The Dialectics of post-Romantic Art:
Hegel's Philosophy of the Fine Arts and the reality of Art in the post-Hegelian era
(text under revision)
by dr. Robbert A. Veen (Free University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands) @ all rights reserved
- 1 Introduction: the idea of post-Hegelian art
- 2 Chapter 1: Hegel's Philosophy of Art in outline
- 3 Chapter 2 Preliminary remarks on the concept of Art
- 4 Chapter 3 The Symbolic form of art (empty)
- 5 Chapter 4 The Classic form of Art
- 6 Chapter 5 The Romantic form of Art (empty)
- 7 Chapter 6. The idea of the End of Art (empty)
- 8 Chapter 7. Post-Romantic Art: Art as philosophy (empty)
- 9 Chapter 8. Formalism (autonomy of art) (empty)
Introduction: the idea of post-Hegelian art
In contemporary art it has become self evident that there is an intrinsic connection between the production of a work of art on the one hand and a theoretical reflection on its meaning with the aid of philosophy and art history on the other hand. The notion of invention, i.e. the demand to express the necessity of a work of art with reference to its predecessors, implies that any theoretical account of the meaning of art must include a reference to its history. Art has become an intellectual labor, despite Nietzsche's insistence on the Dionysian spontaneity of the artist.
The notion of invention however, that implied the possibility of an infinite renewal, has turned out to be nothing more than an illusion. The amazing succession of different concepts of art in the 20th century cannot be interpreted as a steady evolution. According to Arthur Danto we now live in the era of post-historical art. We have experienced the end of art, that was discussed already in the philosophy of art of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
Some general remarks about Hegel's philosophy of art are in order here to understand this notion of the end of art. According to Hegel the artist is in need of a theoretical conception of art and an astute understanding of history. This theoretical and historical dimension is of the utmost importance. There is an intrinsic relationship between philosophy and art. When there were no longer any dynamic historical sources to renew art, when there was no possibility for invention, art came to an end becoming sublated into philosophy.
Next we have the fundamental notion of art being the sensuous apparition of the idea. In this apparition of the idea we find a particular relationship between external form and spiritual content. In the beginning of the history of art the sensuous and the ideal world in contradiction. In the first stage, the symbolic form of art represented a dominance of external appearance over the ideal content. The ancient Egyptian art demonstrates the inadequacy of the external form for instance in the pyramid. The shape of the pyramid hides the content of mummies, treasures, sacrifices and sarcofagees; the sensuous shape of the pyramid is symbolic and enigmatic and does not truly represent its idea. Form does not succeed in expressing its meaning adequately.
In the second era of the history of art, in the classic form of art, we have more of an equilibrium, a synthesis of form and content. Especially in the art of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and par excellence in its most famous sculptures, the idea has become concrete in a human figure. For end contents have a perfect harmony. The classical form of art has a pure beauty of form. It is the highest achievement of the process of art that in it the idea is made sensuous and can be perceived.
The romantic form of art constitutes in Hegel's mind the absolute end of art as an expression of the absolute. The reconciliation of form and content is not achieved immediately in the sensuous form, as in the classical art, but through and by the idea itself. The romantic art frees itself from the limitations of sensuous perception. Instead of expressing the immediate unity of nature and spirit in the human figure, it expresses this unity as such, as idea. Its subject is no longer the particular spirit of humanity, but spirituality as such, the absolute Spirit. It achieves this expression by acting self consciously, in the shape of a self expression.
In the modern era philosophy achieved superiority over the fine arts. Hegel thinks that the era in which truth could be expressed within the arts is long gone. Art can no longer satisfy our spiritual needs. In the modern era the creative artist has to deal with reflection, interpretation and critique of art. Art is no longer self evident and constantly invites reflection and justification.
This does not mean that art ceases to exist. It does mean that art now needs a philosophical basis for its legitimacy and that no truly new art is thinkable. The post-Romantic artist is a parasite of the past.
It seems, however, that Hegel's thesis about the end of art is meaningless, as soon as one observes the succession of important art schools in the 19th and 20th century: naturalism, impressionism, realism, pointillism, Fauvism, cubism, surrealism, futurism, vorticism, synchronism, abstractionism, Dada, expressionism, pop- and op-art, minimalism, conceptualism, photo realism, neo-expressionism etc. All of these schools did more than recycle the past. Furthermore, modern artists like the impressionists didn't take much notice of philosophy and were much more inclined to take an anti-intellectualist position.
Nevertheless Hegel might still be right. Andy Warhol's art might be a case in point. A painting of cans of soup can only be considered art, if you understand the theory that a representation of nature might be considered a work of art and by understanding the history of painting (and the conversation on art) in New York. Modern art in many ways demonstrates the intrinsic connection between art and philosophy.
