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From Impressioni sm to Kandinsky
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" brought about one of the major trends in art criticism of the modern age. The increasing concern of twentieth-century criticism with the artist's personality. in earlier periods. It has been said. Dilthey.' the movement in modem Europe that turned against the Enlightenment and its legacy. or Historisches Bewusstsein (historical consciousness). they turned for en lightenment to the great cultural traditions and invoked the inherited models rather than concentrate on the description and analysis of what goes on in the artist's sow and mind.12 Wilhelm Dilthey Modern art theory's dependence on psychology. he was also concerned with literature and historical aesthetics. and with the spontaneity of the creative process. was one of the consequences of building art theory on psychological founda tions. although he was the biographer and interpreter of the young HegeLl Hegel. and the vi sual arts played only a marginal part in his rich intellectual world. and for his analytical power. made Geist (Spirit or Reason) the ruler of the universe and the content of 116 . In a sophisticated way he also turned against Hegelian philosophy. especially in his aesthetics. that in this doctrine he became the speaker of the irrational trend in later nineteenth-century thought. "emotional experience" and "life. Best known for his studies of Weltanschauung (world view). we recall. He was not primarily concerned with art theory. His contributions to "Poetics" had a formative effect on a great deal of art theory and criticism. when people tried to un derstand artistic creation and to judge works of art. In our comments we will concentrate on this aspect of his thoughts. was reo markable for the scope of his profound learning even in his age. The orientation toward the psycho logical aspects of art also resulted in a certain shift in the subject matter of art theory. one of the great humanistic scholars of the late nineteenth century. A dominant representative of this trend was Wllhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). Erlebnis and uben. the "science of the soul. As we have seen." were key concepts in Dilthey's general philosophy. not without some justification.
of course. Though the imagination may seem altogether spontaneous. however. what is the mysteri ous power that enables the artist to produce something that did not exist before he made it?' Yet in theories of the visual arts. the artist's creative power. p. in which religion has lost its hold.) that Dilthey spoke of "memory images" (Eril1nerul1gs b. There is a gap between what science can observe and analyze and what he called Lebel1sgestaltul1g (life formation). The images accumulated in our memory. The artist's imagina tion always puzzled spectators and critics. What Dilthey termed the "signifi cance of life" remained beyond the reach of the sciences. 145 ff. the imagination was never the single. it does in fact draw on accumulated impressions from the outside world. This was what Dilthey did. Dilthey assumed that science can grasp only a limited aspect of his torica1 and cultural reality. As a historian of ideas and of religious beliefs. The sciences can grasp only the causal connection between things and events. a kind of totality of human life and culture.Wilhelm Dilthey I 117 history. It was in this context (ED..). taking what it creates from its own hidden depths. that the work of art is shaped by factors beyond the domain of personal experience.' In the modern world. 145). Dilthey knew. many contemporary people find in art and in poetry. is the central point of all history of literature" (ED. untouched building blocks from which our imagination deliberately chooses what it wants. in aesthetics it is a subject as old as any reflection on art. A continuous interaction goes on in our minds be tween memory and the creative imagination. Time and again people asked. He nevertheless chose to concentrate on the individual artist's power because he saw in the artist's imagination the specific." Dilthey's philosophy of art centered on the artist's creative faculty. "The imagination of the poet . 136). pp. he did not have to be reminded of their impact on the thought and imagery of a period or an individual. an "authentic interpretation of life it self.1Je. fundamental fac ulty of human nature. Imagination. Something of the artist's creative faculty may thus be found in all of us. not in science. The artist's creative power is his imagination (Phal1tasie). p. or even the central. are not raw percep tions.. is a primary. subject of systematic contemplation. in some individuals it is stronger and more intense than in others.' And "The imagination in its position towards the world of experiences forms the necessary point of de parture" (ED. Even what we seem to re member with perfect clarity and distinctness is not exactly the original im . unique character of poetry and art.
