Photograph of Roger Fry, Desmond McCarthy and Clive Bell sitting in the garden at Charleston. 1933
The starting point of aesthetics is the personal experience of a peculiar emotion [aesthetic emotion]
Objects that provoke it are works of art, sensitive people agree.
The emotions are not the same but are of the same kind.
They are provoked by every kind of visual art: pictures, sculptures, buildings, pots, carvings, textiles.
This emotion is called the aesthetic emotion.
We need to find some quality common and peculiar to all the objects that provoke this emotion to solve the central problem of aesthetics: the essential quality of the work of art, that distinguishes it from all other classes of objects [like Plato].
“work of art”
If works of art do not have a common quality "work of art" is meaningless.
There must be some one such quality possessing which in the least degree the work is not worthless.
What provokes our aesthetic emotions?
He gives examples [from many cultures]: Sta. Sophia, Chartres, Mexican sculpture, Persian bowl, Chinese carpets, Giotto, Poussin, Piero, and Cezanne.
answer: Significant Form: lines and colors combined in a particular way, certain forms and relations of forms
HAGIA SOPHIA, or Santa Sophia = Greek for "Holy Wisdom" known as the Ayasofya Museum a former Eastern Orthodox church converted to a mosque in 1453 - Istanbul Turkey. 360 CE
The distinction between form and color is unreal: one cannot perceive a colorless line or space [true?], or formless relations of colors.
White and black are counted as colors.
Bell’s own illustration, Picasso
“Sometime between October and December 1912, Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) made a guitar. Cobbled together from cardboard, paper, string, and wire, materials that he cut, folded, threaded, and glued, Picasso’s silent instrument resembled no sculpture ever seen before.” Museum of Modern Art
Detail of wall painted by PERSUE X ENUE X JAES AT THE WRITERZ BLOK, SAN DIEGO, FRIDAY, MAY 29, 2009, accessed Oct. 6, 2010
The theory that art is significant form helps explain why Descriptive Painting is not art.
Beauty is not the object of aesthetic emotion.
Everyone has called a flower or a butterfly beautiful, but no one feels the same kind of emotion here as with a cathedral or [a great painting].
Some people [artists] sometimes see in nature what we see in art.
There is an aesthetic and a non-aesthetic use of “beautiful.” “Beautiful huntin” is non-aesthetic.
To the man in the street “beautiful” usually means “desirable.” To many, the sexual flavor of “beauty” is stronger than the aesthetic: for them a beautiful picture is a photo of a pretty girl.
There are pictures that interest and excite us but do not move us aesthetically as works of art.
In “Descriptive Painting” forms are used as means of suggesting emotion or conveying information [realism a la Gombrich]
Examples: portraits, topographical works, pictures that tell stories [Paddington Station example], illustrations
A drawing can be excellent as illustration but worthless as art.
Many descriptive pictures possess formal significance and are art, but many do not, and do not move us aesthetically, and so are not art.
It is not their forms but the ideas conveyed by the forms that affect us.
Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-73), Dignity and Impudence.
Oil on canvas. 1839. Tate Gallery, London, UK.
“Few pictures are better known or liked that Frith’s Paddington Station; certainly I should be the last to grudge it its popularity. Many a weary forty minutes have I whiled away disentangling its fascinating incidents and forging for each an imaginary past and an improbable future. But certain though it is that Frith’s masterpiece, or engravings of it, have provided thousands with half-hours of curious and fanciful pleasure, it is not less certain that no one has experienced before it one half-second of aesthetic rapture — and this although the picture contains several pretty passages of colour, and is by no means badly painted.” Bell Art
W. P. Frith The Railway Station [Paddington Station] 1862
Not a Work of Art
“Paddington Station is not a work of art; it is an interesting and amusing document. In it line and colour are used to recount anecdotes, suggest ideas, and indicate the manners and customs of an age; they are not used to provoke aesthetic emotion. Forms and the relations of forms were for Frith not objects of emotion, but means of suggesting emotion and conveying ideas.”
Photography makes such paintings useless!
“The ideas and information conveyed by Paddington Station are so amusing and so well presented that the picture has considerable value and is well worth preserving. But, with the perfection of photographic processes and of the cinematograph, pictures of this sort are becoming otiose [superfluous, useless].”
April 16, 1912, Sinking of Titanic
“Who doubts that one of those Daily Mirror photographers in collaboration with a Daily Mail reporter can tell us far more about “London day by day” than any Royal Academician? For an account of manners and fashions we shall go, in future, to photographs, supported by a little bright journalism, rather than to descriptive painting.”
“pictures in the Frith tradition are grown superfluous; they merely waste the hours of able men who might be more profitably employed in works of a wider beneficence.”
Samuel Luke Fildes: The Doctor (1891 or 1887)
The Doctor is sentimental.
“Of course, The Doctor is not a work of art. In it form is not used as an object of emotion, but as a means of suggesting emotions. This alone suffices to make it nugatory [of no value]; it is worse than nugatory because the emotion it suggests is false. What it suggests is not pity and admiration but a sense of complacency in our own pitifulness and generosity. It is sentimental. Art is above morals, or, rather, all art is moral because, as I hope to show presently, works of art are immediate means to good.”
Art beyond morality!
“Once we have judged a thing a work of art, we have judged it ethically of the first importance and put it beyond the reach of the moralist. But descriptive pictures which are not works of art, and, therefore, are not necessarily means to good states of mind, are proper objects of the ethical philosopher’s attention. Not being a work of art, The Doctor has none of the immense ethical value possessed by all objects that provoke aesthetic ecstasy; and the state of mind to which it is a means, as illustration, appears to me undesirable.”
