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evitable. From Kant, with his definition of beauty as disinterested pleasure (purposiveness without a purpose) through the mystical theories of Schelling, Fichte, and Hegel, to such a recent formula as the theory of “ Einfühlung” of Lipps, aesthetic theory is an increasingly “intense inane” of subjectivism. However valuable may be its psychological investigations of our aesthetic experiences, and its service in completing the Greek point of view by proving that beauty is not an absolute but a relative conception, the sceptic may well question whether it has yielded any adequate results.10 Is Tolstoy right when he accuses it of arguing neatly in a circle, defining the beautiful as the disinterested pleasure received from a contemplation of a work of art, and defining art, in turn, as that which yields the disinterested pleasure which we call beauty? 11 Certain it is that aesthetic theory in the nineteenth century has simply followed the changes of fashion in art itself. The emphasis upon color as compared to line in painting, the rise of the lyric and the decline of the drama, the gospel of art for art's sake, all point, as indeed was noted even by such early observers as Schiller and Goethe, to the passing away of the objective view of art as Mimêsis, subject to the laws of symmetry and order, and the appearance of a conception which, in its extremer forms at least, looks upon art as a subjective phenomenon, curbed by no law except the demand for lyric purity of feeling.
Benedetto Croce's aesthetic theory is subjectivism pushed to this logical extreme. “ Hitherto," he says, “in all attempts to define the place of art, it has been sought, either at the summit of the theoretic spirit, above philosophy, or, at least, in the circle of philosophy itself. . . . Why not invert the attempt, and instead of forming the hypothesis that art is one of the summits or the highest grade of the theoretic spirit, form the very opposite hypothesis, namely that it is one of the lower grades, or the lowest of all.” And he continues in a passage, the inspiration for which he himself could probably assign to his master Vico, and which to us is strangely reminiscent of Shelley's Defense of Poetry: “If we think of man in the first moments that he becomes aware of
10 Cf. article on Beauty by M. de Wulf in the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics. A valuable recent book is E. F. Carritt's The Theory of Beauty (London, 1914). 11 Tolstoy, What is Art? chap 1.
theoretical life, with mind still clear of every abstraction and of every reflection, in that first purely intuitive instant he must be a poet. He contemplates the world with ingenuous and admiring eyes; he sinks and loses himself altogether in the contemplation.” 12 Art, in effect, is for Croce an inhabitant of those dim Tartarean regions below the level of the intellect and the will. “No sooner are reflection and judgment developed . . than art is dissipated and dies; it dies in the artist, who becomes a critic; it dies in the contemplator, who changes from an entranced enjoyer of art to a meditative observer of life.” 13 Imagination, in Croce's philosophy, bears the quite literal signification of mind in its image-producing capacity. Art springs from the intuitions of sense.
The remainder of Signor Croce's aesthetic system resolves itself into a series of equations. Art – Intuition - Expressions
= Beauty; Genius=Taste. And these equations are understood quite ingenuously. There is no break for Croce between the rise of the artistic fact as an intuition and its expression. Unless the image formed in the imagination is, in fact, expressed, it does not yet exist. There is no such thing as a “mute inglorious Milton.”
" Croce quotes Michael Angelo's saying, “ One paints, not with one's hand, but with one's brain." Artistic activity is entirely internal, and is virtually identical in the creator and the beholder. An artist expresses an intuition; a critic, by the aid of whatever means he finds at hand, reproduces this intuition in himself. “The productive activity is called genius; the judicial activity is called taste."14 The actual transference of the image to canvas, or into words, is a matter of comparative indifference. All forms of artistic activity are language—they are “states of the soul.” Hence problems of technique, of the media of the various arts, do not interest Croce.15 Neither does he see any value in classifying the arts according to kinds. Art being lyrical expression of internal images, each work of art is unique and cannot be fitly compared with any other. As soon as we touch upon questions of the externalization of art, we transcend aesthetics and step over into the
12 The quotation is taken from a lecture delivered by Croce at Heidelberg, Sept., 1908. See Aesthetic, tr. D. Ainslie, 1909, pp. 383-5.
18 Breviario di Estetica (Nuovi Saggi, p. 17. Rice Institute: Book of the Opening 2. 444).
14 Aesthetic, tr. Ainslie, p. 198. 15 Aesthetic, p. 188.
realm of physics and economics. There is nothing to prevent a man from separating tragedies from comedies on his library shelves, but this fact is no indication that, aesthetically speaking, there are laws of comedy and of tragedy.
