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Facility And Difficulty Of Grasping

OF this we get further proof when we proceed to another and less
elementary relationship implied in the perception of shape: the
relation of Whole and Parts.

In dealing with the ground upon which we perceive our red and
black patches to be extended, I have already pointed out that our
operations of measuring and comparing are not applied to all the
patches of colour which we actually see, but only to such as we
look at; an observation equally applicable to sounds. In other
words our attention selects certain sensations, and limits to these all
that establishing of relations, all that measuring and comparing, all
that remembering and expecting; the other sensations being
excluded. Now, while whatever is thus merely seen, but not looked
at, is excluded as so much blank or otherness; whatever is, on
the contrary, included is thereby credited with the quality of
belonging, that is to say being included, together. And the more the
attention alternates between the measuring of included extensions
and directions and the expectation of equivalent (symmetrical or
rythmical) extensions or directions or stresses, the closer will
become the relation of these items included by our attention and
the more foreign will become the excluded otherness from which,
as we feel, they detach themselves. But--by an amusing
paradox--these lines measured and compared by our attention, are
themselvesnot only excluding so much otherness or blank; they also
tend, so soon as referred to one another, to include some of this
uninteresting blankness; and it is across this more or less completely
included blankness that the eye (and the imagination!) draw such
imaginary lines as I have pointed out with reference to the
constellations. Thus a circle, say of red patches, excludes some of
the white paper on which it is drawn; but it includes or encloses
the rest. Place a red patch somewhere on that enclosed blank; our
glance and attention will now play not merely along the red
circumference, but to and fro between the red circumference and the
red patch, thereby establishing imaginary but thoroughly measured
and compared lines between the two. Draw a red line from the red
patch to the red circumference; you will begin expecting similar
lengths on the other sides of the red patch, and you will become
aware that these imaginary lines are, or are not, equal; in other
words, that the red patch is, or is not, equidistant from every point of
the red circumference. And if the red patch is not thus in the middle,
you will expect, and imagine another patch which is; and from
this imaginary centre you will draw imaginary lines, that is you
will make by no means imaginary glance-sweeps, to the red
circumference. Thus you may go on adding real red lines and
imaginary lines connecting them with the circumference; and the
more you do so the more you will feel that all these real lines and
imaginary lines and all the blank space which the latter measure, are
connected, or susceptible of being connected, closer and closer,
every occasional excursion beyond the boundary only bringing you
back with an increased feeling of this interconnexion, and an
increased expectation of realising it in further details. But if on one
of these glance-flickings beyond the circumference, your attention is
caught by some colour patch or series of colour patches outside of it,
you will either cease being interested in the circle and wander away
to the new colour patches; or more probably, try to connect that
outlying colour with the circle and its radii; or again failing that, you
will "overlook it," as, in a pattern of concentric circles you overlook
a colour band which, as you express it "has nothing to do with it,"
that is with what you are looking at. Or again listening to. For if a
church-bell mixes its tones and rythm with that of a symphony you
are listening to, you may try and bring them in, make a place for
them, expect them among the other tones or rythms. Failing
which you will, after a second or two, cease to notice those bells,
cease to listen to them, giving all your attention once more to the
sonorous whole whence you have expelled those intruders; or else,
again, the intrusion will become an interruption, and the bells, once
listened to, will prevent your listening adequately to the

Moreover, if the number of extensions, directions, real or imaginary
lines or musical intervals, alternations of something and
nothing, prove too great for your powers of measurement and
comparison, particularly if it all surpass your habitual interplay of
recollection and expectation, you will say (as before an over
intricate pattern or a piece of music of unfamiliar harmonies and
rythm) that "you can't grasp it"--that you "miss the hang of it." And
what you will feel is that you cannot keep the parts within the whole,
that the boundary vanishes, that what has been included unites with
the excluded, in fact that all shape welters into chaos. And as if to
prove once more the truth of our general principle, you will have a
hateful feeling of having been trifled with. What has been balked
and wasted are all your various activities of measuring, comparing
and co-ordinating; what has been trifled with are your expectations.
And so far from contemplating with satisfaction the objective cause
of all this vexation and disappointment, you will avoid
contemplating it at all, and explain your avoidance by calling that
chaotic or futile assemblage of lines or of notes "ugly."

We seem thus to have got a good way in our explanation; and indeed
the older psychology, for instance of the late Grant Allen, did not
get any further. But to explain why a shape difficult to perceive
should be disliked and called "ugly," by no means amounts to
explaining why some other shape should be liked and called
"beautiful," particularly as some ugly shapes happen to be far easier
to grasp than some beautiful ones. The Reader will indeed remember
that there is a special pleasure attached to all overcoming of
difficulty, and to all understanding. But this double pleasure is
shared with form-perception by every other successful grasping of
meaning; and there is no reason why that pleasure should be
repeated in the one case more than in the other; nor why we should
repeat looking at (which is what we mean by contemplating) a shape
once we have grasped it, any more than we continue to dwell on, to
reiterate the mental processes by which we have worked out a
geometrical proposition or unravelled a metaphysical crux. The
sense of victory ends very soon after the sense of the difficulty
overcome; the sense of illumination ends with the acquisition of a
piece of information; and we pass on to some new obstacle and
some new riddle. But it is different in the case of what we call
Beautiful. Beautiful means satisfactory for contemplation, i.e.
for reiterated perception; and the very essence of contemplative
satisfaction is its desire for such reiteration. The older psychology
would perhaps have explained this reiterative tendency by the
pleasurableness of the sensory elements, the mere colours and
sounds of which the easily perceived shape is made up. But this does
not explain why, given that other shapes are made up of equally
agreeable sensory elements, we should not pass on from a once
perceived shape or combination of shapes to a new one, thus
obtaining, in addition to the sensory agreeableness of colour or
sound, a constantly new output of that feeling of victory and
illumination attendant on every successful intellectual effort. Or, in
other words, seeing that painting and music employ sensory
elements already selected as agreeable, we ought never to wish to
see the same picture twice, or to continue looking at it; we ought
never to wish to repeat the same piece of music or its separate
phrases; still less to cherish that picture or piece of music in our
memory, going over and over again as much of its shape as had
become our permanent possession.

We return therefore to the fact that although balked perception is
enough to make us reject a shape as ugly, i.e. such that we avoid
entering into contemplation of it, easy perception is by no means
sufficient to make us cherish a shape as beautiful, i.e. such that
the reiteration of our drama of perception becomes desirable. And
we shall have to examine whether there may not be some other
factor of shape-perception wherewith to account for this preference
of reiterated looking at the same to looking at something else.

Meanwhile we may add to our set of formulae: difficulty in
shape-perception makes contemplation disagreeable and impossible, and
hence earns for aspects the adjective ugly. But facility in
perception, like agreeableness of sensation by no means suffices for
satisfied contemplation, and hence for the use of the adjective

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