudimentary art, we found to be--ritual.
Ritual, then, has not been studied for its own sake, still less for its connection with any particular dogma, though, as a subject of singular gravity and beauty, ritual is well worth a lifetime's study. It has been studied because ritual is, we believe, a frequent and perhaps universal transition stage between actual life and that peculiar contemplation of or emotion towards life which we call art. All our long examination of beast-dances, May-day festivals and even of Greek drama has had just this for its object--to make clear that art--save perhaps in a few specially
gifted natures--did not arise straight out of life, but out of that collective emphasis of the needs and desires of life which we have agreed to call ritual.
Our formal argument is now over and ritual may drop out of the discussion. But we would guard against a possible misunderstanding. We would not be taken to imply that ritual is obsolete and must drop out of life, giving place to the art it has engendered. It may well be that, for certain temperaments, ritual is a perennial need. Natures specially gifted can live lives that are emotionally vivid, even in the rare high air of art or science; but many, perhaps most of us, breathe more freely in the medium, literally the midway space, of some collective ritual. Moreover, for those of us who are not artists or original thinkers the life of the imagination, and even of the emotions, has been perhaps too long lived at second hand, received from the artist ready made and felt. To-day, owing largely to the progress of science, and a host of other causes social and economic, life grows daily fuller and freer, and every manifestation of life is regarded with a new reverence. With
this fresh outpouring of the spirit, this fuller consciousness of life, there comes a need for first-hand emotion and expression, and that expression is found for all classes in a revival of the ritual dance. Some of the strenuous, exciting, self-expressive dances of to-day are of the soil and some exotic, but, based as they mostly are on very primitive ritual, they stand as singular evidence of this real recurrent need. Art in these latter days goes back as it were on her own steps, recrossing the ritual bridge back to life.
It remains to ask what, in the light of this ritual origin, is the function of art? How do we relate it to other forms of life, to science, to religion, to morality, to philosophy? These are big-sounding questions, and towards their solution only hints here and there can be offered, stray thoughts that have grown up out of this study of ritual origins and which, because they have helped the writer, are offered, with no thought of dogmatism, to the reader.
We English are not supposed to be an artistic people, yet art, in some form or another, bulks large in the national life. We have theatres, a National Gallery, we have
art-schools, our tradesmen provide for us "art-furniture," we even hear, absurdly enough, of "art-colours." Moreover, all this is not a matter of mere antiquarian interest, we do not simply go and admire the beauty of the past in museums; a movement towards or about art is all alive and astir among us. We have new developments of the theatre, problem plays, Reinhardt productions, Gordon Craig scenery, Russian ballets. We have new schools of painting treading on each other's heels with breathless rapidity: Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, Futurists. Art--or at least the desire for, the interest in, art--is assuredly not dead.
Moreover, and this is very important, we all feel about art a certain obligation, such as some of us feel about religion. There is an "ought" about it. Perhaps we do not really care much about pictures and poetry and music, but we feel we "ought to." In the case of music it has happily been at last recognized that if you have not an "ear" you cannot care for it, but two generations ago, owing to the unfortunate cheapness and popularity of keyed instruments, it was widely held that one half of humanity, the
feminine half, "ought" to play the piano. This "ought" is, of course, like most social "oughts," a very complex product, but its existence is well worth noting.
It is worth noting because it indicates a vague feeling that art has a real value, that art is not a mere luxury, nor even a rarefied form of pleasure. No one feels they ought to take pleasure in beautiful scents or in the touch of velvet; they either do or they don't. The first point, then, that must be made clear is that art is of real value to life in a perfectly clear biological sense; it invigorates, enhances, promotes actual, spiritual, and through it physical life.
This from our historical account we should at the outset expect, because we have seen art, by way of ritual, arose out of life. And yet the statement is a sort of paradox, for we have seen also that art differs from ritual just in this, that in art, whether of the spectator or the creator, the "motor reactions," i. e. practical life, the life of doing, is for the time checked. This is of the essence of the artist's vision, that he sees things detached and therefore more vividly, more completely, and in a different light. This is
of the essence of the artist's emotion, that it is purified from personal desire.
But, though the artist's vision and emotion alike are modified, purified, they are not devitalized. Far from that, by detachment from action they are focussed and intensified. Life is enhanced, only it is a different kind of life, it is the life of the image-world, of the imagination; it is the spiritual and human life, as differentiated from the life we share with animals. It is a life we all, as human beings, possess in some, but very varying, degrees; and the natural man will always view the spiritual man askance, because he is not "practical." But the life of imagination, cut off from practical reaction as it is, becomes in turn a motor-force causing new emotions, and so pervading the general life, and thus ultimately becoming "practical." No one function is completely cut off from another. The main function of art is probably to intensify and purify emotion, but it is substantially certain that, if we did not feel, we could not think and should not act. Still it remains true that, in artistic contemplation and in the realms of the artist's imagination not only are practical motor-reactions cut off,
but intelligence is suffused in, and to some extent subordinated to, emotion.
