The Principles Of Aesthetics
by Dewitt H. Parker

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Chapter XIII - Beauty in the Industrial Arts: Architecture

In the arts which we have studied so far, beauty has been the sole or chief end; in the industrial arts, beauty can be only a part of their total meaning. No matter how much of an artist a builder or a potter may be, he is necessarily controlled by the practical needs which houses and pots subserve. This was the original condition of all artists; for “in the beginning,” before life’s various aims were distinguished and pursued in isolation, the beautiful was always married to some other interest. Our method of study has, therefore, reversed the temporal order; but with intent, for we believe that the nature of a thing is better revealed in its final than in its rudimentary form. To complete our survey of the arts, we must, however, give some consideration to those works in which the unity of the useful and the beautiful is still preserved; and as an example we have chosen architecture, the most magnificent of them all.

First, we must clear up what might seem to be an inconsistency in our thinking. In our definition of art we insisted upon the freedom of beauty and the contrast between the aesthetic and the practical attitudes, yet now we are admitting that some things may be at once useful and beautiful. It would seem as if we must either modify our definition of art or else deny beauty to such objects as bridges and buildings. But we cannot do the latter, for the beauty of Brooklyn bridge or Notre Dame in Paris is a matter of direct feeling, which no theory can disestablish. And it is impossible to solve the problem by supposing that in the industrial arts beauty and utility are extraneous to each other, two separable aspects, which have no intimate connection. For the fact that a bridge spans a river or that a church is a place of worship is an element in its beauty. The aesthetic meaning of the object depends upon the practical meaning. You cannot reduce the beauty of a bridge or a cathedral to such factors as mere size and fine proportions, without relation to function. No preconceived idea of the purity of beauty can undermine our intuition of the beauty of utility.

Yet the dependence of beauty upon utility in the industrial arts is not at variance with the freedom from practical attitudes which we have claimed for it. For the beauty is still in the realm of perception, of contemplation, not of use. It is a pleasure in seeing how the purpose is expressed in the form and material of the object, not a pleasure in the possession of the object or an enjoyment of its benefits. I may take pleasure in the vision of purpose well embodied in an object which another man possesses, and my admiration will be as disinterested as my appreciation of a statue. And even if I do make use of the object, I may still get an aesthetic experience out of it, whenever I pause and survey it, delighting in it as an adequate expression of its purpose and my own joy in using it. Then beauty supervenes upon mere utility, and a value for contemplation grows out of and, for the moment, supplants a value in use. I now take delight in the perception of an object when formerly I took delight only in its use; I now enjoy the expression of purpose for its present perceived perfection, when once I enjoyed it only for its ulterior results. Such intervals of restful contemplation interrupt the activity of every thoughtful maker or user of tools. Thus the practical life may enter into the aesthetic, and that which grows out of exigence may develop into freedom.

There is one more objection which may be urged against the aesthetic character of the expression of practical purpose, namely, that the appreciation of it is an affair of intellect, not of feeling. This would indeed be fatal if it were necessarily true; but all men who love their work know that they put into admiration for their tools as much of warm emotion as of mind. There remains, however, the genuine difficulty of communicating this emotional perception of useful objects, of making it universal. It must be admitted that the attitude of the average beholder towards a useful object is usually practical, not contemplative, or else purely intellectual, an effort to understand its structure, with the idea of eventual use. Most works of industrial art produce no aesthetic experience whatever. But to be a genuine and complete work of fine art, an object must be so made that it will immediately impel the spectator to regard it aesthetically.

From what we have already established, we know how this requirement can be met: by elaborating the outer aspects of the object in the direction of pleasure and expression. By this means the beauty of mere appearance will strike and occupy the mind, inducing the aesthetic attitude towards the outside, from which it may then spread and embrace the inner, purposive meaning. The obviously disinterested and warmly emotional admiration of the shape will prevent the admiration for the purposive adaptation from being cold and abstract. Hence, although from the point of view of utility the beauty of mere appearance may seem to be a superfluity, it is almost indispensable from an aesthetic point of view, since it raises the appreciation of the purpose to the aesthetic plane. And we can understand how enthusiastic workmen, whose admiration for their work is already aesthetic, must necessarily desire to consecrate and communicate this feeling by beautifying the appearance of their products; how inevitably, through the ages, they have made things not only as perfect as they could, but as charming.

When developed for the ends of the aesthetic life, the useful object exhibits, therefore, two levels of beauty: first, that of appearance, of form and sensation, line and shape and color; and second, that of purpose spoken in the form. The first is of the vague and immediate character so well known to us; the second is more definite and less direct, since it depends upon the interpretation of the object in terms of its function. The relation between the two is like that which obtains, in a painting, between color and line, on the one hand, and representation, on the other. When the first level of beauty is richly developed on its own account, it becomes ornament. In a Greek vase, for example, there is a beauty of symmetrical, well-proportioned shape, delicate coloring of surface, and decorative painting, which might be felt by people who knew nothing of its use; and, in addition, for those who have this knowledge, a beauty in the fine balance of parts in the adjustment of clay to its final cause. These factors, which we have distinguished by analysis, should, however, be felt as one in the aesthetic intuition of the object; the form, although beautiful in itself, should reveal the function, and the decoration, no matter how charming, should be appropriate and subordinate. Otherwise, as indeed so often happens, the beauty of one aspect may completely dominate the others; when the object either remains a pretty ornament perhaps, but is functionally dead; or else, if it keep this life, loses its unity in a rivalry of beautiful aspects.

