An Introduction to Aesthetics
Hegel’s series of lectures on the philosophy of art has been a landmark in the history of aesthetics ever since its publication in 1835 and has had an immense impact on a wide variety of thinkers, including Rosenkranz, Vischer, Dewey, Heidegger, Croce, Adorno, Lukács and Danto. Hegel is a metaphysical idealist, who claims not merely that artworks express divine and human freedom and ultimately embody the so-called ‘absolute spirit’ or the ultimate rationality of reality, but also that the material aspects of art are ultimately dispensable for thoughts that can be expressed more appropriately through the more intellectual means of religion and philosophy. Fine or ‘beautiful’ art (schöne Kunst) is defined as ‘the sensible shining of the idea’. Art, religion and philosophy have the same content (i.e. the freedom of the spirit), but different forms. Despite its grand metaphysical claims and its clearly cognitivist approach, Hegel’s philosophy of art provides often stunningly detailed studies of specific artworks, e.g. of Flemish 15th-century paintings by Memling and the Van Eyck brothers. He also offers an historical account of the value of art that formed the basis of the 19th-century discipline of art history. Hegel distinguishes three art forms: the symbolical (e.g. Egyptian), classical (e.g. Ancient Greek) and romantic (e.g. mediaeval) art forms. The latter art form, which Hegel mainly situates in Christian painting, announces the notorious ‘end of art’. The outward forms of the artwork have become superfluous. Hegel argues that for us art has become something of the past and has to be superseded by religion and philosophy, for (in his view) any material, sensible medium is inadequate to capture fully the ultimately spiritual essence of reality.