Read CHAPTER VII of The Gate of Appreciation, free online book, by Carleton Noyes, on ReadCentral.com.

BEAUTY AND COMMON LIFE

TO become sensitive to the meaning of color and form and sound as the artist employs them for expression, to feel a work of art in its relation to its background, to find in criticism enlightenment and guidance but not a substitute for one’s own experience, these are methods of approach to art. But the appreciator has yet to penetrate art’s inmost secret. At the centre, as the motive of all his efforts to understand the language of art and the processes of technique, as the goal of historical study and the purpose of his recourse to criticism, stands the work itself with its power to attract and charm. Here is Millet’s painting of the “Sower.” In the actual presence of the picture the appreciator’s experience is complex. Analysis resolves it into considerations of the material form of the work, involving its sensuous qualities and the processes of execution, considerations also of the subject of the picture, which gathers about itself many associations out of the beholder’s own previous knowledge of life. But the clue to the final meaning of the work, its meaning both to the artist and to the appreciator, is contained in the answer to the question, Why did Millet paint this picture? And just what is it designed to express?

Art is born out of emotion. Though the symbols it may employ to expression, the forms in which it may manifest itself, are infinitely various in range and character, essentially all art is one. A work of art is the material bodying forth of the artist’s sense of a meaning in life which unfolds itself to him as harmony and to which his spirit responds accordantly. It may be a pattern he has conceived; or he adapts material to a new use in response to a new need: the artist is here a craftsman. He is stirred by the tone and incident of a landscape or by the force or charm of some personality: and he puts brush to canvas. He apprehends the complex rhythms of form: and the mobile clay takes shape under his fingers. He feels the significance of persons acting and reacting in their contact with one another: and he pens a novel or a drama. He is thrilled by the emotion attending the influx of a great idea; philosophy is touched with feeling: and the thinker becomes a poet. The discords of experience resolve themselves within him into harmonies: and he gives them out in triumphant harmonies of sound. The particular medium the artist chooses in which to express himself is incidental to the feeling to be conveyed. The stimulus to emotion which impels the artist to create and the essential content of his work is beauty. As beauty, then, is the very stuff and fibre of art, inextricably bound up with it, so in our effort to relate art to our experience we may seek to know something of the nature of beauty and its place in common life.

During a visit in Philadelphia I was conducted by a member of the firm through the great Locomotive Works in that city. From the vast office, with its atmosphere of busy, concentrated quiet, punctuated by the clicking of many typewriters, I was led through doors and passages, and at length came upon the shrieking inferno of the shops. The uproar and din were maddening. Overhead, huge cranes were swinging great bulks of steel from one end of the cavernous shed to the other; vague figures were moving obscurely in the murk; the floor was piled and littered with heaps of iron-work of unimaginable shapes. After a time we made our way into another area where there was more quiet but no less confusion. I yelled to my guide, “Such a rumpus and row I never saw; it is chaos come again!” And he replied, “Why, to me it is all a perfect order. Everything is in its place. Every man has his special job and does it. I know the meaning and purpose of all those parts that seem to you to be thrown around in such a mess. If you could follow the course of making from the draughting-rooms to the finishing-shop, if you could see the process at once as a whole, you would understand that it is all a complete harmony, every part working with every other part to a definite end.” It was not I but my friend who had the truth of the matter. Where for me there was only chaos, for him was order. And the difference was that he had the clue which I had not. His sense of the meaning of the parts brought the scattering details into a final unity; and therein he found harmony and satisfaction.

I went away much impressed by what I had seen. When I had collected my wits a little in the comparative calm of the streets, it occurred to me that the immense workshops were a symbol of man’s life in the world. In the instant of experience all seems chaos. At close range, in direct contact with the facts and demands of every day, we feel how confusing and distracting it all is. Life is beating in upon us at every point; all our senses are assailed at once. Each new day brings its conflicting interests and obligations. Now, whether we are aware of it or not, our constant effort is, out of the great variety of experience pressing in upon us, to select such details as make to a definite purpose and end. Instinctively we grope toward and attract to us that which is special and proper to our individual development. Our progress is toward harmony. By the adjustment of new material to the shaping principle of our experience, the circle of our individual lives widens its circumference. We are able to bring more and more details into order, and correspondingly fuller and richer our life becomes.

