The Philosophy of Fine Art Volume III, Georg Wilhelm Hegel
The Philosophy of Fine Art Volume III
Georg Wilhelm Hegel
18:41 h Ideas Lvl 12.18
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.



Third Part
The System of the Particular Arts


The objects treated by our science in the first part were the general notion and the reality of beauty in Nature and art, in other words beauty in its truth, and art in its truth, the Ideal in the as yet undeveloped unity of its fundamental principles, independent of its specific content and its distinguishing modes of envisagement.

This essentially genuine unity of the beautiful in art, in the second place, unfolded itself within its own resources in a totality of art-forms, whose determinate structure defined at the same time the content which the art-spirit was impelled to fashion from itself in an essentially articulate system of manifestations of beauty under which the Divine and human is envisaged to the world.

What still is absent from both these spheres is the reality that is present within the elementary substance of the external phenomenon itself. For although both in our examination of the Ideal as such, and in that of the specific modes of symbolic, classical, and romantic art, we throughout referred to the relation or complete mediation which obtains between the significance conceived as an ideal principle and its embodiment in the external or phenomenal materia, yet this realization merely retained its validity as that which was still exclusively the ideal art-activity in the sphere of general world-impressions of beauty, in and through which it is diffused. Inasmuch, however, as the fundamental conception of beautiful implies, that it make itself objective for the immediate vision, that is to say for the senses and sensuous perception as an external work of art, so that what is beautiful becomes only then itself through such a definite form appropriate to itself explicitly united with the beautiful and the Ideal, we have in the third place to review this territory of the art-product as actually self-realized in the entirely sensuous medium. For it is only through this final configuration that the work of art is truly concrete, an individual entity which is at once real, self-contained, and singular. The Ideal can only constitute the content of this third sphere of our aesthetic philosophy for the reason that it is the idea of the beautiful, in the collective totality of all its world presentments, which is thus self-realized in objective form . For this reason the art-product is still, even up to this point, to be conceived as a totality articulated in itself, nevertheless as an organism, whose organic parts, which — while in the second part of our inquiry they were differentiated under a collective concept of essentially disparate world-aspects — now fall asunder as isolated members, every one of which becomes independently a self-subsistent whole, and in this singularity is capable of bringing into display the totality of the different art-types. Essentially and in accordance with its notion it is quite true that the collective result of this new reality of art belongs to one single totality. Inasmuch, however, as it is a portion of the realm of the sensuous present, in which the same is made real to itself, the Ideal is now resolved into its phasal states as a process , and confers on them an independent and self-subsistent stability, albeit they are capable of coming into juxtaposition, essential relation, and reciprocal reintegration with one another. And this real world of art is the system of the separate arts. Just as then the particular types of art, regarded throughout as totality, expose intrinsically a process, an evolution, that is, of the symbolical to the classical and romantic types, we find also, on the one hand, a similar advance in the particular arts, in so far as it is the very art-types themselves which receive their determinate existence through these specific arts. From another point of view, however, the particular arts have also themselves within them a process, a progression, independently of the art-types to which they attach an objective reality, a process which in this its more abstract relation is common to all. Every art possesses its spring-time of perfected elaboration as art, and on the one side or the other a history that precedes or follows this period of full-bloom. For the products of the arts collectively are spiritual products, and consequently are not at once to hand in their own specialized province respectively, as are the forms of Nature, but are subject to a beginning, progression, completion, and termination, a growth, a blooming, and a decay.

These more abstract differences, whose devolution we propose at the very commencement of our inquiry briefly to indicate, since it asserts itself equally in all the arts, are identical with that which it is usual to define under the name of rigorous, ideal, and approved style, when indicating the specific styles of art in each case, which are mainly related to the general mode of embodiment and representation, partly as considered in its external shape, and its possession or lack of spontaneity, its simplicity, its surfeit of detail, briefly in all its various aspects, according to which the definition of the content emerges in the external appearance; partly no less in its aspect of the technical elaboration of its sensuous material, in which the art in question gives determinate existence to its content.