One function, then, of art is to feed and nurture the imagination and the spirit, and thereby enhance and invigorate the whole of human life. This is far removed from the view that the end of art is to give pleasure. Art does usually cause pleasure, singular and intense, and to that which causes such pleasure we give the name of Beauty. But to produce and enjoy Beauty is not the function of art. Beauty--or rather, the sensation of Beauty--is what the Greeks would call an epigignomenon ti telos, words hard to translate, something between a by-product and a supervening perfection, a thing like--as Aristotle 1 for once beautifully says of pleasure--"the bloom of youth to a healthy young body."
That this is so we see most clearly in the simple fact that, when the artist begins to aim direct at Beauty, he usually misses it. We all know, perhaps by sad experience, that the man who seeks out pleasure for herself fails to find her. Let him do his work
well for that work's sake, exercise his faculties, "energize" as Aristotle would say, and he will find pleasure come out unawares to meet him with her shining face; but let him look for her, think of her, even desire her, and she hides her head. A man goes out hunting, thinks of nothing but following the hounds and taking his fences, being in at the death: his day is full--alas! of pleasure, though he has scarcely known it. Let him forget the fox and the fences, think of pleasure, desire her, and he will be in at pleasure's death.
So it is with the artist. Let him feel strongly, and see raptly--that is, in complete detachment. Let him cast this, his rapt vision and his intense emotion, into outside form, a statue or a painting; that form will have about it a nameless thing, an unearthly aroma, which we call beauty; this nameless presence will cause in the spectator a sensation too rare to be called pleasure, and we shall call it a "sense of beauty." But let the artist aim direct at Beauty, and she is gone, gone before we hear the flutter of her wings.
The sign manual, the banner, as it were, of artistic creation is for the creative artist not
pleasure, but something better called joy. Pleasure, it has been well said, is no more than an instrument contrived by Nature to obtain from the individual the preservation and the propagation of life. True joy is not the lure of life, but the consciousness of the triumph of creation. Wherever joy is, creation has been. 1 It may be the joy of a mother in the physical creation of a child; it may be the joy of the merchant adventurer in pushing out new enterprise, or of the engineer in building a bridge, or of the artist in a master-piece accomplished; but it is always of the thing created. Again, contrast joy with glory. Glory comes with success and is exceedingly pleasant; it is not joyous. Some men say an artist's crown is glory; his deepest satisfaction is in the applause of his fellows. There is no greater mistake; we care for praise just in proportion as we are not sure we have succeeded. To the real creative artist even praise and glory are swallowed up in the supreme joy of creation. Only the artist himself feels the real divine fire, but it flames over into the work of art,
and even the spectator warms his hands at the glow.
We can now, I think, understand the difference between the artist and true lover of art on the one hand, and the mere æsthete on the other. The esthete does not produce, or, if he produces, his work is thin and scanty. In this he differs from the artist; he does not feel so strongly and see so clearly that he is forced to utterance. He has no joy, only pleasure. He cannot even feel the reflection of this creative joy. In fact, he does not so much feel as want to feel. He seeks for pleasure, for sensual pleasure as his name says, not for the grosser kinds, but for pleasure of that rarefied kind that we call a sense of beauty. The esthete, like the flirt, is cold. It is not even that his senses are easily stirred, but he seeks the sensation of stirring, and most often feigns it, not finds it. The æsthete is no more released from his own desires than the practical man, and he is without the practical man's healthy outlet in action. He sees life, not indeed in relation to action, but to his own personal sensation. By this alone he is debarred for ever from being an artist. As M. André Beaunier
has well observed, by the irony of things, when we see life in relation to ourselves we cannot really represent it at all. The profligate thinks he knows women. It is his irony, his curse that, because he sees them always in relation to his own desires, his own pleasure, he never really knows them at all.
There is another important point. We have seen that art promotes a part of life, the spiritual, image-making side. But this side, wonderful though it is, is never the whole of actual life. There is always the practical side. The artist is always also a man. Now the esthete tries to make his whole attitude artistic--that is, contemplative. He is always looking and prying and savouring, savourant, as he would say, when he ought to be living. The result is that there is nothing to savourer. All art springs by way of ritual out of keen emotion towards life, and even the power to appreciate art needs this emotional reality in the spectator. The aesthete leads at best a parasite, artistic life, dogged always by death and corruption.
This brings us straight on to another question: What about Art and Morality?
[paragraph continues] Is Art immoral, or non-moral, or highly moral? Here again public opinion is worth examining. Artists, we are told, are bad husbands, and they do not pay their debts. Or if they become good husbands and take to paying their debts, they take also to wallowing in domesticity and produce bad art or none at all; they get tangled in the machinery of practical reactions. Art, again, is apt to deal with risky subjects. Where should we be if there were not a Censor of Plays? Many of these instructive attitudes about artists as immoral or non-moral, explain themselves instantly if we remember that the artist is ipso facto detached from practical life. In so far as he is an artist, for each and every creative moment he is inevitably a bad husband, if being a good husband means constant attention to your wife and her interests. Spiritual creation a deux is a happening so rare as to be negligible.