The mental perception of order in the parts gives the whole its significance. This quick grasp of the whole is like the click of the kaleidoscope which throws the tumbling, distorted bits into a design. The conduct of practical life on the mental plane is the process also of art on the plane of the emotions. Not only does experience offer itself to us as the subject of thought; our contact with the world is also the stimulus of feeling. In my account of the visit to the Locomotive Works I have set down but a part and not the sum of my reaction. After I had come away, I fell to thinking about what I had seen, and intellectually I deduced certain abstract principles with regard to unity and significance. But at the moment of experience itself I simply felt. I was overwhelmed by the sense of unloosened power. The very confusion of it all constituted the unity of impression. The emotion roused in me by the roar and riotous movement and the vast gloom torn by fitful yellow gleams from opened furnaces and shapes of glowing metal was the emotion appropriate to the experience of chaos. That I can find a single word by which to characterize it, is evidence that the moment had its harmony for me and consequent meaning. All the infinite universe external to us is everywhere and at every instant potentially the stimulus to emotion. But unless feeling is discriminated, it passes unregarded. When the emotion gathers itself into design, when the moment reveals within itself order and significance, then and not till then the emotion becomes substance for expression in forms of art.

If I were able to phrase what I saw and what I felt in the Locomotive Works, so that by means of presenting what I saw I might communicate to another what I felt and so rouse in him the same emotion, I should be an artist. Whistler or Monet might picture for us the murk and mystery of this pregnant gloom. Wagner might sound for us the tumultuous, weird emotions of this Niebelungen workshop of the twentieth century. Dante or Milton might phrase this inferno and pandemonium of modern industry and leave us stirred by the sense of power in the play of gigantic forces. Whether the medium be the painter’s color, the musician’s tones, or the poet’s words, the purpose of the representation is fulfilled in so far as the work expresses the emotion which the artist has felt in the presence of this spectacle. He, the artist, more than I or another, has thrilled to its mystery, its tumult, its power. It is this effect, received as a unity of impression, that he wants to communicate. This power of the object over him, and consequently the content of his work, is beauty.

In the experience of us all there are objects and situations which can stir us, the twilight hour, a group of children at play, the spectacle of the great human crowd, it may be, or solitude under the stars, the works of man as vast cities or cunningly contrived machines, or perhaps it is the mighty, shifting panorama which nature unrolls for us at every instant of day and night, her endless pageant of color and light and shade and form. Out of them at the moment of our contact is unfolded a new significance; because of them life becomes for us larger, deeper. This power possessed by objects to rouse in us an emotion which comes with the realization of inner significance expressed in harmony is beauty. A brief analysis of the nature and action of beauty may help us in the understanding and appreciation of art, though the value to us of any explanation is to quicken us to a more vivid sensitiveness to the effect of beauty in the domain of actual experience of it.

Because the world external to us, which manifests beauty, is received into consciousness by the senses, it is natural to seek our explanation in the processes involved in the functioning of our organism. Our existence as individual human beings is conditioned by our embodiment in matter. Without senses, without nerves and a brain, we should not be. Our feelings, which determine for us finally the value of experience, are the product of the excitement of our physical organism responding to stimulation. The rudimentary and most general feelings are pleasure and pain. All the complex and infinitely varied emotions that go to make up our conscious life are modifications of these two elementary reactions. The feeling of pleasure results when our organism “functions harmoniously with itself;” pain is the consequence of discord. In the words of a recent admirable statement of the psychologists’ position: “When rhythm and melody and forms and colors give me pleasure, it is because the imitating impulses and movements that have arisen in me are such as suit, help, heighten my physical organization in general and in particular. . . . The basis, in short, of any aesthetic experience poetry, music, painting and the rest is beautiful through its harmony with the conditions offered by our senses, primarily of sight and hearing, and through the harmony of the suggestions and impulses it arouses with the whole organism.” Beauty, then, according to the psychologists, is the quality inherent in things, the possession of which enables them to stimulate our organism to harmonious functioning. And the perception of beauty is a purely physiological reaction.

