Philosophy of Fine Art G.W.F. Hegel
Hegel – Philosophy of Fine Art • Art, for Hegel, is “the sensuous presentation of the Absolute itself”, and hence the subject matter of Aesthetics is “the conception of artistic beauty as the presentation of the Absolute.” • Notice the notion of “the Absolute.” For Hegel, the Absolute is Spirit or Reason, both in itself and as it realizes itself in history. It plays the same role for him that the Forms and the Divine play for Plato, and that God plays in Christian theology. But the Absolute is not a creator distinct from the creation.
Hegel: Philosophy of Fine Art • Remember the stages of Hegel’s philosophy, his dialectic. They are always a version of Thesis/Antithesis/Synthesis. You can start by thinking of this as a negotiation: One party stakes out a position, the other party stakes out an opposite position; a mediator suggests a third position that gives them both what they want in a new way. Hegel thinks that history itself has this structure. So the overall structure of history is: • Spirit in itself/Spirit for itself/Spirit in and for itself. That is, pure Spirit or Reason puts its opposite (matter) out there as something it can contemplate. The process of mediation is the process in which these opposites produce a new synthesis of Spirit in itself and Spirit for itself.
Hegel: Philosophy of fine art • Here is a political example that make this a little clearer: • Thesis: anarchy – no rule, everyone on his or her own (Hobbes’ “state of nature”) • Anthithesis: monarchy – one person in charge, everyone else must obey. • Synthesis: democracy – the joint rule of all, everyone makes the rules, everyone must keep them.
Hegel: Philosophy of fine art • Hegel’s three main stages of art work the same way: • Thesis: Symbolic art. At this stage, the Idea (the Absolute) seeks expression in a material form. But the material form is not adequate to the ideal content. It is commonly exaggerated or distorted in an attempt to embody this content. Examples abound in ancient Egyptian art, traditional Indian art, African masks and dolls, etc. • Antithesis: Classical art. At this stage, the material is remade to match the perfection of the ideal. But this happens at the cost of a clear connection between the idealized form and the forms we encounter in ordinary experience.
Hegel: Philosophy of fine art • Synthesis: Romantic art. (Hegel, of course, lived in the Romantic period, so it’s natural for him to see this as a culmination.) • In Romantic art, the idealization of the form is adjusted to reflect inwardness, the real embodiment of spirit in the conscious, reflective human form. Hence delight, suffering, compassion, anticipation of the future, and other such states of consciousness are represented just as they are expressed through human bodies, by facial expressions and gestures.
Hegel: Philosophy of fine art • Does art come to an end? Hegel thinks it must, not in the sense that no-one would make it anymore, but in the sense that Spirit must go beyond the material embodiment of the Absolute. Cf. p. 146 • The final expression of the Absolute, of Spirit in and for itself, is philosophy. Among the arts, the most “spiritual” is poetry, because it has the least to do with matter and the most to do with mind.