All these points are strikingly illustrated in architecture. The architects claim that their art is a liberal one aiming at beauty, yet most buildings to-day are objects of practical interest alone. Their doors are merely for entrance, their windows for admission of light, their walls for inclosure. Few people, as they hurry in or out of an office building or a railway station, stay to contemplate the majesty of the height or the elegance of the facade; they transact their business, buy their tickets, check their luggage, and go. Even when the building has some claim to beauty, the mood of commercial life stifles observation; or, if the building is observed, there is no strong emotion or vivid play of imagination, no permanent impression of beauty lingering in the memory, no enrichment of the inner life, such as a musical air or a poem affords, but only a transient and fruitless recognition. For this reason many have thought that buildings must become useless, as castles and ruined temples are, in order to be beautiful. Yet, in proportion as this is true, it involves a failure on the part of architecture, a failure to make the useful a part of the beautiful. A building, which was designed to be a habitation of man, when taken apart from the life which it was meant to shelter and sustain, is an abstraction or a vain ornament at best. If the company which peopled it are gone, it can win significance only if we re-create them in the imagination, moving in the halls or worshiping at the altars. We cannot get rid of the practical for the sake of the aesthetic, but must take up the practical into the aesthetic. For this reason architecture has achieved its greatest successes where its uses have been most largely and freely emotional, most closely akin to the brooding spirit of beauty–in religious buildings.

Most buildings, it must be admitted, are not beautiful at all. In order to be beautiful, they should be alive, and alive all over, as a piece of sculpture is alive; there should be no unresponsive surfaces or details; but most of our buildings are dead–dead walls, dead lines, oblong boxes, neat and commodious, but dead. The practical problems which the architect has to solve are so complex and difficult, and the materials which he uses are so refractory, that there is inevitably a sacrifice of the beauty of appearance to utility. The very size of a building makes it aesthetically unmanageable all over. Here the lesser industrial arts, like the goldsmith’s, have an advantage in the superior control which the workman can exert over his materials; his work is that of a single mind and hand; it does not require, as architecture does, the cooperation of a crowd of unfeeling artisans. In architecture, mechanical necessities and forms threaten to supplant aesthetic principles and shapes. The heavy square blocks, the rectangular lines, seem the antithesis of life and beauty. “All warmth, all movement, all love is round, or at least oval.... Only the cold, immovable, indifferent, and hateful is straight and square.... Life is round, and death is angular.” [Footnote: Ellen Key, The Few and the Many, translated from a quotation in Max Dessoir, Aesthetik und Allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft, page 396.] What vividness of imagination or sentiment can transmute these dead and hollow masses into a life universally felt?

And yet, in a series of works of art among the most magnificent that man possesses, this miracle was achieved. The Greek temples and Gothic cathedrals are so much alive that they seem not to have been made with hands, but to have grown. The straight lines have been modified into delicate curves, the angles have given place to arches, the stiff and mathematical have been molten into movement and surprise, the heaviness has been so nicely balanced or overcome that it has been changed into lightness, with the help of human and animal sculpture and floral carving the inorganic has been transformed into the organic, by means of painting and stained glass even the dull surfaces of walls and windows have been made to glow into life. Artists wrought each portion and detail, and built the whole for the glory of God and the city, a monument for quiet contemplation, not a mere article to be used. With few exceptions, any architectural beauty that we create is but a feeble echo of theirs. Some day we may be able to produce something worthy to be placed by its side, but only when we have sanctified our life with communal aims. The aesthetic effect of a building depends upon many factors, of which only a few can be analyzed by us in this short chapter. If we abstract from its relation to purpose, architecture is fundamentally an art of spatial form. Working freely with it, under the sole limitation of function, the architect can make of this form a complex, various, and beautiful language intelligible to all men, and possessed of a systematic, yet fluent logic. Of this language the simplest element is line. At first view, as we approach a building from the outside, its beauty, as in the case of sculpture, is essentially pictorial. For, although a building is a three-dimensional solid in reality, each view of it is a two-dimensional surface, bounded by lines and divided and diversified within by other lines. Now these lines have their life and beauty like the lines of a picture. How they get this life and what its specific quality is in the case of particular lines, we need not explain again; but no one can fail to feel the upward movement of the vertical lines of the Gothic style, the repose of the horizontal lines of the Renaissance style, the playful grace of the Rococo. Naturally, since the front of a building, where one enters, is the most important and the most constantly in view, its pictorial beauty is elaborated with especial care by the architect. This is the justification of the overshadowing preeminence of the facade in Renaissance palaces, which indeed was oftentimes the only visible part of the outside of the building. When, however, the building is perspicuous all round, it should, like a statue, present a beautiful view from every standpoint.