This explanation, valid within its limits, seems to me to fall short of the whole truth. For it fails to reckon with that faculty and that entity within us whose existence we know but cannot explain, the faculty we call mind, which operates as imagination, and the entity we recognize as spirit or soul. I mean the faculty which gives us the idea of God and the consciousness of self, the faculty which apprehends relations and significance in material transcending their material embodiment. I mean the entity within us which expresses itself in love and aspiration and worship, the entity which is able to fuse with the harmony external to it in a larger unity. When I glance out upon a winter twilight drenching earth and sky with luminous blue, a sudden delight floods in upon me, gathering up all my senses in a surging billow of emotion, and my being pulses and vibrates in a beat of joy. Something within me goes out to meet the landscape; so far as I am at all conscious of the moment, I feel, There, that is what I am! This deep harmony of tone and mass is the expression of a fuller self toward which I yearn. My being thrills and dilates with the sensation of larger life. Then, after the joy has throbbed itself out and my reaction takes shape as consciousness, I set myself to consider the sources and the processes of my experience. I note that my eye has perceived color and form. My intellect, as I summon it into action, tells me that I am looking upon a scene in nature composed of material elements, as land and trees and water and atmosphere. My senses, operating through channels of matter, receive, and my brain registers, impressions of material objects. But this analysis, though defining the processes, does not quite explain my joy. I know that beyond all this, transcending my material sense-perception and transcending the actual material of the landscape, there is something in me and there is something in nature which meet and mingle and become one. Above all embodiment in matter, there is a plane on which I feel my community with the world external to me, recognizing that world to be an extension of my own personality, a plane on which I can identify myself with the thing outside of me in so far as it is the expression of what I am or may become. Between me and the external world there is a common term. The effect which nature has upon us is determined, not by the object itself alone and not by our individual mind and temperament alone, but by the meeting of the two, the community between the object and the spirit of man. When we find nature significant and expressive, it is because we make nature in some way a part of our own experience.

The material of an object is perceived by the senses. We see that it is blue or green or brown; we may touch it and note that it is rough or smooth, hard or soft, warm or cold. But the expressiveness of the object, its value for the emotions, does not stop with its merely material qualities, but comes with our grasp of the “relations” which it embodies; and these relations, transmitted through material by the senses, are apprehended by the mind. There are, of course, elementary data of sense-perception, such as color and sound. It may be that I prefer red to yellow because my eye is so constituted as to function harmoniously with a rate of vibration represented by 450 billions per second, and discordantly with a rate of vibration represented by 526 billions per second. So also with tones of a given pitch. But though simple color and simple sound have each the power to please the senses, yet in actual experience neither color nor sound is perceived abstractly, apart from its embodiment in form. Color is felt as the property of some concrete object, as the crimson of a rose, the dye of some fabric or garment, the blue of the sky, which, though we know it to be the infinite extension of atmosphere and ether, we nevertheless conceive as a dome, with curvature and the definite boundary of the horizon. Sound in and of itself has pitch and timbre, qualities of pure sensation; but even with the perception of sound the element of form enters in, for we hear it with a consciousness of its duration long or short or of its relation to other sounds, heard or imagined.