It is a common assumption that art finds its beginnings in what is devoid of complexity and is natural. In a certain sense, no doubt, we may accept this as true. In other words what is rude and barbarous is without question, when contrasted with the genuine spirit of art, something both nearer to Nature and less complex. What is, however, natural, vital, and simple in art, regarded as fine art, is something quite different to this. All beginnings which are merely simple and natural, in the sense of uncouthness, do not as yet belong to the province of art and the beautiful at all as, for example, in the case where children scrawl simple figures, and with a few formless strokes would indicate thereby a human form, a horse, and so forth. Beauty, considered as a spiritual product, demands even from the start an elaborate technique, implies a long series of experiment and practice. Simplicity, when we refer to it as the simplicity of the beautiful, its ideal proportions, is rather a result, which only succeeds in overcoming the variety, medley, confusion, excess and incumbrance of its matter, and in concealing and effacing its preparatory studies, after much mediating work, so that at last Beauty, with all its unfettered spontaneity, appears to us as though liberated in one cast . What we find here is very analogous to the behaviour of a man of education, who, in all that he says and does, moves simply, spontaneously, and with ease, albeit he did not by any means start in the possession of such simple spontaneity, but rather has only secured such as the result of a thorough self-training.

For this reason it is no less in accordance with the nature of the fact than it is with the actual course of history that art in its beginnings rather presents us the appearance of artificiality and clumsiness, running largely into incidental detail, and generally overloaded with the elaboration of drapery and the environment of its subject-matter; and precisely in the degree that this external material is more compact and multifarious, to that extent that which is really expressive is reduced to its baldest terms; in other words what is truly the free and vital expression of Spirit in its forms and motion is that which is here least in evidence.

In this respect consequently the primitive and most ancient art-products in all the particular arts are the vehicle of a content that is essentially most abstract, such as simple tales in poetry, theogonies effervescent with abstract thoughts and their incomplete elaboration, single objects of sacred association in stone and wood and so forth, and the representation remains unaccommodating, monotonous or confused, stiff and dry. More especially in plastic art the facial expression is insipid with a repose which does not so much express spirituality in its essential penetration as a purely animal emptiness, or conversely is remorseless and exaggerated in its emphasis on characteristic traits. In the same way the bodily forms and their motion are devoid of life, the arms, for example, are glued to the body, the legs are not divided, or are clumsily moved, or in angular and constrained modes; and in other respects such figures are ill-shaped, suffer from narrow compression, or are excessively lank and extended. On the other hand we find that much more devotion and industry is spent upon accessories such as drapery, hair, weapons, and ornaments of a similar nature; the folds of the drapery remain wooden and independent, without being able to accommodate themselves to the limbs, just as we may often see for ourselves in images of the Virgin and saints of early times, where they are in part run together in monotonous regularity, and in part are continually broken up in harsh corners, not flowing freely in their lines, but scattered about with diffuseness over too wide a surface. And in the same way the first attempts at poetry are full of breaks, devoid of connection, monotonous, dominated in an abstract way by one idea or emotion, or elsewhere wild, violent, the particular being obscurely assimilated, and the whole as yet not bound together in a secure and ideal organic unity.

It is only, however, after such preparatory work as the above that the style which is the main subject of our present inquiry commences with what is truly genuine fine art. In this it is no doubt in the first instance at the same time still austere, but already moderated with more beauty in its severity. This severe style is the more lofty abstraction of the beautiful, which comes to a stop with that which is of real importance, expresses and reproduces the same in its broad outlines, still disdains all amiability and grace, suffers the main subject-matter alone to assert itself, and pre-eminently expends very little industry and elaboration on what is incidental. And in doing so, this severe style also still adheres to the imitation of that which is immediately given to sense. In other words, just as, in regard to content, it takes its stand, so far as ideas and representation are concerned, in what is given it, in the tradition, for example, of a revered religion, so also, to take the opposite point of view, namely, that of external form, it will merely render assured the fact itself, and not its own invention. It is, in short, satisfied with the general broad effect that is educed from the fact, and follows in expression closely upon the growth and definite existence of this. In the same way everything that is accidental is held aloof from this type of style, in order that the caprice and spontaneity of the individual mind may not appear to be involved in it. The motives are simple, the objects of representation few ; and for this reason no considerable variety in the detail of configuration, muscles and motion, is apparent.

