Aesthetics and cultural theory
Subjectivity is the starting point of Hegel’s statement. His lectures on aesthetics give the significance of art within his philosophy while the German period of romanticism is being explained and critiqued. Recent theorists such as Theodor Adorno, Paul Guyer and Arthur Danto based their views on aesthetics from Hegel’s outlook on art.
All support that Hegelian idealism was introduced with a poor consequence of personal subjectivity.
The idealistic philosophers argued that only our conscience has real status and that the physical world is only a product of consciousness. The idealism (or utopianism) is closely linked to the religion either directly or indirectly and all philosophies based on this term are supporting the existence of a superior power that can not be interlinked with human’s capability. The most effective way of understanding the whole concept of idealism is to study directly the forefather of all theorists. Plato in his book, ‘The Republic’, gives an allegory (the ‘cave’) to represent idealism in it’s simpler form.
He describes men sitting in a dark cave who are chained in such a way that they can look in only one direction. Few meters behind them, light comes out of a fire which casts their shadows towards a wall they cannot see. Plato asks us to imagine those men in that specific position for their entire life. Having no experience of anything else, these men understand what they have experienced before reality is being represented to them. The philosopher continues with his metaphor and asks us to visualise that those prisoners got unchained and faced the existence of the fire and the shadows. They begin to have a sense of the environment they lived in. The allegory ends, with Plato explaining that those men in the cave are us. As a consequence, we experience the world with our only five senses, but as a matter of fact ‘our world’ is made with images and three-dimensional shadows. He claims that our mind has absoluteness perfection (‘absolute mind’). As we look into sun and turn away for protecting our eyes, thats how we turn back into the cave, in our safe place of sense perception. Now, modern idealism puts forward a cognitive human activity and attributes to a self-determined reality, such as the ‘absolute truth’ and creativity. Two German recent idealism theorists, J. G. Fichte and Friedrich von Schelling, which came to a climax in an absolute idealism of Hegel, started giving their explanation with a refutation of the uncertain thing-in-itself.
However, Hegel formulated a complete structure of thought about art and the world. Most importantly, he hold up that reality should be logical, so that it’s eventual framework will be shown by our own thoughts. He did not think that symbolic, so by extension, conceptual art, has the ability to surpass the high nature of classical Greek art and its representational/imitative abilities. This is because, as he explains, since symbolisms, depend on the knowledge of man of the earth and society, and because, we can never know everything about the human psyche, trying to represent it with symbolisms, is just not enough. Hence, imitative art, which is what classical Greek sculptures, are of a much higher regard to Hegel, than symbolic art. He describes it as ‘the sensuous presentation of ideas’. It is in the communication of ideas excluding the connection between our reason and our sensory faculty and is distinctive successful. Modern aesthetic theorists turn first and foremost to Kant, an 18th century German philosopher, and the historical convention of German romanticism to utilize the role of ‘pessimistic’ art. Hegelian view comes to support that art does more than sabotage the non?aesthetic. Thus, modern art can preferable take in contemporary artistic practices. Both theorists connect that art is superior to the external world, both opposed to appetite and enjoyment.
Hegel gives his philosophy on art that is, as a whole, his main philosophical system. For us, to comprehend his philosophy of art we must understand his philosophy as a whole. Similar with Aristotle’s way of thinking, Hegel believes that the investigation of logic could lead to a key system of reality. Thus, logic is being characterised as dialectical. Poetry for Hegel seem not to have something physical as a sculpture. In that way, music according to him is the least spiritual form of art. On the other hand, Kant stated as an important matter that a generic explanation of the world could lead to an opposite observation. But Hegel explained that those two notions could be integrated by a move to a different way of thinking. Consequently, our mind moves from thesis, to antithesis, to synthesis. This could be seen in history, nature and cultural progress. All the thinking consists by the idea (thesis), which antithesis is nature, while combining (synthesis) the two it forms the spirit.
This could also be named as the ‘absolute’ itself and is examined in more detail in Hegel’s ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ as a transformation from subjective to objective to the absolute spirit.
