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the sensuous, and the mechanical. The spiritual develops th"e subject according to its inner relations, it discovers subordinate motives; and, if we can at all judge the depth of an artistic genius by the choice of subject, we can recognize in his selection of themes his breadth, wealth, fullness, and power of attraction. The sensuous treatment we should define as that through which the work becomes thoroughly comprehensible to the senses, agreeable, delightful, and irresistible through its gentle charm. The mechanical treatment, finally, is that which works upon given material through any bodily organ, and thus brings the work into existence and gives it reality.
While we hope to be useful to the artist in this way, and earnestly wish that he may avail himself of advice and of suggestions in his work, the disquieting observation is forced upon us that every undertaking, like every man, is likely to suffer just as much from its period as it is to derive occasional advantage from it, and in our own case we cannot altogether put aside the question concerning the reception we are likely to meet with.
Everything is subject to constant change, and since certain things cannot exist side by side, they displace one another. This is true of kinds of knowledge, of certain methods of instruction, of methods of representation, and of maxims. The aims of men remain nearly always the same: they still desire to become good artists or poets as they did centuries ago; but the means through which the goal is reached are not clear to everybody, and why should it be denied that nothing would be more agreeable than to be able to carry out joyfully a great design?
Naturally the public has a great influence upon Art, since in return for its approval and its money it demands work that may give satisfaction and immediate enjoyment; and the artist will for the most part be glad to adapt himself to it, for he also is a part of the public, he has received his training during the same years, he feels the same needs, strives in the same direction, and thus moves along happily with the multitude which supports him and which is invigorated by him. In this matter we see whole nations and epochs delighted by their artists, just as the artist sees himself reflected in his nation and his epoch, without either having even the slightest suspicion that their path might not be right, that their taste might be at least one-sided, their art on the decline, and their progress in the wrong direction.
Instead of proceeding to further generalities on this point, we shall make a remark which refers particularly to plastic art.
For the German artist, in fact for modern and northern artists in general, it is difficult—indeed almost impossible—to make the transition from formless matter to form, and to maintain himself at that point, even should he succeed in reaching it. Let every artist who has lived for a time in Italy ask himself whether the presence of the best works of ancient and modern art have not aroused in him the incessant endeavour to study and imitate the human figure in its proportions, forms, and characteristics, to apply all diligence and care in the execution in order to approach those artistic works, so entirely complete in themselves, in order to produce a work which, in gratifying the sense, exalts the spirit to the greatest heights. Let him also admit, however, that after his return he must gradually relax his efforts, because he finds few persons who will really see, enjoy, and comprehend what is depicted; but, for the most part, finds only those who look at a work superficially, receive from it mere random impressions, and in some way of their own try to get out of it any kind of sensation and pleasure.
The worst picture can appeal to our senses and imagination by arousing their activity, setting them free, and leaving them to themselves; the best work of art also appeals to our senses, but in a higher language which, of course, we must understand; it enchains the feelings and imagination; it deprives us of caprice, we cannot deal with a perfect work at our will; we are forced to give ourselves up to it, in order to receive ourselves from it again, exalted and refined.
That these are no dreams we shall try to show gradually, in detail, and as clearly as possible; we shall call attention particularly to a contradiction in which the moderns are often involved. They call the ancients their teachers, they acknowledge in their works an unattainable excellence, yet they depart both in theory and practice far from the maxims which the ancients continually observed. In starting from this important point and in returning to it often, we shall find others about which something falls to be said.
One of the principal signs of the decay of art is the mixture of its various kinds. The arts themselves, as well as their branches, are related to one another, and have a certain tendency to unite, even to lose themselves in one another; but it is in this that the duty, the merit, the dignity of the real artist consists, namely, in being able to separate the field of art in which he works from others, in placing every art and every branch of art on its own footing, and in isolating it as far as possible.
It has been noticed that all plastic art strives toward painting, all literary art toward the drama, and this observation may in the future give us occasion for important reflections.
The genuine law-giving artist strives for the truth of art, the lawless artist who follows a blind impulse strives for the reality of Nature; through the former, art reaches its highest summit, through the latter its lowest stage.