Our perceptions, therefore, give us forms. Now form implies relation, the reference of one part to the other parts in the composition of the whole. And relation carries with it the possibilities of harmony or discord, of unity or disorder. Before an object can be regarded as beautiful it must give out a unity of impression. This unity does not reside in the object itself, but is effected by the mind which perceives it. In looking at a checkerboard I may see it as an aggregation of white squares set off by black, or as black squares relieved by white. I may read it as a series of horizontals, or of verticals, or of diagonals, according as I attend to it. The design of the checker-board is not an absolute and fixed quantity inherent in the object itself, but is capable of a various interpretation according to the relative emphasis given to the parts by the perceiving mind. So with all objects in nature. The twilight landscape which stirred me may have been quite without interest or meaning to the man at my side; or, if he responded to it at all, his feelings may have been of a different order and quality than mine. Where I felt a deep and intimate solemnity in the landscape, he might have received the twilight as chill and forbidding. Beauty, then, which consists in harmonious relation, does not lie in nature objectively, but is constituted by the perception in man’s constructive imagination of a harmony and consequent significance drawn out of natural forms. It is, in Emerson’s phrase, “the integrity of impression made by manifold natural objects.” And Emerson says further, “The charming landscape which I saw this morning is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet.” The mere pleasurable excitement of the senses is hardly to be called beauty. An object to be beautiful must express a harmony of relations and hence a meaning, a meaning which goes beyond sense-perception and does not stop with the intellect, but reaches the spirit. Psychologists tell us that “a curved line is pleasing because the eye is so hung as best to move in it.” Pleasing, yes; but not beautiful. And precisely herein is illustrated the distinction. A life wearied with an undulating uniformity of days will find beauty less in the curve than in the zigzag, because the sight of the broken line brings to the spirit suggestions of change and adventure. A supine temper finds shock, excitement, and a meaning in the vertical. Yet the significance of forms is not determined necessarily by contrasts. A quiet spirit sees its own expression, a harmony of self with external form, in the even lines and flat spaces of some Dutch etching. Or a vigorous, hardy mind takes fresh stimulus and courage from the swirling clouds of Turner or the wind-torn landscapes of Constable. An object is beautiful, not because of the physical ease with which the eye follows its outlines, but in so far as it has the power to communicate to us the feeling of larger life, to express and complete for us a harmony within our emotional experience.

Our senses report to us the material world; we see, we hear, we touch and taste and smell. But we recognize also that nature has a value for the emotions; it can delight and thrill and uplift, taking us out of ourselves and carrying us beyond the confines of the little circle of our daily use and wont. As I look from my window I see against the sky a pear tree, radiant with blossom, an explosion of light and sensation. Its green and white, steeped in sunshine and quivering out of rain-washed depths of blue, are good to behold. But for me, as my spirit goes out to meet it, the tree is spring! In this I do not mean to characterize a process of intellectual deduction, that as blossoms come in the spring, so the flowering of the tree is evidence that spring is here. I mean that by its color and form, all its outward loveliness, the tree communicates to me the spirit of the new birth of the year. In myself I feel and live the spring. My joy in the tree, therefore, does not end with the sight of its gray trunk and interwoven branches and its gleaming play of leaves: there my joy only begins, and it comes to its fulfillment as I feel the life of the tree to be an expression and extension of the life that is in me. My physical organism responds harmoniously in rhythm with the form of the tree, and so far the tree is pleasing. But, finally, a form is beautiful because it is expressive. “Beauty,” said Millet, “does not consist merely in the shape or coloring of a face. It lies in the general effect of the form, in suitable and appropriate action. . . . When I paint a mother, I shall try and make her beautiful simply by the look she bends upon her child. Beauty is expression.” Beauty works its effect through significance, a significance which is not always to be phrased in words, but is felt; conveyed by the senses, it at last reaches the emotions. Where the spirit of man comes into harmony with a harmony external to it, there is beauty.

