Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Ruskin's definition of imitation

"Whenever anything looks like what it is not, the resemblance being so great as nearly to deceive, we feel a kind of pleasurable surprise, an agreeable excitement of mind, exactly the same in its nature as that which we receive from juggling. Whenever we perceive this in something produced by art, that is to say, whenever the work is seen to resemble something which we know it is not, we receive what I call an idea of imitation. Why such ideas are pleasing, it would be out of our present purpose to enquire; we only know that there is no man who does not feel pleasure in his animal nature from gentle surprise, and that such surprise can be excited in no more distinct manner that by the evidence that a thing is not what it appears to be. Now two things are requisite to our complete and most pleasurable perception of this: first, that the resemblance be so perfect as to amount to a deception; secondly, that there be some means of proving at the same moment it is a deception. The most perfect ideas and pleasures of imitation are, therefore, when one sense is contradicted by another, both bearing as positive evidence on the subject as each is capable of alone; as when the eye says a thing is round, and the finger says it is flat; they are, therefore, never felt in so high a degree as in painting, where appearances of projection, roughness, hair, velvet, &c. are given with a smooth surface, or in wax-work, where the first evidence of the senses is perpetually contradicted by their experience; but the moment we come to marble, our definition checks us, for a marble figure does not look like what it is not: it looks like marble, and like the form of a man, but then it is marble, and it is the form of a man. It does not look like a man, which it is not, but like the form of a man, which it is. Form is form, bonĂ¢ fide and actual, whether in marble or in flesh — not an imitation or resemblance of form, but real form. The chalk outline of the bough of a tree on paper, is not an imitation, it looks like chalk and paper — not like wood, and that which it suggests to the mind is not properly said to be like the form of a bough, it is the form of a bough. ...
...Whenever...I speak of ideas of imitation, I wish to be understood to mean the immediate and present perception that something produced by art is not what it seems to be. I prefer saying "that it is not what it seems to be," to saying, "that it seems to be what it is not," because we perceive at once what it seems to be, and the idea of imitation, and the consequent pleasure, result from the subsequent perception of its being something else — flat, for instance, when we thought it was round."

Ruskin, ibid. p. 24