Secondly, the ideal, purely beautiful style hovers between the simply substantive expression of fact and the fullest exposition of all that immediately pleases. We may define the character of this style as the highest degree of vitality compatible with a beautiful and reposeful greatness, such as we admire in the works of Pheidias or Homer. It is a living presentment of all traits, shapes, modifications of such, motions, limbs, in which there is nothing without significance and expression, but everything is instinct with life and action, and testifies to the breath, or very pulse of free life itself on the merest glance at the work of art in question; a vitality, however, which essentially makes visible one totality, and only one, is the expression of one content, of one individuality of action.

It is in such a truly vital atmosphere that we find moreover the breath of grace poured forth over the entire work. Grace is indeed a concession to the hearer and spectator, which the severe style despises. At the same time, whenever Charis, that is Grace, is asserted in the presence of an onlooker, if only as an acknowledgement, a means of conveying pleasure, yet in the ideal style we find that such a presence appears entirely divested of any craving to confer merely pleasure. We may perhaps explain our meaning in more technical language. The fact or subject-matter is here the substantive in its concentration and self-absorption. During the process, however, that it is manifested through the medium of art, and is, so to speak, concerned to actually exist for others, to pass over, that is, from its simplicity and essential solidarity to particularization, articulation, and individualization, we may regard this development to an existent form for others as at the same time a kind of complaisance on the part of the predominant matter, in so far, that is, as it does not appear to require this more concrete mode of existence, and yet is wholly poured forth into it for us. Such a charm as this is only entitled to assert itself in such a style so long as what is really substantive also persists in undisturbed self-possession, as we may call it, over against the grace of its manifestation, which blooms forth entirely in outward guise as an original type of superfluity. This indifference of the ideal or inner self-assurance for its existence, this repose of itself on itself is precisely that which constitutes the beautiful negligence of the grace, which attributes no immediate value to this, its mode of manifestation. And it is just in this that we must look for the loftiness of the beautiful style. Beautiful free art is careless in its attitude to the external form, in which it refuses to let us see any peculiar movement of the mind, or any end or intention. Rather in every expression, every modification, it points to one thing only, and that is the idea and vital principle of the whole. It is only by this means that the Ideal of the beautiful style asserts itself, which is neither harsh nor severe, but already shows the softening influence of the cheerful notes of the beautiful. Though no violence is done either to any feature of expression, any part of the whole, and every member appears in its independence, and rejoices in its own existence, yet each and all is content at the same time to be only an aspect in the total evolved presentment. This it is which alone displays, alongside of the depth and determinacy of individuality and character, the grace of Life itself. On the one side we have indeed merely the substantial subject-matter predominant, but in the detailed exposition, in the lucid, and at the same time exhaustive variety of traits, which complete the definition of the appearance, and place it before us in its transparent vitality, the spectator is at the same time freed from the thing in its baldness, in so far as he possesses and is wholly face to face with its concrete life. By virtue, however, of the last mentioned fact, this ideal style, so soon as it carries this modification in its external aspect to yet further lengths, passes over into the so-called agreeable or pleasing style. Here we have the assertion of another intent than the mere vitality of the fact .The giving of pleasure, the active elaboration in the direction of externality is asserted as itself an object, and is a matter of independent concern. As an example we may take the famous Belvedere Apollo, not indeed as itself belonging to this latter style, but at least marking the transition from the lofty style to that of sensuous attraction. And inasmuch as in an art of this kind it is no longer the single actuality itself to which the entire embodiment is referable, the particular details become under this mode, even though in the first instance still deducible from the central object itself and rendered necessary by means of it, more and more for all that independent. We feel that they are introduced, or interpolated, as ornaments, intentional additions of episodical import. And yet for the very reason that they are only related to the object accidentally and only receive their essential definition in a personal relation to the spectator or reader, they flatter the individual taste of such, to which their workmanship is primarily directed. Virgil and Horace, for example, delight us in this respect by an educated style, in which we can trace a variety of things aimed at, and an effort deliberately made to give pleasure. In architecture, sculpture, and painting, owing to this spirit of complaisance, simple and imposing effects of size disappear, and we find on every side small pictures standing by themselves, ornamentation, fineries, dimples on cheeks, elegant hair-dress, smiles, all the varied folding of draperies, enchanting colours and shapes, exceptional, difficult, but for all that unconstrained movements in the pose of the figure . In the so-called Gothic or German art of building, where the same is carried in the direction of this spirit, we find decoration elaborated without limit, so that the whole appears to be little more than a collection of little columns with all the utmost variety of ornamentations, diminutive towers, spires, and so forth, which, in their isolation, please us, without, however, destroying the impression of the larger connections of the whole and the still insistent masses of the same.

