THE NEW SENSE OF SPACE
A Reorientation of the Creative Faculty of Man
1. The Sense of Space
Many progressive artists, musicians as well as painters, sculptors, etc., claim today that "pure art" must be conceived only in terms of planes, volumes, masses, problems of balance of form, of light and shadow, and that any element other than these so-called abstract ones pertains to the realm of "literature" in art, that is to say to values which are extra-artistic. In other words they claim that the subject-matter of the work of art is of no esthetic importance, that the work has no meaning save that which arises immediately from the sensation of form, from the purely esthetical sensation, therefore from the objective reality of the work of art outside of the being facing such a reality, such a thing-in-itself.
It is needless to say that there is a great deal of truth in such a conception, that the function of the artist is to give birth to esthetic forms which have meaning in themselves, which are real entities justifying themselves by themselves as any organic living creature justifies itself by itself, by the mere fact of its being alive and organic as a whole or as part of an organic whole. The question arises however: if a plant or an animal is considered as a living entity by virtue of its being an organic whole, a living whole, in other words by reference to a universal principle, Life — what is it to which an esthetic form is consciously or subconsciously referred, what is it which makes a form esthetic and therefore meaningful in itself without need for further verbal intellectual explanation? We will answer: Space.
A living organism justifies itself fully and completely by its being a vehicle for Life. An esthetic form justifies itself fully and completely by its being a vehicle for Space, or rather by inducing in us the consciousness of Space latent in every human soul.
Problems of line, volume, mass — says the artist, constitute the substratum of the creative work. As the artist solves these problems in a work of art, solves them efficiently, elegantly and with that character of inherent necessity which is to be found both in living organisms and in mathematical solutions of abstract problems, then he proves himself to be a real creator. He is a real creative artist not because he told a story connected with his own subjective feelings and his own personal emotions or aspirations, but because he fashioned a form which as a form is self-sufficient, final, necessary and complete.
But why is such a form final, necessary and complete? What is the ultimate value to which all these problems of line, form, mass, can and must be reduced if they are to be properly understood? Such questions are not answered today, because artists as a rule are not philosophers and do not deal with ultimates but only with sensorial elements. We shall answer these questions by saying that line, form, mass, are all to be considered as elements of the one reality — Space. That a form manifests finality, necessity and inherent logic when this form is produced by the creator and realized by the spectator as a vehicle for Space, as the arouser of this sense of Space which exists potentially in every man but is only developed in a very few, and very rudimentarily developed at that.
But in order to grasp the meaning of the phrase "a vehicle for Space" one must of course understand what Space really is; and Space is in truth a most profound mystery, than which there is none deeper and yet more essential to fathom if the essence of art and artistic creation is to be properly and impersonally evaluated. Let us therefore try and explain at least some of the basic aspects of this mystery of Space and the nature of that no less mysterious 'sense of Space' in man.
Space is that which underlies all forms, all objects, all manifested realities. If we empty our mind of all externals, of all the changing modifications of the objective world, we must come ultimately to consider everything, outside of our purely subjective sense of being, as differentiation of some sort of primal and unqualifiable substance — call it ether, or protyle, or whatever you wish — which, by a further process of abstraction, resolves itself into Space. In other words, we can reduce any object to a mass of atoms, electrons, then etheric vibrations (i.e., changes in some homogeneous substance); finally we can try and dismiss even the thought of this primordial homogeneous ether-substance, and there remains nothing but Space.
This Space that remains, however, is not necessarily to be conceived as mere emptiness; truly it is the negation of "things", but therefore it is the very essence, the very fullness of LIFE — the fullness of Being. Because Space in itself is the negation of the multiplicity of objects, it is the absolute essence of the unity of Life.
Space as the fullness of Being — space as emptiness, absolute void: these two conceptions are the two great fundamental bases for our modes of thinking and, in a sense, of living. According as we accept and embody in our thoughts and activities the one or the other, in this same way does our entire philosophy of life, of art, of social relationship become one thing or the other. We may not be, and usually are not, conscious of the metaphysical basis of this philosophy of life of ours; we probably think it rather queer to believe that what differentiates essentially human beings and human attitudes to life is whether we consider Space as fullness of Being or as mere emptiness. Yet this is undoubtedly the fact if we reach the plane of ultimates, and one single example will show how the same radical opposition of points of view with regard to Space is the practical foundation of two great methods of creative work.
Today most, and perhaps practically all artists face their canvas or sheet of paper as if it were empty space. i.e., a blank negation, the receptacle into which they have to project more or less at haphazard things invented by them, lines, shadows, colors. They consider themselves as autocratic gods outside of their empty cosmos (the sheet of white paper), pouring into this emptiness the products of their fancy according to rules mostly learned from the example of other artists of the past whose works have stood the test of time, very often with only a kind of subconscious instinct to guide their selection of forms.
