Clive Bell's Aesthetic: Tradition and Significant Form Author(s): Thomas M.

McLaughlin Source: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 35, No. 4 (Summer, 1977), pp. 433443 Published by: Wiley on behalf of The American Society for Aesthetics Stable URL: . Accessed: 23/12/2013 06:13
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact


Wiley and The American Society for Aesthetics are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.

This content downloaded from on Mon, 23 Dec 2013 06:13:50 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

his system can legitimately be questioned on several important issues. but because he is so often invidiously compared to Roger Fry. At the outset of his career. in Art (1913). explanations into more limited formulas or by ignoring all of his works but his most famous. Introduction CLIVEBELLhas often been dismissed by aes- theticians and art critics who demand rigorous logic in their disciplines. No one. Bell has unfortunately. has denied his sensibility. whose superiority need not be secured at Bell's expense. The system depends on Bell's formulation of a theory of tradition which provides a coherent explanation of the process by which form is imposed on the world. Bell is often attacked for failing to provide an adequate definition of "significant form" by critics who have apparently considered only his first attempt to do so. simply to dismiss Bell (as some critics have done) because of the apparent circularity of one of his arguments . and the setting in which the phrase first appeared has been forgotten.2Similarly.24 on Mon. MCLAUGIILIN is visiting assistant professor in the department of English at Temple University.3 When Bell's entire career is considered. This is not to overlook the weaknesses in Bell's theory. Art. though. In fact. that a critic whose method depended so much on the articulation of his direct emotional responses to various works of art should also construct a consistent aesthetic theory is itself an achievement that deserves our attention. inconsistencies. For example. However." His reputation has suffered not only because of his own weaknesses. They point persuasively to his circular reasoning. Significant Form I. But Bell claimed for himself more than sensibility. In addition.the definition of significant form . if his conception of form is reduced to "outline. then an antagonistic critic can easily dismiss Bell's theory as rigid and narrow.THOMAS M." as it was by one reviewer of Art. especially since he championed the artists of his time who have survived to be recognized universally as masters. if inevitably. and which anticipates at least in part many of the objections raised against him. can be distorted either by arbitrarily translating his THOMASM. he designated the qualities that aesthetic thinking demands: "artistic sensibility and a turn for clear thinking. a more fully developed aesthetic system than his detractors have been willing to recognize is apparent. and even overt contradictions. Bell's to overlook his considerable achievement both as a critic and as a theoretician.82.208. but many of his critics have since questioned his "clear thinking. McLAUGHLIN Clive Tradition Bell's and Aesthetic." and has suffered the fate common to any critic whose impact relies on one memorable phrase: the rest of his career has been neglected. Bell's system attains its theoretical con- This content downloaded from 68. been identified almost completely with the phrase "significant form. then." 1 Obviously he considered himself so qualified. 23 Dec 2013 06:13:50 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .

must be seen over against its opposite to be fully understood. Such an argument is obviously circular. spond to life. but has been blurred in his time by the constant enshrinement in officially sanctioned art of the common emofamiliarity with its emotions . and volume. and that critics foster attention to at least. In reaction to the nineteenthcentury academic tradition.tions of everyday life.24 on Mon. then. "we need bring with us nothing from life. Bell says. and then argues that all art must possess some quality to which this emotion responds. illustrations of life cannot cause it.82. mass. he still maintains that the function of the highest art is to produce this aesthetic emotion. forms. but this flaw results more from the imprecise language of Bell's first attempt at a definition than from inherent conceptual weaknesses in his fully developed exposition of the problem.tween form as an end in itself and form as sistency in spite of local faults. This emotion is peculartists force their audience to see forms as iar to the experience of art. and an examination of Bell's later explanations clarifies some of the confusions actually present in the early definition. p. therefore. which he then defines as form capable of stirring aesthetic emotion. the potential for aesthetic emotion is deeply human. but as means of suggesting emotion or conveying information" (Art.this historical movement be reversed. the vast majority. and so his normal significant form. . Bell's answer. so that spectators may experience the world outside of art. to to this emotion. Significant form is these elements seen as visual pattern. then. indeed. an amoral allure what Bell defines as the purpose of art. Bell usually speaks of art in terms of its purely visual qualities. p.5 Bell demands that ment we are shut off from human inter.4 Bell's critics usually formulate his circular thinking in this way: he begins his analysis by asserting the existence of a purely aesthetic emotion. Bell does begin by arguing for the existence of "a particular kind of emotion provoked by works of visual art" (Art. 23 Dec 2013 06:13:50 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . the emphasis must this isolated experience. p. color. rather than seen as representations of the external world. cut off from life. What differentiates fall on the word "aesthetic" as opposed to this aesthetic emotion. the spectator observes a transport the viewer into a purely artistic scene or a pattern which does not in any world. 