Modern works of art no longer have an historic meaning in themselves because they do not show any development or progress with reference to past works. It is the philosophy of art that gives them their meaning and arranges for the acceptance of a work in the institutions of art. The history of art in its philosophical expression, is determining our definition of art. Seeing a work of art presupposes a concept of art that cannot be simply gleaned from the experience of artworks itself. There can be no timeless, immediate and subjective appreciation of a work of art merely by looking at it. Because history is intrinsically connected to the art of interpretation, understanding a work of art from history implies the necessity of the art of interpretation. In sum, even the modern artist cannot do without philosophy or at least some kind of reflective activity. It is therefore legitimate to speak about post-Romantic art.
Two major events in philosophy led to the development of post-Romantic art. The first is the rejection of the idea of representation. The essence of art is not its ability to mimic reality. Formalism and abstract art came into existence. The autonomy of a work of art was stressed, a position that seemingly was completely at odds with Hegel's view on the character of the instrumental character of art with regard to the Absolute.
The second is the idea that art is called to reflect a higher, spiritual reality. The philosophical justification of artistic innovation led to various forms of metaphysics, also in many ways at odds with Hegel. The philosophy of art of Kandinsky is a specimen of the latter.
A major consequence of Hegel's notion of the end of art, is that art can only advance in the area of philosophy. The end of art in its sublation by philosophy, showed itself to be a specific shape of philosophy itself: the philosophy of art became incarnate in modern art history.
Arthur Danto, who tried to actualize Hegel's idea of the end of art, was more of a pessimist than I am. Danto saw only change without development. Pluralism and relativism, that became dominant in post modernity, implied that the zero was no longer any standard for art. There is an absolute freedom in which art can mean just about anything. To him, art has no historic mission when it has lost its guiding concept. The only importance of art is the fact that it generated a philosophy of art in which it finds its ultimate destiny. However, it seems more obviously in line with Hegel to consider modern art, including the philosophy of art that is connected to it, as a form of philosophy in his own right. The sublation of art into philosophy does not mean that art is no longer important, nor does it mean that its significance is derived from a separate philosophical reflection, that might stand on its own. In my opinion the dual appearance of works of art and concomitant theories is constitutive for modern philosophy, i.e. it's one of the ways in which philosophy reflects on contemporary culture.
Another phenomenon to be considered in this context is the emergence of aesthetic formalism in the early 20th century. In popular discourse on art, theprinciples of classic and romantic art are still used. A work of art is generally considered to be either a representation of a reality or an expression of theartist's emotions and views. In both views there was an external or extrinsic standard for the evaluation of art. This undialectical opposition of classical vsRomantic art, led to a new opposition between spiritualism and formalism or materialism. In stead of taking the content of art, i.e. what it represented, as abasis for the concept of art, one might turn to the specific form or content of the shape in itself as the sole criterion to judge art. The work of art becomes independent, irreducible and autonomous. Formalism might be the adequate expression of post Romantic art, for one thing because it goes beyond thedichotomy of realism and expressionism, for another because it stresses the autonomy of a work of art, i.e. art does no longer function as an expression of the absolute Spirit. The autonomy of art in the post Romantic age can be interpreted in conformity with Hegel's notion of the end of art.
The principles of formalism curiously reflect certain propositions by Hegel about the end of art. The theses proposed by Hanslick in 1854 are generallyconsidered to be the first major expression of formalism. Hanslick argued that music cannot be a representation of nature nor an expression of particularemotions. In music a pure perception of tonal structures and movements constituted a separate language. "... Contents and form, matter and shape, imageand idea are melted together in a dark (mysterious), indissoluble unity." What if all art has these characteristics in common with music? What if only thesignificant shape can truly be called the essence of art? Maybe this intuition about Art being most truly represented in music, has been present in the historyof art. Michelangelo once wrote: "Ultimately good painting is a music and a melody that can only be appreciated by the intellect."
On this basis I would like to present an interpretation of Hegel's philosophy of art that attempts to address the problem of the continuous history of art after its Hegelian sublation into philosophy. That requires dealing both with Hegel's method and our contemporary art experience.
Chapter 1: Hegel's Philosophy of Art in outline
Hegel's system of philosophy aims at understanding Reality in the absolute sense of the word. That is why he ultimately understands reality to be Spirit, the whole of reality being a unity of the spiritual and the natural. More precisely, Hegel speaks about the Spirit as the identity of itself and nature, nature being sublated, being made into a moment of, an appearance of, the Absolute Spirit.
In a more formal terminology one might say that ultimate reality is the identity of subjectivity and "substance." Expressions like "being with itself in what is other than itself", or: "identity of identity and difference", or even the notion of the Absolute itself, are mere "markers" for what Hegel can only say with the whole of his system.
It is, according to Hegel, only in the presentation of the whole system that truth can be found. Truth cannot reside in a single proposition or statement. No single proposition is able to express the Absolute. All propositions derive their truth from all other statements, and all of them are also dependent on each other for their meaning. And yet, at the same time, no single statement, however one-sided, even though it might (and must) claim to express the truth "singlehandedly", is outside the truth. We must therefore always look for the "whole" and its structure when reading Hegel and be aware that any single proposition that wants to express Hegel's thinking is flawed by default.