But there have been times when the artist had a completely different attitude toward his work; there have been times when the designer would face reverently his white paper, the sculptor his block of marble with the sense that in front of them was not empty material but the very fullness of substance, the infinite potentiality of all forms, the Holy Virgin which they had to fecundate in love and veneration, in ritualistic ceremony. What they were to perform was the sacred operation by means of which this fullness of Space-substance would be differentiated into forms, by means of which out of the infinite potentialities of virgin Space one germ of structural organization was to be summoned, this germ to be unfolded by some later process into an esthetic organism.
Then the artist considered the act of designing as the act of differentiation of Space, himself being the differentiator. As he was drawing the outlines of a figure he did not think of himself as pasting a black ribbon on the empty white surface of the paper, but as setting apart, as cutting out (as by means of scissors almost) a portion of substance, of live, fertile substance. As the prospector first of all stakes his claim and surveys the ground which he wants to exploit before starting any work of building or mining, so the artist, feeling that space was like the fruitful soil out of which he was to draw the gold of esthetic form, first of all prepared the ground-work of his future creation, the womb of the many forms-to-be.
Whenever this latter attitude is held the artist is really exploiting something which is. He is fecundating Space-substance towards the bringing forth of esthetic forms. He is the tiller of Space; and thus he must needs follow the laws of Space, as a peasant must know the laws of the soil which is to bear him fruits. There is no personal fancy connected with the scientific art of agriculture and neither should there be any fancy connected with the organization of esthetic Space. But the peasant tilling his fields does not obey a set of intellectually perceived theories. First and foremost his instinct is of the soil's life and needs. He lives in nature, and is one with it. Indeed the knowledge of chemistry will help the farmer to increase the rendering of the soil, but such a knowledge will merely make more precise and more universal his deeper sense of nature.
Then Space is to the artist what nature is to the real peasant. The artist lives in Space, feels in function of it, penetrates it, loves it, sets it a thrill with the birth of forms. He is the magician evoking form-organisms out of Space, conjuring forth the progeny of Space. Designing then becomes a vital act, a creative act, an act of love, a rite.
On the other hand when the artist considers himself as the personal god saving or damning little corners of the sheet of paper, pasting things up, adding or subtracting to suit his fancy, covering his material with the excess of his emotions which he is not able to use in his own everyday life — then artistic creation means something purely personal, something to which other personalities will respond only in proportion as they feel in tune with the creative personality; in other words it becomes limited by race, tradition, feeling, milieu, and loses its universal meaning.
The two opposite conceptions of Space produce two different senses of Space. If Space is emptiness, esthetic forms are projected into it; if it is fullness of unconditioned Being, forms are evolved out of it. To feel forms growing out of Space by an inherent necessity as a plant grows out of seed and soil is to get a very profound and really mystical 'sense of Space.' It is the constant relating of the many forms to the one Space-substance, seeing forms as parts of an organic whole, parts fulfilling definite functions within this whole. It is the realization of the interdependence of all that lives in, and still more from Space, the Great Matrix of all forms.
It is only out of such a sense of Space that a true and deep sense of proportion can ever arise. Proportion means relationship between parts. The truth of the relationship between parts can only be found in the whole. The whole is space; exactly as a perfect human society can only be organized in terms of the unity of all human beings, in terms of Universal Brotherhood. Human groups can only function as real and harmonious groups when they are conceived as differentiations of humanity or society as a whole; competition and chaos arise as soon as groups are formed for isolated purposes not born out of the need of the whole.
Thus out of the sense of Space-fullness comes the sense of living interrelationship, of organization. For then relationship means interpenetration and not mere juxtaposition. So often do we see an artist draw an object, then another object, then something else to somehow balance the things already on the paper. Such is merely fancy-designing, slavery to the moods of the eyes. Real balance is produced by differentiation of organs out of a whole and toward a whole. Such differentiation is a vital process, as we shall see presently, and it obeys universal Laws. But the artist who has not first of all experienced, then consciously meditated upon this sense of Space-fullness is bound to misunderstand the meaning and place of such laws. He is bound to intellectualize and materialize them, to see them as regulations imposed from without instead of as vital processes realized from within, from within this very Space-experience which to the true artist is his own share of so called Cosmic Consciousness.
In proportion as he is able to experience the wholeness of Space as a foundation for the perception of his many esthetic forms, of his problems of line, volume, mass, shadow, etc., to such an extent will he be able to create organic, therefore significant, forms; for in him Life will have been the creator. And Life and Space are one; and this one is the Self, the Eternal Subject.
Modern artists nowadays emphasize the element of objectivity in art. To be subjective is to be romantic, and this is a very unpleasing qualification these days! But the opposition of subjective and objective becomes an illusory one as soon it is Space itself that produces the work of art under the magic of the artist's will and the artist has merged his whole being into the fullness of Space itself; as soon as the artist creates from his universal center, as a Universal Self. Space is the supreme Self; it is the great Mystery, the Unknown God of ancient religions, whose life expands in terms of geometrical gestures, in terms of Numbers, as conceived by Pythagoras and the few initiated Greek artists of that period. In the experience of Space-fullness the subject and the object are felt as one and the Laws of Space-differentiation are known as one's own vital processes, as absolute necessities of growth.
