Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/353

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ÆSTHETIC EVOLUTION IN MAN.

self-satisfied. The educated man sees how slender his attainments really are, and discontentedly strives for deeper knowledge. Let us be impartial, whether we praise, blame, or satirize. Blessed be stupidity, for it shall not be conscious of its own deficiencies.

 
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ÆSTHETIC EVOLUTION IN MAN.
By Professor GRANT ALLEN.

ALL the higher processes of evolution are necessarily so complex in character that we can really deal with only a single aspect at a time. Hence, in spite of the rather general title which this paper bears, it proposes to treat of æsthetic evolution in man under one such aspect only—that of its gradual decentralization, its increase in disinterestedness from the simple and narrow feelings of the savage or the child to the full and expansive æsthetic catholicity of the cultivated adult. We have to trace the progress of the sense of beauty from its first starting-point in the primitive sensibilities of the race or the individual to its highest development in the most refined and advanced of European artists.

To do so, we must first find this starting-point itself. What is the center from which the widening circle of æsthetic sensibility takes its departure? In other words, what is the primitive source of the appreciation of beauty? Putting the question into a concrete form, what objects did man, as a whole, and does each man in particular, first find beautiful? If we look at a cultivated European, we see that he derives great æsthetic enjoyment from contemplating the sunset clouds, the green trees, the lakes, rivers, and waterfalls, the flowers, birds, and insects around him. But, if we look at a savage or a child, we see that for the most part they care for none of these things. We might almost conclude, on a hurried glance, that they had no sense of beauty whatsoever. Yet, when we examine them a little more closely, we find that there are many objects to which they do apply some such word as pretty, the symbol of the simplest æsthetic appreciation. If we can discover the limitations of these earliest æsthetic objects, we shall have solved one of the most important fundamental problems in the theory of beauty.

The settlement of such fundamental problems seems to me an indispensable preliminary to the construction of a scientific doctrine of æsthetics. When professors of fine art discuss the principles of beauty, they are too fond of confining themselves to the very highest feelings of the most cultivated classes in the most civilized nations. The mere childish love of colors, the mere savage taste for bone necklets and carved calabashes, seem beneath their exalted notice. Nay, more, we constantly find them accusing one another of having no feeling for beauty,