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The Spike or Victoria College Review 1940

Theory of Art

page 8

Theory of Art

Then i was Happy" and "then i was Happy" . . . Never "Now I am happy." Happiness Belongs essentially to the Past.

By happiness I mean not mere freedom from care nor yet gross sensuous pleasure, but that positive awareness of beauty fraught with a higher and more subtle pleasure, that led primitive men to believe in the existence of a soul.

It is difficult to assign such an emotion to a particular point in time—it is equally manifest over an indefinitely prolonged period and on analysis is found never to have been strong or even fully conscious during that period. It was always mixed and usually obscured with trivial preoccupations, and it is not until a later date when its half-hidden flashes are sifted out and gathered up and by a qualitative change Transformed into the ecstatic moment recalled by a scene, or poem, or by music that its existence is realised.

To catch and communicate this moment is the function of art. A work of art may, by mere temporal contiguity, become associated with a certain sequence of events or feelings, but more usually art must find an emotion abstracted from human experience as a whole.

Everyone has known a cold winter's day. Everyone has, perhaps subconsciously been aware of its beauty to a certain extent on many different occasions, but it remained for Shakespeare to epitomize all this experience in Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind." There is tragedy and despair in everyone's life, but no understand its true nature we turn to King Lear. We all know the somewhat melancholy beauty of winter's snows, but never are we so fully aware of it as when listening to Tschaikow-sky's Casse-Noisette.

In literature very real emotions and very human actions may be concealed Beneath highly improbable plots. Yet who would deny the reality of Marlowe's Faust or of Shylock? Vulgar people are often led to condemn surrealism on the same grounds, that it is unnatural or unreal, yet in attempting to portray the subconscious mind where many of our emotions and, even more, our motives lie hidden, it is surely coming closer to reality than artists have hitherto dared. Reality does not consist merely of a likely chain of events; the artist in analysing human character and human emotion must go deeper than that. Art is essentially an abstraction of many experiences; not a faithful representation of one particular experience. Even when the artist is suddenly inspired, this inspiration is the result of an accumulation of emotional experience which is suddenly made manifest at a critical stage of its development. Revelation is really revolution.

This theory will stress immediately the difference between true art and mere escapism. Whereas the latter may furnish an ephemeral barren amusement the other brings us into the closest possible contact with truth. With one or two master-strokes it presents a knowledge which a whole life-time may fail to give. True art is the very quintessence or reality.

Geo W. Turner

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