The Philosophy of Fine Art Volume II, Georg Wilhelm Hegel
The Philosophy of Fine Art Volume II
Georg Wilhelm Hegel
17:34 h Ideas Lvl 12.17
The translation of Hegel’s “Aesthetik” or “Philosophy of Fine Art,” which is contained in the four volumes of the present work, is the first complete translation in English of the three volumes devoted to this subject in the collected edition (Berlin, 1835).

The Philosophy of Fine Art

G. W. F. Hegel

Translated, with Notes, by
F. P. B. Osmaston, B. A.

Vol II


Second Part
Evolution of the Ideal in the Particular Types of Fine Art


All that has hitherto been the object of our examination in the first part of this inquiry referred to the reality of the Idea of the beautiful as Ideal of art. In whatever direction, however, we developed the notion of the ideal art-product, we throughout applied to it a meaning of purely general signification. But the idea of the beautiful implies a totality likewise of essential differences, which as such must in veritable form assert themselves. These differences we may broadly describe as the particular modes of art, as the evolved content of that which is implied in the notion of the Ideal, and which secures actual form through art. When, however, we speak of these forms of art as of distinct species or grades of the Ideal, we do not accept the term in the ordinary usage of it as though we found here in external guise particular classes of objects related to and modifying the Ideal respectively as their common genus. Species in the sense used here simply expresses the various and continuously expanding determination of the idea of the beautiful and the Ideal of art itself. The universality of the ideal representation is in the case posited not determined on the side of external existence, but is assumed to be the closer determination of itself in the explication of its own notion; or, in other words, it is the notion itself which unfolds itself in a totality of particular types of art.

More closely regarded, then, the specific types of art have their origin, as the unfolded realization of the Idea of the beautiful, in the very nature of the Idea itself, which by means of them presses forward to real and concrete appearance. Moreover, just in so far as it ceases to expand in the abstract determination or concrete fulness of any one of them, it manifests itself in some other form of realized expression. For the Idea is only Idea in its essential truth in so far as it proceeds in this self-evolution by means of its own activity. And inasmuch as it is, as Ideal, immediate appearance, and moreover with each mode thereof is still identical as the idea of the beautiful, we find that in every particular phase which reveals the Ideal in its process of self-explication we have another actual manifestation which is immediately related to the essential characterization of those diverse types of yet further expansion. It really is a matter of no consequence whether we regard this process as a process of the Idea within its own substance, or that of the form under which it attains determinate existence, inasmuch as both aspects are immediately bound up with each other, and the perfecting of the Idea as content, and the perfecting of its form are but two ways of expressing the same process. Or, to put the matter in the reverse way, the defects of a given form of art of this kind betray themselves as a defect of the Idea, in so far as such defects give a limited significance to the essential nature of the Idea in external form, and as such invest it with reality. When we consequently compare such still inadequate forms of art with what most obviously presents itself for comparison, that is, the true Ideal, we must be careful not to use expressions commonly applicable to works of art that are failures, which either express nothing at all, or have discovered an incompetence to express what ought to have been expressed. Rather for every form of the Idea there is a definite mode of appearance, which clothes it precisely in one of those particular forms of art to which we have adverted, adequate in every respect thereto, and the defective or perfected character of which consists entirely in the relative truth or untruth of the determinate form, under which and through which the Idea is actually realized. For the content must first be clothed with reality and concreteness before it can attain to the form wholly adequate to its essential truth. As we have already indicated in the previous division of our subject-matter, we have three fundamental forms or types of art to examine.

First, we have the symbolical. In this the Idea is still seeking for its true artistic expression, because it is here still essentially abstract and undetermined, and consequently has not mastered for itself the external appearance adequate to its own substance, but rather finds itself in unresolved opposition to the external objects in physical Nature and the world of mankind. And inasmuch as in this crude relation to objective existence it immediately surmises its own isolation, or is carried into some form of concrete existence by means, of universal characteristics which are void of all true definition, it vitiates and falsifies the actual forms of reality which it has found, and which it seizes in a wholly capricious way . And, consequently, instead of being able to identify itself completely with the object, it can only assert a kind of accord, or rather a still abstract reflection of significance and figure, a mode of representation which, being neither complete in its artistic fusion, nor capable of being completed, suffers the object to emerge as reciprocally external, strange, and inadequate to itself as it was before.