Nonetheless it is possible to say something in advance about the concept Hegel is presenting, even without understanding at the moment how he reached that understanding. In the various parts of his system the ultimate and most adequate category for Ultimate Reality is stated in different ways.
In the Phenomenology of Spirit, which deals with the Absolute as it appears to itself in the form of specific types of knowledge, ultimately the absolute is self-consciousness or rather Absolute (Self-) Knowledge.
In the Logic we find the notion of the Idea, as the highest conceptual expression of the identity of subjectivity and objectivity.
In the Encyclopedia, which deals with the order of philosophical categories as such, the highest concept that expresses the Absolute is the notion of Philosophy, the totality of philosophical sciences in itself, as the triad of Logic, Natural philosophy and Spiritual philosophy.
The Philosophy of Religion shows how Christianity, in its doctrinal content (incarnation, trinity) and in its reality (congregation of the Spirit) is the highest form of religion and the only one in which the principle of the Spirit - the Absolute being manifest to and within the believer - is adequately expressed.
In the Philosophy of Right the Absolute is understood as the reality of organized liberty, which means it is found as the world history of States.
In the Aesthetics we find this highest level both of reality and human understanding expressed as Romantic self-expression - implying also the "end" of Art.
But Hegel's thinking is primarily aiming at an understanding of History, in the sense of the dynamic self-development of the Absolute Spirit through human actions and concepts, in the organization of liberty called the State, in Art, Religion and Philosophy - in short, within human culture. In that sense, the pivotal perspective in which the entire system is expressed, is Hegel's Philosophy of History. Only as the Spirit (Idea, etc.), that realizes itself through History in the dynamical sense in which it is identical to itself through time, is the Absolute conceived in a manner adequate to its nature. It is within history that the Spirit reaches its true infinity because it returns to itself through the finite.
Within that system of philosophy, the concept of the "fine arts" takes a prominent place. Art in general, according to Hegel, is an expression of the absolute in the mode of representation or perception. Starting from Greek (Classic) art in which the beauty of the ideal is aimed for, it develops ultimately into Romantic art, which gives expression to the inner world of human subjectivity. Art can do no more, according to Hegel, and that is why the history of Art, in this sense, comes to an end. When the principle of subjectivity is understood, when the concept of the identity between subject and object is reached, when world history is understood as the realization of the Spirit, Art no longer has its former prominent role to play and becomes ornamental in character.
This does not mean, however, that art looses all significance. It continues to guide people to an awareness of the Absolute, but it has nothing new to contribute to the development of the Absolute within history. Hegel shows that, in particular, for the development of drama, in which the moment of tragedy ultimately is lost when comedy becomes the dominant form of the theater. Tragedy dealt with the basic principles of life, whereas comedy merely expresses the trivialities of human psychology. In Hegelian terminology, Art and its history are sublated in the Christian religion, and following that both Art and Religion are sublated again in Absolute or philosophical Knowledge.
It is obvious, however, that the history of Art did not stop with the Romantic Art that Hegel understood to be the ultimate art form of his age. There is an impressive and complex history of Art after Hegel that in many ways conflicts with the two basic principles of Art - representation and self-expression - that Hegel used in his lectures on Aesthetics. Hegel's idea was that his philosophy expressed all that could be said about Art - because the Spirit had reached its ultimate goal, since all of (political, religious) reality was the self expression of the Absolute that had reached self understanding in (Hegel's) Philosophy. I believe, however, that this cannot be maintained. To understand Hegel we must go beyond him.
I think that this is particularly the case for his understanding of the modern State and empirical sciences. There is a need to understand the history of European culture in a broader context, as part of a "world"-history. There is equally a need to understand the modern State not so much as an "organism" that develops naturally from within the human community - since for Hegel the state is the self conscious form of the life of a people - but as a political organization of liberty, as a network of human institutions, as an expression of the interests and political will of communities within the broader context of a people (and in Europe now: peoples) with a common history and language(s). Hegel's view of a world-history in which separate states confront each other with aggression - aiming to express their being for-itself by dominating others - might be true as far as reality is concerned, but the realities and the notions of statehood, war and peace, justice and liberty involved have changed significantly in the 20th century. Not all of it can be understood by applying Hegelian categories. However, maybe all of it can be understood better, by applying Hegelian "method."
The aim of this introduction to Hegel's Philosophy of Art is therefore twofold. In the first place we need to define our working space. What questions will we ask? In the light of the above these questions will be directed first of all at understanding Hegelâs ideas. How does Hegel understand the Fine Arts and why did he think that the history of Art has come to an end?
We need to continue from that point on, to bring our own experience with Art into play. In the second place, we'll need to ask, therefore, what method Hegel uses so that we can now apply it to the unfolding history of Art that we are still a part of?
Chapter 2 Preliminary remarks on the concept of Art
We will try to get started by taking a look at the basic categories involved in Hegel's approach to Art. First we need to examine what basic function art has, what a work of art is, and how it is related to religion and philosophy. Art is a presentation of the Absolute in the realm of perception. What does this mean?