In architecture, as in painting, the visual elements are adapted to one or the other of the two chief ways of seeing. Either the surfaces are seen as wholes primarily and the details in subordination; or else the parts stand out clear and distinct, and the whole is their summation. The former is always the case when the surfaces are left plain with few divisions, or, if the surfaces are divided, when the lines intersect and intermingle, as is exemplified in late Renaissance or Baroque work, where the walls are covered with lavish ornament, the enframement of windows is broken by moldings and sculpture which carry into the surrounding spaces, and where, instead of embracing one story, the “orders” comprise the entire height of the building. The second possibility is well illustrated by the early classical Renaissance, where the surface of each story, sharply separated from the others by the line of the frieze, is divided regularly by arches or columns, each window clearly enframed, and every sculptured ornament provided with a niche.

There is, however, this fundamental difference between architectural and pictorial lines: the latter are usually pure kinematical lines, lines of free and un-resisted movement, while the former are usually dynamical, lines of force which move against the resistance of mass. In a picture objects are volatilized into light and have lost all weight; but in architecture, since they are present in reality and not in mere semblance, their weight is retained. A Greek column, for example, not only moves upward, but also against the superincumbent load of the entablature which it carries. The difference between the two arts can be appreciated by comparing the picture of a building with the building itself; in the former, despite the fact that we know how heavy the dome or pediment is, and how strong therefore the piers or columns that support it, we hardly feel them as heavy or strong at all–the forces and masses have been transformed into abstract lines and shapes. Sometimes, however, architectural lines and surfaces remain purely kinematical; on the inside of our rooms, for example, when the surfaces are smooth, and especially when they are decorated, we often feel no tension of conflicting forces, but only a quiet play of movements; it is as if the walls had been changed into the paper or paint that covers them. The vividness of the expression of mechanical forces in architecture depends, moreover, upon the kind of materials employed; it is greater in marble than in wood, and less in our modern constructions of steel and glass, where the piers move in single vertical lines from the bottom to the top of the building, than in the old forms, where the upper part of the building is frankly carried by the lower.

The mere expression of mechanical forces in a building would not, however, be aesthetic by itself, no matter how obvious to the mind. We must not only know these forces to be there, we must also feel them as there; we must appreciate them in terms of our own experiences in supporting weights and overcoming resistances. We must transform the mechanical into the vital, the material into the human. Art is an expression of life, not of mathematics. And this translation is not the result of an unusual, artificial attitude assumed for the sake of aesthetic appreciation; it is the natural mode of apperceiving force and mass. We cannot see a column supporting an entablature without feeling that it stands firm to bear the weight, much as we should stand if we were in its place. If this is a “pathetic fallacy,” it is one which we all inevitably commit. Even the skeptic, if he were to examine carefully into his own mind, would find that he commits it, whenever he gives to the column, not a casual or merely calculating regard, but a free and earnest attention. If he gives his mind to the column and lets the column take hold of his mind, allowing his psychological mechanism to work unhampered, he will commit it. The aesthetic intuition of force–the human way of appreciating it–is, in fact, primary; the purely mechanical and mathematical is an abstraction, superimposed for practical and scientific purposes.

The interplay of humanized mechanical energies, of which architecture is the expression, may be conceived as the resultant of four chief forces, acting each in a definite direction: upward, downward, outward, and inward. The downward force is associated with the weight of the materials of which the building is constructed. To all physical objects we ascribe a tendency toward the earth. An unsupported weight will fall, and even when supported will exert a pressure downward. And this tendency is no mere directed force in the physical sense, but an impulse, in the personal sense. For when with hand or shoulder we support a weight, we inevitably interpret it in terms of our own voluntary muscular exertion in resisting it; even as we strive to resist it, so it seems to strive to fall. Although this force is exerted downward, it shows itself in the horizontal lines of a building, in string courses, parapets, cornices, friezes; for the horizontal is the line parallel to the earth, toward which the force is directed, and along which we lie when we rest. [Footnote: Compare the discussion of Lipps, Aesthetik, Bd. 1, Dritter Abschnitt, although I am far from accepting all of his analyses.]

Opposed to the downward force is the upward force. If an object does not fall, it must be supported by a force in the upward direction; the hand must exert a force perpendicular to the mass which it carries; the body must hold itself erect in order to bear its own weight. Just so, an architectural member, if it is not to collapse, must raise itself upward. Upward forces are revealed by the vertical lines of a building–the prevailing lines of columns, piers, shafts, pinnacles, towers, spires. We interpret vertical lines as moving upward, partly because the eye moves upward in scanning them, partly because we ourselves move in lines of this general direction in going from the bottom to the top of a building. Even when we are at the top of a building we apprehend its vertical lines as rising rather than as descending, because we ourselves had to rise in order to get there. Converging lines, as of towers and spires, we also interpret in the same way as going to the point of meeting above.

Acting in conjunction with the downward force is an outward one. The lower parts of a construction tend to spread out as they give way under the weight of the superincumbent masses; if they are very much broader than the latter, they give the impression of great weight carried. As a result, a horizontal line is introduced, and the longer it is in comparison with the vertical line of height, the heavier the effect. Compare, for example, the impression made by a tall and thin triangular shape, with a low and broad one; and compare also the relative lengths of the horizontal and the vertical lines. The former shape seems simply to rise, while the latter lifts. We seem to observe the working of this outward force, as Lipps has remarked, in the spreading out of the trunks of trees at the base and in the feet of animals; and we feel it in ourselves whenever we spread our limbs apart to brace ourselves to withstand a load.

