Page images
PDF
EPUB

artist presents to us models of excellence, superior to what. can be found in the works of nature, or in the productions of artists that have preceded him. By the efforts of genius, he is enabled to make such combinations as others have never made; and taste, by exercising itself in the study of these visions of the mind, reaches a degree of perfection, to which it could never have attained in the study of existing models, or of the scenes of nature. But if imagination thus assists in the cultivation and improvement of taste, taste in return repays the assistance of imagination, by acting as director in the new creations which she forms. Imagination might be furnished with a thousand different forms of beauty, as the materials of her work, and unite them in ten thousand different combinations; but without taste to preside and direct, she could never reach that harmoniousness of effect, that unity of expression, to which nature often attains.

Value of models of excellence in the arts.

From this analysis of the manner in which works in the fine arts are produced, the assistance, which the artist must derive from the study of models of excellence in the arts, may be learnt. Here he sees presented before him, the representations of those beautiful forms of nature, the knowledge of which, without this assistance, he could have obtained only by frequent and tedious processes of observation and analysis. The beau ideal is delineated to his view, and he forms his taste from the contemplation of perfect forms of beauty, instead of those imperfect forms where beauty is mingled with deformity. He sees also the most happy combinations of these forms. He has before him the results which others have made, and is thus placed in advance of

those who are not favored with similar means of improve ment.

The man, who is thus permitted to form his taste from models of excellence around him, may be said to exist in à new creation. He lives where the sun sheds a brighter day, where the clouds are skirted by more brilliant colors, and where nature's carpet shows a richer green. Angelic forms are about him. He ever stands on some chosen spot, and each new scene that presents itself, gives but a varied hue to the emotion of beauty that he feels.

Explanation of the word Picturesque.

We may learn also in this connexion, and by the aid of the principles which have been stated, what is meant, when it is said of some countries, that they present scenes more picturesque than those found in others. This epithet, when applied to natural scenery, relates primarily and principally to the harmoniousness of effect produced on the mind, and implies such a prominence and combination of objects as give an expression or character to the scene.

Nature seems in such instances to perform that work of combination, which, when represented to us on canvass by the skilful painter, we say he has designed by the aid of imagination and taste. The view may or may not present surpassing forms of beauty. We look not at objects individually, but regard them as grouped together and exerting a combined influence. Neither is it implied that the prospect is extensive, and that it embraces numerous and varied objects. On the contrary, picturesque scenes are most frequently those of limited extent, and which contain but few prominent parts.

Revolutions in Taste.

On the principles which have been stated in this chapter, the revolutions of taste may be easily explained. As peculiar circumstances have their influence on the tastes of different individuals, so the manners and customs and peculiar circumstances of different ages, exert their influence on the taste of these ages. The power of these adventitious circumstances is so great, that what in one age is esteemed and pronounced beautiful, in a succeeding age of more refinement, is regarded with disgust. Still it is true, that in this case, as in the diversities of the taste of individuals, there are some works of art, which rise superior to the influence of these accidental causes, and wherever they are known, excite emotions of beauty.

Different qualities of taste explained.

1 shall close this account of taste in general with a short explanation of the qualities, which are most frequently ascribed to it. These are three; Refinement, Delicacy, and. Correctness.

We speak of Refinement of taste in reference to different ages and different periods in the life of an individual. It implies a progřess, so that what is pleasing in one age, or one period of life, is not so in another. The sculptured monument, which in the early ages of a country is regarded with admiration and called beautiful, at a later period is unheeded, or eonsidered rude and unsightly. — The pictures, which in our ehildish years we gazed upon with pleasure, at a more mature time of life, are passed by with neglect. This difference in the feelings with which the same object is regarded at different periods, is found connected with differ

ent advances that have been made in knowledge, and in the cultivation and refinement of the intellectual powers. The emotion of pleasure, felt by the ignorant and half-civilized man when gazing on some rude monument or unsightly picture, is of the same nature as that felt by the man of - knowledge and refinement, while viewing a finished work of sculpture or of painting.

But the latter has become habituated to the exhibition of skill in the works of art. He has become familiar with monuments and paintings, that are better in their design and execution, than those that have been seen by the former; and hence it is, that the production of the artist, which at an earlier period of life would have excited emotions of beauty, is now disregarded. Refinement in taste, then, denotes a progress in the knowledge of what is excellent in works of art, and results from the study of models of excellence.

Delicacy of taste implies a quick and nice perception of whatever is fitted to excite emotions of beauty. He who possesses it, will detect beauties both of design and execution, which pass unnoticed by common men; and when others pronounce a scene beautiful from the general effect on their minds, he will discover and point out all that tends to the production of this effect. This quality of taste results from a habit of careful and minute observation, joined with a quick susceptibility of emotions of beauty. It is also most frequently found in connection with moral purity of feeling, and in its common acceptation, is sometimes used as opposed to what is indelicate.

Correctness of taste evidently refers to an agreement with some standard. What this standard is, has been already shewn. It is the agreeing voice of those, who, from their experience of past emotions, are able to form a judgment on what is fitted to excite emotions of beauty. He, then, who has correctness of taste, feels and judges, in reference to

objects which come under the cognizance of taste, in agreement with the only true standard of taste.

Different uses of the word Taste.

It will at once be seen, that in the preceding account of taste, the word is used in a sense, different from that often applied to it in its common acceptation. We speak of a taste for some particular occupation, for some amusement or study, when all that is meant to be expressed, is, that there is a fondness, or inclination of the mind, for the pursuit, and the word fondness or inclination would better convey our meaning. It must be obvious to all, that the rhetorical useof the word is quite different.

The definition here given of taste is also different from that found in Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric, which, as a textbook, is in most frequent use. He defines taste to be the power of receiving pleasure or pain from the beauties or deformities of nature and art. The definition which has been given of it in this chapter, makes it of a more discriminating principle. It implies, that the man of taste is able to discern what in nature and art is fitted to excite this feeling of pleasure and pain, while the power of receiving this pleasure is. called sensibility. That there is ground for this distinction, is evident from the fact already stated, that some men are highly susceptible of emotions of beauty, who, at the same time, are utterly destitute of good taste.

Technical Taste.

Neither is it the case, that in all instances where the word taste is used, reference is had to the standard, which has been stated in this chapter to be the true standard of taste. A man is sometimes called a man of taste, when his

« PreviousContinue »