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OF THE ERRONEOUS MEANS BY WHICH, EMPLOYED THROUGH A
TRUTH OF EVERY ART, THAT TRUTH IS DESTROYED.
FIRST ERROR OF THE ARTIST.
It consists in stepping beyond his own art to seek, in the resources
of another, an increase of imitative resemblance.
The same theory that enables us to discover the basis on which the conditions of imitation in the fine arts rest, enables us also to detect the chief cause of the errors that lead to their infraction.
Halting between two desires, the one that of satisfying the reason by a strict adherence to the elementary principle of imitation, the other that of ministering to the instinct which often gives the preference to identity, the artist is but too frequently led to confound the true pleasure of imitation, with the seductive charm of illusion, to forego the approval of the judgment and understanding, for the sole suffrage of the senses.
His first error (which forms the subject of this chapter) consists then in seeking the means of
procuring, sometimes for his image, and sometimes even for his art, an increase of imitation derived from resources wholly foreign to it.
We have already, in analyzing the constituent elements of every art, (see Chapter iii.) laid it down that all resemblance must necessarily be incomplete, and we shall presently, when reverting to the subject, further show that all imitative resemblance is of necessity fictious. (See Chapter x.)
Before explaining how and by what means these two supposed defects become, on the contrary, the very cause of the beauties and pleasures of imitation, it will be well to put the imitator on his guard against the false and vicious correctives that zealous ignorance deems itself authorized to apply to them, arising from a mal-founded and still more mal-defined appreciation of the kind of community existing between the arts.
From the idea of that community, is generally derived the ambitious tendency of the artist to supply what I term the incompleteness of resemblance in every mode of imitation. Thus, according to the perverted interpretation of the passage in Horace, ut pictura poësis,* the conclusion is arrived at that the two arts, painting and poetry, are privileged to treat the same subjects, both in
* Horace, in this passage, which it is the custom to mutilate, does not say of poetry generally, that it is wholly similar to painting, still less does he say so of painting with regard-to poetry. Horace merely says, and that in a very limited relation, that it
the same parts of those subjects and under the same aspects ; as though, for instance, there were no physical beauty, a real impression of which it would be impossible to convey in words, nor any moral beauty, to give the slightest idea of which, painting, be the genius of the painter ever so great, would be wholly inadequate.
The two compositions in which that great painter, Poussin, has represented the death of Eudamidas, and that of Germanicus, are objects of general admiration, and doubtless not without
But can the pencil express by means of mute figures, the moral beauty of those two subjects? In the first is seen a sick man dictating his last wishes in the presence of two females, each afflicted according to the difference of their respective ages. But how can painting, by the sole aid of pantomime which constitutes its language, render intelligible to the spectator the true motive of the action, and reveal to him the affecting trait of friendship that makes the moral beauty of that testament? Again, does any one think that the address of the dying Germanicus to his friends, as given by Tacitus, is either translated or countervailed in the scene of Poussin's picture ?
Painting, which can with difficulty make it ap
is in poetry, as in painting, some objects pleasing more when seen near at hand, others when at a greater distance.
Ut pictura poësis erit; quæ, si propiùs stes,
pear that its personages speak, instead of adding to its field of operations by dealing with subjects that language is alone able to render intelligible, betrays the secret of its insufficiency, and is farther than ever from remedying the defect.
The frequency with which the painter is led to deceive himself in the choice of proper subjects, by this vain ambition of extending the sphere of imitation of his art, cannot be too strongly insisted
The stage contributes unceasingly to the increase of such errors. There the artist is accus* tomed to see a kind of speaking pictures, formed
by joint dramatic action and delivery, and he is thence induced to believe that he can transfer the same scenes to his canvass. It is true, he may as far as regards the eye; but the picture is become mute, and its personages, in consequence, can no longer make us acquainted with what they are and what they do.
At other times we see, reduced within the frame .I of a picture, some grand event, the proper theme
of the genius of history, or material of a poem. Mutilated rather than abridged, and of necessity concentred within the space of a single instant, the historical fact becomes an enigma. Who, in such a fragment of space and time could divine the signification of a subject, whose development and intrinsic worth must depend on a sum total of objects, and a succession of actions and moral relations unattainable by the pencil ?
Painting can transfix but one single instant of. time in any action; it is constrained to omit both what precedes and what follows. The subjects, therefore, best fitted for representation as being most in accordance with the kind of its imitation are simple ones, that is, such as are but little complicated in their impelling causes, and but little varied in their effects. We shall elsewhere, when treating of the means of imitation, (see Part III. Chapters ix. and x.) make known how the painter, by elevating his subjects into a higher sphere of physical and moral imitation, may extend the matter and multiply the springs of his compositions. But the only question for consideration in this first part is, as its title imports, to determine the exact nature of imitation in itself, and in its relations with the several fine arts; an object which can only be attained by analyzing the physical and moral laws by which a limit is appointed to the particular sphere of activity of each. Now it is by one of those laws that the painter's art is precluded from the positive imitation of actions falling exclusively within the province of the narrator and the epic or dramatic poet, seeing that language written or spoken is their only adequate interpreter.
As a consequence of those same laws, the poet equally misapprehends the means and advantages of his art, when he requires it to treat certain subjects, the imitation of which must derive its