# Popular Science Monthly/Volume 42/April 1893/The Festal Development of Art

 THE FESTAL DEVELOPMENT OF ART.
By Prof. DAVID J. HILL,

PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER.

Goethe says that art is called art simply because it is not Nature. Unquestionably it has its impulse and its laws in the constitution of man. We may, therefore, accept as useful to the proper comprehension of it, in its most general sense, the definition given by Thomas Davidson: "Art is an expression of man's inner nature imprinted upon matter, so as to appeal to his senses, which deal only with matter, and through which he obtains experience." But, while every product of art is the work of human personality, neither man nor his works can be understood, or even intelligently considered, separate from Nature. He is himself a part of her, and yet he is different from any inferior part, for he alone can, in any degree, fathom the depths of natural process or formulate natural law. When, therefore, we say with the great poet-philosopher that art is called art simply because it is not Nature, we can not mean that art is in no sense a natural activity. On the contrary, while we must accept the antithesis, we must still seek the explanation of the origin and development of art in the operation of the natural forces which are present, and the natural laws which are dominant, in the nature of man; for he, although he is Nature's child, has come into possessions which are his own.

The faculty of artistic production, aided indeed by all the other powers of man's nature, under its guidance and command, is imagination. This is the combining faculty which, like an informing spirit, shapes the pre-existent elements and proximate forms of Nature for human needs and human pleasure. Its stimulus comes from the sphere of feeling, but its products are not the organic consequences of this stimulation. If they bore this relation of necessary effect to feeling as organic cause, they would be in the fullest sense the products of Nature, and the distinction between Nature and art would be effaced. But, in fact, the whole of man's being as rational intelligence intervenes between the impulse of feeling and the work of art. This is probably what Wilhelm von Humboldt intended when he said, "Art is the faculty of making imagination productive, according to law."

The primary impulse to imaginative activity is utility, the satisfaction of distinct vital needs. Of these the first is that of food, universal and peremptory for all living beings. Then shelter, clothing, weapons of defense and attack, implements, and utensils of various kinds, are demanded. In the lower animals, instinct directs the creature how to satisfy the simple organic needs; but in man, even with a low degree of intelligence, imagination contrives new ways and means of supplying these requirements. A sharpened flint serves as a knife; attached to a wooden handle, it becomes a spear; projected from a bow-string, it is an arrow. Thus, along lines of very gradual ascent, all the complicated equipment of home and chase and war was slowly acquired by the constant search for better means with which to accomplish necessary ends. In all invention, from the stone axe to the telephone, imagination has been the active faculty. The impulse of utility, "making imagination productive," has generated the "useful," "industrial," or "economic" arts; or, as the anthropologist Tylor calls them, the "arts of life."

A secondary impulse to imaginative activity is the sense of freedom, the satisfaction derived from a free exercise of power. After the strictly vital needs of the body are provided for, unless the whole store of force is exhausted in satisfying them, there remains a surplus, especially in the unused organs, which impels to activity not directed toward useful ends. The pressure of this exuberant energy for expression is probably the primitive impulse toward the decorative, representative, and imitative arts. These are called the "fine arts," the "æsthetic arts," and by Tylor the "arts of pleasure." In many languages they are designated as the "beautiful arts"—the Italian name being belli arti; the French, beaux arts; the German, schöne Künste. To these forms of art we shall confine the remainder of our discussion.