The third division of the philosophy of spirit in the Encyclopedia called the absolute Spirit opens with a paragraph that explains the relationship between the concepts of spirit and reality. The opening thesis is the result of the former analysis, but to us, it is the starting point of our reading of Hegels texts on art.
The concept of spirit has its reality within the spirit.
In the former division of ethical substance or social morality, we still had a distinction between the freedom of subjectivity on the one hand and World history and its reality on the other. (Paragraph 548) This reality is not so much nature or the physical world but the organization of liberty into the state. The state is therefore the realm of objective Spirit, in which the Spirit is present in the given reality of social institutions. We can understand those institutions as expressions of the Spirit, but to us as human subjects, they remain also external.
Hegel rejects the mere external view of the relationship between Spirit and its objective expression. It might be argued that the State is already something in itself, an independent power or substance, over against a free spirituality that lives within the subjective nature of humans. We then find the most adequate expression of the Absolute in human citizenship, in the political organization of liberty. This distinction however fails to show the inner connection between the two. The state is not independent because it is the foundation of individual liberty, and liberty is not an absolute in itself because, at the same time, this liberty is the foundation of the modern state. Liberty needs its expression within a reality, and that transition of the concept of liberty into the reality of the State is the real absolute here. Liberty is misunderstood if it is seen as a natural and independent absolute, as something that is somehow "given" with human nature and the state is misunderstood if it is seen as a mere product or sum of the combination of individual freedoms. The State is even more misunderstood when it is seen as the simple given of the existence of absolute authority. The relationship between individual liberty and the power of the State is dialectical and not exclusive. The Protestant principle of free conscience, not withstanding its truth, fails however to overcome this difficulty, because it actually stresses the distinction. The notions of the sovereign independence of the State set against individual and absolute liberty are mere "immediate" expressions for a more complex reality. This reality that actually grounds both the identity and th difference between liberty and the State can only be expressed as their dialectical unity. To Hegel this means that we need to turn to a "higher" reality that should be expressed as "absolute" Spirit.
When we arrive at this stage of the absolute Spirit, the very first thing we need to pay attention to is the identity of the Spirit with itself. In order to become self-conscious, to know itself, it needs to understand reality as its own. "Substance" and "subjectivity" must be understood as one and the same reality. When Spirit understands its reality as a reality of the State, as World history, as social morality, it gets a glimpse of itself. It has a concept of what it means to be Spiri, in so far as it can express itself in social institutions, in the realm of the so-called objective Spirit. However, because it can not understand this reality to be identical with itself - because its subjectivity is not fully taken into account yet - , it still must affirm a distinction or non-identity with its own social reality.
The realm of the absolute Spirit is therefore the overcoming of this distinction. By understanding how the concept of Spirit is realized, how its subjectivity is at the same time object, it understands and expresses its identity with itself. Subjective and objective Spirit can be seen as stages in a process both of understanding (internalizing) and making real (externalizing). Spirit is about both because it is the ground of both. As long as its understanding is distinct from its reality, it is deficient also in both. What we find in the absolute Spirit is, therefore, at the same time a higher understanding and a higher reality.
In paragraph 554 Hegel explains how this should be understood. The absolute Spirit is internally in-itself, it is eternally returning to itself. It is the one and universal spiritual substance. the Phenomenology, Hegel has Through the development presented inalready shown that substance is ultimately to be understood as subjectivity. The Absolute Spirit is therefore - says Hegel - the proposition or the judgment in itself. At the same time the Absolute Spirit is a knowledge that knows the Spirit to be this one and universal substance. By the way, that is why all dialectical knowledge has the structure of a proposition that is reflecting itself. Here, I cannot go into the details of this logical procedure that is vital to Hegelâs method, which is found in his Science of Logic. In essence, it means that the truth of a philosophical opposition depends on the totality of the conditions of its meaning, including the structural or logical elements that are necessary to understand its relationship with other propositions within the coherent whole of the system. To reflect a proposition in itself, means to express its truth systematically, or to locate it's meaning within the system. Hegelâs method is ultimately derived from this understanding of the nature of the absolute Spirit.
Art reflects and expresses the nature of the Absolute, but it does so to subjective perception. In a work of art, the concept of the absolute is embedded in a "thing of beauty." It can be mistaken for an ordinary object that has nothing to "say" about the Spirit. In Classical art, something is said about the ideal that is perceived within nature. The body of the god, Apollo, e.g. is an idealized version of the male body. It expresses inwardness in an abstract manner, also in the idealized form of the "virtuous man." It is only in religion - the art-religion of the Greeks, but even more so the religion of incarnation of Christianity, that the identity of the natural and the ideal, i.e. the identity of the absolute with itself and its reality, is expressed in a truly spiritual medium. In language and cult, elements of perception, of course, are still present. Yet in religion the identity is expressed as such and not simply presupposed as in art.