The remoteness of the artist, his essential inherent detachment from motor-reaction, explains the perplexities of the normal censor. He, being a "practical man," regards emotion and vision, feeling and ideas, as leading to action. He does not see that art arises out
of ritual and that even ritual is one remove from practical life. In the censor's world the spectacle of the nude leads straight to desire, so the dancer must be draped; the problem-play leads straight to the Divorce Court, therefore it must be censored. The normal censor apparently knows nothing of that world where motor-reactions are cut off, that house made without hands, whose doors are closed on desire, eternal in the heavens. The censor is not for the moment a persona grata, but let us give him his due. He acts according to his lights and these often quite adequately represent the average darkness. A normal audience contains many "practical" men whose standard is the same as that of the normal censor. Art--that is vision detached from practical reactions--is to them an unknown world full of moral risks from which the artist is quâ artist immune.
So far we might perhaps say that art was non-moral. But the statement would be misleading, since, as we have seen, art is in its very origin social, and social means human and collective. Moral and social are, in their final analysis, the same. That human,
collective emotion, out of which we have seen the choral dance arise, is in its essence moral; that is, it unites. "Art," says Tolstoy, "has this characteristic, that it unites people." In this conviction, as we shall later see, he anticipates the modern movement of the Unanimists (p. 249).
But there is another, and perhaps simpler, way in which art is moral. As already suggested, it purifies by cutting off the motor-reactions of personal desire. An artist deeply in love with his friend's wife once said: "If only I could paint her and get what I want from her, I could bear it." His wish strikes a chill at first; it sounds egotistic; it has the peculiar, instinctive, inevitable cruelty of the artist, seeing in human nature material for his art. But it shows us the moral side of art. The artist was a good and sensitive man; he saw the misery he had brought and would bring to people he loved, and he saw, or rather felt, a way of escape; he saw that through art, through vision, through detachment, desire might be slain, and the man within him find peace. To some natures this instinct after art is almost their sole morality. If they find themselves intimately entangled
in hate or jealousy or even contempt, so that they are unable Ito see the object of their hate or jealousy or contempt in a clear, quiet and lovely light, they are restless, miserable, morally out of gear, and they are constrained to fetter or slay personal desire and so find rest.
This aloofness, this purgation of emotion from personal passion, art has in common with philosophy. If the philosopher will seek after truth, there must be, says Plotinus, a "turning away" of the spirit, a detachment. He must aim at contemplation; action, he says, is "a weakening of contemplation." Our word theory, which we use in connection with reasoning and which comes from the same Greek root as theatre, means really looking fixedly at, contemplation; it is very near in meaning to our imagination. But the philosopher differs from the artist in this: he aims not only at the contemplation of truth, but at the ordering of truths, he seeks to make of the whole universe an intelligible structure. Further, he is not driven by the gadfly of creation, he is not forced to cast his images into visible or audible shape.
[paragraph continues] He is remoter from the push of life. Still, the philosopher, like the artist, lives in a world of his own, with a spell of its own near akin to beauty, and the secret of that spell is the same detachment from the tyranny of practical life. The essence of art, says Santayana, is "the steady contemplation of things in their order and worth." He might have been defining philosophy.
If art and philosophy are thus near akin, art and science are in their beginning, though not in their final development, contrasted. Science, it seems, begins with the desire for practical utility. Science, as Professor Bergson has told us, has for its initial aim the making of tools for life. Man tries to find out the laws of Nature, that is, how natural things behave, in order primarily that he may get the better of them, rule over them, shape them to his ends. That is why science is at first so near akin to magic--the cry of both is:
[paragraph continues] But, though the feet of science are thus firmly planted on the solid ground of practical action,
her head, too, sometimes touches the highest heavens. The real man of science, like the philosopher, soon comes to seek truth and knowledge for their own sake. In art, in science, in philosophy, there come eventually the same detachment from personal desire and practical reaction; and to artist, man of science, and philosopher alike, through this detachment there comes at times the same peace that passeth all understanding.
Attempts have been often made to claim for art the utility, the tool-making property, that characterizes the beginnings of science. Nothing is beautiful, it is sometimes said, that is not useful; the beauty of a jug or a table depends, we are often told, on its perfect adaptation to its use. There is here some confusion of thought and some obvious, but possibly unconscious, special pleading. Much of art, specially decorative art, arises out of utilities, but its aim and its criterion is not utility. Art may be structural, commemorative, magical, what-not, may grow up out of all manner of practical needs, but it is not till it is cut loose from these practical needs that Art is herself and comes to her own. This does not mean that the jugs or
tables are to be bad jugs or tables, still less does it mean that the jugs or tables should be covered with senseless machine-made ornament; but the utility of the jug or table is a good in itself independent of, though often associated with, its merit as art.
No one has, I think, ever called Art "the handmaid of Science." There is, indeed, no need to establish a hierarchy. Yet in a sense the converse is true and Science is the hand-maid of Art. Art is only practicable as we have seen, when it is possible safely to cut off motor-reactions. By the long discipline of ritual man accustomed himself to slacken his hold on action, and be content with a shadowy counterfeit practice. Then last, when through knowledge he was relieved from the need of immediate reaction to imminent realities, he loosed hold for a moment altogether, and was free to look, and art was born. He can never quit his hold for long; but it would seem that, as science advances and life gets easier and easier, safer and safer, he may loose his hold for longer spaces. Man subdues the world about him first by force and then by reason; and when the material world is mastered and lies at his beck, he needs brute force no longer,
and needs reason no more to make tools for conquest. He is free to think for thought's sake, he may trust intuition once again, and above all dare to lose himself in contemplation, dare to be more and more an artist. Only here there lurks an almost ironical danger. Emotion towards life is the primary stuff of which art is made; there might be a shortage of this very emotional stuff of which art herself is ultimately compacted.