In his Principles of Psychology, Herbert Spencer begins his last chapter with the following allusion: "Many years ago I met with a quotation from a German author to the effect that the æsthetic sentiments originate from the play-impulse. I do not remember the name of the author; and if any reasons were given for this statement, or any inferences drawn from it, I can not recall them. But the statement itself has remained with me, as being one which, if not literally true, is yet the adumbration of a truth." The author referred to is the poet Schiller, and the writing in which the idea cited by Spencer occurs is Schiller's Letters on the Æsthetic Education of Man. What Schiller is attempting to explain is not the origin of the "æsthetic sentiments," but the nature of man as an art-producing being. This nature, he thinks, grows out of the union of two impulses: (1) The sense-impulse (Stofftrieb), which determines that there shall be constant change, that time shall have a content; and (2) the form-impulse (Formtrieb), which determines that time shall be abolished, that there shall be no change. From the union of these two impulses in man results the play-impulse (Spieltrieb), which tends to abolish time in time, and to unify becoming with absolute being, change with identity. But we must not expose ourselves too long in the rarefied air of even a poet's metaphysics. Spencer, without knowing his teacher, and kindling his torch with the stray spark of Schiller's flash upon the clouds, has shed more light upon the origin of art than the poet himself.

"The activities we call play," he says, "are united with the æsthetic activities, by the trait that neither subserve, in any direct way, the processes conducive to life. . . . Inferior kinds of animals have in common the trait, that all their forces are expended in fulfilling functions essential to the maintenance of life. They are unceasingly occupied in searching for food, in escaping from enemies, in forming places of shelter, and in making preparations for progeny. But, as we ascend to animals of high types, having faculties more efficient and more numerous, we begin to find that time and strength are not wholly absorbed in providing for immediate needs. Better nutrition, gained by superiority, occasionally yields a surplus of vigor. The appetites being satisfied, there is no craving which directs the overflowing energies to the pursuit of more prey, or to the satisfaction of some pressing want. The greater variety of faculty, commonly joined with this greater efficiency of faculty, has a kindred result. When there have been developed many powers adjusted to many requirements, they can not all act at once; now the circumstances call these into exercise and now those; and some of them occasionally remain unexercised for considerable periods. Thus it happens that, in the more evolved creatures, there often recurs an energy somewhat in excess of immediate needs, and there comes also such rest, now of this faculty and now of that, as permits the bringing of it up to a state of high efficiency by the repair which follows waste. . . . Every one of the mental powers, then, being subject to this law, that its organ when dormant for an interval longer than ordinary becomes unusually ready to act—unusually ready to have its correlative feelings aroused, giving an unusual readiness to enter upon all the correlative activities; it happens that a simulation of those activities is easily fallen into, when circumstances offer it, in place of the real activities. Hence play of all kinds—hence this tendency to superfluous and useless exercise of faculties that have been quiescent," for the mere pleasure that attends this exercise. He goes on to say: "A cat, with claws and appended muscles adjusted to daily action in catching prey, but now leading a life that is but in a small degree predatory, has a craving to exercise these parts; and may be seen to satisfy the craving by stretching out her legs, protruding her claws, and pulling at some such surface as the covering of a chair or the bark of a tree. . . . This useless activity of unused organs, which in such cases hardly rises to what we call play, passes into play ordinarily so called where there is a more manifest union of feeling with the action. Play is equally an artificial exercise of powers which, in default of their natural exercise, become so ready to discharge that they relieve themselves by simulated actions in place of real actions. For dogs and other predatory creatures show us unmistakably that their play consists of mimic chase and mimic fighting—they pursue one another, they try to overthrow one another, they bite one another as much as they dare. And so with the kitten running after a cotton ball, making it roll and again catching it, crouching as though in ambush and then leaping on it, we see that the whole sport is a dramatizing of the pursuit of prey—an ideal satisfaction for the destructive instincts in the absence of real satisfaction for them." The plays of children carry these low beginnings to a higher state. Spencer thinks that gratification from a victory at chess is a substitute for ruder victories of an earlier time. The banter of a playful conversation is also a mimic battle, in which words take the place of coarser weapons.

