Emotion For Emotion's Sake v. Ideas For Ideas' Sake
The Problem of Art. By Peter Green, M.A., D.D. (Longman% Green, 6s.)
Reviewed by VICTOR BENNETT Most people who are interested in the fate of art now recognise the need of establishing an orthodoxy in the philosophy of art, and at this peculiar moment it may be that the future depends more upon the philosopher than it does upon the practising artist.
Though this is not necessarily the view of Canon Peter Green, he wishes for his own proper reasons to take the philosophy of art out of the hands of the pedants and to establish an orthodoxy by popular consent. To this task he brings a fair amount of reading, many years of experience and reflection and a lively pen. There is nothing tentative about his book. One likes his easy style, his gusto and exuberant dogmatism. These seem to be just the qualities required, for they hold the reader and make him think. Not so admirable is the theory he wishes to have enthroned.
It is (and he begs "any reader of this book, and especially any reviewers who may condescend to notice it. to concentrate their attention on this point") that art is the expression of emotion for the sake of emotion, and he opposes this in uncompromising fashion to the theory that art is the expression of ideas for the sake of ideas. It is unfortunate that he does not define his two key words, " Expression " and " Emotion," and the reader would be well advised while following the author's thought to supply definitions for himself.
Emotion is defined by St. Thomas as a motion of the sensitive appetite, either by way of attraction or aversion, in the presence of some good or evil thing, and he says that it is, or should be. under the governance of the intellect and the will, which are powers of the soul (Summa, P.S., Qs. 22-24).
Expression is simply the embodiment of an idea. The painter, for example, may embody the idea of a landscape in paint and canvas, and the essayist may embody his reflections on life in prose. Invariably one expresses an idea, and the word "expression " does not relate to anything but ideas.
In the light of these definitions the facts with which Canon Green tries to grapple are these. The artist is emotionally drawn towards an idea. It is for this reason that he selects it for expression, and his emotional attitude towards the idea is sufficiently indicated by the fact that he does so select it. He proceeds to express the idea as luminously as possible, and it becomes embodied in a work of art. Those who can appreciate the work of art discern the idea embodied in it and are themselves drawn emotionally towards it. Emotion, then, is normal both to the artist and to the artist's public, but that emotion is governed by the idea which, embodied in the work of art, occupies a central position between them. These, in brief, are the relative places of idea and emotion in art, following from the definitions above.
The Canon, however, will have it that the artist actually succeeds in locating his emotion in the work of art. The artist could, of course, locate there the idea of emotion, though he is not bound to do so, but the author will not admit even on these to ,ms that the work of art is essentially the embodiment of an idea. He insists that the artist's emotion as such is somehow put into his work, and though he acknowledges that most art forms cannot help including an idea also, he holds it possible (music is his instance) to transmit an emotion without the intervention of an idea at all. But since expression treats solely of ideas and emotion only exists on account of them, " the expression of emotion " as he uses the phrase is not only impossible but meaningless. A rude parallel to his theory would be to say that the City of Manchester contains my desire to go there.
Having enthroned emotion. Canon Green is led on, in order to justify art, to the assertion that the emotions rank with the intellect and the will and so there is nothing base about "emotion for the sake of emotion " as he conceives the aim of art to he. But those who agree with St. Thomas' definition above will not be able to follow the Canon to this conclusion. " Emotion for the sake of emotion" seems to be a fair definition of sentimentality, while "emotion divorced from idea" (another of his favourite phrases) seems to be a fair definition of hysteria. Apart from other objections, his theory does seem to debase art.
It is interesting to note, however, how in the course of the book the author is again and again betrayed into phrases that are incoMpatible with his theory as formulated, an I this added to many exact observations 1 ads one to suppose that he is less astray t an his bad formula makes him appear.