Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology

By Francis Frascina; Charles Harrison et al. | Go to book overview

colour of the sixpenny stamp and, being in a playful mood, he casts around for other combinations that would express his feelings more adequately. Needless to say, the recipient might never notice his deviation from the norm if he were not told of the birth of a new art form. But once the stage is set, our players could start the game. Their medium consists often denominations of stamps—½d., orange; 1d., blue; 1½d., green; 2d., brown; 2½d., red; 3d., purple; 4d., light blue; 4½d., light red; 5d., light brown; 6d., light purple. Both financial prudence and a sense of form impose the rule of affixing the right amount. Even within this limiting rule, however, there are no less than six choices of uniform colours (12 orange, 6 blue, 4 green, 3 brown, 2 purple, 1 light purple) which may reflect quite a variety of moods — 'reflect', that is, for the partner who would appreciate the message of three brown stamps as about the drabbest that could be selected. Given such a partner, he would surely and rightly expect a splendid piece of news when he saw the envelope decorated with the maximum of variety, one orange, say, one blue, one red, one green, then another orange, keeping the contrasts throughout at the widest. Combine the two oranges and go thence to red and then from blue to green, and the tension has subsided although the mood is still very bright. Of course, the two can also agree on the direction of reading, making the left-hand stamp the 'classifier' that stands for the dominant mood, while the others articulate it in succession. Perhaps great anger and some sadness would lead to two red, and one blue stamp. Only a fit of reckless fury, however, would break through the rules altogether and affix three red stamps at the gratuitous expense of lid. But in such a fit of extreme expressionist abandon, our correspondent would be in danger of spoiling his medium for good. Once the rule is broken, there is no valid reason why he should not plaster the whole envelope with colours. Moreover, going back to the rules will be increasingly difficult, for it would now imply that his emotions have cooled more than he would like to indicate. As a true artist, therefore, our correspondent will not yield to this temptation of 'breaking the form', at least till he has exhausted all its possibilities. What challenges his imagination is rather the game itself, the wealth of combinations adding up to sixpence which the reader is invited to explore. Perhaps those who get really absorbed in the game will try to fit their moods to interesting combinations rather than make the message fit the mood. Only those who do, I believe, may have the true artistic temperament — but that is a different story.


References
1
Roger Fry, 'Art History as an Academic Discipline.' Last Lectures, Cambridge, 1933.
2
S. K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key, Cambridge (Mass.), 1942, chap. VIII; Feeling and Form, London, 1953, chap. XX.
3
Charles E. Osgood, George J. Suci and Percy H. Tennenbaum, The Measurement of Meaning, Urbana, 1957.
4
Glenn O'Malley, "'Literary synesthesia'", Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism XV, 1957.
5
R. Frances, La Perception de la Musique (Études de Psychologie et de Philosophie, publiées sous la direction de P. Guillaume et I. Meyerson, XIV), Paris, 1958.
6
Deryck Cooke, The Language of Music, London, 1959.

-188-

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