Art Theory – Province Of Passions

The province of the passions in imaginative effort is very important, and is the more extensive on account of the power and energy characteristic of all their operations. Whether roused by some real object or transaction which serves directly to excite them, or by indirect but hardly less forcible appeals to them through the operation of the imagination, and the phantasms which it conjures up, and presents as real appearances ; they fiercely rush forth in full force, stirring up the mind from its profoundest depths, and like the sudden burst of a tempest on the surface of the ocean, they rouse every dormant energy into full and active operation, and let loose all the powers of the soul, which now roar and foam in unrestrained freedom, whereby the wildest excesses are achieved, which in the peaceful and ordinary calm of life could never have been contemplated.

The passions are, indeed, quite as valuable as auxiliaries, but as auxiliaries only, in the exercise of imaginative efforts, as is the reason, although they require to be kept in due bounds, and to be restrained in their proper and appointed province. Moreover, the excitement of the passions, as I have already observed, contributes much to raise the mind to a state peculiarly fitted for the wanderings of the imagination.

Passion also greatly aids the efforts of imagination, by magnifying in the mental vision the appearance of the different phantasms which the mind conjures up or creates, and by giving vigour to the exercises of origination. Passion affects the imagination of the artist to the same extent, or in a corresponding manner with that in which imaginative effort in the composition affects the passions of the beholder. The passions give force and energy to the efforts of imagination, and stimulate them on to bold exertion. They loosen the bonds which reason imposes. We see objects as through a mist when enveloped in passion, which not only unnaturally distorts them, but magnifies them into monsters. Not only passion, but the height of enthusiasm and even frenzy have been occasionally availed of to aid and invigorate the operations of imagination.

Moreover, as in society, we may observe that the excitement of any particular passions or feelings in one man will by sympathy have the effect of calling forth corresponding emotions in those around him; so in works of art, the representation or description of the excitement of violent passions will, by sympathy, call forth corresponding feelings in those who gaze upon these transcripts of nature. This sympathy, excited by the representation of passion, is evoked by terror, and more or less by anger also ; so that whenever we see the passion vehemently exhibited in an artistical composition, we catch a sort of infection from it, and our own feelings are correspondingly roused.

There seems, therefore, to be a peculiar and a close alliance between imagination and passion, especially as regards terror, and in some cases with respect to anger. Love aids invention rather than imagination. Passion, generally, however, not only agitates but liberates the mind. It sets it at work, and frees it from the restraints of reason and reflection ; and also urges it on and induces it to wander in those wilds where imagination delights to roam and to disport itself. Indeed, in every originative effort, there is more or less of passion, and of the wildness which it produces ; and without some passion being infused into it, it is hardly possible that any composition should partake extensively of this character.

In the preceding section, while inquiring into the influence of reason upon originative efforts, the influence of passion was adverted to; and the result of this influence will be fully illustrated during the examination of the several elements of origination in the section that follows, which therefore renders unnecessary any discussion of this subject at length in the present section.

VII. Having already endeavoured to demonstrate that the various originative efforts of the mind are respectively exercised through the operation of the faculties which have been described, the question next arises as to what are the actual materials upon which imagination is exerted, and what are the leading elements which serve for efforts and creations of this kind ?