It would be absurd, of course, to pretend that such play is in any sense fine art, but we may see in it the impulse that sets the faculties in motion for the highest artistic productions. This we shall presently undertake to illustrate in tracing the development of the arts. As a preliminary to this, we may note the marks of differentiation which distinguish the arts of pleasure from the arts of life: 1. The practice of the useful arts is accompanied by a sense of necessity, growing out of the constant feeling that the process is a serious one. That of the arts of pleasure is attended with a sense of freedom, resulting from the surcharge of energy directed toward less indispensable issues. 2. The useful arts derive their laws and limitations predominantly from the objective world. The fine arts derive theirs more largely from the subjective world. 3. The useful arts, therefore, partake of the uniformity of physical law, with its consequent monotony, so much felt in work. The fine arts, on the other hand, permit of more novelty and variety, as experienced in play.

Although the play-impulse is at the foundation of the æsthetic arts, it does not follow that art is merely the product of this impulse. Play stimulates free imaginative activity, which creates a world of its own. And we must not forget that man is not simply an imaginative, but also a rational being. The reaction of reason impresses upon the spontaneous activities the characteristics of reason as a regulative faculty—unity, order, and proportion. Thus poetry, which was at first merely the spontaneous rhythmic expression of excited feeling, with little restraint of law and almost unlimited license, is modulated at last to the stringent requirements of exact meter, a prescribed sequence of feet, and the artifice of terminal rhyme. The interval between the first wild lyric of prehistoric man and the chastened symmetry of the modern sonnet is measured by the whole diameter of human culture.

In order to approach intelligently the development of the fine arts, it is important for us to form a clear idea of what should be included under this designation, and to classify this material according to some principle. We may for this purpose start with the classification of a recent and highly competent French writer upon the subject, M. Eugène Véron. He says: "By their origin and the nature of their processes, the arts naturally divide themselves into two well-defined groups. The one springs from the sensation of sight, and is more or less immediately connected with the practices of primitive scribes. The three arts of which it is composed are sculpture, painting, and architecture. Their common feature is development in space; their manifestations have to do with a single point of time; consequently they exclude movement, which is succession and duration, replacing it by simultaneity and order, whose law is proportion. The other three arts—poetry, music, and the dance—are subject to the laws of rhythm. They have sound for their vehicle of expression, they appeal to the sense of hearing, and take their immediate origin from spoken language, which seems for long to have consisted of a species of cadenced singing. Their principle of action is by succession, through which they are referred to general ideas of lapse of time and movement. They are therefore the more direct expression of the inner essence of life, while the other three deal with it rather in its exterior forms, which, being expressed at one given moment of their action, become as it were disguised by the very necessity under which they labor to limit themselves to a definite attitude, depriving them of the most salient characteristic of the other group of arts—movement and power of change." He then offers the following classification:

 I. Arts of the Eye: Architecture, sculpture, painting. II. Arts of the Ear: Dancing, music, poetry.

We may accept this as the basis of a grouping of the fine arts, but it should be revised in the light of two considerations: First, it is a mixed classification, for dancing does not appeal to us through the ear only, as Véron asserts, but partly through the eye also, in the case of a spectator, but mainly through the muscular sense; and, second, it is a grouping that entirely ignores the genetic element by which the several arts are evolved, if not out of one another, at least in a definite order of sequence. Both of these objections are fully met, and in addition each of the arts is characterized by its own distinctive peculiarity, if we adopt the following arrangement:

 I. Arts of Movement: ${\displaystyle {\begin{matrix}{\bigg \{}\end{matrix}}}$ 1. Dancing—rhythmic motion of the body. 2. Music—rhythmic motion of the voice. 3. Poetry—rhythmic motion of speech.
 II. Arts of Form: ${\displaystyle {\begin{matrix}{\bigg \{}\end{matrix}}}$ 1. Architecture—decorative form construction. 2. Sculpture—representative form construction. 3. Painting—imitative form construction.