He is examining the organised structures in humanity giving absolute freedom and self determination to be essential. Those vitals principles include the practice of right, having a family and being part of a civil society (state). The most developed and sufficient perception of spirit is achieved by philosophy. It provides a conceptual understanding of the nature of reason while it describes why reason must take the form of time, space, life, matter and self-conscious spirit. In Christianity, however, the procedure which the ‘idea’ or ‘reason’ turns into self-conscious spirit is symbolised with metaphors and images as the procedure where God turns into spirit lies within humans. This is the process we place our belief and faith rather our notion of understanding. Hegel supports that humans cannot live with just the hypothesis of things but also need to trust the truth. He asserts that ‘is in religion that a nation defines what is considers to be true’.
According to Hegel, art is different from religion or philosophy and it’s purpose is the formation of beautiful objects in which aesthetically pleasing indication is coming through. Therefore, the main target of art is not impersonate nature but to give us the opportunity to look at images being made by non-materialistic freedom. In other words, art exists not just for the purpose of having ‘art’ but for beauty.
This union of freedom and beauty from Hegel shows his obligation to two other theorists, Schiller and Kant. Kant goes further to analyse that our understanding of beauty is a form of freedom. He explains, by judging an object or a piece of art as beautiful, we are discernmenting about a thing. By this we are declaring that the ‘thing’ or object has an effect on us, thus everyone will have the same effect. This results to a comprehension and vision in ‘free play’ with each other, and it is this delight that comes from the ‘free play’ that guides us to our judgment if something is nice or not.
Schiller comes in contrast with Kant which explains beauty as a belonging of the object itself. He stress that freedom is independent from our mind (Kant describes as ‘noumena’).
‘Freedom in appearance, autonomy in appearance […] that the object appears as free, not that it really is so’’
However, in Hegel’s view on beauty, is being described as the complete manifestation of freedom. It can be seen or sound like a sensory expression. Hegel moves a step further to explain that beauty can be created by nature but as he calls a ‘sensuous’ beauty’ it can only be found through art which can be produced by people. For him, beauty has symmetrical qualities. It has elements that are not organised in a framework but are joined organically. We were told, as he explains, that the Greek outline is beautiful, because the nose is flawless under the forehead while the Roman human profile has more sharper angles between them. Nevertheless, beauty’s importance is not only the shape but also the content. Modern art-theorists disagree with Hegel’s theory of beauty and art. They claim that art can include any content. This content is described in religion as God, then a beautiful art could be seen as angelic. Nonetheless, Hegel insists that Godly art is through a humankind form as freedom. He understands that piece of art could consists of nature such as plants or animals but he thinks that art is responsible to show the angelic form, as mentioned before. Only a human can represent reason and spirit through colors and sounds.
Art, in Hegel’s eyes, is metaphorical. Not because it always comes to copy what is in nature, but the main motivation of art is to communicate and represent what he explained as a ‘free spirit’. It can mostly be attained throughout humans and images. Particular, art exist to remind our mind that us, as human beings, have freedom and try not to forget the truth within ourselves. It is the only way the ‘freedom of spirit’ could be seen in it’s simplest form. The contradiction with art is that it links truth all through romanticised images made by someone. As mentioned before, according to Hegel, this spirit and beauty could be found through ancient Greek sculptures (Aeschylus, Praxiteles, Phidias and Sophocles).
The German philosopher explains that are a lot of things we can be named as ‘art’, such as the Greek sculptures mentioned before, Shakespearian plays, but not everything is entitled to be called like that. This is because not everything represent what ‘true’ art really is. He sets some standards that a piece of work has to meet in order to be beautiful art.
BBC magazine, A Point of View: Why are museums so uninspiring(London, BBC, 2011)
Hegel G. W. F., Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, (Oxford: University Press, 1977)
Hegel G. W. F., Hegel’s Aesthetics: Lectures on fine art, Know, vol.1 (Oxford: University Press, 2010)
Hegel G. W. F., Hegel: Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion: Volume II: Determinate Religion: Determinate Religion v. 2 (Oxford: University Press, 2007)
Immanuel Kant, ‘Kant: Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason: And Other Writings’
(Cambridge, University Press, 2004)
Jason M, Miller, ‘Research Proposal’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Notre Dame, 2004), p.2
Robin, Waterfield, ‘Plato’s Republic’ (Oxford: University Press, 2008)
Stephen, Houlgate, ‘Hegel’s aesthetics’, (The Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy, 2009)
Schiller, Friedrich, ‘Kallias or Concerning Beauty: Letters to Gottfried Korner”, in Classical and Romantic German Aesthetics’, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)