Styles In Different Schools Of Art

Having now inquired minutely into the particular province which is the appointed sphere of operation of each of the arts, and surveyed them seriatim as to their several capabilities, we have next to trace the development in different modes of the leading styles and prominent characteristics by which they become distinguished.

As regards the present subject, I may here premise that in all these arts there are two main and principal divisions as regards their style that must ever be observed, which is the distinction of them into the grand and the beautiful. The former of these is that which represents great and sublime scenes with becoming dignity, and serves to excite in us feelings of awe and wonder rather than of immediate pleasure. Indeed, the gratification experienced in this case, although real, and even intense, is nevertheless quite indirect. The latter style is adapted to create in our minds ideas of a refined, and tasteful, and directly pleasing nature, and to excite sensations of a corresponding character. In addition to this, there are also the pathetic and satirical styles, the nature of each of which will be discussed at large.

In a certain sense, and to a large extent, art in general, but more especially painting, may, however, be most correctly divided into nine main different styles, applicable to each branch of art alike. First of all, there is the epic or grand style, by which human nature is displayed in its noblest form. This is unquestionably the highest and the most exalted of them all; and in this Michael Angelo, Milton, Demosthenes, and Handel have principally excelled. Next to this comes the beautiful style already alluded to, in which Virgil, Raphael, and Guido stand pre-eminent. After this follows the tragic, by which the operation of passion and feeling is powerfully portrayed, and in which Shakespeare and Salvator Rosa were peculiarly successful.

There is also the power to represent familiar scenes, in which active life as regards human nature, is also represented. The fifth is the style which describes humorous scenes, such as Hogarth and Butler, the author of Hudibras, excelled in. The sixth embraces the representation of active animal life, in which Sneyders, and Cuyp, and Landseer have been so successful. The seventh is that which portrays inactive or landscape life, if we may so term it, in which Claude and Turner, and Thompson the poet, have greatly shone. The eighth is that by which dead nature, such as game and fish, is represented. And the ninth is that which depicts inanimate objects which never had life, such as articles of furniture. The two last styles are perhaps strictly and practically within the province of painting alone, although the other arts might doubtless be employed to effect representations of this class; but from the limited success which they would attain, we have comparatively little, if any experience of their operations here.

Greatness appears to be naturally associated with the grand style, strong contrasts and vivid action with the tragic, softness and harmony with the beautiful; and this alike as regards outline, colour, and light and shade. Apparent reality and nature, whether in form or in colour, add essentially to the beautiful, as also to the efficient representation of familiar scenes, and to those of active animal life, of landscape, and dead nature ; but not so extensively so to the grand.

If grandeur and imagination, and efforts of this class, are to be ranked as higher than the excitement of mere pleasure by producing agreeable effects, and the near imitation of nature ; surely those subjects also, and those efforts in art, which are calculated to call forth the former, must be classed, according to the principles here laid down, as higher than those which can excite the latter only.

Groups of peasants, and children, and landscape scenery, afford subjects for representation which are doubtless lovely in their way ; but they appeal far less to the intellect, and in a much humbler style, than do compositions from events in classic history, or from those which represent human nature, and human passions and feelings, under circumstances which excite our admiration or our sympathy.

Different feelings among the people, and different tastes and capacities, influence the formation of different styles in art; and different styles in art, in their turn, influence and promote different tastes and feelings among the people. Styles of each kind, nevertheless, appeal equally to the mind, although to different capacities and emotions.

But in order to attain a true and correct principle on which to proceed as regards the division of these different styles, we must recur to the consideration and examination of those different powers with which, as I remarked in a previous chapter, the mind is endowed, and through which it is adapted for artistical pursuits. Thus we shall find that to its capacity of origination it is indebted for its power of inventing and imagining those grand compositions which are ranked among the highest productions of the epic style. When with origination the capacity of taste is extensively combined, productions in the tragic style will probably result, in which beauty and imagination are united together. When taste by itself is the main predominant capacity, the works produced will be of the most beautiful and refined nature. The possession of satire gives birth to comedy, and to effusions of a humorous description.

