1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Higher Aesthetic Feelings

(Part 57)

(H) Feeling (cont.)

Higher Aesthetic Feelings

n4. Closely related to these formal intellectual feelings are certain of the higher aesthetic feelings. A reference to some of the commonplaces of aesthetical writers may be sufficient briefly to exhibit the leading characteristics of these feelings. There is a wide agreement among men in general as to what is beautiful and what is not, and it is the business of a treatise on empirical aesthetics from an analysis of these matters of fact to generalize the principles of taste, -- to do, in fact, for one source of pleasure and pain what we are here attempting in a meager fashion for all. And these principles are the more important in their bearing upon the larger psychological question, because among aesthetic effects are reckoned only such as are pleasing or otherwise in themselves, apart form all recognition of utility, of possession, or of ulterior gratification of any kind whatever. Thus, if it should be objected that the intellectual satisfaction of consistency is really due to its utility, to the fact that what is incompatible and incomprehensive is of no avail for practical guidance, at least this objection will not hold against the aesthetic principle of unity in variety. In accordance with this primary maxim of art criticism, at the one extreme art productions are condemned for monotony, as incapable of sustaining interest because "empty," "bald," and "poor"; at the other extreme they are condemned as too incoherent and disconnected to furnish a centre of interest. And those are held as so far praiseworthy in which a variety of elements, be they movements, forms, colours, or incidents, instead of conflicting, all unite to enhance each other and to form not merely a mass but a whole. Another principle that serves to throw light on our inquiry is that which has been called the principles of economy [Footnote 70-1], viz., that an effect is pleasing in proportion as it is attained by little effort and simple means. The brothers Weber in their classic work on human locomotion discovered that those movements that are aesthetically beautiful are also physiologically correct; grace and ease, in fact, are wellnigh synonymous, as Herbert Spencer points out, and illustrates by apt instances of graceful attitudes, motions, and forms. The same writer [Footnote 70-2], again, in seeking for a more general law underlying the current maxims of writers on composition and rhetoric is led to a special formulation of this principle as applied to style, viz., that "economy of the recipient’s attention is the secret of effect."

Perhaps of all aesthetical principles the most wide-reaching, as well as practically the most important, is that which explains aesthetic effects by association. Thus, is take one example where so many are possible, the croaking of frogs and the monotonous ditty of the cuckoo owe their pleasantness, not directly to what they are in themselves, but entirely to their intimate association with spring-time and its gladness. At first it might seem, therefore, that there is nothing fresh in this principle relevant to our present inquiry, since a pleasure that is only due to association at once carries back the question to its sources, so that in asking why the spring, for example, is pleasant we should be returning to old ground. But this is not altogether true; aesthetic effects call up not merely ideas but ideals. A great work of art improves upon the real in two respects; it intensifies and it transfigures. It is for art to gather into one focus, cleared from dross and commonplace, the genial memories of a lifetime, the instinctive memories of a race; and, where theory can only classify and arrange what it receives, art – in a measure free from "the literal unities of time and place" – creates and glorifies. Still art eschews the abstract and speculative; however plastic in its hands, the material wrought is always that of sense. We have already noticed more than once the power which primary presentations have to sustain vivid re-presentations, and the bearings of this on the aesthetic effects of works of art must be straightway obvious. The notes and colours, rhymes and rhythms, forms and movements, which produce the lower aesthetic feelings also serve as the means of bringing into view, and maintaining at a higher level of vividness, a wider range and flow of pleasing ideas we can ordinarily command.


70-1 Compare Fechner, Vorschule der Aesthetik, ii. p. 263. Fechner’s full style for it is "Princip der ökonomischen Verwendung der Mittel oder des kleinsten Kraftmasses."

70-2 Essays, Scientific, Political, and Speculative, vol. ii., Ess. I. and VIII.

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