Independent of physics and economics, art, for Croce, is equally unhampered by laws of morality, as indeed by any control of the intellect or the will. The true artist finds himself big with his theme, he knows not how; he feels the moment of birth drawing near, but he cannot will it or not will it.” All subjects are potentially artistic. The poet does not choose his subject; "the search for the end of art is ridiculous.” 16 “When critics rebel against the theme or the content as being unworthy of art and blameworthy, in respect to works which they proclaim to be artistically perfect; if these expressions really are perfect there is nothing to be done but to advise the critics to leave the artists in peace, for they can not get inspiration save from what has made an impression upon them. The critics should think rather of how they can effect changes in nature and society, in order that those impressions may not exist.” 17
The achievement of expression is, for Croce, the creation of beauty. Beauty is successful expression, or better expression simply, since expression when it is not successful is not expression. Hence there are no degrees of beauty. It is absurd to say that one work of art is more beautiful than another. The reason we prefer Francesca to Piccarda in Dante is that she is more interesting, not more beautiful.18 Perhaps the clearest statement of what is meant by defining beauty as successful expression may be found in one of Croce's early essays, in which his later aesthetic theory, derived at first through De Sanotis from Hegel, is already clearly foreshadowed. Croce there cites a story of a gentleman meeting an old woman and addressing her as “bellissima.” “Ah, beautiful many years ago, perhaps,” replied the woman; “scarcely now with all these wrinkles.” “Beautiful by reason of those very wrinkles, because they make of you a perfect picture of old age (perchè sei eccellentemente vecchia); indeed, you would be even more beauti
16 Aesthetic, p. 83-4.
Aesthetic, p. 85. 18 See an early essay by Croce, Interno al contenuto Estetico (Primi Saggi, Bari, 1919), p. 167.
ful had you a few wrinkles more.” 19 The ugly, for Croce, is simply unsuccessful expression. Of this there may be degrees, though the absolutely ugly, unlike the absolutely beautiful, is a mere abstraction.
Such, in brief outline, is Croce's theory of art. Of technical objections to his argument we need say but little. On one of his major assumptions, the identification of expression with intuition, and the denial of any importance to the externalization of the artistic dream, even sympathetic critics have attacked him vigorously.20 To dogmatize, as Croce does, in such dim regions of surmise appears, to say the least, blunt and tactless. Technique in art is not to be ruled out by a mere assertion. The finished work of art differs from the first rough draft as the grown oak from the acorn, and to deny importance to the process of growth is to run counter to common sense. Equations are indeed a favorite device of Croce. But to identify intuition with expression, expression with beauty, genius with taste, by even the most clever verbal jugglery, -as he has more recently set historians a puzzle by identifying history with philosophy,—is not always a legitimate triumph of dialectic. Croce presents us with the paradox of a philosopher who is forever dwelling upon distinctions at the same time that he is proving opposites equal.
Croce has, in truth, secured logical consistency in his system only by emptying art of what to most people alone makes art worth while. An aesthetic of pure form-form, however, understood, not as a law of proportion imposed upon the artist's first impulse, but as complete liberty of expression-leaves us little except chaos and void. What is left for Croce apparently is the personal emotion of the artist. Art as lyricism is one of his favorite definitions. 21 His theory is impressionism brought to its logical extreme. The artist, according to Croce, is like Swift's spider, forever spinning himself out into his own web. “The sole excuse,” says Remy de Gourmont in defense of the newer liberty in art, “which a man has for writing is to write down himself, to unveil for others the sort of
19 Primi Saggi, p. 14.
20 See article by Bosanquet, Quarterly Review 231. 359-77. Also Athenaeum, June 11, 1920; Quarterly Review 235. 270-85; London Times Lit. Suppl., Aug. 23, 1918.
31 Nuovi Saggi, p. 29 (Rice Institute, 2. 456).
world which mirrors itself in his individual gloss . . He should create his own aesthetics—and we should admit as many aesthetic systems as there are original minds, and judge them for what they are, and not for what they are not.” 22
Yet Croce's theory is not to be dismissed by a mere label, such as impressionism. At the very moment when we seem to see him pushing his subjectivism to absurdity by ignoring half the facts, we find him deserting his aesthetic compartment and, as Philosopher of Unity, readmitting them in a common-sense fashion. That his theory leads to aestheticism, Signor Croce is the first to deny. Granted that art is mere lyricism; granted that it is the “ dream of the life of knowledge.” “Its complement is waking, lyricism no longer. Thought could not be without fancy; but thought surpasses and contains in itself the fancy, transforms the image into perception, and gives to the world of dreams the clear distinctions and the firm contours of reality. Art cannot achieve this; and however great be our love of art, that cannot raise it in rank, any more than the love one may have for a beautiful child can convert it into an adult; we must accep tthe child as a child, the adult as an adult.” And again: “ The aesthetic of pure intuition is averse to all aestheticism, that is, to every attempt at lowering the life of thought, in order to elevate that of fancy.” 23 In the same way, while asserting the utter moral irresponsibility of art when speaking as aesthetic philosopher merely, Croce is ready, as soon as he finds himself in his economic or ethical compartment, to subject the artist to any desired moral restraint. “If art be beyond morality, the artist is neither this side of it nor that, but under its empire so far as he is a man, and must look upon art itselfwhich is not and never will be moral—as a mission to be exercised as a priestly office.” 24 Although this is a specious argument and appears like a complete revindication of the intellect and the will, it is precisely here that one may see most clearly to what Croce's aesthetic leads. It dismisses art as no great matter, as dreaming;
“ the lowest function of the theoretic spirit.” Art is no longer
2. Preface to his Livre des Masques (Paris, 1896). 28 Aesthetic, tr. Ainslie, p. 401-2.
24 Nuovi Saggi, p. 15 (Rice Institute, 2. 442). Cf. Spingarn, Creative Criticism (New York, 1917). This essay is a sympathetic exposition of Croce's theory.