Science, then, helps to make art possible by making life safer and easier, it "makes straight in the desert a highway for our God." But only rarely and with special limitations easily understood does it provide actual material for art. Science deals with abstractions, concepts, class names, made by the intellect for convenience, that we may handle life on the side desirable to us. When we classify things, give them class-names, we simply mean that we note for convenience that certain actually existing objects have similar qualities, a fact it is convenient for us to know and register. These class-names being abstract--that is, bundles of qualities rent away from living actual objects, do not easily stir emotion, and, therefore, do not
easily become material for art whose function it is to express and communicate emotion. Particular qualities, like love, honour, faith, may and do stir emotion; and certain bundles of qualities like, for example, motherhood tend towards personification; but the normal class label like horse, man, triangle does not easily become material for art; it remains a practical utility for science.
The abstractions, the class-names of science are in this respect quite different from those other abstractions or unrealities already studied--the gods of primitive religion. The very term we use shows this. Abstractions are things, qualities, dragged away consciously by the intellect, from actual things objectively existing. The primitive gods are personifications--i. e. collective emotions taking shape in imagined form. Dionysos has no more actual, objective existence than the abstract horse. But the god Dionysos was not made by the intellect for practical convenience, he was begotten by emotion, and, therefore, he re-begets it. He and all the other gods are, therefore, the proper material for art; he is, indeed, one of the earliest forms of art. The abstract horse,
on the other hand, is the outcome of reflection. We must honour him as of quite extraordinary use for the purposes of practical life, but he leaves us cold and, by the artist, is best neglected.
There remains the relation of Art to Religion. 1 By now, it may be hoped, this relation is transparently clear. The whole object of the present book has been to show how primitive art grew out of ritual, how art is in fact but a later and more sublimated, more detached form of ritual. We saw further that the primitive gods themselves were but projections or, if we like it better, personifications of the rite. They arose straight out of it.
Now we say advisedly "primitive gods," and this with no intention of obscurantism. The god of later days, the unknown source of life, the unresolved mystery of the world, is not begotten of a rite, is not, essentially not, the occasion or object of art. With his relation to art--which is indeed practically nonexistent--we have nothing to do. Of the other
gods we may safely say that not only are they objects of art, they are its prime material; in a word, primitive theology is an early stage in the formation of art. Each primitive god, like the rite from which he sprang, is a half-way house between practical life and art; he comes into being from a half, but only half, inhibited desire.
Is there, then, no difference, except in degree of detachment, between religion and art? Both have the like emotional power; both carry with them a sense of obligation, though the obligation of religion is the stronger. But there is one infallible criterion between the two which is all-important, and of wide-reaching consequences. Primitive religion asserts that her imaginations have objective existence; art more happily makes no such claim. The worshipper of Apollo believes, not only that he has imagined the lovely figure of the god and cast a copy of its shape in stone, but he also believes that in the outside world the god Apollo exists as an object. Now this is certainly untrue; that is, it does not correspond with fact. There is no such thing as the god Apollo, and
science makes a clean sweep of Apollo and Dionysos and all such fictitious objectivities; they are eidola, idols, phantasms, not objective realities. Apollo fades earlier than Dionysos because the worshipper of Dionysos keeps hold of the reality that he and his church or group have projected the god. He knows that prier, c’est élaborer Dieu; or, as he would put it, he is "one with" his god. Religion has this in common with art, that it discredits the actual practical world; but only because it creates a new world and insists on its actuality and objectivity.
Why does the conception of a god impose obligation? Just because and in so far as he claims to have objective existence. By giving to his god from the outset objective existence the worshipper prevents his god from taking his place in that high kingdom of spiritual realities which is the imagination, and sets him down in that lower objective world which always compels practical reaction. What might have been an ideal becomes an idol. Straightway this objectified idol compels all sorts of ritual reactions of prayer and praise and sacrifice. It is as though another and a more exacting and
commanding fellow-man were added to the universe. But a moment's reflection will show that, when we pass from the vague sense of power or mana felt by the savage to the personal god, to Dionysos or Apollo, though it may seem a set back it is a real advance. It is the substitution of a human and tolerably humane power for an incalculable whimsical and often cruel force. The idol is a step towards, not a step from, the ideal. Ritual makes these idols, and it is the business of science to shatter them and set the spirit free for contemplation. Ritual must wane that art may wax.
But we must never forget that ritual is the bridge by which man passes, the ladder by which he climbs from earth to heaven. The bridge must not be broken till the transit is made. And the time is not yet. We must not pull down the ladder till we are sure the last angel has climbed. Only then, at last, we dare not leave it standing. Earth pulls hard, and it may be that the angels who ascended might descend and be for ever fallen.