A few words will assist us to see that this classification is a scientific one. In distinguishing between the arts of movement and the arts of form, we retain every advantage of Véron's scheme without a strained reference of the figures of the dance to the ear instead of the eye and the muscular sense, and at the same time do not obscure the close affiliation between dancing and music, which most obviously exists. The revised grouping also specifies the peculiar kind of movement and of form construction exemplified by each art. We further recognize in architecture its beginning as one of the useful arts, which, as mere form construction, it does not surpass. But when decoration is added, or rather when the decorative purpose pervades the entire plan and execution of architectural form, then for the first it becomes a fine art. The peculiarity of sculpture is, that it is representative form construction, endeavoring to copy literally, or to represent fully, the object of the sculptor's work. In the earliest sculpture, as we have no inconsiderable evidence to show, even color was employed, and this in a truly representative way, reproducing the colors of the parts represented. Painting is not strictly representative, but imitative, striving to present on a flat surface, with only two dimensions, objects which in reality occupy three dimensions of space. By the arts of perspective and foreshortening this aim is in a great degree accomplished, so that a result is produced which is like the original, but not in all respects, even from an exterior and visual point of view, the same as the original.

It remains now to show that the grouping offered here observes the genetic principle, and arranges the fine arts in the order of their natural sequence and evolution. Véron denies that this is possible, but this conclusion can not be maintained. It is true that we have not in our possession the earliest products of art, so as to be able to prove that any order which we may assign is the actual order of development, but we have the means of showing that the order we have indicated is highly natural and probable. As regards the two main divisions, it is clear that the arts of movement would precede the arts of form, for the arts of movement—dancing, music, and poetry—may all be practiced by man without external aids or instruments of any kind, while this is impossible for the arts of form, architecture, sculpture, and painting. We might also cite, in confirmation of this view, the facts derived from the comparative study of man, which show that the arts of movement are practiced among peoples who have no arts of form, or possess these in a less perfect state of advancement than those of the first group. As regards the particular arts embraced in the general scheme, the dance seems to be the most primitive of all, because it is a simple rhythm of the bodily movements, which requires nothing else than free limbs and a tendency to bring unused muscles into exercise. The rhythm of bodily motion is naturally accompanied by vocal rhythm, which is rudimentary music, and when to this articulate words are added, poetry has begun, although in a very elementary way. As soon as the place where the dance is held begins to be decorated, the building art blossoms into a primitive architecture. When masks are used to represent deities or absent men, or representative figures of these are set up as objects of worship or reverence in the dance, sculpture has its beginning. When such effigies are imitated on a flat surface, by applying the pigments first used upon the bodies of the dancers and then on the graven images, painting as a fine art has its humble origin. Thus, we perceive, there is a natural sequence in the advent of the several arts.

It is idle to speculate upon the question as to when the fine arts had their origin. As Véron says: "Art came before thought itself. Before he ever attempted to understand or explain the conditions of the world in which he lived, man, open to pleasure through his eyes and ears, sought in combinations of forms, sounds, movements, shadow, and light, for certain special enjoyments. Traces of these early aspirations are extant in the recently discovered works of a time when his intellectual activity must have been confined within a very narrow scope. . . . When as yet he possessed neither laws nor social institutions, even then he had art. In the dark caverns which formed his first habitations, because they alone could protect him against the attacks of beasts of prey, amid the piles of bones in which have been found the débris of species vanished from the earth perhaps a thousand centuries ago, we have discovered, among flint-formed arrows and knives, objects which could evidently only have been ornaments—necklets, bracelets, rings of stone and of bone—more or less roughly worked and fitted indeed, but enough to show that art is not, as has been asserted, the efflorescence of superior civilizations only. . . . Yes, those savages who lived dispersed in the holes and corners of the world . . . already felt the sentiment of art. They strove after beauty; they adorned with their best their appalling females; they decorated their weapons of stone; they devised musical instruments; by means of gravers of flint they cut upon flat bones the leading features of many animals, with enough accuracy to enable us to this day to recognize their species."