22). The validity of these claims will be considered later. and strongly distinguishes this aesthetic emotion from those which respond to life. When Bell defines direct sense concern him. 27). "life" emotions. Meager has noted that." Bell argues. in such works. even the faults deserve close critical attention because of the revelations they provide about the very habits of thought that produced the system. as that which proinstincts and ideals can be set aside during vokes aesthetic emotion. as line. cannot respond aesthetically to the form. but their importance here is in the task that they set for Bell. . but it is only a reduced version of Bell's actual argument. Since this emotion is cause the events that they witness in that absolutely distinct from those which reworld demand from them a moral response. it follows that forms seen as in art they are free to be merely spectators. Only to respond as uninvolved.aesthetic emotion. that is. A closer look at "The Aesthetic Hypothesis" shows that the circularity is more apparent than real. significant form. that ests .434 MC LAUGHLIN mits that some art excites the emotions of life. for a mo. that is.forms seen as ends in themselves can achieve bilities. significant form. R. For example. no This content downloaded from 68. which Bell and all of Bloomsbury accused of reducing art to illustration. and has thus denied that which is peculiar to art. "forms are used not as objects of emotion. detached sensi. . is its detached. he insists on seeing each element of a work primarily as part of an interrelating structure. to Bell. There is. 17). ." (Art. "To appreciate a work of art. They cannot do so be.208. While Bell ad. the definition of significant form has often been sharply criticized as circular. no knowledge of its ideas and affairs. and the distinction bealmost impersonal quality. What Bell calls "descriptive painting" is that in which the artist has directed his spectators' attention to forms as illustrations. He will attempt to discover what it is in the work of art that is the ground for this particular emotion.

and forces him to grow. and skill" of the works." and that therefore no argument is possible. because he aims at revealing his opponents as philistine fools rather than at developing a coherent argument for what seems to him self-evident. to accommodate this new perspective. Richards first clashed with Bell on this issue. and so their formal qualities were foregrounded. for example. under the control of the artist's technique. Bell's ad hominem argument can be seen as a justifiably angry and rhetorically effective response to Richards's scientific absolutism. that art produces a "finer organization" of emotions which occur elsewhere. At the same time. Bell answers Richards's criticism only by suggesting that Richards was incapable of an aesthetic experience. but denies them full artistic status because they are not the products of individuals. its strongest emotions are brought directly into play.24 on Mon. but that its existence is self-evident. known by what G. Nevertheless. one which has been shaped not only by other aesthetic experiences but by his daily interaction with the world. often more vitriolic than rational. He is looking for a defense against emotion. however. Similarly. taste. distanced spectator is illusory. but their interchange provides little intentional illumination. What Bell misses is the dialectical pressure between the work of art and the normal emotional patterns of the spectator. Moore calls an "intuition. and knows instinctively the quality that causes it. It could be argued. not growth. and so could not encompass it in his psychology. but the spectator must bring with him into the experience his own sensibility. An interchange occurs in that moment in which the powerful work of art reveals the limitations of the spectator's vision. Further. that any person of taste and refinement had experienced and could identify an aesthetic emotion. Certainly his emotions are altered under the pressure of the artist's vision. quality. He seems to have assumed that no further argument was necessary. E. Interpreted in this way. His arguments are. The Aesthetic Emotion More damaging than the charge of circularity is the controversy over the very existence of a purely aesthetic emotion.8 Bell praises the "beauty. 23 Dec 2013 06:13:50 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . it must be admitted that Bell does not often press himself to explain away the circularity. and has been more influential. the man who views art divests himself of all prior emotional tendencies in order to experience this new and higher emotion.82." 6 Although Richards's solution to the problem. Bell does avoid simple circularity.208. His argument assumes not only that the aesthetic emotion should be immediately accepted by any cultivated man. Thus Bell's image of a morally detached. despite the admitted flaws in his presentation.7 But Bell's certainty has not been shared by re- 435 cent commentators. A. asserting that "psychology has no place for such an entity. Bell's vision of aesthetic emotion is almost apocalyptic. Bell can be seen as making necessary distinctions rather than as constructing a mere tautology. therefore. that even in the midst of an aesthetic experience the responses of the spectator are influenced in great part by his normal emotional patterns. because at the time their historical context was unknown. but rather This content downloaded from 68. Bell's approach to African sculpture reveals the inevitable intermixing of "life" emotions in the response to art. Bell's theory of aesthetic emotion in fact reveals a spectator so willing to receive the momentary salvation of art that he cannot play his part in the real imaginative exchange.Clive Bell's Aesthetic an illustration must be remembered. Whether the audience wills it or not. These works were crucial to his development of the concept of significant form. Richards simply denies the existence of an aesthetic emotion. I. but it in fact reveals much more about Bell's position on this issue. and indeed the assertion that the emotional response to art is absolutely distinct from life-emotions seems extreme and rigid rather than obvious. 'at least in his terms. II. may seem more satisfying. For example. much of Bell's occasional criticism suggests the practical impossibility of experiencing a purely aesthetic emotion. in this argument he gives no compelling reasons for rejecting Bell's position.

