Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
How Art produces its Effects
By Adam Smith (17231790)
From Essay on the Nature of that Imitation which takes place in what are called the Imitative Arts. Before 1759.
THE WORKS of the great masters in Statuary and Painting, it is to be observed, never produce their effect by deception. They never are, and it is never intended that they should be, mistaken for the real objects which they represent. Painted Statuary may sometimes deceive an inattentive eye; proper Statuary never does. The little pieces of perspective in Painting, which it is intended should please by deception, represent always some very simple as well as insignificant object; a roll of paper, for example, or the steps of a staircase in the dark corner of some passage or gallery. They are generally the works too of some very inferior artists. After being seen once, and producing the little surprise which it is meant they should excite, together with the mirth which commonly accompanies it, they never please more, but appear ever after insipid and tiresome.
The proper pleasure which we derive from those two imitative arts, so far from being the effect of deception, is altogether incompatible with it. That pleasure is founded altogether upon our wonder at seeing an object of one kind represent so well an object of a very different kind, and upon our admiration of the art which surmounts so happily that disparity which Nature had established between them. The nobler works of Statuary and Painting appear to us a sort of wonderful phenomena, differing in this respect from the wonderful phenomena of Nature that they carry, as it were, their own explication along with them, and demonstrate, even to the eye, the way and manner in which they are produced. The eye, even of an unskilful spectator, immediately discerns, in some measure, how it is that a certain modification of figure in Statuary, and of brighter and darker colours in Painting, can represent, with so much truth and vivacity, the actions, passions, and behaviour of men, as well as a great variety of other objects. The pleasing wonder of ignorance is accompanied with the still more pleasing satisfaction of science. We wonder and are amazed at the effect, and we are pleased ourselves, and happy to find that we can comprehend, in some measure, how that wonderful effect is produced.
A good looking-glass represents the objects which are set before it with much more truth and vivacity than either Statuary or Painting. But, though the science of optics may explain to the understanding, the looking-glass itself does not at all demonstrate to the eye how this effect is brought about. It may excite the wonder of ignorance; and in a clown, who had never beheld a looking-glass before, I have seen that wonder rise almost to rapture and ecstasy; but it cannot give the satisfaction of science. In all looking-glasses the effects are produced by the same means, applied exactly in the same manner. In every different statue and picture the effects are produced, though by similar, yet not by the same means; and those means too are applied in a different manner in each. Every good statue and picture is a fresh wonder, which at the same time carries, in some measure, its own explication along with it.