The Science of Expression
In the last third of the nineteenth century an old interest and concern attained a significance rarely matched in its age-long history; these decades saw attempts to transform the study of what we call “expression” into a science, and thus to place it on solid rational foundations. To a large extent these attempts facilitated the success of Fechner's psychophysics, particularly in the aesthetic domain, and enabled the concept of empathy to become a central issue in the theory and explanation of art.
How we express our emotions and how we grasp and understand the emotions that our fellowmen express—these problems have occupied man's mind since the dawn of history, and written records of this fascination with expression, and attempts to explain it, persist at least since the days of Aristotle.1 In reflection on art it comes up time and again.2 For our present purpose it may be useful to briefly indicate some of the scientific treatments of the problem earlier in the nineteenth century.
In 1872 Charles Darwin published The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,3 only one year after the appearance of The Descent of Man. Darwin wrote his work on the Expression of Emotions in a very short time (less than a year), but the studies it is based on go back to much earlier periods in his life. What he had to say on expression was not accepted without debate and criticism, but it marked a stage in the development of ideas about the subject. The student of the theory of art cannot disregard at least some aspects of Darwin's thought on this problem, a central one for almost any artist.
For our purposes Darwin's work is of particular significance because of the classifications of expression he suggested, and because of distinctions he made in this field of experience and study. Two issues concern us here. One is the question: which aspects (or parts) of human expression did Darwin include in his study, and which did he disregard? The other is: what in his view can art contribute to the study of the whole subject? Though these