purely subjective causes may account for the response (p. Whiting. There Bell sees only "clatter and tumult. for example. one commentator has accurately described Bell's work as an "elucidation of the aesthetic thrill. Certainly a subjective experience is the clue that a given set of forms should be seen in this way.11 The aesthetic emotion. "I have no right to consider anything a work of art to which I cannot react emotionally" (Art. especially since the more general notion that all criticism and aesthetics should retain the integrity of the original experience of the work is shared by a wide range of critics. His system is frankly subjective. Although the existence of a purely aesthetic emotion is at least questionable. Kant. which required that he separate the art that he so valued from the world that he feared.436 MC LAUGHLIN have been produced unself-consciously. expressed in Since Cezanne." It is the very function of art to raise man above this "grey and trivial affair. but it is not a sufficient reason for such an assertion. Since Bell's system is so subjective. First.'3 But criticizing Bell on these grounds raises two distinct difficulties." and "incoherent facts. Secondly. Once an aesthetic emotion has been experienced. then. much as birds produce their nests. in the end. Bell's continuous reference to the high spiritual value of art indicates the importance that he attaches to the aesthetic emotion. He cannot remain morally neutral to works which question his beliefs. then. he is neither the first nor the most influential thinker to claim that art can only be recognized through the existence of a particular mental state. even if he does not share Bell's assumptions. suggested that the underlying cause of Bell's belief in a purely aesthetic emotion was his fear of life. Strong emotion is necessary for an assertion that significant form exists. Many of his critics have asserted that no true critical judgments are possible if they spring from subjective experience.9 F. Such a failure on Bell's part must bring his entire argument on the nature of aesthetic emotion into question. This content downloaded from 68. since the origin of the emotions of life is of such dubious value.10 Although it is difficult to reconstruct Bell's mental state. and to the distance that it provides from life. p. 23 Dec 2013 06:13:50 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . 164). and cannot be criticized in isolation. it provides the starting point for Bell's more successful theoretical work and for his practical criticism. some critics have charged that he simply extended his personal tastes into a theory of art. Lawrence Buermayer. would need to be held distinct. the spectator can then point to the work to show the grounds for his emotion. disordered state of the external world. 18). The ways in which this subjectivity shapes Bell's critical practice are not always beneficial. but Bell maintains that the experience leads us to objectively existing forms. Bell's cultural preconceptions dictate his response. that the existence of a good response is not an infallible sign of great art. contends that we recognize beauty only through our experience of the equilibrium of certain internal powers." to release him from normal perceptions and daily emotions.82. in an early review of Enjoying Pictures. 16-17). The forms to which the spectator responds do exist objectively. As Bell said.208. his criticism communicates his emotion forcefully enough to lead his reader to a sympathetic experience of the work. where a detached analysis of pure form is rhetorically necessary. his beliefs cannot be altered by these new works of art. there are numerous references in his criticism to the unsatisfying.24 on Mon. In fact. Here. but at its best. the real limitation of his approach is revealed by the fact that. The critic who most firmly denies the role of normal emotional patterns in his response is most liable to their subtle influence. Further. A. those who criticize Bell's subjectivity often ignore the objective phase of his theory. since other. Bell.14One indication of Bell's objective phase is his admonition. Bell's entire career can be seen as an attempt to educate the visual sensibilities of the public so that they could see those forms more clearly. for example. participates in a much larger historical phenomenon." 12 Bell himself announces his subjective base in Art: "the starting point for all systems of aesthetics must be the personal experience of a peculiar emotion" (pp.

