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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