It may be well at the close of our enquiry to test the conclusions at which we have
arrived by comparing them with certain endoxa, as Aristotle would call them, that is, opinions and theories actually current at the present moment. We take these con-temporary controversies, not implying that they are necessarily of high moment in the history of art, or that they are in any fundamental sense new discoveries; but because they are at this moment current and vital, and consequently form a good test for the adequacy of our doctrines. It will be satisfactory if we find our view includes these current opinions, even if it to some extent modifies them and, it may be hoped, sets them in a new light.
We have already considered the theory that holds art to be the creation or pursuit or enjoyment of beauty. The other view falls readily into two groups:
(1) The "imitation" theory, with its modification, the idealization theory, which holds that art either copies Nature, or, out of natural materials, improves on her.
(2) The "expression" theory, which holds that the aim of art is to express the emotions and thoughts of the artist.
The "Imitation" theory is out of fashion now-a-days. Plato and Aristotle held it; though Aristotle, as we have seen, did not mean by "imitating Nature" quite what we mean to-day. The Imitation theory began to die down with the rise of Romanticism, which stressed the personal, individual emotion of the artist. Whistler dealt it a rude, ill-considered blow by his effective, but really foolish and irrelevant, remark that to attempt to create Art by imitating Nature was "like trying to make music by sitting on the piano." But, as already noted, the Imitation theory of art was really killed by the invention of photography. It was impossible for the most insensate not to see that in a work of art, of sculpture or painting, there was an element of value not to be found in the exact transcript of a photograph. Henceforth the Imitation theory lived on only in the weakened form of Idealization.
The reaction against the Imitation theory has naturally and inevitably gone much too far. We have "thrown out the child with the bath-water." All through the present book we have tried to show that art arises from ritual, and ritual is in its essence a faded
action, an imitation. Moreover, every work of art is a copy of something, only not a copy of anything having actual existence in the outside world. Rather it is a copy of that inner and highly emotionalized vision of the artist which it is granted to him to see and recreate when he is released from certain practical reactions.
The Impressionism that dominated the pictorial art of the later years of the nineteenth century was largely a modified and very delicate imitation. Breaking with conventions as to how things are supposed to be--conventions mainly based not on seeing but on knowing or imagining--the Impressionist insists on purging his vision from knowledge, and representing things not as they are but as they really look. He imitates Nature not as a whole, but as she presents herself to his eyes. It was a most needful and valuable purgation, since painting is the art proper of the eye. But, when the new effects of the world as simply seen, the new material of light and shadow and tone, had been to some extent--never completely--mastered, there was inevitable reaction. Up sprang Post-Impressionists
and Futurists. They will not gladly be classed together, but both have this in common--they are Expressionists, not Impressionists, not Imitators.
The Expressionists, no matter by what name they call themselves, have one criterion. They believe that art is not the copying or idealizing of Nature, or of any aspect of Nature, but the expression and communication of the artist's emotion. We can see that, between them and the Imitationists, the Impressionists form a delicate bridge. They, too, focus their attention on the artist rather than the object, only it is on the artist's particular vision, his impression, what he actually sees, not on his emotion, what he feels.
Modern life is not simple--cannot be simple--ought not to be; it is not for nothing that we are heirs to the ages. Therefore the art that utters and expresses our emotion towards modern life cannot be simple; and, moreover, it must before all things embody not only that living tangle which is felt by the Futurists as so real, but it must purge and order it, by complexities of tone and rhythm hitherto unattempted. One art, beyond all others, has blossomed into real, spontaneous, unconscious
life to-day, and that is Music; the other arts stand round arrayed, half paralyzed, with drooping, empty hands. The nineteenth century saw vast developments in an art that could express abstract, unlocalized, unpersonified feelings more completely than painting or poetry, the art of Music.
As a modern critic 1 has well observed "In tone and rhythm music has a notation for every kind and degree of action and passion, presenting abstract moulds of its excitement, fluctuation, suspense, crisis, appeasement; and all this anonymously, without place, actors, circumstances, named or described, without a word spoken. Poetry has to supply definite thought, arguments driving at a conclusion, ideas mortgaged to this or that creed or system; and to give force to these can command only a few rhythms limited by the duration of a human breath and the pitch of an octave. The little effects worked out in this small compass music sweeps up and builds into vast fabrics of emotion with a dissolute freedom undreamed of in any other art."
It may be that music provides for a century too stagnant and listless to act out its own emotions, too reflective to be frankly sensuous, a shadowy pageant of sense and emotion, that serves as a katharsis or purgation.
Anyhow, "an art that came out of the old world two centuries ago, with a few chants, love-songs, and dances; that a century ago was still tied to the words of a mass or an opera; or threading little dance-movements together in a 'suite,' became in the last century this extraordinary debauch, in which the man who has never seen a battle, loved a woman, or worshipped a god, may not only ideally, but through the response of his nerves and pulses to immediate rhythmical attack, enjoy the ghosts of struggle, rapture, and exaltation with a volume and intricacy, an anguish, a triumph, an irresponsibility, unheard of. An amplified pattern of action and emotion is given: each man may fit to it what images he will." 1
If our contention throughout this book be correct the Expressionists are in one matter abundantly right. Art, we have seen, again
and again rises by way of ritual out of emotion, out of life keenly and vividly livid. The younger generation are always talking of life; they have a sort of cult of life. Some of the more valorous spirits among them even tend to disparage art that life may be the more exalted. "Stop painting and sculping," they cry, "and go and see a football match." There you have life! Life is, undoubtedly, essential to art because life is the stuff of emotion, but some thinkers and artists have an oddly limited notion of what life is. It must, it seems, in the first place, be essentially physical. To sit and dream in your study is not to live. The reason of this odd limitation is easy to see. We all think life is especially the sort of life we are not living ourselves. The hard-worked University professor thinks that "Life" is to be found in a French café; the polished London journalist looks for "Life" among the naked Polynesians. The cult of savagery, and even of simplicity, in every form, simply spells complex civilization and diminished physical vitality.