It is more accurate to depict Bell. it is doubtful that his theoretical system was ever limited absolutely to the range of his sensibility. and then creating a theory to account for the qualities he had perceived there. In that work only "primitive" art. but more significantly. of which Cezanne. retains the virtue of consistency. or to canons of taste derived from a narrow sensibility.24 on Mon. Bell is simply attempting to construct a theory to 437 account for paintings which the accepted theory of his time would not allow him to understand. It is the definition of significant form that causes extensive questions regarding the internal coherence of Bell's aesthetics. He now constructs a continuing tradition of great artists. since it dismisses works valued by more flexible tastes which would result in a more inclusive theory. In this context. which had elevated Byzantine art and Cezanne into lonely achievements on opposite ends of a period of great decline. the rest of Bell's system derives from it directly. but it does not necessarily limit him to expressing his own responses. though. Similarly. 23 Dec 2013 06:13:50 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . while in Enjoying Pictures (1934). Bell discards his earlier view of the history of painting. was judged by the dominant canon of verisimilitude. particularly Art. as some critics have done.15 Buermayer apparently objects not so much to the practice of basing an aesthetic on one's personal tastes. and yet differ about particular works of art" (p. but rather to the restrictions of Bell's own taste. is indicated by his later recognition that the fault lay with traditional critics." 18 Bell's system was intended to reduce the obvious gap between practice and theory. 120). That is. in Since Cezanne. "we may all agree about aesthetics. In Art. Bell certainly does display limited taste. develops from a tentative speculation in Art to a fully developed governing principle in later works.208. The definition of significant form. for example. for example. and which Bell rightly assumed would be hostile to these new artists. to widen the definition of art to include the vigorous creative artists of his time. including many he had denigrated in Art. Even in Art Bell says. so long as both agreed on the quality being discussed. Bell admits that he might not see significant form in a work. he was declared a "botcher. it should be noted that Bell's tastes become more catholic as he realized that significant form could coexist with even a strong representational element. and postImpressionism are sanctioned. not with traditional artists. they are aimed at an audience which had been educated under the old theories.17 When Cezanne. hypotheses which are never adequately tested or defended This content downloaded from 68. for example. and that his own appreciation of Raphael had been perverted by his overreaction to the false use to which his works had been put. Tradition and Significant Form The development apparent in Bell's range of taste perhaps accounts for the increasingly confident tone of his theoretical speculations. If Art is taken as an example. and yet have no quarrel in theory with a critic who did. especially of the Byzantine period.16 Bell's tastes. He realized.Clive Bell's Aesthetic argues that Bell's theory is inevitably narrow and exclusive. that the academy had misunderstood Raphael. Bell believed that the emotion he experienced in the presence of modern art differed in quality from that which purely representational art elicited. Raphael plays the role of the darling of the corrupt Academy (p. while the entire Renaissance is depicted as decadent. it is clear. The definition of the aesthetic emotion. As Morris Weitz has pointed out. This movement is typical of Bell's thought. then. especially. it is not surprising that the rhetoric of the attempt to widen the definition of art at times demanded a rejection of the preeminent models that Bell's opponents upheld. III. His books. for all his experimentation. as accepting a new and challenging artistic style. However. are polemical. Bell lavishes on Raphael perhaps the highest praise expressed in his criticism. questionable as it is. 19). His growth as a critic. became increasingly inclusive. Undeniably. Bell's system is thoroughly subjective at its outset. who were capable of creating significant form even in the midst of a representational intention.82. is a reaffirmation.

the claim that art begins in the artist's own aesthetic experience of the world is impossible. In Art Bell's theory amounts to a statement of his faith in the superior ordering powers of artists. In fact.20 In some way the artist must be able to see as form what others . he "removed all unnecessary barriers between what [artists] felt and its realization in form" (Since Cezanne.438 MC LAUGHLIN seem later to be taken for granted. Elliott and Solomon Fishman have shown. To see objects as ordered and significant. The tone in these passages is confident and dogmatic. p. Elliott has pointed out in his brilliant essay on Bell.82. Thus for the artist. K. By Since Cezanne (1922). insignificant. 15). he is not simply equating significance and self-expression. Bell says. he sees objects as "things in themselves. 30)." in Bell's terms. as forms to be admired rather than as matter to be manipulated. is uniquely capable of seeing the external world as form. who sees about him a more hospitable. or it can be seen as one more instance of his uncritical veneration of artists. As R. then the distinction between art and that world cannot be so complete as Bell claims. K. Here Bell asserts that the artist "creates forms that shall correspond with his intimate sense of the significance of things" (p. and in 1919 suggested this explanation of the difference between the significance of art and the mere beauty of nature: "in a work of art an artist expresses an emotion. They are so thoroughly assumed that they are no longer the subject of speculations but rather the basis for new investigations. in Since Cezanne his faith has been confirmed. 45). and defines "the proper end of art" as "externalizing in form an aesthetic experience" (p. 101). The metaphysical hypothesis became more acceptable to Bell as his successful models reinforced for him its plausibility. he offers an implicit answer to these objections. if the artist can discover significant form in the external world. so the artist is susceptible to form in the external world. p. 23 Dec 2013 06:13:50 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . the artist must somehow see them "not as means shrouded in associations. and thus of responding to it in a way which will eventually induce the aesthetic emotion in his spectators. "life" emotions are as irrelevant as they are to the spectator. It is in this sense that the artist reveals the "ultimate reality" (Art. Otherwise. far from hesitant. Not only had Bell proved to be right and Cezanne's critical detractors come reluctantly to accept him. more orderly world. Explanations for this inconsistency have varied: it has plausibly been dismissed as one of Bell's careless contradictions. but especially in Since Cezanne. p. certainly not in the collection of "incoherent facts" that Bell more typically sees in the world. 