Chaim Koppelman

from: Four Essays on the Art of the Print

 

Hogarth’s The Enraged Musician; or,
What’s Wrong with an Ivory Tower?

by Chaim Koppelman

 

Aesthetic Realism teaches that the world can honestly be liked because it has an aesthetic structure; it is a oneness of opposites such as sameness and difference, freedom and order, good and evil. The true relation of art and life is in this mighty principle: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.” And Eli Siegel has de-fined the greatest enemy of our lives and of art, contempt, the “...disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the out- side world.” This is what William Hogarth’s (1697-1764) The Enraged Musician is about.

This raucous engraving is a beautifully composed criticism of man’s desire to live in an ivory tower and have contempt for what he sees as different and beneath him. As the musician stands in his window with his hands over his ears, glaring at the people outside, the tumult of life makes him angry and he doesn’t see the beauty in its midst. Aesthetic Realism makes Hogarth’s message clear—use art to like the world, to see art in the world.

William Hogarth in the 18th century was satirizing the artistic snob and opposing the ivory tower attitude, which separates oneself from the world, in the way he technically makes opposites one in this print. Could the musician look outside, and instead of being irritated find harmony in all that cacophony of sounds and sights? Mr. Siegel writes in his essay, “Art As Composition”:

The Enraged Musician

The Enraged Musician, 1741, Etching and Engraving

Composition sometimes insists on unity; sometimes on freedom or diversity. There is always both: composition is the sameness felt among things that seem different, too.”1

In this work, and in a lively description of it by the critic, Sean Shesgreen, we can see and hear sameness in difference, and difference in sameness:

The musician stares out his window with his hands over his ears. ...A play bill outside…announces The Beggar’s Opera….A parrot squawks from a lamp post. A ragged woman with a crying child sings a ballad. A little girl with a noisemaker drops her ball as her eyes bulge in interest seeing a boy companion urinate down a hole.

The sounds continue the sameness and difference:

A street musician plays an oboe, a little figure bangs on a drum, a
man sharpens a meat cleaver on a grindstone, a dog barks at him.
In the background a dustman rings his bell and shouts out, a black-
smith blows a horn and a fish seller cries out his call.
2

No wonder Henry Fielding, the author of Tom Jones and Hogarth’s best friend, exclaimed when he saw this picture, “It’s enough to make a man deaf to look at it!”

Hogarth’s complicated scene, with all its wildness and humor, is classically composed. The serenity of unity is felt because sameness and difference are made one. Two diagonals that begin with the blocks on the lower left and the grinder’s back on the right meet at the top of the milkmaid’s head to form a large triangle almost in the exact center of the design. This triangular shape both unites and intensifies the various activities, sounds, and shapes.

In an Aesthetic Realism lesson Eli Siegel spoke to me about composition in myself. He said, “If you are afraid of the diversity of yourself, you’ll never have the unity. The idea in having all of yourself is to see diversity coming to unity. It is like a pyramid, with a wide base coming to a point.”

I learned that when art is used as an anodyne or refuge from a confusing, noisy world we are against the purpose of art and our own deepest desire. Aesthetic Realism encouraged art in me, and criticized my contempt. Mr. Siegel told me, “I think you have seen things consisting too much of what you have to fight and get away from. One should like reality itself, but if that comes hard, one should at least find something to like in reality, and see where it may be for oneself.”

When I said I did feel art was for me, he showed me this next logical step: “Wouldn’t you say that art is about everything in the world, or can be?” I said Yes, and he logically continued: “So everything in the world can possibly be for you, and art enables you to see that?”

Mr. Siegel taught me to use what I saw to learn about myself, to open the windows of the studio to see a world that, in its structure and composition, was like me and more for me than I knew.


Enraged Musician Detail

The Enraged Musician
, detail

The painter and engraver William Hogarth, was the first important social satirist in English art. He was interested in ideal form, wrote the Analysis of Beauty, and wanted to find it in the midst of life itself. He wanted, as Charles Lamb wrote, “to prevent that disgust at common life...which an unrestricted passion for ideal forms and beauties is in danger of producing.”

I was thrilled, looking at this engraving, to see that the one figure not satirized is the milkmaid. Arising from the common people, she is as classical as an ancient caryatid. Though she is the largest and loveliest figure in the picture neither the crowd nor the enraged musician sees her. She looks to us to be seen. The milkmaid stands for beauty because it is she who most shows reality as a oneness of opposites. Strong and graceful, she carries the weight of the cylindrical pot with ease on her head. Her muscular arm tapers to a femininely delicate fingertip. She decorously lifts her skirt as she walks. High and low, pride and humility, grace and strength are made one in her. She is regal as she does her everyday job. What sprightly dignity!

A straight, vertical line can be felt, like an axis, beginning at the top of the pot, and going through the center of her figure to the ground, from which arms, legs, clothes, ribbons, a hat and the circles of the cylindrical pot radiate 360 degrees. She is the figure that is most full and in the round, at once fixed and mobile, composing the disorderly sights and sounds with those that are quieter, more orderly, and even silent. The same cylinder banged on as a drum by the little boy, and used as a grindstone to sharpen a cleaver, is the form of classical order and calm, lightly balanced on the head of the girl.

The milkmaid emerges from all that activity and the upper part of her body and the cylinder she carries become part of the quiet geometric forms of the distant buildings and the sky above. Yet Hogarth also shows some turbulence in the distant sky, relating it to what’s close, and places two squabbling cats where we expect quietness, on the roof of the building on the right.

Hogarth’s technique literally demonstrates sameness felt among different things. If the musician saw how much he is like the outside world he would like it more. The lines and shapes of his wig and cuffs are like lines and shapes elsewhere, including the clouds in the sky. The bars on his jacket and on the pages of his music are like the repeated bars on the gate, the repeated lines of the whole engraving. And the face of the oboist in the street is almost a mirror image of himself; the elegant violinist above and the itinerant musician below are more alike than they know.

the Enraged Musician detail

The Enraged Musician
, detail

The engraving technique itself is deeply satisfying. Building up a lively composition with methodically cross-hatched, parallel lines makes one feel deeply composed. As the opposing lines intersect and the blacks and whites clash, vibrate and blend in every square inch of the scene, near and far, inside and outside, high and low, order and disorder—the opposites of reality and in oneself—are made one. This technique helps organize all the disparate and contrasting elements.

I speak for humanity as I express my gratitude to Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism for teaching that every person wants to do what every good work of art does, put together the permanent opposites of reality.

 

1. Eli Siegel, “Art as Composition,” The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, #936 (1991).
2. Sean Shesgreen, Engravings by Hogarth (Dover, 1973).
3. Eli Siegel, Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites? (New York: Terrain Gallery, 1955.

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