To see forms in terms of the Space out of which they evolved, of the Life of which they are the differentiated and functional vehicles, and not to consider space only insofar as it contains forms perceived as useful or pleasing to the senses: this is the secret of all great creation, the living seed out of which have grown all the great sacred art born in epochs when the sense of esthetic form was truly impersonal and universal, when forms were conceived as souls, and souls as forms of the metaphysical realms, and both forms and souls were realized only as vehicles (Hamsas in sanskrit) of the Eternal Self which is Life and which is Space — or as the Christian Gnostics call it, the Pleroma, i.e., infinite fullness of Being.
When artists begin to feel in a more lucid and compelling way this wholeness of the All-Form and to create from within without, from whole to parts instead of by juxtaposition of parts, piecemeal and as the fancy of the prevailing mood dictates, then a general reorientation of the creative faculty in the individual artists and in the race at large begins to take place; accepted esthetic values are questioned, challenged and superseded by more spiritual and more universal ones — and a great period in art occurs; however not a 'classical' period, for classical periods are always the end, the crystallization, and usually the sign of the spiritual failure of the truly great period that preceded them and which often is labeled "primitive."
Because such a period is approaching today, especially in America, a questioning of esthetical principles is in process. A vast reaction against romanticism, subjectivism and personal expression is taking place. But unfortunately only the shadow of the true objectivism is perceived; intellectual rules and traditions are worshipped where spiritual-vital processes ought to be understood; Form becomes the idol to which Life is sacrificed, instead of being recognized merely as the vehicle for all Life-manifestations. This happens mostly because the higher sense of Space is not experienced, because the old European scholastic idea of Space as emptiness is still adhered to and the mind of the race is not yet functioning in terms of the newer and deeper principle of the new physics of Einsteinian cosmology, a principle as old as the world, which was the root of the thought-processes of all ancient sacred metaphysics and therefore of all ancient sacred Art.
Space not being understood in its deeper nature before differentiation into dimensions and objects, likewise Form is not grasped as a prae-genital fact, as a cosmic process of Space- differentiation; and out of the confusion between cosmic or Geometrical Form and individual forms arise a large number of fallacies which on one hand lead to the deadly crystallizations of Neo-classicism, and on the other to the chaotic frenzy of Expressionism.
II. Proportional Form and Expressive Form
Let us consider a block of stone just cut from the quarry and the same stone after it has been sculptured into, let us say, an Apollo. After the creative process has taken place the substance of the stone is the same as before but there is less of it; yet something more has been added to the virgin stone — an apparent paradox. This something added to the transformed material is the Image in the mind of the artist, using the term Image in its widest and most philosophical sense. The impregnation of the virgin stone by the Image conceived or perceived by the artist has differentiated the stone into a sculpture, into an esthetic form. It has limited the stone, giving it a general shape or outline; it has chiseled out of this general shape certain portions of substance, thus bringing forth certain characteristics which collectively constitute the esthetic form, the embodied Image seen within, or felt, or somehow realized, deliberately or not, by the artist.
This process of differentiation by which a block of stone becomes the embodiment of an Image can be divided into two definite periods, and was so divided in certain cases in the past and occasionally today. These two phases of the process are in fact very distinct from a philosophical standpoint, two different types of human activity being concerned in the two-fold operation.
We will best understand the first phase by remembering how cities were built in ancient times. A certain locality was selected, then the general outline of the city walls was thought out; a trench was dug in the ground by a plough drawn usually by oxen; a sort of wall or fence was built. Then within this portion of the land, set apart for this special purpose, the city and its many houses were built around some temple or public building.
This simple operation is, however, one of tremendous significance when properly understood. It is one of cosmic, universal meaning and we find it described in ancient cosmogonies where the building of a universe is studied. In its essence it rests upon the principle of the surveying, then parceling of Space, represented in the case of a city or a building by the soil upon which they will stand, in the case of a drawing by the white surface of paper or canvass. Space being the infinite potentiality of forms, has first to be differentiated as a geometrical Form, or proportion. This geometrical Form, or ground-plan, represents the first differentiation of Space: that which sets apart a section of infinite Space for a definite use. The use is in the mind of the artist or builder. The geometrical Form set apart is determined by this use or function; the proportions embodied in this Form characterize this special function. According as the statue is to represent this, that or the other type of being, the proportions of the geometrical Form will be characterized by this or that number, or series of numbers.
