Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

Page 30 of 70


Genius and Nullity.—It is precisely the original artists, those who create out of their own heads, who in certain circumstances can bring forth complete emptiness and husk, whilst the more dependent natures, the so-called talented ones, are full of memories of all manner of goodness, and even in a state of weakness produce something tolerable. But if the original ones are abandoned by themselves, memory renders them no assistance; they become empty.


The Public.—The people really demands nothing more from tragedy than to be deeply affected, in order to have a good cry occasionally; the artist, on the contrary, who sees the new tragedy, takes pleasure in the clever technical inventions and tricks, in the management and distribution of the material, in the novel arrangement of old motives and old ideas. His attitude is the sthetic attitude towards a work of art, that of the creator; the one first described, with regard solely to the material, is that of he people. Of the individual who stands between[Pg 172] the two nothing need be said: he is neither "people" nor artist, and does not know what he wants—therefore his pleasure is also clouded and insignificant.


The Artistic Education of the Public.—If the same motif is not employed in a hundred ways by different masters, the public never learns to get beyond their interest in the subject; but at last, when it is well acquainted with the motif through countless different treatments, and no longer finds in it any charm of novelty or excitement, it will then begin to grasp and enjoy the various shades and delicate new inventions in its treatment.


The Artist and His Followers Must Keep in Step.—The progress from one grade of style to another must be so slow that not only the artists but also the auditors and spectators can follow it and know exactly what is going on. Otherwise there will suddenly appear that great chasm between the artist, who creates his work upon a height apart, and the public, who cannot rise up to that height and finally sinks discontentedly deeper. For when the artist no longer raises his public it rapidly sinks downwards, and its fall is the deeper and more dangerous in proportion to the height to which genius has carried it, like the eagle, out of whose talons a tortoise that has been borne up into the clouds falls to its destruction.

[Pg 173]


The Source of the Comic Element.—If we consider that for many thousands of years man was an animal that was susceptible in the highest degree to fear, and that everything sudden and unexpected had to find him ready for battle, perhaps even ready for death; that even later, in social relations, all security was based on the expected, on custom in thought and action, we need not be surprised that at everything sudden and unexpected in word and deed, if it occurs without danger or injury, man becomes exuberant and passes over into the very opposite of fear—the terrified, trembling, crouching being shoots upward, stretches itself: man laughs. This transition from momentary fear into short-lived exhilaration is called the Comic. On the other hand, in the tragic phenomenon, man passes quickly from great enduring exuberance into great fear; but as amongst mortals great and lasting exuberance is much rarer than the cause for fear, there is far more comedy than tragedy in the world; we laugh much offener than we are agitated.


The Artist's Ambition.—The Greek artists, the tragedians for instance, composed in order to conquer; their whole art cannot be imagined without rivalry,—the good Hesiodian Eris, Ambition, gave wings to their genius. This ambition further demanded that their work[Pg 174] should achieve the greatest excellence in their own eyes, as they understood excellence, without any regard for the reigning taste and the general opinion about excellence in a work of art; and thus it was long before schylus and Euripides achieved any success, until at last they educated judges of art, who valued their work according to the standards which they themselves appointed. Hence they strove for victory over rivals according to their own valuation, they really wished to be more excellent; they demanded assent from without to this self-valuation, the confirmation of this verdict. To achieve honour means in this case "to make one's self superior to others, and to desire that this should be recognised publicly." Should the former condition be wanting, and the latter nevertheless desired, it is then called vanity. Should the latter be lacking and not missed, then it is named pride.


What Is Needful to a Work of Art.—Those who talk so much about the needful factors of a work of art exaggerate; if they are artists they do so in majorem artis gloriam, if they are laymen, from ignorance. The form of a work of art, which gives speech to their thoughts and is, therefore, their mode of talking, is always somewhat uncertain, like all kinds of speech. The sculptor can add or omit many little traits, as can also the exponent, be he an actor or, in music, a performer or conductor. These many little traits and finishing touches afford him[Pg 175] pleasure one day and none the next, they exist more for the sake of the artist than the art; for he also has occasionally need of sweetmeats and playthings to prevent him from becoming morose with the severity and self-restraint which the representation of the dominant idea demands from him.


To Cause the Master to Be Forgotten.—The pianoforte player who executes the work of a master will have played best if he has made his audience forget the master, and if it seemed as if he were relating a story from his own life or just passing through some experience. Assuredly, if he is of no importance, every one will abhor the garrulity with which he talks about his own life. Therefore he must know how to influence his hearer's imagination favourably towards himself. Hereby are explained all the weaknesses and follies of "the virtuoso."


Corriger La Fortune.—There are unfortunate accidents in the lives of great artists, which compel the painter, for instance, to sketch out his most important picture only as a passing thought, or such as obliged Beethoven to leave behind him only the insufficient pianoforte score of many great sonatas (as in the great B flat). In these cases the artist of a later day must endeavour to fill out the life of the great man,—[Pg 176]of all orchestral effects, would call into life that symphony which has fallen into the piano-trance.


Reducing.—Many things, events, or persons, cannot bear treatment on a small scale. The Laocoon group cannot be reduced to a knick-knack; great size is necessary to it. But more seldom still does anything that is naturally small bear enlargement; for which reason biographers succeed far oftener in representing a great man as small than a small one as great.


Sensuousness in Present-day Art.—Artists nowadays frequently miscalculate when they count on the sensuous effect of their works, for their spectators or hearers have no longer a fully sensuous nature, and, quite contrary to the artist's intention, his work produces in them a "holiness" of feeling which is closely related to boredom. Their sensuousness begins, perhaps, just where that of the artist ceases; they meet, therefore, only at one point at the most.

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