Away from the Mist

Some say you have to read Kant before you can understand Schopenhauer. Well, as one of my uncles used to tell us boys, “Can’t never could.”

This is from The World as Will and Idea by Arthur Schopenhauer, from the supplements to the third book, chapter xxxiv, On the Inner Nature of Art

Every work of art accordingly really aims at showing us life and the things as they are in truth, but cannot be directly discened by every one through the mist of objective and subjective contengencies. Art takes away this mist.

The works of poets, sculptors and representative artists in general contain an unacknowledged treasure of profound wisdom; just because out of them the wisdom of the nature of things itself speaks, whose utterances they merely interpret by illustrations and purer repetitions. On this account, however, every one who reads the poem or looks at the picture must certainly contribute out of his means to bring that wisdom to light; accordingly he comprehends only so much of it as his capacity and culture admit of; as in the deep sea each sailor only lets down the lead as far as the length of the line will allow. Before a picture, as before a prince, everyone must stand, waiting to see whether and what it will speak to him; and, as in the case of the prince, so here he must not himself address it, for then he would hear himself. It follows from all this that in the works of the representative arts all truth is certainly contained, yet only virtualiter or implicite; philosophy, on the other hand, endeavors to supply the same truth actualiter and explicite, and therefore, in this sense, is related to art as wine to grapes. What it promises to supply would be, as it were, an already realised and clear gain, a firm and abiding possession; while that which proceeds from the achievements and works of art is one which has constantly to be reproduced anew. Therefore, however, it makes demands, not only upon those who produce its works, but also upon those who are to enjoy them, which are discouraging and hard to comply with. Therefore its public remains small, while that of art is large.

The co-operation of the beholder, which is referred to above, as demanded for the enjoyment of the work of art, depends partly on the fact the every work of art can only produce its effect through the medium of the fancy; therefore it must excite this, and can never allow it to be left out of the play and remain inactive. This is a condition of the aesthetic effect, and therefore a fundamental law of all fine arts. But it follows from this that, through the work of art, everything must not be directly given to the senses, but rather only so much as is demanded to lead the fancy on to the right path; something, and indeed the ultimate thing, must always be left over for the fancy to do. Even the author must always leave something over for the reader to think; for Voltaire has rightly said,” Le secret d’etre ennuyeux, c’est de tout dire.” [my trans – the secret to being boring is to say everything] But besides this, in art the best of all is too spiritual to be given directly to the senses; it must be born int he imagination of the beholder, although begotten by the work of art. It depends upon this that the sketches of the great masters often effect more than their finished pictures; although another advantage certainly contributes to this, namely, that they are completed offhand in the moment of conception; while the perfected painting is only produced through continued effort, by means of skillful deliberation and persistent intention, for the inspiration cannot last till it is completed. From the fundamental aesthetical law we are speaking of, it is further to be explained why wax figures never produce an aesthetic effect, and therefore are not properly works of fine art, although it is just in them that the imitation of nature is able to reach it highest grade. For they leave nothing for the imagination to do. Sculpture gives merely the form without the color; painting gives the color, but the mere appearance of form; thus both appeal to the imagination of the beholder. The wax figure, on the other hand, gives all, form and color at once; whense arises the appearance of reality, and the imagination is left out of account. Poetry, on the contrary, appeals to the imagination alone, which it sets in action by means of mere words.

Leprechauns notwithstanding.