On this rests what J. Hambidge called "symmetry", dynamic or static, as the case might be. The essential idea brought forth by this great pioneer of a new spirit of Art is that during all great artistic periods, artists and craftsmen use certain canons, or series of proportions, in order to establish the ground plan of their works; that such fundamental proportions are not to be applied as linear measurements but in terms of commensurate areas; that, in other words, certain spatial relations are first determined, certain areas traced as frameworks. Within these relatively set areas the artist projects the image which is his own. The former element represents the impersonal and universal foundation, the latter the individual urge for self-expression. The former is Proportional Form, the latter expressive forms.
These expressive forms are really but color-contrasts, the black-white contrast being the most accentuated one. They are the inner forms which are produced within the Geometrical Form, the section of Space, by the oppositions of colors. Colors, as Goethe expressed it so beautifully, are the joys and sufferings of Light. The sum-total of these joys and sufferings of the individual entity, object or body, characterizes the vital soul as it were of that entity, that soul which life and the interaction of the many forces of life is constantly moulding. That soul which, for instance, is reflected in the lines and shadows of the faces of men — the constantly changing personal soul with its many moods and 'colorations.'
Where these colorations or moods come in conflict or even in contact, a fictitious line of separation is constituted. All these lines make up together the inner form of the work of art, the dramatic element of the work, the personal expressionistic element — which is but too often the only one present; while the Proportional Form of the whole work is an impersonal universal element pertaining to the realm of Geometry, which once was a mystery-science of tremendous mystic significance, now, however, materialized and intellectualized almost beyond recognition.
We cannot develop here this capital distinction between on one hand Proportional Form which is due to the initial parceling of Space into geometrical elements, which are the gestures as it were of the abstract essence of Space, the lines of force of the Cosmic Energy which is the homogeneous substance-force extending through endless Space, — and on the other the secondary forms born out of the conflicts and struggles of the many individual souls, or molecules, or cells, and actually manifest in lines of demarcations between colored surfaces; but this distinction is at the bottom of any deep philosophical understanding of the arts of plastic form, and without it the principle of symmetry rediscovered by Hambidge cannot be properly evaluated.
Hambidge found that there were two fundamental types of basic areas in art, whenever areas were used at all in the aforementioned manner, and he gave to these two types the names of 'static' and 'dynamic' symmetry, symmetry being understood in its Greek meaning of "analogy." 'Static symmetry,' he says, is a symmetry which has a sort of fixed entity or state. It is the orderly arrangement of units of form about a center or plane, as in the crystal. In art it is the symmetry used by all people except the Egyptians and the Greeks (as far as we know) although a small percentage is found in the design-products of these two nations. The static is the spontaneous type: i.e., an artist or craftsman may use it unconsciously. Static symmetry, as used by the Copts, Byzantines, Saracens, Mohammedans and the Gothic and Renaissance designers, was based upon the pattern properties of two dimensional figures such as the square and equilateral triangles. The static symmetry used by the Greeks depended upon an area being divided into even multiple parts such as a square and a half, three quarters, one quarter, one third, two thirds, etc. The 'dynamic' is a symmetry suggestive of life and movement. Its great value to design lies in its power of transition or movement from one form to another in the system. It produces the only perfect modulating process in any of the arts. This symmetry cannot be used unconsciously, although many of its shapes are approximated by designers of great native ability whose sense of form is highly developed. Dynamic symmetry in nature is the type of orderly arrangement of members of an organism such as we find in a shell or the adjustment of leaves of a plant. It is the symmetry of man." (The Diagonal No. 1.)
Dynamic symmetry is based on the property of the diagonal of a rectangle as stated in the famous proposition that the square built on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares built on the sides of a right-angled triangle. "The most distinctive shape which we derive from the architecture of the plant and the human figure is a rectangle which has been given the name 'root-five'." It is so called because the relationship between the end and the side is as one to the square root of five: 1:2.2360 plus. As a length unit the end cannot be divided into the side of a root-five rectangle, because the square root of five is a never ending fraction. We naturally think of such a relationship as irrational. The Greeks, however, said that such lines were not irrational because they were commensurable or measurable in square. This is really the great secret of Greek design. In understanding this measurableness of area instead of line, the Greek artist had command of an infinity of beautiful shapes which modern artists are unable to use. The relationship between the end and the side of a root-five rectangle is a relationship of area and not of line, because as lengths one cannot be divided into the other, but the square constructed on the end of a root-five rectangle is exactly one-fifth of the area of the square constructed on the side. The areas of rectangles which have this measurable relationship between end and side possess a natural property which enables us to divide them into smaller shapes which are also measurable parts of the whole." (op. cit. p. 14.)
In other words, considering the series of entire numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc., — this series in the static system proper represents units of length, whereas in the dynamic scheme it represents units of area. Static symmetry is based on an arithmetical progression while dynamic symmetry rests upon a geometrical progression. These progressions, in one way or the other, determine the relationship between parts and whole, between the height and width of the geometrical figure, or framework, into which the artist's Image will be projected. The two types of symmetry are two modes of parceling space, the result being two basic types of Form.