45) of the external world.24 on Mon. They lead him away from an object's shape and texture into the learned emotional associations that objects used throughout man's life accrue.208. Bell was aware of the confusion provoked by his definition. The chaotic. The artist.19 Just as the work's form appeals to the spectator. 43).including Bell . His continued devotion to Cezanne seems to have been the catalyst for his developing confidence. fragmented world in which Bell habitually lives and from which he hopes art can deliver him seems to be suspended for the artist. in that sense." 21 This attempt at simplifying the issue unfortunately adds to the con- This content downloaded from 68. Therefore. two serious difficulties still arise with regard to his explanation of significance. Cezanne was the breakthrough. As R. p. slowly extricating himself from the paradox. but the new masters of the modern French movement also followed in his direction. underlying the definition of significance is the assumption that the artist's and the spectator's experiences are identical.see as chaos. since significance can only be encountered in an ordered object. throughout his career. and as he realized that it applied to artists whom he had previously rejected. the expressive nature of art has become an underlying principle. He suggests that true art recreates and gives artistic form to the artist's own aesthetic response to the world. Although Bell became increasingly convinced of the truth of his hypothesis. but as pure forms" (Art. when Bell announces that "created form moves us so profoundly because it expresses the emotion of its creator" (Art. whereas the flower and the gem express nothing and are.

The works of the past provide him with structures which at once order and ennoble the visible world. his career 439 becomes truncated and distorted. although Bell never connected it to the metaphysical hypothesis. The artistic problem is that which focuses the artist's powers so that a new aesthetic order can be imposed.24 on Mon. are suggested by the fact that so much interpretation and synthesis is required from a reader of his works to construct a coherent theory from his less systematic approach. This provokes the second major objection to the theory. Eliot. If Since Cezanne does not take up the problems that arose in Art. and also his respect for artists. seeing it as the source of each artist's solution to his problem (p.Clive Bell's Aesthetic fusion. Sensibility is that openness to ecstasy which occurs when the significance of external objects becomes apparent. they arise from his own flawed formulation of the metaphysical hypothesis. expresses. or as "an indispensible means to self- This content downloaded from 68. of course. 23 Dec 2013 06:13:50 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Bell's limitations as a theorist. 41-43). as beings capable of experiences higher than his own. and developed and applied in Since Cezanne. then we must posit in Bell a lack of intellectual continuity and integrity more massive than any of his most virulent critics suggest. Further.23 Those who are not artists can only recognize significant form in art. Bell even suggests in another context that. an implicit answer does arise. the natural world. which his creation. Unconsciously these works exclude from his vision the trivial. mundane facts that entrap Bell. as we have seen. the metaphysical hypothesis states that the emotion expressed by art is precisely the artist's sense of the significance of things. since he was then ascribing to artists an emotion foreign to his experience. He divides the creative process into two parts. benefits more subtly from the same ordering power of art. and C. However. indebted strongly to T. The gap between Bell's experience and that which he imputes to artists may explain at once the tentativeness of the original metaphysical hypothesis. conscious answer to these objections. Bell's theory of composition explains how these higher experiences can occur. 76)." 24 The artist himself. but the connections can still legitimately be made without falsifying the material that he could have provided in his own defense. Bell most directly connects the tradition to the artistic problem. if significance and expression are related. whose emotion does it express? Jerome Stolnitz has noticed this problem. the artist lives in a world which. S. if these connections are ignored. J. It is through Bell's theory of tradition. since. and his intention here is simply to trivialize Bell's argument. pp. however. "sensibility" and "the artistic problem" (Since Cezanne. and his use of "discover" to describe the creation of form cannot be taken literally as signifying his belief in a world in which order can be found. which he admits is foreign to Bell but nevertheless seems to him to be implied by an "expressive" external world. Landmarks in Nineteenth Century Painting. Ducasse takes it an incongruous further step. objects are somehow themselves expressive. his perception of the world becomes conditioned by the artistic orders which he has encountered. The tone of Ducasse's essay mocks Bell rather than controverting him.82. He uses terms like "expressive" with too little rigor. and if the artist sees significance in the world. and An Account of French Painting. Bell never makes the connections that I will suggest here. Bell's problems with these issues have not been manufactured by hostile critics. Bell's theory of tradition provides the solution to the apparent contradiction that Elliott points out. its results remain with him whenever his creative vision is in play. for him. and then wonders what was the object of the artistic creator god's emotion. Although Bell's works do not provide a direct. In Since Cezanne Bell sees the artist as living within a world of art. Because these past works are themselves ordered and significant. to the artist. has already been transformed when he turns his conscious mind to the task of creation. that the difficulties are diminished. Through his training and his natural interest in the works of other artists.208.22He imports into the discussion a divine figure. where it has been "ordered for [their] apprehension.