Secondly, we have the form in which the Idea, here in accordance with its true notional activity, is carried beyond the abstraction and indeterminacy of general characterization , is conscious of itself as free and infinite subjectivity, and grasps that self-conscious life in its real existence as Spirit (Mind). Spirit, as the free subject of consciousness, is self-determined through its own resources, and even in this its conscious grasp of self-determination possesses a form of externality adequate to express it, and one in which the essential import of that consciousness can be united with an explicit reality entirely appropriate. This second type of art, the classical, is based upon such absolutely homogeneous unity of content and form. In order, however, to make this unity complete the human spirit, in so far as it makes itself the object of art, must not be taken as Spirit in the absolute significance we refer to it, where it discovers its adequate subsistence wholly in the spiritual resources of its own essential domain, but rather as a still individualized spirit, and as such charged with a certain aspect of isolation. In other words, the free individual which classical art unites to its forms appears, it is true, as essentially universal, and consequently freed from all the mere contingence and particularity both of the subjective world of mind and the external world of Nature. But it is at the same time permeated by a universality which is itself essentially individualized. For the external form is necessarily both defined and singular by virtue of its externality, which it is only capable of completely fusing with an artistic content by representing that content as itself defined, and consequently of a limited character; and, moreover, it is only Spirit that is thus particularized which can pass into an objective shape and unite itself with the same in an inseparable unity.

In this form Art has reached the fulness of its own notion to this extent, namely, that the Idea, which is here spiritual individuality, brought into immediate accord with itself in the form of its bodily presence, receives from it a presentation so complete, that external existence is no longer able to preserve its consistency as against the ideal significance which it serves to express; or, to put it in the reverse way, the spiritual content is exclusively manifested in the elaborated form within which Art clothes it for sensuous perception, and thereby affirmatively asserts itself in the same.

Thirdly, we have the form in which the Idea of beauty grasps its own being as absolute Spirit, Spirit, that is to say, in the full consciousness of its untrammelled freedom. But for this very reason it is unable any more to obtain complete realization in forms which are external; its true determinate existence is now that which it possesses in itself as Spirit. That unity of the life of Spirit and its external appearance which we find in classical art is unbound, and it flees from the same once more into itself. It is this recoil which presents to us the fundamental type of the romantic type of art. Here we find, by reason of the free spirituality which pervades the content, such content makes a more ideal demand upon expression than the mere representation through an external or physical medium is able to supply; the form on its external side sinks therefore to a relation of indifference; and in the romantic form of art we consequently meet with a separation between content and form as we previously found it in the symbolic form, with this difference that it is now due to the subordination of matter to spiritual expression rather than the predominance of externality over ideal significance. It is in this way that symbolic art seeks after that perfected unity of ideal significance and external form, which classical art in its representation of substantive individuality succeeds in communicating to sensuous perception, and which romantic art passes over and beyond through its overwhelming insistence on the claims of Spirit.

Subsection I
The Symbolic Type of Art


Of the Symbol Generally

Symbol, in the signification we here attach to the word, is not merely the beginning of art from the point of view of its notional development, but marks also its first appearance in history. We may consequently regard it as only the forecourt of art, which is principally the possession of the East, and through which, after a variety of transitional steps and mediating passages, we are at last introduced to the genuine realization of the Ideal in the classical type of art. We must therefore from the very first take care to distinguish symbol where its unique characteristics provide it with an independent sphere of its own, in which it determines the radical and effective type of a certain form of art’s exposition and presentment from that kind of symbolic expression which amounts to no more than a purely external aspect of form entirely without such independent significance. In the latter sense we, in fact, come across it in the classical and romantic forms of art just as certain aspects of symbolical art are not wholly without the characteristic features of the classical Ideal, or present to us the origins of romantic art. Such reciprocal interplay between the fundamental forms of art attaches, however, merely to subsidiary images or isolated traits; it has no power whatever to modify, still less to expunge, the animating principle which essentially determines the character of the entire work of art.

In such cases where we find symbol elaborated in its entirely unique and independent form it is as a general rule characterized by the quality of the sublime, because its main impression is to show us the Idea still united to measureless dimension rather than rounded in a free and self-defined content; it would fain clothe itself with form, and yet is unable to secure in the substantial appearances of the world a definite form which is entirely adequate to express the abstractness and universality of its longing. On account of this inability to attain its purpose the Idea passes over and beyond the external existence which surrounds it instead of penetrating to the core or completely making its home therein. And this flight beyond the limits of the finite and visible world is precisely that which constitutes the general character of the sublime.

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