If we generalize this conception we come to recognize the most important fact that Life proceeds in two essential modes, the arithmetical and the geometrical; either the unit remains constant in the progression, or the relationship between two successive units. In music we find the arithmetical progression exemplified by the so-called Harmonic Series of fundamental and overtones in which the frequency of the fundamental adding itself ceaselessly to itself produces the many overtones (consonant harmony); the geometrical progressions are found in the Cycle of Fifths or Fourths upon which Pythagorean and Chinese music are based, and also in which is called today "atonal" music (dissonant harmony).
One mode is not superior to the other, as Hambidge would have us believe. Each has its own meaning and they correspond in truth to the two basic and eternal aspects of Life, unity and multiplicity, the individual and the group, the homogeneous asexual Self and the heterogeneous sexualized polarities (man-woman). Where spirituality predominates and human beings are conceived essentially as asexual Souls, sparks of the one Self (as in the ancient Aryan-Hindu civilization), there arithmetical progressions will be found at the root of all arts. Where the duality of mind and soul, of man and woman, the social relationship of citizen to citizen, of group to group, predominate and the great problem of the race is to adjust and properly balance polarities, classes, nations, intervals, masses, lights and shadows etc., as is the case in the Western civilization especially since the time of Pythagoras there geometrical progressions will be, or ought to be found at the root of all arts.
Why does the growth of plants occur in terms of geometrical progressions? Because of the interaction of two forces, the root-impulse (or earth-impulse) pushing the germ onward, and the solar attraction. The same is true of most types of physical organic growth. But at times when forms are symbols of spiritual truths rather than expressions of physical types, as for instance in archaic Egyptian art, in the statues of their divine Kings, the arithmetical progression is used.
By understanding this one overcomes the rather one-sided view held by Hambidge, according to which dynamic symmetry is "without question" superior to the static. Dynamic symmetry was brought to the Greeks "sometime during the sixth century B.C.," and thus must have been one of the results of the great reformation of thought attempted by Pythagoras, who brought much of his knowledge from Egypt and India. If later European art forgot such a type of symmetry it is because Pythagorean teachings soon became perverted, in music and philosophy as well, and because the medieval theorists, instead of reaching to the deep spiritual truths expounded by the Greek teacher and the Alexandrian Gnostics, were contented to follow the outer teachings of the School perverted by the sophists of the following centuries and still more distorted by the dogmatism of Christian writers.
The same thing occurred in music, the substance of which became strangely confused, a hybrid combination of modal elements — remnants of the archaic type of Greek and oriental music — and of theories attributed to Pythagoras but in fact much misunderstood.
Today as a new impulse is perhaps bringing the new Western civilization slowly evolving in America back to principles quite similar to those presented by Pythagoras, as Numbers and Form are slowly displacing the emotional expression of the personal ego, and Art is reaching toward a more universal and impersonal basis, Hambidge's discoveries are of supreme importance. Other writers have worked along similar lines, however, both in Europe and America. It all paves the way to a real and universal study of the science of Art, of which science European academies and conservatories have known but the distorted intellectual reflection.
It is only on the foundation of such a science of Art that a real regeneration of Art can be accomplished; for only thus can Art be led from the sphere of particular and temporary manifestations, to that of impersonal, eternal and cosmically true Laws. As Hambidge wrote: "The determination of the form principle in a specific example of design means in a sense the elimination of the personal element. Invariably the higher or more perfect the art, the richer is the remainder when the personal element is removed."
It is, however, this personal element which modern artists are loathe to give up. As a result when the conceptions of esthetic universality which Hambidge upheld are presented to them, they answer: "I cannot follow the rules of symmetry, dynamic or static. It cramps my inspiration." Such an attitude in a sense indicates that the artist's inspiration or creative urge is merely personal, arising out of moods, mental or emotional moods, and not flowing from the universal center of his being.
This is the esthetic aspect of the famous problem of freewill. Are we free agents when we obey the Law? Are we free when we take the wrong course? Is not what we call usually freedom merely the freedom of making mistakes?
A truer sense of freedom is derived from M. P. Follett's definition and comments in her wonderful book The New State: "Freedom is the harmonious, unimpeded working of the law of one's own nature. The true nature of every man is found only in the whole. A man is ideally free only so far as he is inter-permeated by every other human being; he gains his freedom through a perfect and complete relationship because thereby he achieves his whole nature. Hence free-will is not caprice or whim or a partial wish or a momentary desire. On the contrary, freedom means exactly the liberation from the tyranny of such particularist impulses. When the whole-will has supreme dominion in the heart of man, then there is freedom." "Freedom then, is the identifying of the individual will with the whole-will, the supreme activity of life."