Whenever the outward force is resisted, it gives evidence of the existence of a force operating in the opposed direction–inward. Without this force, the lower parts of a construction would lack all solidity and spread like a molten mass on the ground. This is especially striking where the material, instead of spreading outward and downward, seems to press itself inward and upward. Compare, for example, a shape whose base-line is smaller than the line of its top with one in which the reverse holds true. The former gives the impression of lightness and agility, with a prevailing upward trend, the other an impression of weight and heaviness, with a prevailing trend towards the ground. Obviously, the outward and the inward forces are correlative and complementary: we have already observed that a construction would collapse without the inward; we can now see that it would disappear entirely without the outward. Obviously, also, the inward and upward go together, and the downward and outward.

Even a plain rectangular wall manifests the interplay of these forces. The horizontal dimension represents the downward and outward force of the weight; the vertical dimension, the upward forces, which prevent the wall from collapsing in itself and hold it upright; while the lateral boundaries give evidence of the inward tension that keeps the mass together. But the most beautiful expressions of architectural forces are to be found in the historical styles. In each style there is a characteristic relationship between the forces, imparting a distinctive feeling. I shall offer a brief analysis of some of these.

Many have recognized that the classical Greek construction, as illustrated in the Doric temple, expresses a fine equilibrium between the upward and the downward forces, embodied in the vertical and horizontal lines respectively. The upward force is manifest primarily in the vertical columns, and is emphasized there by the flutings, the slight progressive narrowing toward the top, and the inward effort of the necking just below the echinus. The downward force is embodied in the horizontal lines of the lintel, architrave, cornice, and in the hanging mutules and gutta. The two forces come to rest in the abaci, which, as the crowning members of the columns, directly carry the weight of the entire entablature. The equilibrium between the horizontal and the vertical tendencies is, however, not a static but a moving one; for the two opposing forces are present in every part of the building from the stylobate to the ridge of the triangular pediment. The downward force is already manifest in the widened base of the column, where it works in conjunction with the inward tendency, and shows its effect at the critical points at the top of the supporting column–in the spreading echinus with its horizontal bands beneath and in the horizontal lines of the abaci. The upward force, on the other hand, is continued right through the solid mass of the entablature, in the vertical lines of the triglyphs, in the antefixes, and even to the very apex of the building, where the ascending lines of the triangular pediment meet. The resulting total effect is that of a perfect, yet swaying balance.

The aesthetic effect derived from the interplay of forces in the Ionic form is similar to that in the Doric, only more delicate and elastic. The slender columns, being less rugged and resistant than the Doric, seem to transmit the weight supported, which shows itself, therefore, in the outward spreading molded base; but this apparent lack of strength in the column is compensated for by the elastic energy in the coiled spring of the volutes, upon which, with the slight mediation of a narrow band, the entablature rests. Here most of the upward energy of the Ionic form is concentrated; for although the dentils of the frieze perform the function of the triglyphs, they are too small to do it effectively; the style lacks, therefore, the gentle harmonizing of forces all over, characteristic of the Doric, and evinces instead a clean-cut elastic tension at a given point. This effect is, however, somewhat softened by the breaking up of the downward force of weight by means of the recessed divisions of the architrave. In the Corinthian capital, which has the same general feeling as the Ionic, the elastic tension is still further diminished through the renewed emphasis on the mediating abacus, the reduction of the size of the volutes, and the overhanging floral carvings. However, by reason of the strength given by the bell and the projecting outward and upward curving form of the abacus, the suggestion of weakness in the Corinthian form is overcome, but the gentleness remains.

If the Greek construction expresses a balance between the upward and downward forces, the arched forms that followed express the victory of the upward. In the arch the upward force, instead of being arrested where the support meets the mass to be carried, is continued throughout the mass itself. Of the two chief types of arches, the round and the pointed, each has a specific feeling. We shall study the round form first, where the vertical tendency is indeed victorious, but only through reconciliation and compromise.

In the round arch all four forces are beautifully expressed. The upward is manifest, first, in the vertical pier, which acts very much as the column does, and, in Roman work, was often replaced by the column. The opposing downward force is expressed in the horizontal upper bound of the arch and in the line of the impost, also horizontal, which breaks the vertical line and so marks the place where the two forces come into sharpest conflict. In this conflict, the vertical is victorious; for, instead of being stopped by the impost, it is carried up throughout the entire construction by means of the upward and inward curving of the arch. The very curve of the arch shows, however, that the victory is not absolute; for its circular form is obviously determined as a compromise between an inward centripetal force, moving upward and diminishing the breadth of the arch to a mere point at its apex, and an outward centrifugal force, gradually spreading the arch downward until it reaches its greatest breadth at the impost, where it is arrested by the opposing vertical force in the pier. To the historical imagination, the round arch seems, therefore, to express the genial classical idea of a control by the higher nature which nevertheless did no violence to the demands of the lower. In the spherical dome the effect is the same, only the interplay of forces operates in three dimensions instead of two.

When arches are superposed, the upward movement proceeds in stages, beginning anew at each horizontal division of the wall space. The use of entablatures applied to the wall and of engaged columns, common in Roman work, seems to involve an attempt at a fusion of two contradictory styles, and is usually condemned as such. This contradiction can be solved, however, by viewing the entablatures as mere weightless lines of division of the wall, usually marking off the different stories, and by viewing the columns in a similar fashion as having no supporting function–which is actually the case–and as simply serving the purpose of framing the arches. At most they merely indicate the direction of the chief contending forces,–the parallel lintels signalizing the force of weight, and the vertical columns, standing one upon the other, pointing the movement of the upward force. They have, therefore, a pictorial rather than a dynamic significance.