What holds good of art in general holds good also of the kinds of art. The sculptor must think and feel differently from the painter, indeed he must proceed when he wishes to produce a work in relief, in a different fashion from that which he will employ for a work in the round. By the raising of low reliefs higher and higher, by the making of various parts and figures stand out completely, and finally by the adding of buildings and landscapes, so that work was produced which was half painting and half puppet-show, true art steadily declined. Excellent artists of modern times have unfortunately pursued this course.
When in the future we express such maxims as we think sound, we should like, since they are deduced from works of art, to have them put to the test of practice by the artist. How rarely one can come to a theoretical agreement with anyone else on a fundamental principle. That which is applicable and useful, on the other hand, is decided upon much more quickly. How often we see artists in embarrassment over the choice of subjects, over the general type of composition adapted to their art, and the detailed arrangement; how often the painter over the choice of colors! Then is the time to test a principle, then will it be easier to decide whether it is bringing us closer to the great models and to everything that we value and love in them, or whether it leaves us entangled in the empirical confusion of an experience that has not been sufficiently thought out.
If such maxims hold good in training the artist, in guiding him in many an embarrassment, they will serve also in the development, valuation, and judgment of old and new works of art, and will in turn arise from an observation of these works. Indeed, it is all the more necessary to adhere to this, because, notwithstanding the universally praised excellences of antiquity, individuals and whole nations among the moderns often fail to recognize wherein lies the highest excellence of those works.
An exact test will protect us best from this evil. For that reason let us cite only one example to show what usually happens to the amateur in plastic art, so that we may make clear how necessary it is that criticism of ancient as well as modern works should be exact if it is to be of any use.
Upon him who has an eye for beauty, though untrained, even a blurred, imperfect plaster cast of an excellent antique will always have a great effect; for in such a reproduction there always remain the idea, the simplicity and greatness of form, in short, the general outlines; as much, at all events, as one could perceive with poor eyes at a distance.
It may be noticed that a strong inclination toward art is often enkindled by such quite imperfect reproductions. But the effect is like the object; it is rather that an obscure indefinite feeling is aroused, than that the object in all its worth and dignity really appears to such beginners in art. These are they who usually express the theory that too minute a critical investigation destroys the enjoyment, who are accustomed to oppose and resist regard for details.
If gradually, however, after further experience and training, they are confronted with a sharp cast instead of a blurred one, an original instead of a cast, their pleasure grows with their insight, and increases when the originals themselves, the perfect originals, finally become known to them.
The labyrinth of exact observations is willingly entered when the details as well as the whole are perfect; indeed one learns to realize that the excellences can be appreciated only in proportion as the defects are perceived. To discriminate the restoration from the genuine parts, and the copy from the original, to see in the smallest fragments the ruined glory of the whole—this is the joy of the finished expert; and there is a great difference between observing and comprehending an imperfect whole with obscured vision, and a perfect whole with clear vision.
He who concerns himself with any branch of knowledge, should strive for the highest! Insight is different from practice, for in practical work everyone must soon resign himself to the fact that only a certain measure of strength is alloted to him; far more people, however, are capable of knowledge and insight. Indeed, one may well say that everyone is thus capable who can deny himself and subordinate himself to external objects, everyone who does not strive with rigid and narrow-minded obstinacy to impose upon the highest works of Nature and Art his own personality and his petty onesideness.
To speak of works of art fitly and with true benefit to oneself and others, the discussion should take place only in the presence of the works themselves. Everything depends on the objects being in view; on whether something absolutely definite is suggested by the word with which one hopes to illuminate the work of art; for. otherwise, nothing is thought of at all. This is why it so often happens that the writer on art dwells merely on generalities, through which, indeed, ideas and sensations are aroused in all readers, but no satisfaction is given to the man who, book in hand, steps in front of the work of art itself. Precisely on this account, however, we may in several essays be in a position to arouse rather than to satisfy the desire of the readers; for nothing is more natural than that they should wish to have before their eyes immediately an excellent work of art which is minutely dissected, in order to enjoy the whole which we are discussing, and, so far as the parts are con