Likewise, freedom in the imagining out of forms is the identifying of the individual's imagination with the wholeness of Space. As man ceases to consider himself a separate being having a particularistic vision of things which is his precious own, which he fain would patent and exploit; as the fundamental urge in him becomes the search for the True, which is also the Good and the Beautiful; as he ceases to take pride in the fact that he 'creates' forms, and he feels himself entrusted by humanity with the sacred power of 'summoning out' forms out of the ALL-FORM which is Space, — then there is no longer any opposition between universal Laws and the freedom of the expressive will. The will to project forms becomes a differentiated aspect of the Law of Form which is the Universal Will of Space, metaphysically considered.
In opposition to this synthetic sense of Life expressed in creation we have the intellectual analytic method following which objects which are separate things are dissected and recombined in various more or less strange ways. Cubism is the most extreme manifestation of such a system of artistic creation. In some cases the relationship between objects, the lines of force uniting living beings in a net of interdependant action (not being) are given a place of preponderance, as in some futuristic methods; but even thus the fullness of Space is not realized, and the kind of synthesis aimed at is but an intellectual or sensorial one.
And thus we come back to where we started. Problems of line, volume, mass, cannot in the sense which they have for most of the present day artists, offer any spiritual and universal basis for truly synthetic Art. No Art of Wholeness can be created that is based on intellectual analysis or analytical vivisection of forms followed by some sort of laboratory pseudo-synthesis; nor can such an Art give room to the personal moods of artists who live solely in their sensorial and emotional natures. It is true that among such artists there may come some great geniuses who in a sense are "psychological mysteries" and in a strange and almost unexplainable manner are the very mouthpiece of a race-soul, yet as individuals are barely conscious of what is happening through them.
But here we must speak of universal laws, not of exceptions. It may not be necessary that the artist be fully or even hardly conscious in his brain-consciousness of this wholeness of Space which we postulated as the foundation of true spiritual and sacred Art. But undoubtedly the culture of a race which could give birth to artists grounded in such a realization consciously experienced and carried to its logical life-conclusions, such a culture would tower above those in whom ignorance is bliss and men are great in spite of society.
This is the message that comes to us from the Greece of the era immediately following Pythagoras, the great and eternal Teacher of the Western world. The corollary to such a message is, however, that failure and decadence follow closely in the footsteps of men of such living knowledge. But we trust that the present era in America may see the fruition of another period of the sowing of great esthetic forms which are seeds of civilization as well.
This, however, can only take place when artists will know themselves as Civilizers instead of as self-centered personalities or tragic victims, when the principles underlying all arts will be apprehended in their unity of essence, and their multiplicity of complementary manifestations; and in order to show how the principles developed in the foregoing are truly universal and basic, we shall see them in operation in the art which is the polar opposite of the plastic arts: music.
III. Musical Space
From the point of view of direct and immediate perception it is obvious that music is essentially an art of duration. Music does not extend in space, unless we visualize it as a score (which is not music but merely the potentiality of what may become actually perceived as sound). Even the memory of past sounds does not really help us to conceive music in terms of space-extension; for it brings only the sense of continuity in a series of tones, — unless a definite connection has been made between eyes and ears and the automatic conception of a score has come to superimpose itself to the actual experience of hearing.
The term "musical space" seems thus at first a misnomer, though much has been said of late among modern composers concerning planes, volumes and masses of sound, as much as a former generation said about musical coloring and shades. However, as we go deeper into the matter we find that this term "musical space" is not only meaningful but in fact is susceptible of two different meanings, a fact never fully recognized as yet, at least with all its implications.
According to the European classical conception, music is primarily a form, that is, a set of relationships between musical units, musical notes. A musical note is an abstraction. It has no precise and unchangeable connection with any actual sound heard. Its pitch, its intensity, its quality, the subjective factor of its emission do not enter into consideration, or only as secondary elements. What counts is not what every tone is which shall be heard, but the pattern made by the succession of abstract, soundless points — musical notes — which in their totality constitute the score. The score is the music; music thus has form, as the score is a definite set of abstract relations — that is of intervals — which may or may not ever be realized in terms of actual tone-experience. The composer is supposed to have finished his work when he has written down the score on paper; perhaps before any sound has been produced.
The musical score as a whole has also form; that is, it can be divided into parts, sections, beginning and end, recapitulation, chapters, as it were, which acquire musical value not so much in themselves as in relation to each other and moreover in relation to a set pattern of musical succession, or series of intervals, which is called the scale defining the tonality of the piece; all of which does not concern what the single tones which will be heard may or may not be, but only the pitch relationship existing between these soundless abstractions of tone, the musical notes.
In the score there is space. The score extends; truly this extension is of a special kind; it is related to what Bergson calls mathematical time, in opposition to living duration. The musical-score-time and mathematical time are very nearly one; the speed of unrolling of this time-space — the tempo of the musical work — may change without the music-in-itself being fundamentally affected. That is to say, the score does not change whether the interpreter plays it slow or fast; only the perception of the relations constituting this score may in some cases become difficult or impossible. It is a good or bad execution of an unchanging reality: the musical score.