7. "Expression may contain more of psychic connection than any introspection will yield. 206). that of the artist? Dilthey's answer to the first question. 90-102).pression we received in the past. if in varying degrees. given in 1886. so little are the impressions of yesterday re vived today. Dilthey was among the fi rst modern thinkers who drew seriously upon psychiatry to show the relation between poetry and madness (espe cially in a lecture. ''As little as a new spring can make visible to us the old leaves on the trees. p. is a difficult question in the theory of any art. but it seems particu larly pertinent to the student of the visual arts. Art. VI. 148-149). 7. First. lis tener-experience the work of art. pp. . Not only does expression take place without preconceived meditation or refl ection. '. the arts consisting of actual material objects. It draws from depths that consciousness does not illumine" (GS. of course. The view that the creative imagination is given. then."This is a universal world and. "the oldest of all poets" (ED. and make it our own? How do we grasp the record of the experience of another individual. to some degree. it is given to everyone. how is the mental image transferred to the material object and thus crystallized in the work of art-the poem. spectator. . The other question is: how do we-reader. without re flection" (GS. Sometimes his formulations adumbrate something that seems close to the modern concept of the subconscious. the pic ture. spon taneous nature of expression.how is the passage from mind to work accomplished?. Thus the world the imagination creates reveals itself involuntarily in the dream. "Expression springs from the soul immediately. The possible relevance of psychiatry to the study of art is the assumption that the creative imagination." Our minds continuously build an inner world in which only such outside impressions are received as we need (ED. pp. Dilthey often returned to the self-acting. to all human beings. 328 f. the piece of music? How is it transformed from a fl eeting appearance in the mind to a definitely shaped "thing" in the external world? This.poses more problems than it solves.. he believed. And expression is by its very nature altogether spontaneous. understand it. 153). on "Poetic Imagination and Madness. is essentially expression. raises with particular clarity two questions that are cru cial to any theory of art.. The imagination. but it reaches into layers of our minds and beings into which consciousness never penetrates. seemingly only the artist's prerogative.' The role fantasy plays in hallucinations and in some forms and conditions of madness also shows that imagination is not limited to the artist. is in fact a universal trait. builds a "second world." reprinted in GS. pp. p.
it scintillates in many lights. and perhaps can Dot. need not. In his view. the spontaneous nature of expression is a prima ry datum. Even if we accept that expression is a primary reality not to be derived from anything else. is not defined with sufficient clarity. experience. my ex perience cannot be "aesthetic. 377)." Aesthetic experience exists only when there is -disinterested pleasure." Such an "emotional process (Gefiihlsverlauf) is always the starting point of the poem and the contents expressed in it" (ED. in the undissolved unity of the two there is the liv ing force of poetry" (GS. crucial as it is in Dilthey's aesthetics. Experiencing a work of art while being detached from it. Yet the concept of Erlebnis.'" If J am interested in any way in the use. The key concept in Kantian reflection on aesthetic experience was distance. value. In the course of the nineteenth century it was the attitude that origi nated with Kant that dominated aesthetic thought. An Erlebnis can also be detennined "by moods that arise from within. independently of the outside world." Erlebnis that fonns the nuclear meaning of all poetry. Dilthey believed. from what it says and what is often called its "message. p. So far we have briefly considered the meaning of Erfebnis as the artist's experience and its role in the creation of a work of art. always contains a condition of mood as an inner core and an image or image-context. 6. a break of far-reaching conse quences for our own time. a place. But as we have said above.Wilhelm Dilthey I 1J9 Spontaneity of expression. "disinterestedness. the question still arises what does it express? Dilthey's main answer to this question has a common label. if only vaguely. The spontaneous nature of artistic expression is a matter for descri ptive psychology. as he himself called it. or application. 128)." The same is true for the observation of art. the break with attitudes pre vailing in nineteenth-century aesthetics. Erlebnis." was thus crucial for the Kantian phi losophy of aesthetics. a situation. or by a cluster of ideas. and therefore cannot rest on any foun datiOD outside itself. p. It was precisely this basic principle of complete detachment that Dilthey's aesthetic doctrine sought to undermine (with or without explicit . it is not necessar ily limited to such specific condition. Though an Erlebnis is usually the experience of a particular event or individual. or. or a per son as an internal core. be it historical or philosophical. Erlebnis is also the core notion of Dilthey's doctrine of how we per ceive works of art It suggests. The work of art blends the internal and the external. be derived from any other cause. of the object or contents of the artistic representation.