Differences of feeling in arched forms depend upon the relative height of arches and supporting piers and columns. The vertical effect is strongly emphasized when the latter are relatively high, while the effect of weight is increased in flattened arches, which for this reason are especially appropriate for crypts and prison entrances. Interesting complications are introduced in arcades or intersecting vaults, where a single column serves as a support for two or more arches; for there the vertical force is divided, flowing in different directions in the little triangular piece of wall between, or along the ribs of the vaults. Something similar occurs in the Byzantine dome on pendentives, only instead of supporting the horizontal weight of a gallery or a vault, the triangular pendentives meet the outward thrust of a superposed dome.

In Renaissance architecture and the modern classical revivals, where Greek and Roman styles are freely adapted to novel modes of life and purpose, no essentially new form was added to architectural speech. There were combinations of old forms into more complex structures, but no new important elements. The most outstanding novelty is perhaps the reversed relation between the whole and the parts. [Footnote: See P. Frankl, Die Entwicklungsphasen der neueren Baukunst, 1914.] In the classic styles, whether arched or Greek, the whole is built up of the parts additively; each is a relatively independent center of energy complete in itself; first the columns, then the architrave, frieze, and cornice, then the pediment; or first one row of arches, then another row on top of this, and so on. Coordination is the governing principle. But in the modern adaptations, even where coordination rather than subordination rules in the pictorial sphere, the whole is first dynamically and the parts are secondary. In the typical Renaissance facade, for example, the arches of the windows are rather openings in the walls than supporting members. They are centers of little eddies of force, rather than independent parts of the main determining stream of energy. The wall rises as a whole to its heavy overhanging cornice, despite the horizontal divisions marking the stories. There are, however, important differences between the various modern types; the earlier Renaissance forms, for example, keeping closer to the antique than the later Baroque and Rococo.

The complete triumph of the vertical tendency, foreshadowed in the Roman, was proclaimed in Gothic architecture in the use of the pointed arch. For in the round arch the vertical has not conquered after all; the horizontal is still active there, even to the apex of the arch, where the tangential line is parallel to the earth, the line of weight. But in the pointed style the victory of the vertical is clearly decisive,–the upward and inward forces, by elongating and narrowing the curve of the arch to a point, have dominated the downward and outward. The great height of the piers, the gabled roofs, the ribs of the vaults the pointed form of the windows, the towers, spires, and pinnacles,–all proclaim it. Yet this victory does not occur without opposition; for the higher the vaulting, the greater the weight to be carried; the greater, therefore, the outward thrust, which had to find its expression and its stay in the buttress. But even the buttress, although it bears witness to the outward and horizontal force of weight, was nevertheless so fashioned with its gable and pinnacle, or its own arched form, as to aid the upward movement. The thinness of walls and partitions, and the piercing of these with arches and windows, by lightening the force of weight, also contributed to increase the vertical movement. At sight of a true Gothic cathedral, we feel ourselves fairly lifted off the ground and rushed upward.

In thinking of the beauty of architecture, we are all too apt to consider the exterior exclusively, forgetting that the inside of a building, where we live, is even more important practically, and is capable of at least as great an aesthetic effect.

The characteristic aesthetic effect of the interior is a function of the inclosed space, the volume, not of the inclosing walls taken singly. The walls are only the limits of this space, they are not the space itself. Of course, the walls within have their own beauty, of surface and pervading energy, but this does not differ markedly from that of the walls seen from the outside, and what we have established for the one holds for the other. But the beauty of the inclosed space is something entirely new.

In itself, however, mere volume of space is no more aesthetic than mere bounding line or surface; in order to become beautiful, it must become alive. But how can space–the most abstract thing in the world–become alive? By having the activities which it incloses felt into it. Just as our bodies are felt to be alive because our activities express themselves there, so our rooms, because we live and move within them. As we enter a cathedral and look down the long aisle, the movement of our eyes inevitably suggests the movement of our bodies; or, as we look up and our eyes follow the ribs of the vaulting, it is as if we ourselves were borne aloft; in the imagination we move through the open spaces; and since we do not actually move, we locate our impulses to movement, not in our bodies, but in the space through which we take our imagined flight. Every object suggests movement to it, and we fill the intervening space with this imagined movement, provided only we stay our activities and give time for the imagination to work its will. Thus all space may become alive with the possibilities of movement which it offers.

The aesthetic effects of volume vary chiefly according to size and shape. In order to be appreciated, these effects must in general be somewhat striking; otherwise they pass unnoticed, and we simply take the interiors of our buildings as matters of course.

It is a curious fact that an impression of vastness can be secured by inclosing a relatively small space. A square, like the Place de la Concorde, or even the inside of a cathedral, produces a feeling of size almost, if not quite, as great as an open prairie or sea. The reason, I suppose, is that an inclosed space offers definite points as stimuli and goals for suggested movements. As we imaginatively reach out and touch these points, we seem to encompass their distance; and the volume of our own bodies seems to be magnified accordingly. The boundaries of the space become a second and greater integument. This is of decisive importance; for the aesthetic appreciation of size is relative to an appreciation of the size of our own bodies; in nature itself there is nothing either large or small. Along with the sense of vastness goes a sense of freedom; the one is the aesthetic experience resulting from the imaginative reaching of the goal of a movement, the other is the feeling of the imagined movement itself.