It seems that the proper expression for the absolute Spirit and the knowledge of it, is religion. Within religion after all, God is another name for a spiritual and absolute substance that actively moves toward human beings, while at the same time religion understands the human being as being engaged in a subjective movement toward this absolute.
Hegel uses the concept of the congregation to express the incarnation of the Spirit within human communities. The congregation seeks the absolute; the absolute grounds the congregation. The importance of this notion is immediately clear from paragraph 555. In Hegelâs view, religion is not only faith in the absolute or certainty of an objective truth but also an inner and outward piety or cult. Religion produces a reality in which it can find the reality the Spirit itself. Subjective consciousness of the Spirit and its objectivity go together. After all, the concept of the Spirit has its reality within the Spirit.
After this introduction, we find eight paragraphs dealing with art. Hegel explains that Art is a form of knowledge that has a finite and an infinite moment. It is real in something that externally resembles an ordinary thing. There is a subject that produces its and looks upon it and admires it. In this cultural dimension of our age the knowledge of the absolute is present in a multitude of works, material things that can be seen. This is the finite moment.
At the same time, these finite works are connected to a perception of the ideal, or rather to an understanding of the absolute Spirit perceived as something that is closed in itself,in German: an sich. It is the subjective Spirit that produces a concrete shape that has a natural and immediate being, which as a whole is it just a sign of the idea. This subjective spirits that expresses itself in a shape in such a way that this shape shows nothing besides this expression, can be called the shape of beauty. It is through this beauty that the ideal is perceived as the infinite, as something that transcends the boundaries of the finite work of perception
Hegel is especially thinking of the beauty that we find in a particular work of art, i.e. the sculpture of a divinity in classical Greek art. That is why in this paragraph, Hegel speaks about the identity between spiritual identity on the one hand, and the natural element on the other. The spiritual and the natural are combined. In general, in a work of beauty, that which is external - the form, the immediate expression - all of which is sensual, is at the same time a determination of the contents. Whatever it may be is manifest in its appearance. It is something external to the perception that at the same time is something internal to the subject â it is a natural expression of the Spirit.
It is necessary to stress the immediate nature of this identity. Hegel makes a difference between:
(1) the immediate identity of nature and spirit, in which the natural is the contents, i.e. the natural is a sign for the spiritual determination of that contents. E.g. a sculpture of a horse, is a sign for a spiritual content called the perception of a horse, i.e. any horse. Such a sculpture can, of course, not be a sign for a particular natural thing, which would be just another horse, i.e. the same thing. It is a representation of "horse", as an abstract example of what it means to be a horse. Even on the natural level then, we are not talking about individual and concrete entities.
(2) the spiritual unity in which the natural is posited as something ideal, i.e. as something that is only meaningful because of its reference to this spiritual content. In that manner the unity between the natural and spiritual is in itself spiritual. E.g. it is a work of art that functions within a religious context. The depiction of a woman and child may be a representation of the blessed Virgin and Child Jesus. However, the immediate determination that is perceived, i.e. what the woman and child look like, is of no consequence in itself. Its meaning lies in its reference alone.
In the second part of paragraph 557 Hegel sees the same difference on the level of religion. The congregation or Church, he explains, can be called moral, because it, in a subjective way, knows that its essence is spiritual. The self-consciousness and the reality of the congregation have a substantial freedom. It is in the nature of the human subject to be free, to have spontaneity and initiative in realizing itself according to its self-awareness. Insofar as this moral self consciousness remains only immediate, its freedom is a matter of convention and habit - freedom on that level is called Sitte in German or "ethos" in Greek. It is a concept of social morality in which the subjective inwardness of the human conscience is lacking or merely implied. In the same manner, the consciousness of beauty can appreciate a work of art from the outside, as it were, without subjective inwardness though still as something that is expressive of the Spirit.
We know subjectively about the absolute within such a work of art. But we know it through convention and habit, without the inner awareness of its true meaning. And precisely in that sense, a work of art is at the same time a work of the religious subjectivity. A statue of Apollo in a temple is an example of a work of art that is understood without the exercise of subjective inwardness. It is revered, worshipped; it is part of a cult and a tradition of narrative. It is seen as an identity of the natural and the spiritual. However, it is only in this religious context that it is really understood.
Chapter 3 The Symbolic form of art (empty)
Chapter 4 The Classic form of Art
The classical art form is called by Hegel, "A unification of the content and the appropriate shape as a free totality." He calls this is a definition of the unity of reality and beauty. That is what classical art is all about. It is no longer an external synthesis of content and form. The form is now appropriate to its content. It is no longer about works of art that constitute mere elements of a larger entity. Art has become independent to a certain degree. It is a "free totality. "
Beauty in a classical sense is constituted by the fact that a work of art does not merely represent something else in the manner of a sign. It is not a copy of a thing of beauty in nature. Hegel stress the notion of a free and independent meaning of an artwork. What it means is what it shows. It means itsself and it gives meaning to itself. "Das sich selbst Bedeutende, das sich selber Deutende." In classic art the Spirit becomes an object for itself.
