[Note 13 in "J. D. Harding and John Ruskin on Nature's Infinite Variety," which originally appeared in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 38 (1970)]
Ruskin's advance upon earlier notions of imitation thus coincides with Susanne Langer's assertion that a "picture is essentially a symbol, not a duplicate, of what it represents.... All that it shares with the 'reality' is a certain proportion of parts" (Philosophy in a New Key [New York, 1951], p. 67). Langer, who holds that "symbolization is the essential act of mind" (p. 45), builds a convincing aesthetic upon this idea of congruency of fundamental structure. In Feeling and Form (New York, 1953), p. 27, she presents what we may take as the canter of her theories of art: "Formal analogy, or congruence of logical structures, is the prime requisite for the relation between a symbol and whatever it is to mean. The symbol and the object symbolized must have some common logical form." According to Feeling and Form, for example, "Music is a tonal analogue of emotive life" (p. 27), and this work further explains that articulate form, the center of all the arts, has as a characteristic symbolic function "logical expression" (p. 31) — the expression of relations. Her emphasis upon logical expression next leads her to a definition of art: "Art is the creation of forms symbolic of human feeling" (p. 40). Langer's carefully worked out theory that art creates symbols of feeling which parallel the original emotion solves the problem of expression in art as Ruskin's could not. Although he used the notion of congruent structure to explain how art creates recognizable images, he did not extend this theory to a notion of expression and meaning — despite the fact that he sees meaning as a law of relation, a point which appears in the iconographical studies of the fifth volume of Modern Painters.
Last modified 2000