But let us now consider music in function of the actual tone-experience produced by the sounds themselves; a purely aural experience, we might say. What is perceived is a series of tones merging into each other. The mind being considered as still, no analytical sense of successional relation (i.e., of exact intervals) being especially and discretively aroused, the result is that a series of changing tones are heard, and in a sense nothing else.
How do they change? In pitch, quality, intensity generally speaking, in complexity. Every tone is a complex sound made up of many sonal elements. We may say, in order to make our point clearer, that every tone is a chord, be it only the chord constituted by its constitutive overtones or in general sub-tones. But what is a chord if not a sort of spatial arrangement, or ordering, of sonal elements?
In other words, every tone actually heard is a complex entity made up of various elements ordered in various ways, presenting a certain typical relationship to each other. A tone can be determined by a certain formula of composition, a certain chemical formula. A chemical formula means a certain atomic weight, a certain valence, a certain disposition of atoms within the molecule of substance, of electrons within the atom. Every tone, in other words, is a molecule of music, and as such can be disassociated into component sonal atoms and electrons, which ultimately may be shown to be but waves of the all-pervading sonal energy irradiating throughout the universe, like the recently discovered cosmic rays which Dr. Millikan calls interestingly enough "the birth-cries of the simple elements: helium, oxygen, silicon, iron."
Such an analogy must be pondered upon. It is not only most accurate, it is most illuminating. It brings light to scores of problems, esthetical and psychological and spiritual, the list of which would alone cover many pages. But let us only point out the fact that the various characteristic properties of the atoms can be interpreted in terms of certain spatial factors within the atoms; and likewise we can say that a complex tone is different from another complex tone because the inner space within the tones themselves is differentiated in various ways, according to various proportions.
In other words, there are two kinds of musical space: the inner space which determines the constitution of the tones as heard, and the outer space which determines the relationship existing from tone to tone, and therefore the nature of the musical score as a pattern made of abstract musical notes. We have, therefore, two elements in music: the tone and the score. To each corresponds a kind of space, inner and outer, intrinsical and extrinsical to the tone. As, if you wish, in a nation there are two basic elements: the individual human beings and the State. Exactly as in most cases the State does not consider human beings as human beings but essentially as citizens (that is as social political abstractions), likewise the musical score is not so much a collection of tones as a collection of notes which are musical abstractions. Tonalities in a musical score correspond to classes and castes in the State; one may "modulate" from one caste-tonality into another. Tonalities and castes refer to the relationship between notes and citizens, to the spacing thereof within the score and State. Actually heard, living tones as well as human beings who are souls belong to another and more spiritual plane. They are the immediate vehicles of Life. The score and the State deals with the Form evolved by the various relations assumed by these vehicles of Life.
Yet every single human being occupies a certain space, which space is differentiated into organs. This space is limited outwardly by the skin. Within the skin is the inner space of the being; exactly as within the ground plan of a building, the frame of a painting, is to be found that portion of Space which as we saw, had been set apart, parceled off from Universal Space. The outer space of a living organism is the space in which this organism — if it has the power to move as animals and men have — performs actions and relates itself to other organisms. Its inner space is that which is differentiated into organs, cells, etc., within the boundaries of the skin.
The score represents the outer space in which tones act and relate themselves the one to the other. The inner space of the tone is the yet quite unknown mass of elements which differentiate and characterize single tones which are heard. This mass of elements constituting the inner space of the tone is usually loosely called the quality or timbre of the tone; but the ordinary conception of timbre is a very crude and insufficient one, among Western people.
We shall not attempt to study in detail this vast and little known subject in such a short essay. We wish merely to state that the laws which govern the differentiation and parceling of musical Space into the inner space of the various tones are similar to those which rule what Hambidge called static and dynamic symmetry (consonant and dissonant harmony musically speaking); that there is in music a factor which truly corresponds to space in plastic arts, and that this musical space deals not so much, with the Form of a symphony or sonata, but with the inner structure of single tones perceived as aural entities, not as abstract visual points on paper. The only difference is that while plastic arts deal specifically with Space itself, music busies itself with the energy-substance filling this Space which is fullness of Life and not mere emptiness.
But this is not even fully true; for as we have seen already, the plastic arts deal with Space only in the initial act of parceling, of evolving a ground plan; thereafter what is considered is not so much Proportional Form as expressive forms, which are produced simply by conflicts of colors. In other words, the plastic, arts, especially painting of course, consider the substance homogeneously filling Space to be Color, while music considers it to be Sonal Energy. Expressive plastic forms within the framework of the painting are condensations and dramas of Color; and single musical tones within the frame work of the musical score (or Form) are condensations and dramas of Sonal Energy.
Western classical music has given practically all of its attention to the frame work of music, what it calls musical form. It has forgotten to study the laws of Sonal Energy, to intuit music in terms of actual sound-entities, in terms of energy which is life. It has thus evolved mostly splendid abstract frames in which no painting is to be seen.
