Durant 1926: Art (Schopenhauer)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter VII Section 6.3 from the book THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY by WILL DURANT. The  contents are from the 1933 reprint of this book by TIME INCORPORATED by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.

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VI. The Wisdom of Life 

(3) Art

This deliverance of knowledge from servitude to the will, this forgetting of the individual self and its material interest, this elevation of the mind to the will-less contemplation of truth, is the function of art. The object of science is the universal that contains many particulars; the object of art is the particular that contains a universal. “Even the portrait ought to be, as Winckelmann says, the ideal of the individual.” In painting animals the most characteristic is accounted the most beautiful, because it best reveals the species. A work of art is successful, then, in proportion as it suggests the Platonic Idea, or universal, of the group to which the represented object belongs. The portrait of a man must aim, therefore, not at photographic fidelity, but at exposing, as far as possible, through one figure, some essential or universal quality of man.”* Art is greater than science because the latter proceeds by laborious accumulation and cautious reasoning, while the former reaches its. goal at once by intuition and presentation; science can get along with talent, but art requires genius.

*So in literature, character-portrayal rises to greatness—other things equai—in proportion as the clearly-delineated individual represents also a Universal type, like Faust and Marguerite or Quixote and Sancho Panza.

A work of art is successful, then, in proportion as it suggests the Platonic Idea, or universal, of the group to which the represented object belongs.

Our pleasure in nature, as in poetry or painting, is derived from contemplation of the object without admixture of personal will. To the artist the Rhine is a varied series of bewitching views, stirring the senses and the imagination with suggestions of beauty; but the traveler who is bent on his personal affairs “will see the Rhine and its banks only as a line, and the bridges only as lines cutting the first line.” The artist so frees himself from personal concerns that “to artistic perception it is all one whether we see the sunset from a prison or from a palace.” “It is this blessedness of will-less perception which casts an enchanting glamour over the past and the distant, and presents them to us in so fair a light.” Even hostile objects, when we contemplate them without excitation of the will, and without immediate danger, become sublime. Similarly, tragedy may take an esthetic value, by delivering us from the strife of the individual will, and enabling us to see our suffering in a larger view. Art alleviates the ills of life by showing us the eternal and universal behind the transitory and the individual. Spinoza was right: “in so far as the mind sees things in their eternal aspect it participates in eternity.”*

*Goethe: “There is no better deliverance from the world” of strife “than through art.” 

Art alleviates the ills of life by showing us the eternal and universal behind the transitory and the individual. 

This power of the arts to elevate us above the strife of wills is possessed above all by music.* “Music is by no means like the other arts, the copy of the Ideas” or essences of things, but it is “the copy of the will itself”; it shows us the eternally moving, striving, wandering will, always at last returning to itself to begin its striving anew. “This is why the effect of music is more powerful and penetrating than the other arts, for they speak only of shadows, while it speaks of the things itself.” It differs too from the other arts because it affects our feelings directly,** and not through the medium of ideas; it speaks to something subtler than the intellect. What symmetry is to the plastic arts, rhythm is to music; hence music and architecture are antipodal; architecture, as Goethe said is frozen music; and symmetry is rhythm standing still. 

*”Schopenhauer was the first to recognize and designate with philosophic clearness the position of music with reference to the other fine arts.”—Wagner.
**Hanslick objects to this and argues that music affects only the imagination directly. Strictly, of course, it affects only the senses directly. 

This power of the arts to elevate us above the strife of wills is possessed above all by music. Music differs from the other arts because it affects our feelings directly, and not through the medium of ideas; it speaks to something subtler than the intellect. 

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