When, on the other hand, an inclosure is small, as in the case of a cell, and especially when the ceiling or vault is low, as in a crypt, it feels cabined and confined, because our own possibilities of movement are restricted. In order to avoid this feeling, if a space is limited in one direction, it must be free in another; if narrow, it must be long; if small in plan, it must be high, as in a tower.

The form of an inclosed space is also expressive. There are two chief types, the longitudinal and the radial; but since these may exist either in plan or in elevation, four possibilities result: the longitudinal-horizontal, as in an aisle; the longitudinal-vertical, as in a tower; the radial-horizontal, illustrated by every equilateral plan–triangle, square, regular polygon, and above all, the most perfect form of this type, the circle; and finally, the radial-vertical, of which domed spaces, like the Pantheon or St. Paul’s, are examples. The terms used to designate them, together with the examples, afford a good idea of what these space forms are, making further description unnecessary. It is interesting to observe how different the expression of the square and the triangle is when they determine the plan of an inclosed space from what it is when they are the shapes of walls. [Footnote: Compare Fritz Hoeber: Systematik der Architekturproportionen, II, B, a. ] In the case of the latter, according to the analysis which we have given of them, the figures represent an interplay of antagonistic horizontal and vertical forces, about an axis drawn perpendicular to the midpoint of the base line; while as plans they express forces homogeneous in kind radiating from their centers. The feeling of longitudinal forms is one of continued movement, forward or upward as the case may be; when the distance is very great, the feeling is of infinity, either of vista, as in an aisle, or of height, as in a tower, for even when the point at the end is clearly seen and known, we continue it in the imagination. The radial forms, on the other hand, even when the axes are very long, express completeness and security, for no matter how far we go in any one direction, we have to proceed along a line which brings us back to our starting point; in following to the top the movement of the curved line of a dome or an apse, the continuation of the same line carries us down on the other side to a point corresponding to the one from which we set out; if we wander, we return home.

With reference to the division of interiors into parts, the same two types are exemplified which we found in studying the visual and the dynamic aspects of buildings. Either the parts of the interior space are clearly marked off from each other, and the perception of the whole which they constitute is reached by a process of summation; or else, to one standing within, the space is first perceived as a whole, and its parts, lacking clear definition, are perceived subsequently. In the former type, the parts are of pronounced individuality, and the whole is their free and joint work; in the latter, the parts are merged, and tend to be lost in the whole. These two possibilities exist whether the space be of radial or longitudinal form. In general, the classical styles lend themselves to the coordinate type of division of the interior, while the later styles favor the subordination of the parts to the whole.

The other factors in the beauty of architecture, besides the expression of the forces resident in its forms, can receive only scant notice from us. Among these is light–its admission, exclusion, and diffusion. A house with ample windows flooded with sunshine shares the feeling of an open day; a cathedral, dimly lighted, stimulates a mood of brooding mystery and meditation, like some dark forest. Another factor is color. Color plays a double part in architecture: first, to enliven the neutral tones of certain materials; and second, to impart specific moods. It was no barbaric taste, but a keen feeling for life and warmth that induced the Greeks to paint their temples; and without their rose windows, Gothic cathedrals are like faces from which the glow of life is departing. The different colors have the same feelings in architecture that they have in painting. The reds and purples of ecclesiastical stained glass stimulate the passion of adoration, the blues deepen it, and the yellows seem to offer a glimpse of heavenly bliss. Sound, its presence or its absence, is another factor in architectural expression: the quiet of the church in contrast with the noise of the busy street outside, the peal of the organ, or the chorus of young voices. Although architecture is a spatial art and music a temporal art, they nevertheless go well together because the emotions aroused by both are vague and voluminous, and the sounds, reverberating from the walls and filling the inclosed spaces, seem to fuse with them. Ornamental carving performs a diversifying and enlivening function similar to that of color. So long as its lines follow those of the architectural forms, it may well be rich and elaborate. It is fitting, moreover, that buildings designed to be houses of the gods should contain their images, and that the same spirit that expresses itself in playful lines should become embodied in griffin and gargoyle. Finally, erected in the open, with no shelter or enframement, a building is, in large measure, a part of nature and possesses something of the beauty of nature. Rooted to one place like a tree, it shares the beauty of its site, and responds to the ever varying effects of light and shadow, rain and mist and snow.

The abstract beauty of architecture can be understood without any knowledge of the purposes of buildings. A Hindu who knows nothing of our civilization cannot fail to be responsive to Notre Dame, any more than we can fail to admire the beauty of Taj Mahal. The very simplest architectural forms, like the pyramids or the Washington monument, provided they are of sufficient size and mass, speak an eloquent language which is immediately understood. And the content of their speech is not so abstract as might be judged from our previous studies of it; for in architecture, as in music, concrete emotions and sentiments flow into the channel cut by the form. Longing, aspiration, and mystery have universally been felt into a form pointing skyward; and the feeling of incompleteness has been lost, and security regained, in an overarching dome.