The elements of beauty are design, wholeness, and significance. Significance proceeds out of wholeness or unity of impression; and unity is made possible by design. Whatever the flower into which it may ultimately expand, beauty has its roots in fitness and utility; design in this case is constituted by the adaptation of the means to the end. The owner of a saw-mill wanted a support made for a shafting. Indicating a general idea of what he desired, he applied to one of his workmen, a man of intelligence and skill in his craft, but without a conventional education. The man constructed the support, a triangular framework contrived to receive the shafting at the apex; where there was no stress within the triangle, he cut away the timber, thus eliminating all surplusage of material. When the owner saw the finished product he said to his workman, “Well, John, that is a really beautiful thing you have made there.” And the man replied, “I don’t know anything about the beauty of it, but I know it’s strong!” The end to be reached was a support which should be strong. The strong support was felt to be beautiful, for its lines and masses were apprehended as right. Had the man, with the “little learning” that is dangerous, attempted embellishment or applied ornament, he would have spoiled the effect; for ornateness would have been out of place. The perfect fitness of means to end, without defect and without excess, constituted its beauty; and its beauty was perceived aesthetically, as a quality inherent in the form, a quality which apart from the practical serviceableness of the contrivance was capable of communicating pleasure. So in general, when the inherent needs of the work give shape to the structure or contrivance, the resulting form is in so far forth beautiful. The early “horseless carriages,” in which a form intended for one use was grafted upon a different purpose, were very ugly. Today the motor-car, evolved out of structural needs, a thing complete in and for itself, has in its lines and coherence of composition certain elements of beauty. In his “Song of Speed,” Henley has demonstrated that the motorcar, mechanical, modern, useful, may even be material for poetry. That the useful is not always perceived as beautiful is due to the fact that the design which has shaped the work must be regarded apart from the material serviceableness of the object itself. Beauty consists not in the actual material, but in the unity of relations which the object embodies. We appreciate the art involved in the making of the first lock and key only as we look beyond the merely practical usefulness of the device and so apprehend the harmony of relations effected through its construction. As the lock and key serve to fasten the door, they are useful; they are beautiful as they manifest design and we feel their harmony. Beauty is removed from practical life, not because it is unrelated to life, just the reverse of that is true, but because the enjoyment of beauty is disinterested. The detachment involved in appreciation is a detachment from material. The appreciator may seem to be a looker-on at life, in that he does not act but simply feels. But his spirit is correspondingly alert. In the measure that he is released from servitude to material he gives free play to his emotion.

Although beauty is founded upon design, design is not the whole of beauty. Not all objects which exhibit equal integrity of design are equally beautiful. The beauty of a work of art is determined by the degree of emotion which impelled its creation and by the degree in which the work itself is able to communicate the emotion immediately. The feeling which entered into the making of the first lock and key was simply the inventor’s desire for such a device, his desire being the feeling which accompanied his consciousness of his need. At the other extreme is the emotion such as attended Michelangelo’s vision of his “David” and urged his hand as he set his chisel to the unshaped waiting block. And so all the way between. Many pictures are executed in a wholly mechanical spirit, as so much manufacture; and they exhibit correspondingly little beauty. Many useful things, as a candle-stick, a pair of andirons, a chair, are wrought in the spirit of art; into them goes something of the maker’s joy in his work; they become the expression of his emotion: and they are so far beautiful. It is asserted that Millet’s “Angelus” is a greater picture than the painting entitled “War” by Franz Stuck, because “the idea of peasants telling their beads is more beautiful than the idea of a ruthless destroyer only in so far as it is morally higher.” The moral value as such has very little to do with it. It is a question of emotion. If Stuck were to put on canvas his idea of peasants at prayer and if Millet had phrased in pictorial terms his feeling about war, there is little doubt that Millet’s painting would be the more telling and beautiful. The degree of beauty is fixed by the depth of the man’s insight into life and the corresponding intensity of his emotion.

Beauty is not limited to one class of object or experience and excluded from another. A chair may be beautiful, although turned to common use; a picture is not beautiful necessarily because it is a picture. “Nothing out of its place is good, nothing in its place is bad,” says Whitman, Whistler speaks of art as “seeking and finding the beautiful in all conditions and in all times, as did her high priest, Rembrandt, when he saw picturesque grandeur and noble dignity in the Jews’ quarter of Amsterdam, and lamented not that its inhabitants were not Greeks.” The beautiful must exhibit an integrity of relations within itself, and it must be in integral relation with its surroundings. The standard of beauty varies with every age, with every nation, indeed with every individual. As beauty is not in the object itself, but is in the mind which integrates the relations which the object manifests, so our appreciation of beauty is determined by our individuality. And individuality is the resultant of many forces. The self, inexplicable in essence, is the product of inheritance, and is modified by environment and training. More than we realize, our judgment is qualified by tradition and habit and even fashion. Because men have been familiar for so many centuries with the idea that sculpture should find its vehicle in white marble, the knowledge that Greek marbles originally were painted comes with something of a shock; and for the moment they have difficulty in persuading themselves that a Parthenon frieze colored could possibly be beautiful. Until within comparatively recent years the French have regarded Shakespeare as a barbarian. The heroic couplet, which was the last word in poetical expression in the age of Queen Anne, we consider to-day as little more than a mechanical jingle. Last year’s fashions in dress, which seemed at the time to have their merits, are this year amusingly grotesque. In our judgment of beauty, therefore, allowance must be made for standards which merely are imposed upon us from without. It is necessary to distinguish between a formula and the reality. As far as possible we should seek to come into “original relation” with the universe, freshly for ourselves. So we must return upon our individual consciousness, and thus determine what is vitally significant to us. For the man who would appreciate beauty, it is not a question between this or that “school” in art, whether the truth lies with the classicists or the romanticists; it is not a question of this or that subject or method to the exclusion of all others. Beauty may be anywhere or everywhere. It is our task and joy to find it, wherever it may be. And we shall find it, if we are able to recognize it and we hold ourselves responsive to its multitudinous appeal.

