To be sure, that modern work in which the sharpest line is drawn between the fields of painting and poetry, Lessing’s “Laocoön,” appears to treat the two arts in their most objective aspect, and is, in fact, far more concerned with the means than with the purpose or the substance of artistic expression. Lessing argues that if the means of painting be lines and colors in space, and the means of poetry articulate words in time, then evidently painting most properly addresses itself to the treatment of stationary bodies, and poetry to the treatment of successive actions; so that the attempt, carried too far, to represent actions in painting and to describe bodies in poetry is a perversion of the legitimate means of painting and poetry. We should not forget the qualifications that Lessing made to this rigid principle, nor the fact that he published only the first part of his projected treatise. He referred the effect of painting as well as of poetry to the imagination. But his purpose was to establish boundaries determinable by the difference in artistic means; and his “Laocoön” is a rationalistic document based upon knowledge and observation of external facts, not upon a study of internal reactions.

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