The determination whether the grand or the beautiful style is entitled to a general preference, might in many respects appear to be a matter of considerable doubt and difficulty, although from the greater perfection to which the beautiful and the tragic styles have been carried, on account of their nearer adaptation to our capacities than that of grandeur, they may seem at first view to claim the priority. Thus Shakespeare is deemed superior as a poet to Milton, from possessing truer, and deeper, and more perfect knowledge of human nature, which the latter only attempted to describe allegorically. On the same account also, Raphael is considered greater than Michael Angelo. But it may be questioned whether these followers of the grand style, although not apparently evincing so accurate a knowledge of human nature as those of the tragic, do not actually display an acquaintance with it of a more enlarged quality. They were, indeed, able not only to portray human nature as it is, but possessed such an insight into its workings as to be capacitated to describe it under a vast variety of circumstances, and even under those of which no actual experience could have been obtained. Those of the former style may indeed have carried their art to greater perfection than those of the latter, but their sphere is considerably more limited.

In the classification of the styles of each of the different arts, it would appear that the epic or grand style is best adapted for the development of intellectual character ; the beautiful for that of moral character ; and the tragic for that of passion and feeling.

As different styles in art may in some measure arise from the difference in mental constitution between those who follow them in the same country ; so various schools of art in various nations are characterized by the corresponding turns of mind which distinguish the people of those nations. Thus, in eloquence, how different is the natural style of different people in the same country, and how different is that of different nations ! each exactly according with the distinguishing character of the individuals and nations themselves.

As each art has its proper province, so each phase and period and state of society should have its proper style. The poetry and the architecture of one period may be wholly unsuitable for another. Each subject of a leading character in whatever art should be treated in its appropriate mode. Peculiarity of manner in painting, or poetry, or any of the arts, is, however, doubtless in itself a defect. But it is a defect which is so universal by habit, that it has become quite a part of our being. The division of style is, moreover, ever to be distinguished from peculiarity of manner. The one is legitimate, the other false ; the one is natural, the other a failing ; the one originates in nature, the other in a perversion of it. Individual peculiarities of manner are consequently very different from those of style or of the various schools of art, although probably they arise from corresponding causes. As every person has his own individual demeanour and tone and gesture, so every artist has, more or less, his own peculiarity of method. The manners of people of different nations differ from one another to a marked degree in all these respects.

In some styles mediocrity may be tolerable, and even pleasing; in others it can never command admiration or even attention. There are many shades of beauty, of grandeur there are but very few degrees.

Difference in style may perhaps be attributed to the three following circumstances :-1. Particular climate and character of a country. 2. The influence of some great genius in the art. 3. Moral causes affecting that particular nation.

That these causes, and, indeed, all of them united, can, nevertheless, have but a very partial and limited influence, is evidenced by the fact that different styles exist in the same climate; that where the greatest geniuses have flourished, the arts have subsequently sunk to the lowest grade; and that the same moral causes have been found to produce results of an entirely opposite character.

The endeavour to trace out the principal characteristics of the different schools of art may, however, be useful as affording a review of the general history and rise of the arts, an exemplification of the various styles, and of the principles upon which they were formed. The subject also possesses much interest, as developing the connection between the character of the people in any nation, and that of the peculiar branch of art which was cultivated among them; and evincing how intimate is the relation between their moral disposition and intellectual pursuits. To what extent climate, natural productions, and the situation of a country, national events, the state of civilization and mode of living among a people, the condition and the particular departments of literature which are cultivated among them, and even wealth, and the manner of its distribution, may have their effect in forming, or in influencing the formation of national character and national taste, is a subject which may admit of much discussion.

