Art and Scientific Thought: Historical Studies Towards a Modern Revision of Their Antagonism

By Martin Johnson | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Scientific Criteria in the Communication of Feeling by Imaginative Art

I

Whether we owe our deepest appreciation of the arts to their unrivalled consolation in hard times, or to the insight into human nature which we demand from the artist in good and bad times alike, the attitude in which we approach any picture or music or poetry can be decisive in permitting or preventing the full realisation of its powers. The approach commonly fails through uncertainty as to the effort demanded from our individual imaginations; this uncertainty afflicts especially those who possess a ready enjoyment of some one form of art, perhaps musical or literary or decorative, but who almost pride themselves on their inexperience of other arts. In the end they are tragically inhibited by the attempt to make familiar decisions of their musical or poetic or pictorial judgment apply in the unfamiliarity of a new domain. The interplay of imagination and common sense in this judgment becomes capricious and wasteful in the dramatic enthusiast's anxiety for 'story' in music or ballet, in the pathetic search for 'meaning' which often interrupts delight in the verbal impressionism of poetry or fine prose, in the recurring antagonisms between symbolism and realism--and now surrealism--of painter or sculptor, and in many futile disputes of 'function' for decorative arts and crafts. It is further unfortunate that any contact between more imaginative and less imaginative phases of art is prejudiced by attachment to the various theories of aesthetic developed with extraneous, often metaphysical, aims; so I shall attempt here to be independent of much philosophical preconception by using such distinctions only in the very broadest sense which might be acceptable in all possible theories.

In attempting to resolve any ambiguities associated with the imagination in art, it will be well to deal mainly in examples from the more abstract, even fantastic, arts: for it is with regard to these that a critic's respect for obvious fact leads him to suspect all use of the imagination as implying descent into a world of delusion.

-26-

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