The full meaning of being an object for itself, however, cannot be achieved within art. The reason for this is the fact that art needs an immediate, natural and sensuous existence in order to express anything. Insofar as a work of art expresses a meaning, the Spirit is able to see its own reflection in a work of art. Insofar as this medium of reflection requires natural reality, it only sees itself without its independence, as something that is spread out in the "manifold of appearances."
As such, the work of art is an identity of the spiritual and the natural that is appropriate to the Spirit. That is why the highest shape of classical art is the human figure. The human as such is the center and content of true beauty and art; but because this humanity is only experienced in the determinacy of a specific individuality, art does not deal with the human as such but with this particular human being, that is why classic art does not really achieved its inherent goals.
The identity of spirit and nature in a natural shape appropriate to the character of Spirit, is the principle of classic art. Because the medium is a natural, i.e.specific, independent individual shape, the Spirit can only express itself as a specific individual. That is why the human spirit is the center and content of truebeauty and art.
The shape in which the specific Spirit of individuality is expressed, cannot be a mere symbol. Only the shape of the human body is able to reveal the spiritualin this sensuous manner. The expression of human nature in his face, eyes, the position and movement of the body is as such a natural given. But the body ofa human being is expressive of an inner being. There is a difference according to Hegel, between the physical nature of an animal and a human being. Thehuman body expresses his inner nature. The eye is the reflection of the soul, the soul is not a reality foreign to the external shape of a human being.
The shape of the human body is also the basic form, applied by classic art, to express the nature of the absolute, i.e. the gods. Even with in the era of classicart the objection has been raised against the anthropomorphism with which the gods are depicted. In Greek thought the absolute is conceived, not as anabstract essence without any structure within itself. The absolute can appear Spirit only by including the reality of the specific human spirit, as incarnate in ahuman body. One should argue on the contrary that Greek anthropomorphism wasn't carried to its ultimate consequence. The Christian doctrine of theincarnation expresses the idea that the absolute must expresses itself in its extreme opposite, i.e. a particular human being, in order to reveal itself asabsolute free spirituality. That is why classical hard cannot really satisfying the deepest needs of the Spirit. In the representation of the gods only theabstract unity of the absolute and human subjectivity is expressed.
One way to argue this, is to point out the peculiar difference between the liberty with which the artist produces the artwork, and the limited liberty, i.e.abstract universality, that is revealed in the image or sculpture. The artist is free in the selection of his contents and is no longer bound by the demands of thetradition. He is free in the art of the rep production of a given cultural content. The artist is also free to concentrate on the adequate shape, in which aconformity between the appearance of the artwork and the contents that it reproduces, might be achieved. Form and contents go hand in hand withoutbecoming identical.
Hegel developed the contents of classic art in three movements.
In the first stage the concept of classic art is concerned with the process in which classical art comes to be. The classical art of Greece has a continuousrelationship to its predecessors. The Greek perception of the shape of the gods is in part dependent on other cultures as is its mythology. The first distinctivestep that makes the distance between Egypt and Greece is the purification of the perception of the divine from all elements of animality. The gods can nolonger be conceived of as expressed in birds or predators. The sacrifice of animals in opposition to the sacred nature of animals in Indian culture and theof animals in Egyptian culture is an indication of the rejection of animality as an adequate perception of the divine. embalming
That is why the true gods of classic art have self consciousness, and express the power of spiritual individuality: they know and they want and they act. The human shape that is now used to express this, it is not just a sign or empty form or symbol. The meaning that is being expressed is also part of the shape that is used to express it. The human shape expresses knowledge and willpower and ability to act. The contents as well as the shape bring a unity of spirit andnature to light.
At the same time the gods stand for the powers of nature; they are however no personifications of nature. The contrast between the representation of thedivine as concrete individual gods, and the representation of the divine as personified natural powers is the background of the so-called struggle between theand the new gods. It is one of the main interests of classic mythology to express the dichotomy between these two determinations of the divine. Threedifferent shapes are mentioned by Hegel in which this dichotomy becomes apparent. First, we find an expression of the knowledge and the will power of thewithout any shape or form, in the so-called oracles. The Oracle gives a meaning to external signs as if they represented messages from the gods. The gods are still connected to natural powers and phenomena and they steer human destiny from afar. Secondly, we find a movement toward an appreciation of the personal nature of the gods. We find divine powers that originally were simply gods of nature: Chaos, Uranos, the Titans such as Eros and Chronos. Next to these we find intermediate powers such as Helios and Oceanos that are still natural gods but already have some individual character. Thirdly, inthese divine figures transcend their natural limits to become moral agents in their own right. Oceanos was the power of the ocean as such, but hissuccessor Poseidon extends his quasi-personal power by building Troy and by securing the safety of Athens. In the same manner the sun god Helios becameApollo, the God of knowledge and science. old gods mythology
The second main movement of the classical art is called by Hegel the ideal of the classical art form. The new gods are perceived as having a specific character, without which their individuality remains abstract.