Therefore the Oriental musicians often say that our music is a music of holes. Our notes are edges of intervals, of empty abysses. The melodies jump from edge to edge. It neither flies nor glides. It has hardly any contact with the living earth. It is a music of mummies" of preserved and stuffed animals which look alive enough perhaps, yet are dead and motionless. The inner space is empty. The tone entities are dead, because they are empty of sonal energy, of sonal blood. They are but bones and skin. We call them "pure" tones. They are so pure they will never move to do any harm i.e., — the true religious ideal of manhood: the singer of the Sistine Chapel, men without creative power. This is the symbol of classical European music, of pure music.
If on the contrary you consider the tones produced by the few remaining Singers of the East who have not forgotten the science of sacred incantations, and even by the Asiatic people in general chanting prayers and archaic tunes — also if you listen to the wondrous throbbing resonances of Oriental gongs and even of old Christian bells before the intellectualization and the spiritual decadence of European culture, you find yourself confronted with living tones which are fullness of sonal energy, whose inner space is organically differentiated according to laws of cosmic resonance, laws which modern acoustics has yet to discover and understand.
Tones which are living entities, incarnate gods or souls of such is that music made which is true to life and itself a part of the life of men; a music which is not sequestrated in concert halls, like paintings hung in gilded frames in lifeless museums, but which is the very center of every day human activities and pervades the entire life of men. In ancient times tones were considered as the bodies of gods — i.e., nature forces — and they were related to cosmic influences, seasons, days, etc. This was not mere imagination or fancy. For these so-called gods were differentiations of the one universal Cosmic Energy filling Space; and being differentiations of this homogeneous substance-energy, aspects of Space, they had to have corresponding characteristic tones.
Science today speaks of the primordial elements, helium, oxygen, silicon, iron; the Greek of Hesiod's time might have spoken of Apollo, Aphrodite, Chronos, Ares — and they would have meant somewhat the same thing. And if we understood the metaphysical meaning of the Pythagorean gamut we might speak of Higher Tonic, Dominant, Sub-dominant and Lower Tonic — and again mean very much the same thing.
All of which would be the natural result of our perceiving the absolute fullness of Space and the homogeneity of the substance-energy filling this Space which is Life itself. Postulating this unity, universality and continuity of this Life principle, we would realize that every differentiation and parceling of it on any plane, in any realm of activity, cosmic, social, esthetical, springs from some one general principle and can therefore be reduced to some one metaphysical cause which we may call god or primordial atom or mode of energy or whatever we like.
Then our philosophy of the creative processes in man would become coherent and applicable to all arts. With regard to the plastic arts we would start from Space and our sense of Space-fullness; then follow with the surveying, parceling and inner differentiation into organic masses of this living Space; these masses would become color-masses because of the very fact that they are parts of living Space; they would become the very expression of soul-conflicts, of the great drama of soul evolution — a universal not a personal drama.
With regard to music, we would first sense the throbbing fullness of continuous undifferentiated Sonal Energy which is the very Tone of life surrounding us, and in us also. We would feel this great Gong-Tone of Life, like the tone of the Sea — not only the sea of physical water, matrix of living earthly forms, but the cosmic sea of energy, matrix of primordial elements whose "birth-cries" the cosmic rays filling the very air through which we live and move have been discovered to be. This great synthetic Tone of Nature would then break as it were into many sub-tones, as the resonance of a gong into many sub-resonances swaying and undulating. Of such cosmic sub-tones the Pythagorean gamut was really composed. Medieval Europe materialized and intellectualized it into our scale, the Renaissance into our tonalities, into patterns of intervals.
But now with the sense of atonalism so-called, with the increasing realization that, as Edgar Varese said: "Music must sound": that it is nothing if not the actual tone experience of some living human being — we are slowly and hesitatingly coming, in spite of the European reactionary movement called neo-classicism, to a new sense of music based on the feeling of tone-fullness, the sense of what a modern Russian called "Pansonority" and what we had named a few years before Tone-pleromas, which another modernist, Henry Cowell, tried to produce by means of his so-called "tone-clusters." This new sense of tone-fullness, of synthetic resonance is manifest for instance in a new type of piano playing based on the realization that the piano is a sort of big gong, that the important factor in the instrument is not the keyboard, not even the separate strings, but the homogeneous sounding-board or table of resonance which, especially with the help of the pedal, gives birth to tone-masses, to complex, synthetic entities of sound. Build these tone-masses according to the principle of dissonant harmony, and the piano becomes transformed into a gong.
A gong is a mass of metallic tone-producing substance which extends in space. Thus it becomes the very symbol of a music whose tones are units of sonal energy torn by the hands or throat of the tone-producer (no longer a "composer") from the infinite sea of Cosmic Energy which fills Space.
Art as Release of Power