Harvard Psychological Studies, Volume 1 eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 757 pages of information about Harvard Psychological Studies, Volume 1.
In short it is impossible to account for more than a small part of the marked symmetry of primitive art by non-aesthetic influences, and we are therefore forced to conclude an original tendency to create symmetry, and to take pleasure in it.  A strong negative confirmation of this is given, as noted above, by the utter lack of symmetry of the only branch of art in which the primitive man is fully preoccupied with meaning to the neglect of shape; and by the contrast of this with those branches of art in which attention to meaning is at its minimum.

The question put at the beginning of this section must thus be answered affirmatively.  There is evidence of an original aesthetic pleasure in symmetry.


A.  Method of Experiment.

A certain degree of original aesthetic pleasure in symmetry may be considered to have been established by the preceding section, and, without considering further the problems of real or geometrical symmetry, it may now be asked whether the pleasure aroused by the form of asymmetrical objects is not at bottom also pleasure in symmetry; whether, in other words, a kind of substitution of factors does not obtain in such objects, which brings about a psychological state similar to that produced by real symmetry.

The question what these substituted factors may be can perhaps be approached by a glance at a few pictures which are accepted as beautiful in form, although not geometrically symmetrical.  Let us take, for instance, several simple pictures from among the well-known altar-pieces, all representing the same subject, the Madonna Enthroned with Infant Christ, and all of generally symmetrical outline.  It seems, then, reasonable to assume that if the variations from symmetry show constantly recurring tendencies, they represent the chief factors in such a substitutional symmetry or balance, supposing it to exist.  The following pictures are thus treated in detail, M. denoting Madonna; C., Child; and Cn., Central Line.  The numbers refer to the collection of reproductions used exclusively in this investigation, and further described in section IV.

1. 56, Martin Schoengauer:  Madonna in Rose-arbor. M. is seated exactly in Cn., C. on Right, turning to Right.  M. turns to Left, and her long hair and draperies form one long unbroken line down to Left lower corner.  All other details symmetrical.

2. 867, Titian:  Madonna.  The picture is wider than it is high.  M. stands slightly to Right of Cn.; C. on Right.  Both turn slightly to Left, and the drapery of M. makes a long sweep to Left.  Also a deep perspective occupies the whole Left field.

3. 248, Raphael:  Madonna (The Bridgewater Madonna).  M. sits in Cn., turning to Left; C. lies across her lap, head to Left, but his face turned up to Right, and all the lines of his body tending sharply down to Right.

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Harvard Psychological Studies, Volume 1 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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