The Expressionist is, then, triumphantly right in the stress he lays on emotion; but he is not right if he limits life to certain of
its more elementary manifestations; and still less is he right, to our minds, in making life and art in any sense coextensive. Art, as we have seen, sustains and invigorates life, but only does it by withdrawal from these very same elementary forms of life, by inhibiting certain sensuous reactions.
In another matter one section of Expressionists, the Futurists, are in the main right. The emotion to be expressed is the emotion of to-day, or still better to-morrow. The mimetic dance arose not only nor chiefly out of reflection on the past; but out of either immediate joy or imminent fear or insistent hope for the future. We are not prepared perhaps to go all lengths, to "burn all museums" because of their contagious corruption, though we might be prepared to "banish the nude for the space of ten years." If there is to be any true living art, it must arise, not from the contemplation of Greek statues, not from the revival of folk-songs, not even from the re-enacting of Greek plays, but from a keen emotion felt towards things and people living to-day, in modern conditions, including, among other and deeper forms of life, the haste and
hurry of the modern street, the whirr of motor cars and aeroplanes.
There are artists alive to-day, strayed revellers, who wish themselves back in the Middle Ages, who long for the time when each man would have his house carved with a bit of lovely ornament, when every village church had its Madonna and Child, when, in a word, art and life and religion went hand in hand, not sharply sundered by castes and professions. But we may not put back the clock, and, if by differentiation we lose some-thing, we gain much. The old choral dance on the orchestral floor was an undifferentiated thing, it had a beauty of its own; but by its differentiation, by the severance of artist and actors and spectators, we have gained--the drama. We may not cast reluctant eyes back-wards; the world goes forward to new forms of life, and the Churches of to-day must and should become the Museums of to-morrow.
It is curious and instructive to note that Tolstoy's theory of Art, though not his practice, is essentially Expressive and even approaches the dogmas of the Futurist. Art is to him just the transmission of personal
emotion to others. It may be bad emotion or it may be good emotion, emotion it must be. To take his simple and instructive instance: a boy goes out into a wood and meets a wolf, he is frightened, he comes back and tells the other villagers what he felt, how he went to the wood feeling happy and light-hearted and the wolf came, and what the wolf looked like, and how he began to be frightened. This is, according to Tolstoy, art. Even if the boy never saw a wolf at all, if he had really at another time been frightened, and if he was able to conjure up fear in himself and communicate it to others--that also would be art. The essential is, according to Tolstoy, that he should feel himself and so represent his feeling that he communicates it to others. 1 Art-schools, art-professionalism, art-criticism are all useless or worse than useless, because they cannot teach a man to feel. Only life can do that.
All art is, according to Tolstoi, good quâ
art that succeeds in transmitting emotion. But there is good emotion and bad emotion, and the only right material for art is good emotion, and the only good emotion, the only emotion worth expressing, is subsumed, according to Tolstoy, in the religion of the day. This is how he explains the constant affinity in nearly all ages of art and religion. Instead of regarding religion as an early phase of art, he proceeds to define religious perception as the highest social ideal of the moment, as that "understanding of the meaning of life which represents the highest level to which men of that society have attained, an understanding defining the highest good at which that society aims." "Religious perception in a society," he beautifully adds, "is like the direction of a flowing river. If the river flows at all, it must have a direction." Thus, religion, to Tolstoy, is not dogma, not petrifaction, it makes indeed dogma impossible. The religious perception of to-day flows, Tolstoi says, in the Christian channel towards the union of man in a common brotherhood. It is the business of the modern artist to feel and transmit emotion towards this unity of man.
Now it is not our purpose to examine whether Tolstoy's definition of religion is adequate or indeed illuminating. What we wish to note is that he grasps the truth that in art we must look and feel, and look and feel forward, not backward, if we would live. Art somehow, like language, is always feeling forward to newer, fuller, subtler emotions. She seems indeed in a way to feel ahead even of science; a poet will forecast dimly what a later discovery will confirm. Whether and how long old channels, old forms will suffice for the new spirit can never be foreseen.
We end with a point of great importance, though the doctrine we would emphasize may be to some a hard saying, even a stumbling-block. Art, as Tolstoy divined, is social, not individual. Art is, as we have seen, social in origin, it remains and must remain social in function. The dance from which the drama rose was a choral dance, the dance of a band, a group, a church, a community, what the Greeks called a thiasos. The word means a band and a thing of demotion; and reverence, devotion, collective emotion, is social in its very being. That band was, to
begin with, as we saw, the whole collection of initiated tribesmen, linked by a common name, rallying round a common symbol.