There is, however, this difference between architecture and music. In music, the emotional content is purely personal; while in architecture, it may become social and historical. Architectural purposes are all social: the purposes of a family, a nation, a cult. And the purposes of the greatest of buildings–of those which serve the nation and religion–are also historical; about them gather the traditions of a community. Centers of the life of a people, created by it and enduring with it, they become its symbols; or outlasting it, memorials and witnesses to it. The vague emotions aroused by the architectural forms are pointed and enriched by this spirit: the vastness, seclusion, magnificence, mystery, and aspiration of the Gothic cathedral become associated with the life of the medieval Catholic church; the fine balance, clarity, and simplicity of the Greek temple with the best in Greek culture. This interpretation of a building in terms of its purpose and history is necessary to a complete aesthetic appreciation. Without it, a building may have many beauties, all the beauties which we have analyzed; but they are all separate, and there is no beauty of the whole. It is the life which the many parts and aspects serve that makes them into one.

I shall close this chapter with a brief discussion of architectural composition. The unity of a building is constituted primarily by the necessary adjustment of part to part which makes possible the life that it incloses. How the parts serve this purpose is not immediately evident to intuition; nor can it be; yet it should be intelligible to a thoughtful study. The knowledge thus gained may then enter into an imaginative vision, for which the building will seem like an organism pulsing with life.

This purposive unity cannot well be secured without spatial contiguity; here, as in sculpture, a unified life demands a unified material. Yet sometimes detached structures belong together functionally, and may be felt as one aesthetically, provided they are similar in design and some one of them is dominant; otherwise, each claims to be a distinct individual, and aesthetic rivalry is the result.

Functional unity, although necessary, is not sufficient for aesthetic unity; in addition, there must be formal unity–design, composition. To study this adequately would require a separate treatise, which has not yet been written, so far as I know, with anything approaching philosophical depth and completeness; but for our plan it will be sufficient to show how the general principles of aesthetic form are illustrated in architecture; and because of the perspicuity of things spatial, these principles are nowhere else so lucidly manifest.

Since architecture is a spatial art, unity in variety is chiefly a matter of harmony and balance rather than of evolution, and of these harmony is perhaps the most conspicuous. Harmony is secured in many ways.

First, by giving the whole building or parts of the building a simple geometrical form readily perceived,–for example, the cruciform plan of many Gothic cathedrals, the oblong plan and oblong surmounted by a triangle in the facade of the Greek temple, the octagonal shape of a Renaissance chapel. A higher degree of harmony is obtained when the same shape is repeated throughout the various parts of the building,–the cylinder in the columns, the triangle or semicircle in the arches and gables. A step further is taken in the same direction when the different similar parts are all of the same size, as in the Greek temple, where the columns are all of one size, and similar parts of columns of equal size, and the metopes and triglyphs likewise.

A more complex type of harmony, since it admits of greater variety, is proportionality. Proportionality may be of various kinds. It may be merely the existence of a definite numerical relation between the dimensions of single parts, or the areas of various parts, of a building. This, in turn, may be either a simple arithmetical relation, such as exists between the parts of a Greek facade, each being some simple multiple of the unit or module; or a more complex relation like the Golden Section, where the smaller is to the larger dimension as the larger is to the sum of both; or like that which obtains when different parts form a geometrical series, where each is smaller or larger than the preceding by some fraction of the latter. The relation between the length and breadth of the facade of the Ducal Palace in Florence illustrates the Golden Section; the heights of the stories of the Peller House in Nuremberg form a geometrical series. This type of harmony is most complete when the proportion between the dimensions of the different parts is the same as that of the whole building,–by the ancients called concinnitas because it produces a feeling akin to that of musical harmony. Dominance of a particular kind of line, horizontal or vertical, also gives harmony. Finally, harmony is secured by sameness of direction of line: the alignment of windows or parallelism between moldings dividing the surfaces of walls, for example.

The relations, so seemingly mathematical, upon which architectural harmony is based, need not be exact, for two reasons: minor deviations are not perceptible, and even when perceptible, they give to the whole a feeling of life. Our experience with living things has taught us that, despite their orderliness, there is no exact mathematical regularity in their proportions; hence forms which cannot be precisely formulated are better fitted to symbolize life to us than the rigidly geometrical. The same experience has taught us that the curvilinear forms are closer to life than the angular; hence again the tendency, for aesthetic purposes, to introduce minute departures from the plumb-line and rule. There is, however, a type of life specifically human, the life of reason, which is best symbolized by mathematical relations; hence the Greeks, and all those who have followed the classical ideal, all who have had a passion for reason, have felt the circle and the square, and every other exact embodiment of clarity and intelligence, to be beautiful. In no other art has the passion for the intelligible been so perfectly expressed as in classical architecture.

Next in importance to harmony as a mode of unity in variety in architecture is balance. Balance implies emphatic variety, or contrast. One mode of balance, that between the upward and the downward tendencies, we have already discussed. There is another mode, similar to that which exists in painting and sculpture, the balance between the right and left members of a building. In order that this type of balance may be appreciated, there must be some axis or line of mediation between the parts, from which the opposing tendencies take their start; otherwise we view the parts together, instead of in opposition. For example, there is balance between two wings of a building which are separated by some central member or link; balance between the aisles of a church on either side of the nave; balance between the sets of three columns right and left of the door in the Greek hexastyle temple. Such cases of symmetry between equal right and left parts are the simplest examples of balance; but there are other, more complex types. For example, the parts may be unequal, yet balance nevertheless, provided their inequality is compensated for by some enrichment of design or ornament in the lesser part. Or again, there may be a balance between contrasting shapes, such as the square and the triangle, when they make an equal claim upon the attention.