As when we would form a just and adequate opinion of the character and endowments of an individual, we take a comprehensive survey at once of his disposition and feelings, his mental faculties and powers, and consider moreover the degree and the nature of the cultivation which he has bestowed on his mind, and the various circumstances by which he has been surrounded and affected, and then proceed to calculate the mutual and relative effect which each of these may be supposed to have produced on the other; so in estimating the character and genius of a nation, we must first consider its geographical position, its climate, soil, and the features of the country as regards its scenery, and the state of civilization among the people. We must then inquire into the nature of its government and religious and civil institutions, the various events of different kinds through which it has passed, the intercourse it has had with other nations, and the character of the countries with whom its inhabitants have been mainly brought in con-tact. We may then proceed to calculate on the relative effect of each of these causes one with another, and arrive with some degree of certainty at a fair estimate of the result of the whole. In this manner we may be able to analyse, and to trace the cause of each peculiarity of manner, as surely as we do the cause of the flow of rivers from mountains in particular directions, according to the declivities of the regions through which they roll.

Hence, with due care and discrimination, we may doubt-less discover these various influences, as regards the different styles of several of the most distinguished of the schools of art. To the climate of any country is the nature and disposition of its inhabitants to be ascribed in many points, as we find to be the case originally in all the different nations of the globe, where nature has been found in the possession of undisturbed sway, and been free to exhibit her own characteristics.

In a former chapter I considered the influence of country and climate in originating a taste for art. We have here to inquire into the result of these and certain other influences as regards the development of different styles and characteristics. The position and natural features of any country, as whether inland or maritime, flat and dull, or abounding in rocks and rivers and romantic scenery, and the adaptation of the climate for the development of the utmost beauty here, to which allusion has already been made, must necessarily have an important influence as regards the direction of the national taste, not only for landscape scenery, but in elevating the mind to admiration and imitation of the beauties of nature. Great national events, such as wars and civil commotions in a State, must also have considerable bias on the taste of a people, as they serve to turn their thoughts and their genius to matters of that nature, and to mould the character accordingly. The pursuits and studies which have more particularly engaged the attention of the inhabitants of any nation must also have an extensive effect in the regulation of their taste with regard to works of art. In this respect the religious opinions, history, and traditions prevalent among the people are especially important. Thus the mythology of the Greeks and ancients had a direct and very great influence on the character of art among them. And since the establishment of Christianity, the finest master-pieces of art have been in illustration of some events in its history.

Lastly, even the possession and distribution of wealth in any nation, may indirectly have the most powerful effect in influencing the national taste, either by engendering a general love for magnificence and grandeur among its citizens, or enabling them to acquire and to possess among them the most splendid and costly works of art.

Indeed, in each nation, and at different periods of the same nation, the individual influence of war, commerce, navigation, wealth, religion, foreign intercourse, domestic commotion, may be traced as regards the arts ; and that too in a variety of ways.

It should be especially borne in mind that in calculating the influence in the aggregate of different causes of this nature, we are not to consider separately and independently, as we do with respect to arithmetical calculations, the effect of each unit, and then add the whole together; inasmuch as it happens with many of these causes that they produce very different results individually when united with others, to what they are each prone to do independently and when by themselves, as we see is the case with individuals of our own species, each of whom may feel and act very differently when forming part of a large crowd to what he does when by himself. But it should also be considered (as has indeed already been observed),* that although the character of the scenery and of the natural objects existing in any particular country are very important as tending to influence the direction, or to cause the actual development of genius, they can do nothing whatever absolutely to create it.

On the other hand, the arts serve in a great degree to exhibit and to reflect as it were in the bias they display, the character of the particular people among which they are cultivated. This is especially the case with poetry and eloquence, which are generally resorted to, and are susceptible of being affected by every variety of impression. Thus, whether a people be naturally gay or grave, frivolous or philosophical, religious or profane, imaginative or phlegmatic, may be at once discerned, not only by the poetry produced in that country, but by the style of the ordinary language in use. In all the other arts this is the case, but it is in those I have referred to that it is most easily and most fully made manifest.

In pursuing an investigation of this kind, are we able to discern the general connection between national character and national pursuits and tastes, as exhibited not only in art but in literature and legislation, and all the other various departments of learning and science ; and thus also the relation between civilization and refinement, and the general pursuits and engagements which mankind are led to follow, becomes exhibited to our view.