Here, as in the other varieties of illusion already treated of, we may distinguish between a passive and an active side; only in this case the passive side must not be taken as corresponding to any common suggestions of the object, as in the case of perception proper. So far as an illusion of aesthetic intuition may be considered as passive, it must be due to the effect of circumscribed individual associations with the object.
All agree that what is called beauty consists, to a considerable extent, of a power of awaking pleasant suggestions, but in order that these should constitute a ground of aesthetic value, they must be common, participated in by all, or at least by an indefinite number. This will be the case when the association rests on our common every-day experiences, and our common knowledge of things, as in the case of the peaceful beauty of an ascending curl of blue smoke in a woody landscape, or the awful beauty of a lofty precipice. On the other hand, when the experience and recollections, which are the source of the pleasure, are restricted and accidental, any attribution of objective worth is illusory. Thus, the ascription of beauty to one’s native village, to one’s beloved friends, and so on, in so far as it carries the conviction of objective worth, may imply a confusion of the individual with the common experience.
The active side of this species of illusions would be illustrated in every instance of ascribing beauty to objects which is due, in a considerable measure at least, to some pre-existing disposition in the mind, whether permanent or temporary. A man brings his peculiar habits of thought and feeling to the contemplation of objects, and the aesthetic impression produced is coloured by these predispositions. Thus, a person of a sad and gloomy cast of mind will be disposed to see a sombre beauty where other eyes see nothing of the kind. And then there are all the effects of temporary conditions of the imagination and the feelings. Thus, the individual mind may be focussed in a certain way through the suggestion of another. People not seldom see a thing to be beautiful because they are told that it is so. It might not be well to inquire too curiously how many of the frequenters of the annual art exhibitions use their own eyes in framing their aesthetic judgments. Or the temporary predisposition may reside in a purely personal feeling or desire uppermost at the time.