however. by a new definition. emotional involvement. Ditthey's theory of art marked a profound shift in thought on art. had no room whatsoever in Dilthey's philosophy. Finding oneself in the work one is looking at means that the distance between the two. The second point. So what happens when we read a poem or look at a painting? Here we should emphasize two points. It thus necessarily canceled the specta tor's distance from what he saw in the work of art. to the work of art. It replaces the spectator's emotional reo straint in looking at something that is not depicted. but it is of great significance. participation in feel ing. ideas and concepts that had little to do with the depic tion of outside reality. as far as I know he nowhere presented an ex· plicit discussion of the Kantian requirement of "disinterestedness. To repeat: Dilthey did not intend to negate the Kantian theory of aesthetics. Whatever the changes of style that occurred in .n common to a great deal of aesthetic re flection in the late nineteenth century. and the spectator. Summarizing the direction of his thought rather freely. the spectator and the work being seen. Erlebnis as the core component of the aesthetic experience of a work of art meant.'" His main doctrine. Pure seeing is directed toward something outside ourselves as human beings formed by culture. Notwithstanding his traditional erudition Dilthey presented. so important in the im· pressionist trend of the same time. first of all. at least in the discussion of how poems and works of art in general. reliving what was represented. implicitly (and occasionally even explicitly) ques tioned disinterestedness as an essential feature of aesthetic experience. is more problematic. For a long time it was common wis dom that art aims at illusion. The first is that Dilthey's theory of the Erlebnis as a model of understanding the work of art reveals that his whole conception was. is practically annulled. Though Ditthey was deeply concerned with the response of the audience. A final point should be made here. we should emphasize that in his philosophy art was a thor oughly human affair. He replaced the old thesis that art is an imitation of nature. Dilthey did not even try to get out from what may perhaps be called the inner human world into the surrounding physical reality. but the actual effect of his thought led in this direction. more closely related to our specific concerns. opposed to the doctrine of detachment as the core of aesthetic experience. The problem of perception. is not even mentioned in his writings. The striving toward "pure seeing. the reader. emerge.intention). in fact.' a thesis that had dominated aesthetic reflection for centuries. The only basis for art was the world of the imagina tion that was built up in our minds or souls.
Gombrich believes that Dilthey remained. Holderlin (Leipzig. Die Jugendgeschichte Hegels und andere Abhandlungen zur Gtschichte des deutschen Idealismus. 1972). Glanzzeit und Verkiimmerung eines literar-historischen Begriffs (Berlin. pp. pp. it was a matter of faith to assume that art conjures up an imaginary. N/Mllis.see the chapter on Dilthey in Rene Wellek. 179. 8. xix. Nor was he always consistent in this respect. Whether or not Dilthey remained faithful to Hegel in the posing of certain problems. For thisaspect. For a brief summary of the problem. is the em bodiment of full truth. Wilhelm Oilthey. p. In addition to Karol Sauerland. illusionary world. pp. see par ticularly Erwin Panofsky. 5. 1968. NOTE S 1. 1924).A His Wry ofModern Criticism. where it reads: "Oer Traum. Dilthey. 6.ln a culture that encourages one to sup press one's emotions. Dilthey came back to the designation of the dream as a kind of artist. Among modern investigations of the answers given to this question. 4. believed that "what is experienced [in our psychic life I enters completely into the ex pression [of art]" (ED. far from being an illusion. Idea: A Concept in Art Theory (New York. In a formulation that has a modern ring to it he said that in art "we enter a realm in which deception ends" (GS." reprinted in his Ideals and Idols: Essays on Values in History and inArt (Ox ford. 1953). p. Gesammelte Schriften are quoted as GS. 207).Wilhelm Dilthey I 121 the course of centuries in actual art. see Barasch. Page references will be given in parentheses in the text." 7. writing from a Marxist point of view. Wilhelm Oilthey. especially pp. . Gombrich. H. 3. See Wellek. 322 ff. 5. The Later Nineteenth Century (Cambridge. as I under stand it. 1926). however. in Gesammelte Schriften. at least in the way he posed some problems. 1750-1950. 4. 117 ff. Gesammelte Schriften. 1979). the work of art. IV (Leipzig and Berlin. 1965). vol. 7. "In human society filled with lies Ithe artist's work) is always true" (GS.xxi (the Introduction by Georg Misch). 179 ff. 43-44. See E. In his old age he seems to have had second thoughts concerning the matter of disinterestedness.A HistoryofModern Criticism. p. 1. 2. 320--35. Das Erlebnis und die Dichtung: Lessing. 320). pp. see also Kurt Miiller-Vollmer. under Hegel's spell. V. 1906) is referred to as ED. Georg Lukacs. Die ZersWrung der Vernunft (Berlin. he definitely did not see Reason (in any form ) as the main content of history. "In Search of Cultural History. See GS. 1963). followed by page number. 9. 6. dieser verborgene Poet in uns.. p. The literature is enormous. 24 ff. Diltheys Erlebnisbegriff: Entsrehung. Towards a Phenomenowgical Theory of Literature: A Study ofWilhelm Pilthey's Poetik (The Hague. Goethe. pp. Modern Theories ofArt. original German edition: Leipzig.).