The second main movement of the classical art is called by Hegel the ideal of the classical art form. The true contents of art now becomes the spiritual nature of man, and the true form in which it is expressed becomes the shape of the human body. To achieve this, the images of the gods were separated from the natural powers that they used to represent, and the imagery of the bodies had to be changed as well. The body had to be seen as the way in which the human nature appeared as such. It had to become separated from the concept of animality.
This second movement contains three distinct moments:
1. the free creative process and the idea of the new gods as universal
2. the plurality of specific divine individuals as particularity
3. the individual nature of the Gods as such
Ad 1. This separation of the gods and the natural powers can only be achieved in a free creative process that has its origin in the particular abilities of the poet and artist. The tradition supplied them with the material, their imagination created the true form. The poets of Greece did in fact create the mythology in which the gods no longer represented the power of nature, but the religious foundations of the nation. The gods now become the expression of the social and political universals of Greek culture.
What the gods express is not something external to human subjectivity, but a product of the human mind. The aim of the artist is to establish a connection between the nature of the gods and human affairs. To us, the phenomena of nature can be explained by general laws, and human activity can be explained by looking at goals and intentions. In Greek mythology, the universal nature of human activity is condensed into specific deeds of the gods. All significant events can be understood from their origin in the will and action of a divinity. Such events are attributed to a specific god whose character is in conformity with the nature of the event. This presupposes a freely created faith, i.e. Greek religion is to a high degree a product of poetry.
This specific individuality of the gods is then expressed in a specific image of the body. The characteristic traits of the body are indications of the presence of the Spirit: high forehead, dominating nose, rounded chin, and the suggestion of the free moving eye. Each of the gods expresses its own spiritual individuality without any relation to others, without conflict or struggle. The specific character of the Gods is not expressed in any activity toward others. That is why sculpture has been the most adequate way to express this. Poetry on the other hand is better equipped to portray the gods as acting in a specific situation in which they express a particular character.
Ad 2. The product of this poetical activity is a concept of a realm of particular gods that are able to interact. The new gods are perceived as having a specific character, without which their individuality remains abstract. The universal form in which any god expresses divinity as such, makes way for a divine universe of gods that are individuals toward each other. Although each of the gods still has a symbolic connection to a general quality, e.g. Apollo is still the god of knowledge and Zeus is still the god of sovereignty, this connection is not exclusive anymore. However, Zeus also knows, Apollo also governs. Each of them is an individual and at the same time the divinity as such. Each of the gods participates in the general character of all of them combined. One might say that the gods are now portrayed as individual universals and universal individuals.
The representation of the individual nature of the gods, is not adequate if it only uses character to do so. E.g., the universal nature of sovereignty as expressed in Zeus is represented in mythology in connection with the character trait of jealousy. Even though this expresses the exclusive nature of sovereign power better than the abstract idea of power as such, as it appeared in nature, it is not adequate to the reality of political power.
Ad 3. The expression of divinity as an universal was incapable of showing the interaction between particular representations of the universal. Poetry could show the particular nature of the gods in their interactions by introducing the concept of character. The full and complete character of individuality can only be expressed by a fully developed mythology that shows the gods participating in history. In this participation the character of the gods is necessarily expressed in conformity with the truth of the objectivity of the Spirit, the essential content of truth and ethics but what now happens is, that the imagery of the gods moves beyond the particular expression of their universal nature toward the portrayal of a spiritual individual, i.e. an idealized human being. The notion of the hero that appears next to the gods as if the reality of a human being can reflect divine nature, is a part of a movement toward the expression of humanity as such.
The third movement of classical art is called in the dissolution of the Classical art form. The principle of classical art is the spiritual individuality that is expressed adequately in the shape of a physical and external existence, i.e. a human body. Diversity is first expressed in a plurality of individuals and then in a realm of interacting particular Gods. The character of the gods is specific but without necessity. Necessity however is a higher category. The poetic imagination turns away from the accidental plurality and the external differences between the gods to the necessity and the common determination of the whole.
In this movement of classical art Hegel distinguishes between three separate moments. First of all we have the moment of fate. The diversity and the plurality of the gods is a sign of their lack of necessity and unity. It is the achievement of philosophical thought to resolve this plurality in the concept of one single divinity. That single divinity combined with the notion of necessity into one unifying concept is fate.
In sculpture this is expressed by the contradiction between the beauty of the gods and the sorrow expressed in the figures that they are transcended by something higher than themselves. It is also in this notion of fate that a common ground for the existence of gods and humans is indicated. Fate stands above both and rules their common history.