It may create some surprise that we regard the dance as the earliest form of art, or even that we allow it any place among the fine arts. To many it will seem a kind of sacrilege to combine in the same category, however broad, such extremes as a dancing savage and a painting of the last judgment; and, if the connection must be made, some would choose to make it along other lines than those of art. But, in truth, the dance supplies us with the key, so to speak, of the development of the fine arts. For light upon the problems of human culture, we naturally appeal to the anthropologist. "Dancing," says Tylor, "may seem to us moderns a frivolous amusement; but in the infancy of civilization it was full of passionate and solemn meaning. Savages and barbarians dance their joy and sorrow, their love and rage, even their magic and religion. The forest Indians of Brazil, whose sluggish temper few other excitements can stir, rouse themselves at their moonlight gatherings, when, rattle in hand, they stamp in one-two-three time round the great earthen pot of intoxicating kawi liquor; or men and women dance a rude courting dance, advancing in lines with a kind of primitive polka step; or the ferocious war dance is performed by armed warriors in paint, marching in ranks hither and thither with a growling chant terrific to hear." Tylor proceeds to describe the dance of the Australians, and the buffalo dance of the Mandan Indians, who, wearing masks to mark their impersonations, with rude songs and pantomimic gestures, act out the incidents of an imaginary hunt. And then he adds: "All this explains how, in ancient religion, dancing came to be one of the chief acts of worship. Religious processions went with song and dance to the Egyptian temples, and Plato said that all dancing ought to be thus an act of religion. In fact, it was so to a great extent in Greece, as where the Cretan chorus, moving in measured pace, sang hymns to Apollo; and in Rome, where the Salian priests sang and danced, beating their shields, along the streets at the yearly festival of Mars. Modern civilization, in which sacred music flourishes more than ever, has mostly cut off the sacred dance. To see this near its old state, the traveler may visit the temples of India, or among the lamas of Thibet watch the mummers in animal masks dancing the demons out, or the new year in, to wild music of drums and shell trumpets. Remnants of such ceremonies, come down from the religion of England before Christian times, are still sometimes to be seen in the dances of boys and girls round the midsummer bonfire, or of the mummers at Yuletide; but even these are dying out."

The writers on the origin of the drama derive the tragedy of Greece, and indeed the dramatic art of the world, from simple mimetic dances, such as Tylor has described, which are found among all savage races. As Ellen Russell Emerson has said, in her curious book, Masks, Heads, and Faces: "Panoplied with the mask, representative of deity, the actor in religious rite with careful step moved in the order of the ceremonial. In the Innuit robe of evergreen boughs, or in the garment of tufted grass of the Dorian mummer, his countenance disguised with lees of wine or painted with ochre, he danced in enthusiastic mimicry of his divinity. Innuit or Greek, the same aspirations attuned the cithara or drum, the same ambition dictated the wild or solemn movement. Wheeling in weird rotation, the Selenii and satyr encircled the blazing altar on the plains of Greece. The citharist struck the measures which the mimic gestures of the chorus emphasized. Springtime, autumn, or winter, these wild ceremonies were performed in praise or appeal to the gods, in the lands of the East and of the West; with both peoples the principal object was to anthropomorphize the divinity dwelling in air or earth. Holding forth innumerable arms of appeal, barbaric Indian and barbaric Greek called on the coming of the gods."

If now we pause for a moment to consider the conditions of primitive society, we shall see that they were not such as to favor the cultivation of the independent arts, like sculpture and painting, or even architecture. The playtime of primitive man was not long enough for this. But the recurrent festival, celebrating some exploit in the chase or in war, or commemorating some departed chief, would furnish an occasion toward which men would look, for which they would prepare, and in which they would experience that pleasure which the excitement of a crowd affords, especially to the dependent mind, without resources of its own. Accordingly, it is in the festival that we must seek for those conditions in which early art was developed, and we shall find that this is true to a surprising extent of later art also. Among primitive peoples, with very little leisure and with almost no wealth, art can develop, beyond the mere decoration of the person and the ornamentation of personal weapons, only in a social and festal way. But, as leisure and wealth increase, art rises to bolder heights, especially if the faculty for art production be native among the people.