Although, since architecture is a static art, evolution is not so important as harmony and balance, it exists nevertheless. In a colonnade, as you look down it, with the height of the columns diminishing in perspective, there is a rhythmical movement of eye and attention toward the last column as a goal. There is the same rhythmical movement in following the arches on either side of the nave of a church leading to the apse.

There is a rhythmical movement in the progressive diminution of the height of the stories of a building, going towards the top. In such spatio-temporal rhythms, the proportional equality between the members corresponds to the equal intervals in temporal rhythms, and the alternation between member and intervening space, or between member and line of division, corresponds to the alternation between heavy and light accents. Last, evolution is present in architecture, whenever, often without rhythmical divisions, the attention is impelled to move along lines that meet at a point which serves as a climax, as in all triangular forms where the lines lead up to the apex,–pointed windows or arches, towers ending in belfries or pinnacles.

Dominance, with its correlative, subordination, are everywhere present in architecture. In general, size and a central position, which usually go together, determine preeminence. The largest masses and those which occupy a central position inevitably rule the others. The towers and the facade dominate the exterior of a Gothic cathedral, the middle doorway is superior to those which flank it, and within, the central and larger nave dominates the smaller aisles on either side. When there are many dominant elements, as is necessarily the case in a large building, they must be unified by balance, if there are two, or by subordination to one of them, if three or more; otherwise, each claims to be the whole and the building falls apart into its members. There cannot well be three vertical dominant parts, because the central one makes a claim to preeminence which cannot be satisfied without superiority in size. A central member should, therefore, either be made larger than those flanking it, or else should be reduced to the status of a mere subordinate link between the others.

In the horizontal division of a building into stories–as, for example, in the Palazzo Farnese near Rome–it is easier for the prominent parts to be equal, because they are better united by the evident contiguity of their masses, by their inclosure in a simple geometrical shape, and enframement between base and overhanging cornice. Yet here also we observe the tendency to make the middle larger or otherwise dominant, exemplified even in the building cited, where the central part is distinguished by the ornamental shield, upon which the attention is focused. When there are four horizontal divisions, our tendency is to divide them into groups of two; but unless this grouping is clearly marked by a molding or other such device, our purpose is defeated because each of the two can itself be divided into two parts, whence we get the four parts again, among which there is not sufficient unity. When, however, there are more than four stories, they cease to function as individuals and become members of a series, the rhythm of which creates the necessary unity. Even in this case, however, the tendency toward grouping into three with the middle dominant persists; for, as a rule, the stories are divided by moldings into three parts, of which the central part is the largest. Four equal stories are difficult because they at once resist an arrangement into threes and yet fall short of being the series which they suggest. When a series of stories is divided into three parts, a superior aesthetic effect is gained if the height of each story diminishes in some regular ratio from the bottom to the top, thus expressing the gradual overcoming of the downward force by the upward,–the rhythm becomes dynamical as well as kinematical.

All good architectural styles illustrate the principle of impartiality, which demands the careful elaboration of parts. Yet, as we have indicated, there are two possibilities: some styles are founded on the idea of the subordination of the parts to the whole, and so permit of a less elaborate execution of details, while others are based on the idea of coordination among the parts within the whole, and so require that each part be vividly clear, distinct from the others, and possessed of a pronounced individual beauty. These two types are exemplified in each of the three aspects of a building–the visual, the dynamic, and the voluminal. For the Greek and Roman architecture and for that of the Renaissance, the former was the ideal; while the latter is clearly characteristic of the more modern forms; between these stand the Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic, in which a union of the two types, in what has well been called an organic type, was attempted, and perhaps achieved in the last. The former has the feeling of the mechanical, rational view of life, which is the classical; the latter has the feeling of the mystical and organic view, which is modern. [Footnote: See P. Frankl, Die Entwicklungsphasen der neueren Baukunst, 1914.]


Preface  •  Chapter I - Introduction: Purpose and Method  •  Chapter II - Definition of Art  •  Chapter III - The Intrinsic Value of Art  •  Chapter IV - The Analysis of the Aesthetic Experience: The Elements of the Experience  •  Chapter V - The Analysis of the Aesthetic Experience: The Structure of the Experience  •  Chapter VI - The Problem of Evil in Aesthetics, and Its Solution Through the Tragic, Pathetic, and Comic  •  Chapter VII - The Standard of Taste  •  Chapter VIII - The Aesthetics of Music  •  Chapter IX - The Aesthetics of Poetry  •  Chapter X - Prose Literature  •  Chapter XI - The Dominion of Art Over Nature: Painting  •  Chapter XII - Sculpture  •  Chapter XIII - Beauty in the Industrial Arts: Architecture  •  Chapter XIV - The Function of Art: Art and Morality  •  Chapter XV - The Function of Art: Art and Religion  •  Bibliography

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The Principles Of Aesthetics
By Dewitt H. Parker
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