G.W.F. Hegel and Philosophy of Art, A Summary

Hegel’s view of art is steeped in the metaphysical. Terms such as the “Absolute” are used in a somewhat synonymous fashion with “God.” Hegel stated that art is the Absolute made available to sense perception. He held that Idea was the content of art, while the form that the art took was the sensuous material. In this way, art-making harmonizes content with outcome. He makes three demands in the first part of the essay: One, that the representation should be the right, or “qualified” one—if it is not, a poor combination is the result. Two, that the art be concrete and not abstract, and three, that the content itself be singular in nature, made for our inner selves.

Hegel then moves on to the Idea of Beauty and the Ideal. He puts forth the idea that only when the Idea and execution of such are truly working together harmoniously, will the highest art be made. The Idea itself, though an abstract principle, has a form that it needs to be, and when it is correctly represented in that form is when Beauty, or the Ideal is reached. He then moves on to discuss the forms of art, which is presented in a hierarchical order of least to greatest: symbolic, classical, and romantic.

I actually enjoy Hegel’s aesthetic theory very much, possibly because he uses terms that sound and feel very familiar to me, as well as because I have a soft spot for the metaphysical. While I realize this is a very personal bias, I do think that independent of my own feelings, many of the particulars make sense. The Absolute/Idea, whether viewed as a god-like spirit, energy, or an animating principle, makes just as much sense for explaining art and art-making as anything else.  I also can see validity in the idea of art progressing, or unfolding. I could easily take issue with his dismissal of non-western art, but keeping context in mind (his nationality, German Idealism, etc), it is at least possible to see where these views originated and why. Plus, I heard once that the Upanishads had just been translated during his time. His ideas seem greatly influenced by the ideas of Atman and Brahman.

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