the verbal context that his entire critical canon establishes demands that we read the word as shorthand for apparent discovery by means of an unconscious imposition of forms derived from the tradition of art." then. Bell implies that significance exists in the external world only to artists. 137-emphasis added). and provides a general historical explanation for the difference. then. In Art he contrasts the primitive with art which displays representational skill. without needing to transform them in any way. The work of art retains its unique quality. His struggle. suggesting that order exists in the world to be found by the artist. out of This content downloaded from 68. he does not intend the word to carry a simple historical meaning. if significance is imposed by the artist through the tradition. then. All works are. the earliest primitive artists. There is evidence that Bell employed such an assumption in his practical criticism. occurs between the individual artist and the artists of the past. is to express his own unique sensibility and join the tradition. 191). In fact. and it is clear that the tradition operates directly on Turner's actual visual experience.25 No work of the tradition will embody the new artist's personality and mode of perception perfectly. the extended theory of tradition answers Ducasse's and Stolnitz's objection to Bell's argument that significance exists in the world. Anyone can perceive the significance of art works. in effect he comes into direct contact with the emotions of other artists.82. Bell's entire aesthetic system explains the dilemma posed by Art. p. the creation of significant form. then. Similarly. When Bell uses a term like "discover. 75).440 MC LAUGHLIN expression" (p. Bell associates the primitive not only with the earliest origins of art. he sees in the world only the structures that he has unconsciously imposed on it. as imaginations interrelated in the new artist's mind. from a difficulty in articulation rather than in conception. that "the subject is seen purely in terms of art" (Landmarks. He seems to have lacked the sustained intellectual rigor to forge some of these connections within material written over a twenty year period. Turner's immersion in the world of art alters his perception so that the world appears as already formed with a significance of its own. The work of art is visibly significant because it expresses the emotions of the artist. That is. Bell notes the influence of Japanese art on the visual experience of Degas (Landmarks.208. p. The determining interaction in the creative act. again. Bell's sense of tradition is closely allied with his use of the term "primitive" to describe authentic art. The individual psychological structures of each artist interact with the tradition so that new visions are always enriching it.26 Although the term is available to Bell because of the renewed popularity in his time of early African art. offering compelling new solutions. but with any artist who returns to its fundamental task. at no time is there an unmediated vision of the external world. The contradiction that Elliott sees in Bell's work results. seeing artists as traditional places them in a world of pure art (p.24 on Mon. who are the composite god that creates expressive emotion in the world. He says of Turner. The world is significant to the artist because of his superior powers of "self-assertion". the artists of the past merely provide technical possibilities which the artist can utilize when necessary. which corresponds to his own psychological makeup more profoundly. of course. whose emotions do they express? Within Bell's system. 125). In this case. imperfect frames for the artist. When a given artist looks at the world. if the objects in the world are significant. for example. In Bell's vision. since Bell also asserts that Turner simply reports what he sees without producing mere illustrations. he must fashion with their aid and direction an object which embodies his vision more precisely. Similarly. there is no need to invent a creator god expressing himself in natural form. However. then it is the artists of the past themselves. 23 Dec 2013 06:13:50 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . if as Bell says. therefore. but his mind re- turns fruitfully to the same problem. Interpreted in the way that I have suggested. On this level. then the influence of tradition must extend to sensibility.