We have seen that even the domestic animals, like cats and dogs, "dramatize" in their play. So do children in their sports. The mimetic dance carries this on another step, involving the representation of characters, absent or superhuman, and the reproduction of ideal scenes. As intelligence and skill increase, this becomes more and more removed from the simple beginnings. The Attic ceremonials in their origin were merely crude efforts at dramatization, but with advancing culture the spectacles became more elaborate. There is an interval between the dance of the Brazilian Indians around their earthen pot of smoking kawi liquor and the Attic festival of Bacchus, performed in a great marble theatre, or temple of Bacchus, with a sculptured statue of the god in the center, the full chorus chanting to the accompaniment of many instruments, the walls of the temple adorned with heroic-size paintings of the exploits of the divinity; but it is only the interval between the first and the middle chapter of the same history. If, in a great modern city like Paris, we were to select the places where all the fine arts are most fully represented at once, we should not choose the palaces and the museums—for here the arts of movement are not represented—but the great churches and play-houses, especially Notre-Dame and the Grand Opera House. In Notre-Dame we should find music, poetry, architecture, sculpture, and painting, all combined. Only dancing is eliminated as an outgrown element of ceremonial. In the Grand Opera House we should find all the arts, and the one omitted at Notre-Dame would be most conspicuous there. The festal dramas of early times have been specialized, the religious ceremonial being separated from the secular, which finds its modern equivalent in the opera, where all the arts remain united. It is not meant that the best art in Paris is to be found at the opera house, but it is the kind which at the present time best represents the art appreciation of that city. Its attractions are offered every night, those of the salon once a year.

However paradoxical it may seem at first, reflection confirms the statement that the drama is the synthesis of all the fine arts, and the festival the common air from which all have drawn their first breath of life. If we start with the opera, for example, as a present fact, and inquire when and how it combined in itself the separate arts which it certainly unites, we shall find no point where these arts, independently developed, were first brought together for this purpose. We shall find, on the contrary, that every form of the drama was derived from some simpler form in which all the arts were constituents, until we arrive at the mimetic dance as the prototype of the whole series of dramatic phases. We are by no means justified in supposing that, at some time in the past, near or remote, a sculptor, without predecessors or examples, inspired by the impulse of a divine genius, modeled for himself a perfect human form in clay, and then with chisel and hammer proceeded to disengage a copy of this form from the solid marble. As little can we suppose that a great painter, without antecedents or training, arose in the midst of an inartistic generation, stretched his canvas, mixed for the first time his pigments, and executed a landscape or an ideal head. This is not in analogy with other lines of human development. As every great orator was once a speechless infant, finding language ready for his tongue and comprehension in his hearers, so every great artist has found a language of artistic expression waiting for his genius to improve and lovers of art ready to enjoy his creations. And thus we see that as the mechanic arts do not blush to confess that every wheel in every watch and every factory owes its parentage to the discovery that a fallen tree-trunk will roll under pressure, which probably first revealed the principle of the wheel, so the fine arts need not be ashamed of their descent from the mimetic dance. Let no idealistic devotee of art, therefore, be shocked or offended if we say that all the fine arts were at first incidental contributions to the dramatic festival, and afterward were analyzed out of this common medium of their development as independent forms of culture.

In all dramatization music has had a large place, either as the recurrent drum-tap, the percussion of cymbals, the twanging of stringed instruments like the tetrachord of the Greeks, or the blowing of pipes and horns. Between the intervals of dancing it is common in primitive ceremonies for some person to sing a few words alternated with a uniform chorus—and such, it has been suggested, might be the origin of the Greek strophe and antistrophe, "which are thought to represent the two movements of the universe from east to west, and west to east, the choir performing their dances around the altar of their gods from right to left and left to right." Thus was developed a lyric which gradually expanded into a poetic story. This, in time, developed into the recital of the rhapsodists who sang at the public festivals, which were largely dramatic in their character, and these fragments of heroic verse united and amplified become at last great epics like the Iliad and the Odyssey.