The conception of beauty which limits its manifestation to one kind of experience is so far false and leads to mischievous acceptances and narrowing rejections. We mistake the pretty for the beautiful and so fail of the true value of beauty; we are blind to the significance which all nature and all life, in the lowest and commonest as in the highest and rarest, hold within them. “If beauty,” says Hamerton, “were the only province of art, neither painters nor etchers would find anything to occupy them in the foul stream that washes the London wharfs.” By beauty here is meant the merely agreeable. Pleasing the river may not be, to the ordinary man; but for the poet and the painter, those to whom it is given to see with the inner eye, the “foul stream” and its wharfs may be lighted with mysterious and tender beauty.

“Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This city now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!”

And Whistler, by the witchery of his brush and his needle, has transmuted the confusion and sordidness and filth of this Thames-side into exquisite emotion. The essence of beauty is harmony, but that harmony is not to be reduced to rule and measure. In the very chaos of the Locomotive Works we may feel beauty; in the thrill which they communicate we receive access of power and we are, more largely, more universally. The harmony which is beauty is that unity or integrity of impression by force of which we are able to feel significance and the relation of the object to our own experience. It is an error to suppose that beauty must be racked on a procrustean bed of formula. Such false conceptions result in sham art. To create a work which shall be beautiful it is not necessary to “smooth, inlay, and clip, and fit.” Beauty is not imposed upon material from without, according to a recipe; it is drawn out from within by the integrating power of imagination. Art is not artificiality. Art is the expression of vital emotion and essential significance. The beauty of architecture, for example, consists not in applied ornament but in structural fitness and adaptability, and grows out of the inherent needs of the work. The cathedral-builders of old time did not set themselves to create a “work of art.” They wanted a church; and it was a church they built. It is we who, perceiving the rightness of their achievement, pronounce it to be beautiful. Beauty is not manufactured, but grows; it cannot be laid on as ornament. Beauty is born out of the contact of the spirit of man with natural forms, that contact which gives to objects their significance.

The recognition of the true nature of beauty may change for us the face of the world. Some things are universally regarded as beautiful because their appeal is universal. There are passions, joys, aspirations, common to all the race; and the forms which objectify these emotions are beautiful universally. We can all enter into the feelings that gather about a group of children dancing round a Maypole in the Park; but in the murk and din and demoniacal activity of the Locomotive Works the appeal is not so obvious. The stupendous workshops become beautiful to me as my being merges into harmony with them and dilates with the emotion of intenser and fuller life. The Sistine Madonna is generally regarded as beautiful. But what is the beauty in the unspeakable witch on the canvas of Frans Hals? Harmony of color and of composition is employed by Raphael in the rendering of a figure and in the expression of an emotion both of which relate themselves to the veneration of mankind. Maternity, Christian or pagan, divine or human, evokes its universal tribute of feeling. On Raphael’s canvas complete harmony is made visible; and the beauty of the picture for us is measured by its power to stir us. In the painting by Frans Hals the subject represented is in itself not pleasing. The technical execution of the picture is masterly. But our delight goes beyond any enjoyment of the skill here exhibited, goes beyond even the satisfaction of the senses in its color and composition. What the picture expresses is not merely the visible aspect of this woman, but the painter’s own sympathy and appreciation. He saw a beauty in ugliness, a beauty to which we were blind, for he felt the significance of her life, the eternal rightness to herself of what she was. His joy in this inner harmony has transfigured the object and made it beautiful. Beauty penetrates deeper than grace and comeliness; it is not confined to the pretty and agreeable. Indeed, beauty is not always immediately pleasant, but is received often with pain. The emotion of pleasure, which is regarded as the necessary concomitant of beauty, ensues as we are able to merge ourselves in the experience and so come to feel its ultimate harmony. What is commonly accepted as ugly, as shocking or sordid, becomes beautiful for us so soon as we apprehend its inner significance. Judged by the canons of formal beauty, the sky-line of New York city, seen from the North River, is ugly and distressing. But the responsive spirit, reaching ever outward into new forms of feeling, can thrill at sight of those Titanic structures out-topping the Palisades themselves, thrusting their squareness adventurously into the smoke-grayed air, and telling the triumph of man’s mind over the forces of nature in this fulfillment of the needs of irrepressible activity, this expression of tremendous actuality and life. Not that the reaction is so definitely formulated in the moment of experience; but this is something of what is felt. The discovery of such a harmony is the entrance into fuller living. So it is that the boundaries of beauty enlarge with the expansion of the individual spirit.

