Taste is the perception of intellectual pleasure. Beauty, the object of taste and the source of this pleasure, is appreciated by the understanding, exercised, either upon the productions of art, or upon the works of nature. The term beauty, indeed, has appeared to admit a specific difference of import, according to the diversity of objects in which it may seem to reside, and the supposed variety of means through which it is perceived by the mind. This cause, more than any other, has tended to throw difficulty and inconclusive inference over every department of the subject. Yet, perhaps in all cases, most certainly in every instance of practical importance to our present purpose—elucidation of the Fine Arts, beauty will be found resolvable into some relation discerned and approved by the understanding. Hence the objects in which this relation exists impart pleasure to the mind, on the well known principles of its constitution.
This view of taste, as applicable to, and indeed resulting from, training of the understanding in all dignified pursuits, is agreeable, as already shown, to common feeling and common language. But in deference to the same authorities, it is necessary to limit the idea to a restricted, that is, a proper sense of the word. Hence we have said that the object of taste is beauty, as perceivable in the works of nature and art: thus confining its province to literature and the fine arts, which reflect nature either by direct imitation, or by more remote association.
In the present volume, the subject is limited, of course, to the arts of design; but the principles now expounded are conversant with every varied application of taste: And we have pursued this extent of illustration throughout the whole powers of the mind, in order to ground, on the broadest basis, this practical precept, that taste, like the powers of judgment and understanding, of which, in fact, it is only a modification, can be improved, or, we venture to say, acquired in any useful degree, only by patient cultivation, and well-directed study of the particular subject. The opinion opposite to this has been productive of the worst effects, both in the practice and patronage of the arts. It not unfrequently has led artists into irregular, and even unnatural compositions; but its greatest evils do daily arise from those, whose previous habits and attainments by no means qualify them for judges, confidently pronouncing upon works of art, from what they are pleased to term a natural taste.