The Beautiful: An Introduction to Psychological Aesthetics
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What is the nature of attraction; what is it that makes us regard one person, object or artwork as visually or aesthetically pleasing, while considering another to be unattractive? In a series of engaging and well-argued essays, author Vernon Lee, who is credited for introducing the concept of empathy into the English language, tackles this issue from a number of different perspectives. This book takes beauty as already existing and enjoyed, and seeks to analyze and account for Beauty's existence and enjoyment. More strictly speaking, it analyzes and accounts for Beauty not inasmuch as existing in certain objects and processes, but rather as calling forth (and being called forth by) a particular group of mental activities and habits. It does not ask: What are the peculiarities of the things (and the proceedings) which we call Beautiful? but: What are the peculiarities of our thinking and feeling when in the presence of a thing to which we apply this adjective? The study of single beautiful things, and even more, the comparison of various categories thereof, is indeed one-half of all scientific aesthetics, but only inasmuch as it adds to our knowledge of the particular mental activities which such "Beautiful" (and vice versa "Ugly") things elicit in us. For it is on the nature of this active response on our own part that depends the application of those terms Beautiful and Ugly in every single instance; and indeed their application in any instances whatsoever, their very existence in the human vocabulary.
it could never suggest any connexion with it. Given a favourable emotional attitude and the absence of obvious extrinsic (technical or historical) reasons for scepticism, these elements of resemblance must awaken the vague idea, especially the empathic scheme, of the particular master's work, and his name—shall we say Leonardo's?—will rise to the lips. But Leonardo is a name to conjure with, and in this case to destroy the conjurer himself: the word Leonardo implies an emotion, distilled from a
* SOME of my Readers, not satisfied by the answer implicit in the last chapter and indeed in the whole of this little book, may ask a final question concerning our subject. Not: What is the use of Art? since, as we have seen, Art has many and various uses both to the individual and to the community, each of which uses is independent of the attainment of Beauty. The remaining question concerns the usefulness of the very demand for Beauty, of that Aesthetic Imperative by which the other uses of
exquisitely phrased skyline of the furthermost hills, picked up at rhythmical intervals into sharp crests, dropping down merely to rush up again in long concave curves, was merely an illusion of perspective, nearer lines seeming higher and further ones lower, let alone that from a balloon you would see only flattened mounds. But to how things might look from a balloon, or under a microscope, that man did not give one thought, any more than to how they might look after a hundred years of tramways
the possibility of centaurs has been intended by the Art, and not merely read into it by ourselves. But more of this when we come to the examination of Subject and Form. Chapter IV — Sensations * IN the contemplation of the Aspect before him, what gave that aesthetic man the most immediate and undoubted pleasure was its colour, or, more correctly speaking, its colours. Psycho-Physiologists have not yet told us why colours, taken singly and apart from their juxtaposition, should possess
expect to be given in an immediately proximate future; both of which, the past which is put behind us as past, and the past which is projected forwards as future, necessitate the activity of memory. There is an adjustment of our feelings as well as our muscles not merely to the present sensation, but to the future one, and a buzz of continuing adjustment to the past. There is a holding over and a holding on, a reacting backwards and forwards of our attention, and quite a little drama of