In so far, however, as the province of art we have been discussing in its entirety gives way to this activity of externalization, this presentment of what is purely exterior, we may emphasize it in its further generalization as the effect, which makes use of as a means of expression what is unpleasing, strained, and colossal, the type of uncouth contrasts such as the prodigious genius of Michael Angelo often exploits to excess. The effect may be generally indicated as the excessive leaning towards an ulterior public, which results in the form no longer being asserted in its independent, self-sufficient and buoyant repose. Rather it turns round, as it were, and makes an appeal at the same time to the onlooker, and strives to place itself in a relation to him by means of this manner of presentment. Both aspects, namely essential repose and the address to the spectator, must no doubt be present in a work of art; but these aspects should fall together in complete equilibrium. If the work of art in the severe style is wholly without qualification self-contained, without any appeal to the spectator, it leaves him cold. If, on the other hand, the appeal is made too directly to him, it creates indeed a sensuous pleasure, but loses to that extent its substantive thoroughness , or it does so without this thoroughness of content and the simple character of the conception and delineation therein contained. This passage from itself then merges in the accidental characterization of the appearance; as a result the image itself shares this accidental character, in which we no longer recognize the actual subject-matter and the form which is imperatively rooted in itself, but rather the poet and artist with his own personal designs, his peculiar type of production and skill. And for this reason the public is entirely released from the essential content of the work, finding itself by means of it placed in a personal relation to the artist, inasmuch as everything now wholly depends on its seeing that which the artist through his art intended, that is, the cunning and personal skill which is embodied in his grasp of his subject and its execution. To be thus brought into personal community of insight and critical acumen with the artist is for most people a flattering concession; and our reader or audience, and very possibly the spectator of plastic art, with even more readiness wonder at their poet, musician, or painter or sculptor respectively; and the vanity of such is all the better satisfied in proportion as the work invites them to this personal criticism, and supplies them openly with hints of such designs and points of view. In the severe style, on the contrary, no such confidences are made over to the spectator at all. What we have is just the substantive nature of the content, which in its representation austerely, and even harshly, repulses the purely personal quest. A repulse of this kind will often be no doubt merely indicative of the spleen of the artist, who, after entrusting a profound significance to his work, instead of making the exposition of the same free, transparent, and buoyant, deliberately makes it hard to follow. A trade in mysteries of this kind is also nothing but another form of affectation, and a spurious alternative to the complaisance we have criticized.

It is pre-eminently in the work of the French school that we find this tendency to flatter, attract, and create effect, and they have in this way elaborated this easy-going and complaisant attitude to the public as the main object of their efforts. They seek to find the real importance of their artistic work in the satisfaction such affords others, whose interest they would arouse and whom they would duly impress. This tendency is particularly marked in their dramatic poetry. Marmontel, for example, gives us the following anecdote in connection with the performance of his drama “Dénis, the Tyrant.” The crisis culminated in a question asked the Tyrant. Clairon, in whose mouth this question was put, when the moment for asking it had arrived, and when actually in conversation with Dionysius, made a forward step in front of the audience and dramatically addressed them instead. By this rhetorical effect the enthusiastic support of the entire piece was assured.

WholeReader. Empty coverWholeReader. Book is closedWholeReader. FilterWholeReader. Compilation cover