Even to-day, when individualism is rampant, art bears traces of its collective, social origin. We feel about it, as noted before, a certain "ought" which always spells social obligation. Moreover, whenever we have a new movement in art, it issues from a group, usually from a small professional coterie, but marked by strong social instincts, by a missionary spirit, by intemperate zeal in propaganda, by a tendency, always social, to crystallize conviction into dogma. We can scarcely, unless we are as high-hearted as Tolstoy, hope now-a-days for an art that shall be world-wide. The tribe is extinct, the family in its old rigid form moribund, the social groups we now look to as centres of emotion are the groups of industry, of professionalism and of sheer mutual attraction. Small and strange though such groups may appear, they are real social factors.
Now this social, collective element in art is too apt to be forgotten. When an artist claims that expression is the aim of art he is too apt to mean self-expression only--
utterance of individual emotion. Utterance of individual emotion is very closely neighboured by, is almost identical with, self-enhancement. What should be a generous, and in part altruistic, exaltation becomes mere megalomania. This egotism is, of course, a danger inherent in all art. The suspension of motor-reactions to the practical world isolates the artist, cuts him off from his fellow-men, makes him in a sense an egotist. Art, said Zola, is "the world seen through a temperament." But this suspension is, not that he should turn inward to feed on his own vitals, but rather to free him for contemplation. All great art releases from self.
The young are often temporary artists; art. being based on life, calls for a strong vitality. The young are also self-centred and seek self-enhancement. This need of self-expression is a sort of artistic impulse. The young are. partly from sheer immaturity, still more through a foolish convention, shut out from real life; they are secluded, forced to become in a sense artists, or, if they have not the power for that, at least self-aggrandizers. They write lyric poems, they love masquerading,
they focus life on to themselves in a way which, later on, life itself makes impossible. This pseudo-art, this self-aggrandizement usually dies a natural death before the age of thirty. If it live on, one remedy is, of course, the scientific attitude; that attitude which is bent on considering and discovering the relations of things among themselves, not their personal relation to us. The study of science is a priceless discipline in self-abnegation, but only in negation; it looses us from self, it does not link us to others. The real and natural remedy for the egotism of youth is Life, not necessarily the haunting of cafés, or even the watching of football matches, but strenuous activity in the simplest human relations of daily happenings. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might."
There is always apt to be some discord between the artist and the large practical world in which he lives, but those ages are happiest in which the discord is least. The nineteenth century, amid its splendid achievements in science and industry, in government and learning, and above all in humanity, illustrates this conflict in an interesting way.
[paragraph continues] To literature, an art which can explain itself, the great public world lent on the whole a reverent and intelligent ear. Its great prose writers were at peace with their audience and were inspired by great public interests. Some of the greatest, for example Tolstoy, produced their finest work on widely human subjects, and numbered their readers and admirers probably by the million. Writers like Dickens, Thackeray, Kingsley, Mill, and Carlyle, even poets like Tennyson and Browning, were full of great public interests and causes, and, in different degrees and at different stages of their lives, were thoroughly and immensely popular. On the other hand, one can find, at the beginning of the period, figures like Blake and Shelley, and all through it a number of painters--the pre-Raphaelites, the Impressionists--walking like aliens in a Philistine world. Even great figures like Burne-Jones and Whistler were for the greater part of their lives unrecognized or mocked at. Millais reached the attention of the world, but was thought by the stricter fraternity to have in some sense or other sold his soul and committed the great sin of considering the bourgeois. The bourgeois should be despised not partially
but completely. His life, his interests, his code of ethics and conduct must all be matters of entire indifference or amused contempt, to the true artist who intends to do his own true work and call his soul his own.
At a certain moment, during the eighties and nineties, it looked as if these doctrines were generally accepted, and the divorce between art and the community had become permanent. But it seems as if this attitude, which coincided with a period of reaction in political matters and a recrudescence of a belief in force and on reasoned authority, is already passing away. There are not wanting signs that art, both in painting and sculpture, and in poetry and novel-writing, is beginning again to realize its social function, beginning to be impatient of mere individual emotion, beginning to aim at something bigger, more bound up with a feeling towards and for the common weal.
Take work like that of Mr. Galsworthy or Mr. Masefield or Mr. Arnold Bennett. With-out appraising its merits or demerits we cannot but note that the social sense is always there, whether it be of a class or of a whole community. In a play like Justice the writer
does not "express" himself, he does not, even merely show the pathos of a single human being's destiny, he sets before us a much bigger thing--man tragically caught and torn in the iron hands of a man-made machine, Society itself. Incarnate Law is the protagonist, and, as it happens, the villain of the piece. It is a fragment of Les Misérables over again, in a severer and more restrained technique. An art like this starts, no doubt, from emotion towards personal happenings--there is nothing else from which it can start; but, even as it sets sail for wider seas, it is loosed from personal moorings.
Science has given us back something strangely like a World-Soul, and art is beginning to feel she must utter our emotion towards it. Such art is exposed to an inherent and imminent peril. Its very bigness and newness tends to set up fresh and powerful reactions. Unless, in the process of creation, these can be inhibited, the artist will be lost in the reformer, and the play or the novel turn tract. This does not mean that the artist, if he is strong enough, may not be reformer too, only not at the moment of creation.
