From the preface by the editor J. Shawcross|
S T Coleridge Biographia Literaria, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1907
COLERIDGE QUOTE - ALLSTON KNOWS WHAT NATURE IS|
Coleridge saw in Allston's view of nature, a view that was similar to what Welles had written, for in 1815, Coleridge wrote to Allston,
To you alone does it seem to have been given to know what nature is - not the dead shapes, the outward letter, but nature revealing itself in the phenomena, or rather attempting to reveal itself. Now the power of producing the true ideals is no other, in my belief, than to take the will for the deed. The great artist does that which nature would do, if only the disturbing forces were abstracted.
But it must not be inferred that originality consists in any contradiction to Nature; for, were this allowed and carried out, it would bring us to the conclusion, that, the greater the contradiction, the higher the Art. We insist only on the modification of the natural by the personal; for Nature is, and ever must be, at least the sensuous ground of all Art: and where the outward and inward are so united that we cannot separate them, there shall we find the perfection of Art. So complete a union, has, perhaps, never been accomplished, and may be impossible; it is certain, however, that no approach to excellence can ever be made, if the idea of such a union be not constantly looked to by the artist as his ultimate aim.Allston wanted realism, being true to Nature, representing the "outward," while also painting the "inward" perceptions seen. While he acknowledged that included some "modification of the natural by the personal," Allston requires that the personal perceptions come from Nature. What Allston described as "the modification of the natural by the personal" is what Coleridge described as "The great artist does that which nature would do, if only the disturbing forces were abstracted." In the words of Benjamin Welles, "The mind here is not left merely to its own operation, reasoning on subjects of its own suggestion, without the standard of perceptible truth for the conclusion of such abstractions." They are all saying the same thing, the artist is not just painting Nature, the artist is painting what is seen, including these illusions. This is realism, but it also includes the phenomenological realities of the artist's perceptions. Such phenomenological realities include what we now term pareidolia.
There comes to my mind an incident which will illustrate his unyielding attitude towards absolute truth. On the occassion of one my visits to his home, we were picking our way along the coast, over the shelving rocks he painted so often and with such insight and power, when I suddenly said:--Winslow Homer said, "exactly as it appears," not "as it is." Winslow Homer painted Nature exactly as it appeared to him and that was a view of Nature blended with his memories.
"Mr. Homer, do you ever take the liberty, in painting nature, of modifying the color of any part?"
The inquiry seemed to startle him. Arresting his steps for an instant, he firmly clenched his hand, and bringing it down with a quick action, exclaimed:--
"Never! Never! When I have selected the thing carefully, I paint it exactly as it appears." (from Downes, 1911. p. xxvii)