Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 62.djvu/460

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454

POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

of ornament and styles of architecture to retain their historic names, and though their beauty has departed like the glory of some ancient family, he renders homage to their silly and meaningless descendants because of their name and position. The world has been filled with these ugly forms made in the name of art, but they only bear witness that science has subdued the earth and now holds undisputed sway.

Not only has it driven art into the background, but it has misrepresented its character.[1]

Science has led man to expect art to set forth phenomena, to illustrate events, to communicate knowledge with absolute exactness. It has taught us to believe a work of art worthless unless it give precise information which can be verified by an appeal to facts. But man turns to art for the fulfilment of these expectations only to be sadly disappointed. Weary and cast down, crowds leave the museums with curiosity unsatisfied, with small addition to their learning, but denouncing art for failing to keep the promises of science. As well condemn the law of gravitation for the death caused by a falling rock.

Accustomed, as we are, to the precise and unequivocal terms of science, we expect the language of art to be equally explicit, and just at this point we are led astray by supposing that the artist—like the scientist—has something definite to communicate. Like the pioneer, the artist does not know what is ahead of him, but, driven by his creative impulse, beset by all sorts of perplexities, he struggles on over unknown regions until he reaches a point which satisfies him. What he produces is the outcome of his creative power, which picks and chooses its material from nature, breaks up and recombines again, and this process is continued until an effect is produced which his esthetic judgment pronounces good. The very terms which the artist uses are vague and indefinite, each one having an infinite number of meanings, determined not by any inherent quality, but by its relation to other terms in the same work of art. For example, a straight line has little esthetic value in itself; nevertheless, it is of great importance in one picture and almost indispensable in another. In like manner, the meaning of every bit of color varies with each change in its combination with other colors; or a musical tone may be a commonplace noise in itself, but as a part of Lohengrin's Wedding March it thrills one with delight. For this reason, a dictionary of artistic language is impossible. Not a line, a form, a color nor a rhythm stands for a definite idea, the meaning of each one depending not only upon its relative position as expressed by the artist, but also as appreciated by the spectator or listener.


  1. The reader must keep in mind that we are not contesting the great value of science and its methods, but that we object to these methods being applied to art.