The remarks that critics make about works of art are various in character. Some of them are strictly interpretative—for instance, The Lord of the Rings may be claimed to be an allegorical representation of the Gospel Story; the slow movement of a symphony may be said to express a period of calm after a revolution; a painting may be said to depict the horrors of war. Some may be biographical—that the play was written in 1654, that the poem was written while the poet was in love, that the sculpture was commissioned by the Canada Council. Some may be autobiographical—that the 7th has always been one's favourite Beethoven symphony, that one identifies with Joe in Room at the Top, that Medea was the first tragedy one saw performed in the original Greek. Some are ‘descriptive’ in the philosopher's sense, ‘matters of fact’—that the narrator is a senior civil servant, that the painting is all in pastel colours, that the conductor has not played all the repetitions. Some invoke formal structural principles—that the doors are in classical proportions, that the work's catastrophe is deferred to the finale, that the poem is in iambic pentameters. Some are concerned with the exposition of technique—that the spaciousness is suggested by the use of open fifths, that speed is portrayed by making the moving object sharper than anything else in the picture, that the effect of a sculpture is achieved by the use of metallurgically distinct materials. I wish to concentrate on a type of remark found frequently in art criticism, which defies reduction to any of the kinds mentioned above. The following are typical instances:
That picture will not, at the first glance, deceive as a piece of actual sunlight; but this is because there is more in it than the sunlight, because under the glazing veil of vaulted fire which lights the vessel on her last path, there is a blue deep, desolate hollow of darkness, out of which you can hear the voice of the night wind, and the dull boom of the disturbed sea; because the cold deadly shadows of twilight are gathering through every sunbeam, and moment by moment as you look, you will fancy some new film and faintness of the night has risen over the vastness of the departing form (Ruskin, on Turner's The Fighting Temeraire).