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Indeed, the considerable importance we assign to philosophy is evident, in Hegel's view, in the prominence of the philosophical study of art itself in modernity [ Aesthetics , 1: 11; VPK , 6]. Yet art in modernity continues to perform the significant function of giving visible and audible expression to our distinctively human freedom and to our understanding of ourselves in all our finite humanity. His view is, rather, that art plays or at least should play a more limited role now than it did in ancient Greece or in the Middle Ages. Yet Hegel does think that art in modernity comes to an end in a certain respect.

In Hegel's view, much painting and poetry after the Reformation focuses its attention on the prosaic details of ordinary daily life, rather than on the intimacy of religious love or the magnificent resolve and energy of tragic heroes.

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His view is that such works count as genuine works of art only when they do more than merely imitate nature. The naturalistic and prosaic works that best meet this criterion, he maintains, are the paintings of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Dutch masters. In such works, Hegel claims, the painter does not aim simply to show us what grapes, flowers or trees look like: we know that already from nature.

Often, indeed, the painter seeks to delight us specifically with the animated play of the colors of gold, silver, velvet or fur. A genuine work of art is the sensuous expression of divine or human freedom and life. Paintings that are no more than prosaic, naturalistic depictions of everyday objects or human activity would thus appear to fall short of genuine art. The paintings of such artists may lack the classical beauty of Greek art, but they exhibit magnificently the subtle beauties and delights of everyday modern life.

A much more overt expression of subjectivity is found by Hegel in works of modern humor. In this respect, Hegel does after all proclaim that art comes to an end in modernity. As was noted above, however, this does not mean that art as a whole comes to an end in the early nineteenth century.

Hegel's Philosophy of Right

For Hegel, the distinctive character of genuine art in contemporary and future modernity—and thus of genuinely modern art—is twofold. On the one hand, it remains bound to give expression to concrete human life and freedom; on the other hand, it is no longer restricted to any of the three art-forms. That is to say, it does not have to observe the proprieties of classical art or explore the intense emotional inwardness or heroic freedom or comfortable ordinariness that we find in romantic art.

Modern art, for Hegel, can draw on features of any of the art-forms including symbolic art in its presentation of human life. Indeed, it can also present human life and freedom indirectly through the depiction of nature. The focus of modern art, therefore, does not have to be on one particular conception of human freedom rather than another. For this reason, there is little that Hegel can say about the path that art should take in the future; that is for artists to decide.

Hegel's judgment that modern artists are—and are quite rightly—free to adopt whatever style they please has surely been confirmed by the history of art since Hegel's death in There is reason to suspect, however, that Hegel might not have welcomed many of the developments in post-Hegelian art.

This is due to the fact that, although he does not lay down any rules that are to govern modern art, he does identify certain conditions that should be met if modern art is to be genuine art.

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These may appear to be fairly innocuous conditions, but they suggest that certain post-Hegelian art works would not count in Hegel's eyes as genuine works of art. Robert Pippin takes a different view on this last point; see Pippin From a twentieth- or twenty-first-century point of view, Hegel's stance may well look conservative. From his point of view, however, he was trying to understand what conditions would have to be met for works of art to be genuine works of art and genuinely modern.


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The conditions that Hegel identified—namely that art should present the richness of human freedom and life and should allow us to feel at home in its depictions—are ones that many modern artists for example, Impressionists such as Monet, Sisley and Pissarro have felt no trouble in meeting. For others, these conditions are simply too restrictive. They have thus taken modern art in a direction in which, from a Hegelian perspective, it has ceased to be art in the true sense any longer.

Art, in Hegel's account, not only undergoes a historical development from symbolic art through classical art to romantic and then modern art , but also differentiates itself into different arts. Each art has a distinctive character and exhibits a certain affinity with one or more of the art-forms. Hegel does not provide an exhaustive account of all recognized arts he says little, for example, about dance and nothing, obviously, about cinema , but he examines the five arts that he thinks are made necessary by the very concept of art itself. Art, we recall, is the sensuous expression of divine and human freedom.

If it is to demonstrate that spirit is indeed free, it must show that spirit is free in relation to that which is itself unfree, spiritless and lifeless—that is, three-dimensional, inorganic matter, weighed down by gravity. The art that gives heavy matter the explicit form of spiritual freedom—and so works stone and metal into the shape of a human being or a god—is sculpture.


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Architecture, by contrast, gives matter an abstract, inorganic form created by human understanding. In so doing architecture turns matter not into the direct sensuous expression of spiritual freedom, but into an artificially and artfully shaped surrounding for the direct expression of spiritual freedom in sculpture. The art of architecture fulfills its purpose, therefore, when it creates classical temples to house statues of the gods VPK , The constructions that fall into this category do not house or surround individual sculptures, like classical Greek temples, but are themselves partly sculptural and partly architectural.

They are works of architectural sculpture or sculptural architecture. Such constructions are sculptural in so far as they are built for their own sake and do not serve to shelter or enclose something else. They are works of architecture, however, in so far as they are overtly heavy and massive and lack the animation of sculpture. They are also sometimes arranged in rows, like columns, with no distinctive individuality.

In Hegel's view, however, all such constructions have a symbolic significance for those who built them. They were not built simply to provide shelter or security for people like a house or a castle , but are works of symbolic art. Since they house within themselves something other than themselves, pyramids, in Hegel's view, are, as it were, on the way to being properly architectural. Pyramids thus remain works of symbolic art that point to a hidden meaning buried within them.