27 cal. "savages create furiously." his need to create the new in the face of the monuments of the past. in effect all true art has become revolutionary. in Bell's view." and each artist must retain that primitive energy if the past is to act as his partner rather than his adversary. They include nothing in their work that does not contribute to its design. 23 Dec 2013 06:13:50 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . . which seems to be a hymn to man's civilized achievement. which worship the art of the past. has always been resisted by those who have gained power through representational skill. Bell's Civilization. but he must bring to the task his own perceptual experience and imagination.Clive Bell's Aesthetic ritualistic requirements and religious fervor. Either he uses the tradi- This content downloaded from 68. This is especially critical for artists who live in highly civilized ages. 113). but he later realized that the conflict was perpetual.24 on Mon. In Since Cezanne Bell identifies the tradition as including all artists who choose to create significant form (p." or it can become a sacred and unalterable edifice. 97). are primitives in their concern for formal significance. He sees that the artist can at times face a danger more powerful than the corrupt and successful figures of his time. Ages which lose touch with the primitive create "obsequious art . That is. histori- 441 representation has become to the establishment the sole criterion of quality. Such patrons are. and their tastes must be flattered (p. the true artist instinctively recognizes the genuine purpose of art and then immerses himself in the works of other artists who have achieved this purpose. he cannot merely imitate his predecessors. necessarily vulgar. for example.82. Such a society may venerate its artistic past and thus intimidate its own artists into repeating past successes. and demand representations of the objects that they gain pleasure in possessing. may instead overpower him with a sense of what Harold Bloom would call his "belatedness. created a spiritual art which aimed at simplicity and purity. but predictable store of works (Civilization. the tradition itself. In each age. Concurrently. eclectic. official. Artist's like Cezanne also share the primitive emphasis on spirituality. plutocratic. and so unique sensibilities give way to a rich. 75). precisely because it has not needed to rebel against a corrupt authority. and Bell is fully aware of its possible consequences. in Bell's view. Thus. in fact attempts to define the limits of civilization's values. They avoid all reference to the brute. Tradition must remain for him that "indispensible means of selfexpression. The post-Impressionists. 91). p. and vulgar" (p. For this reason. the role of the artist becomes specialized. and artists must compete for patrons by developing meticulous skill at imitation. 26). says Bell. especially in Bell's time. As Bell says. since he would then not express his own responses and could not create the truly expressive form that makes artists a part of the continuing tradition. But. French painters are the direct descendants of a tradition too noble to be rejected. the genuine artist must outrage the tastes of his spectators and contemporary judges. rich patrons begin to finance art. . and oppose the academic artists of their time (personified by the Royal Academy) who value only exact imitation of nature. descriptive. This art excluded all reference to irrelevant detail and called its spectators into contact with the world of the spirit. as civilization develops. Bell's original paradigm for this conflict was the gradual change from Byzantine to Renaissance art. French painting. especially since the Renaissance. thus suggesting that it is a tradition of primitives. is that "formal significance loses itself in preoccupation with exact representation and ostentatious cunning" (p. untransformed world that man wishes to escape through art. palatial. has not produced as many original personalities as the English. Thus the artist must return to the tradition to fulfill his purpose. in order to gain a permanent importance and to provide the highest possible spiritual benefit to his true audience. Byzantine significance and Renaissance representation conflict. and thus to the spectator's spiritual exaltation. whose function is to enable the artist's creation. when There is a darker side to the artist's relationship with the tradition. But this effort.208. The result.

however. 23 Dec 2013 06:13:50 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . one which asserts its difference from the real. Without the contribution that connecting his earlier and later works does other creators have unconsciously given. yet filtered through a process so subtle as to allow the artist him'Clive Bell. or it stifles his belief in his creative powers. Since Cezanne (New York. and can RI. Art (1913. This example is only the tion in his own struggle against complacent taste. 5 (1965). althe artist would be trapped in a world in though it does call into question his rhewhich order is impossible. edition. not diminish Bell's theoretical system. For Bell. Bell combined this commitment to aesthetic experience with a desire to clarify the processes by which art is produced. determemory of earlier works of art. 15. All subsequent references will be to this expression" responsible for this ideal world. 1922). pp."? Burpre-existed him in the natural world. p. 26 (1914-15). the rigors of logic are unnegotiates these difficulties through two important to him if this central message is complementary desires: the need for order communicated. Thus the twofold function of art for Bell. the painting presents a vision 5 R. p. New York. a life careful to recount only the purest of emotions to committed to the experience of art is spent support his positions. rpt. That a coherent system and for self-expression. All subsequent references will be to this to believe momentarily that such an order edition. of as "the echo of some ultimate harmony" 145. 