No particular god is necessary in itself. No particular god determines the contents of its own divinity. If that is the case, the representation of the gods in art can move toward anthropomorphism. The beautiful gods of Greek art no longer represent the divine, but the idealized form of humanity. Divinity becomesthe ideal of humanity. I.e., this divine quality is attached to the human shape. The anthropomorphism does not lead to the identity of humanity and divinity,i.e. it does not lead to the Christian concept of incarnation. The human shape is qualified as expressive of divinity, the divinity is conceived as the realm ofnecessity above and beyond what sculpture can express: fate. No matter how much enthusiasm we have for Greek sculpture, we cannot find that sentiment reflected in the objects of our perception. There is a huge gap between the perception of sculpture and its objective expression. The subjectivity that we see expressed in the sculpture is not the same as the one by which we see it. The true identity of subjectivity and objectivity cannot be perceived in the anthropomorphic representation of divinities.
It is only in the romantic form of art that the subjectivity of the viewer and the one expressed in the work of art are identical. In this stage of classical art, the subject experiences primarily the gap between the disappearing image of the gods and its own finite and accidental nature as a subject. How does classical artmove beyond itself and become Romantic art? The transformation of classical art did not occur as a conscious struggle within the reality between twoseparate principles of art. Classical art began by a conscious transformation of symbolic art, that was incarnate in an older culture. The new principle of ourhowever, derives from religion as separate from art. The foundational concept of Christianity lies embedded in the gospel story in which God becomes flesh, is born, has lived and suffered, has died and has been resurrected. That is neither a principle of art nor an invention of the poets. Christian religion expressesthe absolute in history, in a narrative, and moves beyond anthropomorphism. The real history in which the absolute isrevealed does not belong to the realm of poetical perception, but expresses the actual presence of the absolute in the here and now. In classical art we find Gods that are consider to be existing on the basis of a creative perception that derives its substance from the reality of a people, a civilization. Even in the anthropomorphism of Greek art at its end, there is no reference to real human existence. The unity of the divine and humanity is conceived as an historical reality in the gospel where it says that whoever sees the Son, has seen the Father. Christ is a particular human being that fully represents God. This principle of incarnation, philosophically speaking the principle of the identity of the divine and humanity, is no longer a principle of art. The God of revealed religion belongs to historical reality, not to the realm of poetical imagination. The old and the new gods of classical art, however, only belong to the realm of perception and fantasy. There can be no real struggle between the Greek gods and the God of Christianity.
Interestingly, in 19th century art the confrontation between the gods of Greek imagination and the God of Christianity did become an element of art. It was held that even though Christianity expressed the higher truth with regard to the divinity, the tragic collapse of classical art still had to be mourned. Even though Christianity as a religion contains a moment of creative imagination, after the Enlightenment rational thought suppressed or substituted the dimension in which art could thrive. As soon as modern thinking reduced God to a product of rationality and lost its faith in the appearance of the absolute in historical reality, the specific form of all art that was connected to Christianity lost its appeal. Christian art was a continuation of classical art in which the gods were replaced with the secondary symbols of Christianity, i.e. Christian art used symbolic representations of its narrative contents.
How does classical art come to its end? The highest goal in Greek culture was the State; the highest determinationfor a human beingwas the citizenship of the State. The highest value in ethics was patriotism. The Greek gods were lively expressions of these moral principles of Greek social life. Thecommon interest and the political goals of the State were the highest expression of the Greek ideal of humanity. That ideal was given a lively expression in sculpture and narrative art. The development of Greek art therefore, followed the development of the Greek State. As long as the life of the State was in an immediate unity with the individual consciousness of its citizens, arts was able to express the basic principles of communal life. The dissolution of that immediate political unity also signaled the end of classical art.
The third moment of the third movement of classical art, contains the specific art form in which the dissolution of classical art is revealed. In a satire, there is a subjective consciousness that expresses its negative attitude against the reality of the State in its connection to the arts. For such a subjective consciousness this negative response to what remains external to it, is the essence of its own being. It presupposes the existence of what it contradicts. It takes its subject matter from its opposite without producing a new and higher principle, in which the contradiction can be solved. In a satire, it is all about the presentation of the perceived contradictions in the reality, the disharmony between ideal and reality, the opposition, therefore, between human individuality and the realm of the State. According to Hegel, the satire is a specific Roman invention.
It is a particular characteristic of Roman culture to emphasize the absolute nature of the power of the state over against the sphere of the family and individual life. The obedience to the abstract Law is the highest value of Roman culture. That is why there is no fine art in Rome. Sculpture and painting, prose and poetry were all copied from the Greeks.
The portrayal of the lack of morality, human stupidities, the decline of ancient virtues etc. is the aim ofsatire. It reflects a dissatisfaction with the state of society. The basic structure of satire is important here. It contains the abstract opposition between a finite and abstract consciousness that opposes itself to an equally finite world of particularities that are found lacking.
Chapter 5 The Romantic form of Art (empty)
Chapter 6. The idea of the End of Art (empty)
Chapter 7. Post-Romantic Art: Art as philosophy (empty)
Chapter 8. Formalism (autonomy of art) (empty)
Chapter 9. Institutionalism (social materialism)
Chapter 10. Spiritualism (metaphysics of art)
Chapter 11. Post-Modernism