The art of Mr. Arnold Bennett gets its
bigness, its collectivity, in part--from extension over time. Far from seeking after beauty, he almost goes out to embrace ugliness. He does not spare us even dullness, that we may get a sense of the long, waste spaces of life, their dreary reality. We are keenly interested in the loves of hero and heroine, but all the time something much bigger is going on, generation after generation rolls by in ceaseless panorama; it is the life not of Edwin and Hilda, it is the life of the Five Towns. After a vision so big, to come back to the ordinary individualistic love-story is like looking through the wrong end of a telescope.
Art of high quality and calibre is seldom obscure. The great popular writers of the nineteenth century--Dickens, Thackeray, Tennyson, Tolstoy--wrote so that all could understand. A really big artist has something important to say, something vast to show, something that moves him and presses on him; and he will say it simply because he must get it said. He will trick it out with no devices, most of all with no obscurities. It has vexed and torn him enough while it was pushing its way to be born. He has no peace till it is said, and said as clearly as he
may. He says it, not consciously for the sake of others, but for himself, to ease him from the burden of big thought. Moreover, art, whose business is to transmit emotion, should need no commentary. Art comes out of theoria, contemplation, steady looking at, but never out of theory. Theory can neither engender nor finally support it. An exhibition of pictures with an explanatory catalogue, scientifically interesting though it may be, stands, in a sense, self-condemned.
We must, however, remember that all art is not of the whole community. There are small groups feeling their own small but still collective emotion, fashioning their own language, obscure sometimes to all but them-selves. They are right so to fashion it, but, if they appeal to a wider world, they must strive to speak in the vulgar tongue, understanded of the people.
It is, indeed, a hopeful sign of the times, a mark of the revival of social as contrasted with merely individualistic instincts that a younger generation of poets, at least in France, tend to form themselves into small groups, held together not merely by eccentricities
of language or garb, but by some deep inner conviction strongly held in common. Such a unity of spirit is seen in the works of the latter group of thinkers and writers known as Unanimists. They tried and failed to found a community. Their doctrine, if doctrine convictions so fluid can be called, is strangely like the old group-religion of the common dance, only more articulate. Of the Unanimist it might truly be said, "il buvait l’indistinction." To him the harsh old Roman mandate Divide et impera, "Divide men that you may rule them," spells death. His dream is not of empire and personal property but of the realization of life, common to all. To this school the great reality is the social group, whatever form it take, family, village or town. Their only dogma is the unity and immeasurable sanctity of life. In practice they are Christian, yet wholly free from the asceticism of modern Christianity. Their attitude in art is as remote as possible from, it is indeed the very antithesis to, the æsthetic exclusiveness of the close of last century. Like St. Peter, the Unanimists have seen a sheet let down and heard a voice from heaven saying: "Call thou nothing common nor unclean."
Above all, the Unanimist remembers and realizes afresh the old truth that "no man liveth unto himself." According to the Expressionist's creed, as we have seen, the end of art is to utter and communicate emotion. The fullest and finest emotions are those one human being feels towards another. Every sympathy is an enrichment of life, every antipathy a negation. It follows then, that, for the Unanimist, Love is the fulfilling of his Law.
It is a beautiful and life-giving faith, felt and with a perfect sincerity expressed towards all nature by the Indian poet Tagore, and towards humanity especially by M. Vildrac in his Book of Love ("Livre d’Amour"). He tells us in his "Commentary" how to-day the poet, sitting at home with pen and paper before him, feels that he is pent in, stifled by himself. He had been about to re-tell the old, old story of himself, to set himself once more on the stage of his poem--the same old dusty self tricked out, costumed anew. Suddenly he knows the figure to be tawdry and shameful. He is hot all over when he looks at it; he must out into the air, into the street, out of the stuffy museum
where so long he has stirred the dead egotist ashes, out into the bigger life, the life of his fellows; he must live, with them, by them, in them.
"I am ashamed of lying to my work,
Of my work lying to my life,
And of being able to content myself,
By burning sweet spices,
With the mouldering smell that is master here."
Again, in "The Conquerors," the poet dreams of the Victorious One who has no army, the Knight who rides afoot, the Crusader without breviary or scrip, the Pilgrim of Love who, by the shining in his eyes, draws all men to him, and they in turn draw other men until, at last:
"And the time came in the land
When to fill all its story
There was nothing but songs in unison,
One round danced about the houses,
One battle and one victory."
And so our tale ends where it began, with the Choral Dance.
211:1 Ethics, X, 4.
213:1 H. Bergson, Life and Consciousness, Huxley Lecture, May 29, 1911.
225:1 Religion is here used as meaning the worship of some form of god, as the practical counterpart of theology.
233:1 Mr. D. S. MacColl.
234:1 D. S. MacColl, Nineteenth Century Art, p. 21. (1902.)
238:1 It is interesting to find, since the above was written, that the Confession of Faith published in the catalogue of the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition (1912, p. 21) reproduces, consciously or unconsciously, Tolstoy's view: We have ceased to ask, "What does this picture represent?" and ask instead, "What does it make us feel?"