Piet Mondrian, Trees, c. 1912, oil on canvas, 37 X 27 7/8 inches
EARLY PERUVIAN POT FROM THE NASCA VALLEY, Bell Illustration
BYZANTINE MOSAIC, SIXTH CENTURY
S. Vitale, Ravenna, Next image closeup
Christ Pantocrator Deesis mosaic Hagia Sophia 12th century
Representation is irrelevant
“Let no one imagine that representation is bad in itself; a realistic form may be as significant, in its place as part of the design, as an abstract. But if a representative form has value, it [is] as form, not as representation. The representative element in a work of art may or may not be harmful; always it is irrelevant.” Art, 27.
Nothing from life
“For, to appreciate a work of art we need bring with us nothing from life, no knowledge of its ideas and affairs, no familiarity with its emotions. Art transports us from the world of man’s activity to a world of aesthetic exhaltation.”
“The pure mathematician rapt in his studies knows a state of mind which I take to be similar, if not identical….do we not perceive intellectually the rightness and necessity of the combination [of forms]” 27
The one kind of representation that is relevant to art.
To appreciate art we need bring only a sense of form and color, and sometimes knowledge of 3D space.
The latter is needed for appreciating most architectural forms.
Pictures insignificant as flat patterns are moving when seen as related planes.
This is one kind of representation that is relevant. [See Feldman’s article.]
My own opinion about music is not worth having: [Hume would say he is not a good judge here] the subtleties of harmony and rhythm escape me.
Sometimes my appreciation is pure however, and I can get that pure aesthetic emotion from music too, although less intense and long-lasting.
Yet, I understand music too little to be transported far into the world of pure aesthetic ecstasy.
Sublime State of Mind
At moments (in which I have a clean palate) I appreciate pure musical form: sounds combined according to mysterious laws with tremendous significance of its own.
[And I achieve] an infinitely sublime state of mind [Kant].
The Metaphysical Hypothesis
“when we consider anything as an end in itself we become aware of that in it which is of greater moment than any qualities it may have acquired from keeping company with human beings. Instead of recognising its accidental and conditioned importance, we become aware of its essential reality, of the God in everything, of the universal in the particular, of the all-pervading rhythm. Call it by what name you will, the thing that I am talking about is that which lies behind the appearance of all things—that which gives to all things their individual significance, the thing in itself, the ultimate reality.” Art
Art and Religion
“art is the one religion that is always shaping its form to fit the spirit, the one religion that will never for long be fettered in dogmas.” Art
“Bell believed that ultimately the value of anything whatever lies only in its being a means to "good states of mind" (Bell, 83). Since he also believed that "there is no state of mind more excellent or more intense than the state of aesthetic contemplation" (Bell, 83) he believed that works of visual art were among the most valuable things there could be.” Wikipedia article on Bell.
Edmund Burke Feldman “A Formal Analysis” 1967 from Varieties of Visual Experience
The expected logic of spatial representation is destroyed in this painting.
Formal analysis accumulates evidence for an interpretation of the work and a judgment.
The breakdown of spatial logic might imply that the work is unsuccessful.
But perhaps the logic of spatial representation irrelevant here.
Shallow space: clues keep us close to surface.
We must move imaginatively to make sense of the face, and from left to right as we view the central figures (following the falling figure).
The figure on the right emphasizes the shape of openings.
Principle of Organization
Formal analysis moves from objective description of forms to statements of how we perceive them: we seek a principle of organization, an idea.
It becomes difficult to defer interpretation.
[A basis for objectivity: tried to be objective.]
Interpretation: the process of expressing the meanings of a work the critic has analyzed [themes, and problems solved].
Interpretation comes before evaluation.
It is the most important part of criticism. [unlike Hume and Bell]
If we have thoroughly interpreted the work the evaluation may be omitted.
Interpretation involves discovering meanings and stating the relevance of the meanings of the work to our lives and the human situation. [this goes contrary to Bell].
Vehicle of ideas
Critics assume the art object is influenced by the value system of the artist: it is a vehicle of his ideas. [again contrary to Bell]
But, critics do not care whether the ideas are faithful to what the artist thinks. [like Bell]
Nonetheless, an artwork becomes charged with ideas which may be unconscious for the artist, but which we must discover.
A principle of criticism: the artist is not necessarily the best authority on the meaning of the work. [true?]
The artist's views are material which require confirmation.
Art criticism is not intended to be a substitute for aesthetic experience.
The unity of the qualities organizing themselves in our perception becomes the meaning of the work which we verbalize.
We direct our analysis to actual colors and shapes in the art object, not to our language about them.
Western vs. Non-Western
“We noticed earlier that Picasso used white lines to delineate forms in the central figure. It is a use of line we may have seen in ancient Greek vase painting. The faces of the two central figures also have the expressionless stare which is characteristic of archaic Greek female images. … [The central figures] embody the classical ideal of female beauty developed in the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world; they belong to Picasso’s own tradition (indeed, they look like Picasso!). By contrast, the other standing figures are derived from non-Western sources—African or Pre-Columbian.
Peplos Kore, 530 BC, Greek
Fall of Western Ethnocentrism.
Picasso has intentionally juxtaposed Western and non-Western racial types to express the fall of Western ethnocentrism. First, the classical beauty symbolized by the central figures is contrasted with the angular forms of the other standing figures; then they are synthesized in the hybrid figure at the lower right. … In the "fall" of the classical figures we see the decline of a culture in which beauty is the object of serene contemplation. The ideal of female passivity is displaced by ideals of female activity and magical aliveness.” (Feldman, 1992, pp. 496-497)