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Information About Things

AMONG the facts which Painting is set to tell us about things, the
most important, after cubic existence, is Locomotion. Indeed in the
development of the race as well as in that of the individual, pictorial
attention to locomotion seems to precede attention to cubic existence.
For when the palaeolithic, or the Egyptian draughtsman, or even the
Sixth Century Greek, unites profile legs and head with a full-face
chest; and when the modern child supplements the insufficiently
projecting full-face nose by a profile nose tacked on where we
expect the ear, we are apt to think that these mistakes are due to
indifference to the cubic nature of things. The reverse is, however,
the case. The primitive draughtsman and the child are recording
impressions received in the course of the locomotion either of the
thing looked at or of the spectator. When they unite whatever
consecutive aspects are most significant and at the same time easiest
to copy, they are in the clutches of their cubic experience, and what
they are indifferent about, perhaps unconscious of, is the
two-dimensional appearance which a body presents when its parts are
seen simultaneously and therefore from a single point of view. The
progress of painting is always from representing the Consecutive to
representing the Simultaneous; perspective, foreshortening, and later,
light and shade, being the scientific and technical means towards
this end.

Upon our knowledge of the precise stage of such pictorial
development depends our correct recognition of what things, and
particularly what spatial relations and locomotion, of things, the
painter is intended to represent. Thus when a Byzantine
draughtsman puts his figures in what look to us as superposed tiers,
he is merely trying to convey their existence behind one another on
a common level. And what we take for the elaborate contortions of
athletes and Athenas on Sixth Century vases turns out to be nothing
but an archaic representation of ordinary walking and running.

The suggestion of locomotion depends furthermore on anatomy.
What the figures of a painting are intended to be doing, what they
are intended to have just done and to be going to do, in fact all
questions about their action and business, are answered by reference
to their bodily structure and its real or supposed possibilities. The
same applies to expression of mood.

The impassiveness of archaic Apollos is more likely to be due to
anatomical difficulties in displacing arms and legs, than to lack of
emotion on the part of artists who were, after all, contemporaries
either of Sappho or Pindar. And it is more probable that the
sculptors of Aegina were still embarrassed about the modelling of
lips and cheeks than that, having Homer by heart, they imagined his
heroes to die silently and with a smirk.

I have entered into this question of perspective and anatomy, and
given the above examples, because they will bring home to the
reader one of the chief principles deduced from our previous
examination into the psychology of our subject, namely that all
thinking about things is thinking away from the Shapes suggesting
those things, since it involves knowledge which the Shapes in
themselves do not afford. And I have insisted particularly upon the
dependence of representations of locomotion upon knowledge of
three-dimensional existence, because, before proceeding to the
relations of Subject and Form in painting, I want to impress once
more upon the reader the distinction between the locomotion of
things (locomotion active or passive) and what, in my example of
the mountain which rises, I have called the empathic movement
of lines. Such movement of lines we have seen to be a scheme of
activity suggested by our own activity in taking stock of a
two-dimensional-shape; an idea, or feeling of activity which we,
being normally unaware of its origin in ourselves, project into the
shape which has suggested it, precisely as we project our sensation
of red from our own eye and mind into the object which has
deflected the rays of light in such a way as to give us that red
sensation. Such empathic, attributed, movements of lines are
therefore intrinsic qualities of the shapes whose active perception
has called them forth in our imagination and feeling; and being
qualities of the shapes, they inevitably change with every alteration
which a shape undergoes, every shape, actively perceived, having its
own special movement of lines; and every movement of lines,
or combination of movements of lines existing in proportion as
we go over and over again the particular shape of which it is a
quality. The case is absolutely reversed when we perceive or think
of, the locomotion of things. The thought of a thing's locomotion,
whether locomotion done by itself or inflicted by something else,
necessitates our thinking away from the particular shape before us to
another shape more or less different. In other words locomotion
necessarily alters what we are looking at or thinking of. If we think
of Michel Angelo's seated Moses as getting up, we think away
from the approximately pyramidal shape of the statue to the
elongated oblong of a standing figure. If we think of the horse of
Marcus Aurelius as taking the next step, we think of a straightened
leg set on the ground instead of a curved leg suspended in the air.
And if we think of the Myronian Discobolus as letting go his quoit
and "recovering," we think of the matchless spiral composition as
unwinding and straightening itself into a shape as different as that of
a tree is different from that of a shell.

The pictorial representation of locomotion affords therefore the
extreme example of the difference between discursive thinking
about things and contemplation of shape. Bearing this example in
mind we cannot fail to understand that, just as the thought of
locomotion is opposed to the thought of movement of lines, so,
in more or less degree, the thought of the objects and actions
represented by a picture or statue, is likely to divert the mind from
the pictorial and plastic shapes which do the representing. And we
can also understand that the problem unconsciously dealt with by all
art (though by no means consciously by every artist) is to execute
the order of suggesting interesting facts about things in a manner
such as to satisfy at the same time the aesthetic demand for shapes
which shall be satisfactory to contemplate. Unless this demand for
sensorially, intellectually and empathically desirable shapes be
complied with a work of art may be interesting as a diagram, a
record or an illustration, but once the facts have been conveyed and
assimilated with the rest of our knowledge, there will remain a shape
which we shall never want to lay eyes upon. I cannot repeat too
often that the differentiating characteristic of art is that it gives its
works a value for contemplation independent of their value for
fact-transmission, their value as nerve-and-emotion-excitant and of their
value for immediate, for practical, utility. This aesthetic value,
depending upon the unchanging processes of perception and
empathy, asserts itself in answer to every act of contemplative
attention, and is as enduring and intrinsic as the other values are apt
to be momentary and relative. A Greek vase with its bottom
knocked out and with a scarce intelligible incident of obsolete
mythology portrayed upon it, has claims upon our feelings which the
most useful modern mechanism ceases to have even in the intervals
of its use, and which the newspaper, crammed full of the most
important tidings, loses as soon as we have taken in its contents.

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