Indeed, as was noted above, Hegel claims that the pyramid is the image or symbol of symbolic art itself Aesthetics , 1: The epitome of symbolic art is symbolic architecture specifically, the pyramids. Architecture itself, however, comes into its own only with the emergence of classical art: for it is only in the classical period that architecture provides the surrounding for, and so becomes the servant of, a sculpture that is itself the embodiment of free spirit. Hegel has much to say about the proper form of such a surrounding.

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The main point is this: spiritual freedom is embodied in the sculpture of the god; the house of the god—the temple—is something quite distinct from, and subordinate to, the sculpture it surrounds; the form of that temple should thus also be quite distinct from that of the sculpture. The temple, therefore, should not mimic the flowing contours of the human body, but should be governed by the abstract principles of regularity, symmetry and harmony.

Hegel also insists that the form of the temple should be determined by the purpose it serves: namely to provide an enclosure and protection for the god VPK , This means that the basic shape of the temple should contain only those features that are needed to fulfill its purpose. Furthermore, it means in Hegel's view that each part of the temple should perform a specific function within the economy of the whole building and that different functions should not be confused with one another.

It is this latter requirement that makes columns necessary. There is a difference, for Hegel, between the task of bearing the roof and that of enclosing the statue within a given space. The second task—that of enclosure—is performed by a wall.

Art, Myth and Society in Hegel's Aesthetics

If the first task is to be clearly distinguished from the second, therefore, it must be performed not by a wall but by a separate feature of the temple. Columns are necessary in a classical temple, according to Hegel, because they perform the distinct task of bearing the roof without forming a wall. The classical temple is thus the most intelligible of buildings because different functions are carried out in this way by different architectural features and yet are harmonized with one another.

Aesthetics: Crash Course Philosophy #31

Herein, indeed, lies the beauty of such a temple VPK , , In the Gothic cathedral columns are located within, rather than around the outside of, the enclosed space, and their overt function is no longer merely to bear weight but to draw the soul up into the heavens. Consequently, the columns or pillars do not come to a definite end in a capital on which rests the architrave of the classical temple , but continue up until they meet to form a pointed arch or a vaulted roof. Hegel considers a relatively small range of buildings: he says almost nothing, for example, about secular buildings.

One should bear in mind, however, that he is interested in architecture only in so far as it is an art, not in so far as it provides us with protection and security in our everyday lives. Yet it should also be noted that architecture, as Hegel describes it, falls short of genuine art, as he defines it, since it is never the direct sensuous expression of spiritual freedom itself in the manner of sculpture see Aesthetics , 2: In no case is architecture the explicit manifestation or embodiment of free spirituality itself. This does not, however, make architecture any less necessary as a part of our aesthetic and religious life.

In contrast to architecture, sculpture works heavy matter into the concrete expression of spiritual freedom by giving it the shape of the human being. The high point of sculpture, for Hegel, was achieved in classical Greece. In Egyptian sculpture the figures often stand firm with one foot placed before the other and the arms held tightly by the side of the body, giving the figures a rather rigid, lifeless appearance. By contrast, the idealized statues of the gods created by Greek sculptors, such as Phidias and Praxiteles, are clearly alive and animated, even when the gods are depicted at rest.

This animation is apparent in the posture of the figure, in the nuanced contours of the body and also in the free fall of the figure's garments. Indeed, Greek sculpture, according to Hegel, embodies the purest beauty of which art itself is capable. For a more detailed study of Hegel's account of sculpture, see Houlgate , 56— Hegel was well aware that Greek statues were often painted in quite a gaudy manner.

He claims, however, that sculpture expresses spiritual freedom and vitality in the three-dimensional shape of the figure, rather than in the color that has been applied to it. In painting, by contrast, it is color above all that is the medium of expression. The point of painting, for Hegel, is not to show us what it is for free spirit to be fully embodied. It is to show us only what free spirit looks like , how it manifests itself to the eye.

Subjectivity and Ethical Life

The images of painting thus lack the three-dimensionality of sculpture, but they add the detail and specificity provided by color. This is because the absence of bodily solidity and the presence of color allow the more inward spirituality of the Christian world to manifest itself as such. Painting, however, is also able—unlike sculpture—to set divine and human spirit in relation to its external environment: it is able to include within the painted image itself the natural landscape and the architecture by which Christ, the Virgin Mary, the saints or secular figures are surrounded Aesthetics , 2: Indeed, Hegel argues that painting—in contrast to sculpture, which excels in presenting independent, free-standing individuals—is altogether more suited to showing human beings in their relations both to their environment and to one another: hence the prominence in painting of, for example, depictions of the love between the Virgin Mary and the Christ child.

Hegel's account of painting is extraordinarily rich and wide-ranging. It, too, comes into its own in the period of romantic art. Like sculpture and painting, but unlike architecture, music gives direct expression to free subjectivity. Yet music goes even further in the direction of expressing the inwardness of subjectivity by dropping the dimensions of space altogether. It thus gives no enduring visual expression to such subjectivity, but expresses the latter in the organized succession of vanishing sounds.

Music is thus not just a sequence of sounds for its own sake, but is the structured expression in sounds of inner subjectivity. Through rhythm, harmony and melody music allows the soul to hear its own inner movement and to be moved in turn by what it hears. Music expresses, and allows us to hear and enjoy, the movement of the soul in time through difference and dissonance back into its unity with itself.