To extend the boundaries of beauty by the revelation of new harmonies is the function of art. With the ordinary man, the plane of feeling, which is the basis of appreciation, is below the plane of his attention as he moves through life from day to day. As a clock may be ticking in the room quite unheeded, and then suddenly we hear it because our attention is called to it; so only that emotion really counts to us as experience which comes to our cognizance. When once the ordinary man is made aware of the underlying plane of feeling, the whole realm of appreciation is opened to him by his recognition of the possibilities of beauty which life may hold. Consciously to recognize that forces are operating which lie behind the surface aspect of things is to open ourselves to the play of these forces. With persons in whom intellect is dominant and the controlling power, the primary need is to understand; and for such, first to know is to be helped finally to feel. To comprehend that there is a soul in every fact and that within material objects reside meanings for the spirit, or beauty, is to be made more sensitive to their influence. With the artist, however, the case is different. At the moment of creation he is little conscious of the purport of the work to which he sets his hand. He is not concerned, as we have been, with the “why” of beauty; from the concrete directly to the concrete is his progress. Life comes to him not as thought but as emotion. He is moved by actual immediate contact with the world about him, by the sight of a landscape, by the mood of an hour or place, by the power of some personality; it may be, too, a welter of recollected sensations and impressions that plays upon his spirit. The resultant emotion, not reasoned about but nevertheless directed to a definite end, takes shape in external concrete forms which are works of art. Just because he is so quick to feel the emotional value of life he is an artist; and much of his power as an artist derives from the concreteness of his emotion. The artist is the creative mind, creative in this sense, that in the outward shows of things he feels their inward and true relations, and by new combinations of material elements he reembodies his feeling in forms whose message is addressed to the spirit. The reason why Millet painted the “Sower” was that he felt the beauty of this peasant figure interpreted as significance and life. And it is this significance and life, in which we are made to share, that his picture is designed to express.

Experience comes to us in fragments; the surface of the world throws back to us but broken glimpses. In the perspective of a lifetime the fragments flow together into order, and we dimly see the purpose of our being here; in moments of illumination and deeper insight a glimpse may disclose a sudden harmony, and the brief segment of nature’s circle becomes beautiful. For then is revealed the shaping principle. Within the fact, behind the surface, are apprehended the relations of which the fact and the surface are the expression. The rhythm thus discovered wakens an accordant rhythm in the spirit of man. The moment gives out its meaning as man and nature merge together in the inclusive harmony. If the human spirit were infinite in comprehension, we should receive all things as beautiful, for we should apprehend their rightness and their harmony. To our finite perception, however, design is not always evident, for it is overlaid and confounded with other elements which are not at the moment fused. Just here is the office of art. For art presents a harmony liberated from all admixture of conflicting details and purged of all accidents, thus rendering the single meaning salient. To compel disorder into order and so reveal new beauty is the achievement of the artist. The world is commonplace or fraught with divinest meanings, according as we see it so. To art we turn for revelation, knowing that ideals of beauty may be many and that beauty may manifest itself in many forms.