1958). aesthetic experience. 1925). In imitation. that any order which man can encounter is 1968).116-18.442 MC LAUGHLIN in the midst of a higher world. art provides man an escape from Philosophy of Art Criticism: An Introduction (Bosa "grey and trivial" world. which at mine his very vision of the world. 1lgton Mlagazine. 8Clive Bell. Richards. the importance of art. British Journal of Aesthetics. spectator comes to recognize the act of "self. 145-46. of course. But other works torical abilities.. "On Art and Aesthetics. (Art. rpt. 124. Conclusion theory of tradition has the advantage of that explanation in a recoggrounding of artist's his the interIn explanation action with the tradition. Bell's entire system What the spectator sees in a genuine work shows the ways in which an artist's training. E. therefore. (New 7See G. However. The Cambridge. 1960). Meager. his own of significant form becomes less mysterious. Principles of Literary Criticism York. 308. we must assume." of a more perfect world.208. only be followed by a more sober discovery. pp. 1929). ordered and serene.tematic thinker is remarkable. prove artist who produced it. this endeavor.24 on Mon. p. Bell. and thus attests to the power of its human creator. 2 Charles Aitken. The Philosophy of his aesthetic exaltation he sees that world Art (New York. This content downloaded from 68. of art is a creative mind's struggle to express his inevitable familiarity with the works its own vision of the world. certainly action of his personality and the tradition more so than his coining of one memorable that lives in him. C. leads the spectator into an aesthetic response does not. 15-16. A. Ducasse. self to believe absolutely and his spectators p. "Clive Bell and Aesthetic Emotion. Moore. 55). Bell's definition nizable feature of any artist's life. by means of its which proceed and surround him. the result of human creative energy. inevitably to the aesthetic response is impossible. 194-95. x. then. Principia Ethica (1903. for example. which externalizes in a satisfying way the artist's creative self. 4Cf. pp. His IV. 9A case in which the emotions of life are mixed Significant form. the spiritual rewards and so tempt the later artist into submissive to be gained from aesthetic experience. would be extremely and potentially in himself. an order phrase. The order he reveals should still emerge from such an unsysis imposed on the visible world by the inter. the moment is elusive. Howand to the imaginative power in the artist that a purely ever. 3One example is Jerome Stolnitz. Bell's theories argue for of art assert the priority of their own vision. J. It is. The genuine artist. and Stolnitz. Aesthetics and Primarily. That he once make the expression possible and left to his readers the substantial task of problematic.82. p. For the moment ton.

p." British Journal of Aesthetics. ed. Elliott. pp. 2 The only reference to Bell's primitivism that I have found is in Fishman. K. 443 20Elliott. 25See Bell's comments. 124. by Clive Bell. p. 1943). The Interpretation of Art (Berkeley. the works which exemplify the major shift in Bell's position on tradition. p. 113. 124 and in Civilization: . 28n. 84. 1947). 121. p. for example. W. pp. 313. 55 and 59 and Enjoying Pictures (New York. 19 R. Bell attributes this phrase to Sargent. 15 Lawrence Buermayer. 22 Cf. 23 Bell. 12Rev.. Stolnitz.24 on Mon. In both Bell and Eliot the artist must create an original work by means of his relationship with the tradition. not responding to form. Gotshalk. 5 (1965). "Significant Form. Art and Education (Merion. 1. In both cases. 257. 1963). p. 1950). The Connoisseur. 18. for example. p. which assert their presence in every artist. 105. A. S. Bell's preference for primitive art is central to his critical theory. 93 (1934). p. 75-79.Clive Bell's Aesthetic most blatant of many in which other emotions. 17 Morris Weitz. Art and the Social Order (Chicago. " See Art.4n Essay (New York. so that the tradition can grow. 148. A plausible case could be made for Eliot's theory influencing Bell directly. 1934). and Bernard C.. 1927). p. p. p. but rather reveals that a spectator brings his values and beliefs to the experience. 18 Art." The Burlington Magazine. Heyl. Since Cezanne. Both see the tradition as dynamic. 34 (1919). 13 Cf. Pa. pp. New Bearings in Aesthetics and Art Criticism (New Haven. rev. even in responding to the formal elements of art. 23 Dec 2013 06:13:50 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . 16See Since Cezanne. 112. by Clive Bell. See also Beryl Lake. 10 F.82. This content downloaded from 68. "Pattern and Plastic Form. p. All subsequent references will be to this edition. Eliot in "Tradition and the Individual Talent" are striking.208. 148. p. 21Bell. of Enjoying Pictures. of Enjoying Pictures." in W. on the importance of individuality in artists in Sinlce Cezanne. "A Study of the Irrefutability of Two Aesthetic Theories. American Magazine of . Eliot's essay falls between Art and Since Cezanne. changing as new authentic works enter it. Bell's entire output does not support his position. the artist is pictured before the works of the past. p. p. Whiting. 1928). 27 (1934). are present. 11. 1947). et al. 80. p. and Solomon Fishman. Elton. Aesthetics and Language (Oxford. 1959). 24Landmarks in Nineteenth Century Painting (New York. 400. 146 and Ducasse. p. 112-13. Art. Philosophy of the Arts (New York.. Stolnitz. 616-17." (1926) in John Dewey.4rt. 18 and 174. p. See also D. and it is surprising that it has gone unnoticed. 175-83. 14Cf.. 27 The parallels between Bell's theory of tradition and that outlined by T. "Clive Bell's Aesthetic Theory and Critical Practice.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful