G w f hegel (1770 1831)

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G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) Gary Shapiro University of Richmond, gshapiro@richmond.edu

Follow this and additional works at: http://scholarship.richmond.edu/philosophy-facultypublications Part of the Art and Design Commons, Continental Philosophy Commons, and the German Language and Literature Commons Recommended Citation Shapiro, Gary. "G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831)." In Key Writers on Art: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century, by Chris Murray, 160-67. London: Routledge, 2003.

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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel continues to be one of the crucial touchstones in the history of art and visual studies. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that art history, as it developed in German-speaking countries in the nineteenth century (and was 160


exported to the further reaches of the academic world) is a combination of Hegel's speculative philosophy of art, and his grand narrative of its history, with the scrupulous methods of German philology which had been exercised first on classical texts. More recent theories of the visual, such as Sartre's and Lacan's (varying) conceptions of the 'gaze' are formulated in terms of Hegel's dialectical categories of subject and object; Derrida's project of deconstruction, including his writings on visual art, involves an unremitting critique of Hegel, but allows the latter to set much of the agenda. Marxist aesthetics is inconceivable without Hegel's dialectical history as both model and foil. Hegel's aesthetics coincides both temporally and in spirit with the age of the museum; Karl Friedrich Schinkel's Altes Museum, for example, erected in Berlin at the time of Hegel's lectures on the fine arts was just a short walk from the philosopher's residence. The great European museums took the art of Greece as exemplary and offered the visitor a historically articulated tour of the art of the past, itself a virtual tour of the history of culture. In Hegel's system, truth develops historically, so that the history of art, religion, and philosophy are significant narratives that now, at the end of the day, display a meaningful pattern. Hegel's knowledge of art was no doubt the most prodigious and wide ranging of any philosopher until his own time, however parochial we now find some of his judgements (our greater perspicuity indebted in no small degree to the discipline he helped to found). Yet this knowledge came at the price, as Hegel acknowledged, of accepting art as a subject of what he called science (or Wissenschafi), rather than as the highest expression of the spirit or culture of an age. As he says in the Aesthetik (Hegel's Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, 1979), 'the form of art has ceased to be the supreme need of the spirit. No matter how excellent we find the statues of the Greek gods, no matter how we see God the Father, Christ, and Mary so estimably and perfectly portrayed: it is no help; we bow the knee no longer'. This notorious pronouncement touches on what has been inaccurately called Hegel's 'death of art' thesis. While he never suggests that there has been or will be a cessation of artistic production and enjoyment, Hegel does speak, as here, of a change in the place of art within culture: it is ultimately replaced by philosophy and science, including the science of art. Hegel also speaks of a 'dissolution' (Aujlosung) of art, that is, a fragmentation or unfolding such that art dissolves into its separate strands and is liberated for a vast variety of styles and modes, including especially the idiosyncrasies of irony and reflective humour;



we might think here of Picasso's restless experimentation with styles, or Marcel Duchamp's casting himself as a master of irony. Hegel writes not of the 'visual arts' but of the 'formative arts' (bildende Kunste, or image-making arts), emphasizing not so much the static image (Bild) or structure, but the process of thought which gives meaning to artworks. Art is not an imitation of reality (as the Greeks supposed) or the source of a universal aesthetic experience (as Kant argued), but one of the ways, along with religion and philosophy, in which mind comes to know itself and to make itself known. In that sense, all art involves an original manifestation of thought. Consequently natural beauty, so important to Kant and the eighteenth century, is at most a vague indication of the genuine beauty of art; Hegel contributed heavily to the elimination of interest in natural beauty and even in such arts as landscape architecture that characterizes European aesthetics earlier. If art is eventually superseded by philosophy, it is still the case that its way of 'making visible', its very act of manifestation, is that which has served longest and most effectively as the educator of humankind. Hegel defines beauty as 'the sensuous shining [Schein, less happily translated as 'appearance'] of the Idea'. To unfold that sentence fully would require an immersion in Hegel's logic and philosophy of Spirit, but we can note two things: • the Idea is not something unworldly and transcendent (as we might think of the Platonic idea), but is complex and comes about through a development, typically a historical one; • art shines out or radiates, it gives itself.

If this last formulation begins to make art sound like divine grace, the resemblance is not accidental. For Hegel also understands art as the manifestation of God. In his philosophical version of trinitarian Christianity, God is not mysterious or incomprehensible, but makes himself (so Hegel genders the divine) manifest: as Father he is an enigmatic origin; as son he becomes incarnate and visible; in the Holy Spirit he manifests himself in the mind of the community (as in the productions of art, religion, and philosophy). In an important gesture Hegel rejects what he takes to be the Jewish and Islamic prohibition of the image and of art, which he sees as the result of their having an abstract theological view of the divine as simply One, without qualification. Hegel's aesthetics is perhaps the only philosophical attempt in modern times to address explicitly the iconoclastic controversy that occupied the attentions of medieval Christian orthodoxy and the Protestant Reformation. He insists that God does 162


indeed become visible in art, but he knows that the time for any fetishism of the image is long past, as art migrates from temple and church to the institution of the museum and the practice of disciplined study. Hegel distinguishes three main forms of art in terms of the relation for each of idea and sensuous form, or, in religious language, of God and his manifestation. In symbolic art there is a rift between the two, such that the inner content or meaning is only indicated in a mysterious and ambivalent way, by what we see; here there is 'a secret foreboding and longing'. This is, for example, the art of ancient India and Egypt, in which either a dazzling profusion of forms (e.g. Hindu sculpture) or more minimal and enigmatic ones (the pyramids and sphinx), somehow are taken as symbols of the deepest meaning. Such art might be called sublime in its pointing to something seemingly incomprehensible, but Hegel challenges the privileged place of the sublime in eighteenth-century aesthetics, making it into a deficient or preliminary stage of beauty, characterized by formlessness and indeterminacy. This move is an answer to the Romantic fascination with deciphering the mysteries of the East, as they were seen by those participating in the European 'discovery' of the Other. It also shows an insensitivity to the dynamics of a relatively free play of interpretation that fascinated those same Romantics and which has achieved a recent theoretical form in deconstruction and other forms of poststructuralism. Hegel said that the answer to the riddle posed by the sphinx was man, and he took this to mean that as the human form emerges from the zoomorphic and abstract shapes of the symbolic, art comes into its own, finding a form adequate to its content. Architecture is the pre-eminent symbolic art, because it must shape its materials in accordance with heavy external constraints, notably gravity, which imposes limits on construction. Even so, there can be a romantic architecture (e.g. Gothic) in which matter seems to shed its weight and churches soar into the heavens, but such buildings are not typical of the art. For Hegel, the glorious centre of the world of art is the classical form, whose principle is the full interpenetration of external form and internal content in the idealized figures of the Greek gods, based on the human body. He provides a speculative philosophical defence of the exemplary position of Greek sculpture that was promoted by thinkers like Winckelmann and Goethe. Like his predecessors and contemporaries, he is unaware of the vivid colouring of these works, and accordingly assumes that the figures' eyes are blank, which he takes to be a sign of a certain melancholy and sense of limitation, which 163


ultimately leads to the decline of the classical form. In what presentday readers must see as an extreme of rationalist ethnocentricity, Hegel even provides an argument to show the intrinsic superiority of the Greek profile, on the grounds that the relatively unbroken line of nose and forehead elevates the organ of smell, distinguishing such a face as sharply as possible from those animals in which the nose blends with the mouth in a snout, so excluding the mouth as the site of speech, thought, and intelligence. He dismisses the idea that there could be distinctive and equally valid models of facial beauty among the 'Chinese, Jews, and Egyptians' as 'superficial chatter'. Romantic art is understood to be an art of the interior life, and Hegel finds that its themes are either explicitly indebted to or implicitly derivative from Christianity, which is understood as a religion that exalts the subjective life of the individual and that understands God himself as spirit. Romantic art is not limited by the cumbersome media of architecture and sculpture. Beauty is no longer the standard of art, but the truth of subjective experience. Art demonstrates this spiritual truth as an activity of feeling, thought, and expression: it may do this by representing the intensity of love (as in scenes of the Madonna and child) or even in the degradation of the body, as in the story of Christ's passion, involving 'grief, death, the mournful sense of nullity, the torment of spirit and body'. Painting is the liminal Romantic art; it abstracts from the world of three dimensions, but still necessarily presents a virtual space, and requires a two dimensional surface, unlike music which escapes into a disembodied world of sound or poetry whose images are wholly contained in imagination. So the visual arts are ultimately trumped by the linguistic ones, a pattern, noted by Derrida, that characterizes almost all traditional philosophies of art (Hegel does not consider the possibility of some significant interchange between painting and language, now a theme of great interest). He dismisses the possibility of a pre- or nonChristian painting that would fulfil the goals of the art, suggesting for example that the paintings of classical antiquity were meant only to fill wall space; their very presence is merely decorative and testifies to their failure to explore the reaches of subjective life. Hegel builds on Lessing's typology of the arts (and anticipates Clement Greenberg's theory of modernism) when he insists that painting must be understood in terms of the opportunities and limits intrinsic in its two-dimensional medium. Whereas Lessing had argued that the medium limited painting to presenting static scenes and privileged moments (and hardly distinguished between painting and sculpture), Hegel claims that by reducing the third dimension the art offers a 164


virtual experience of interiority, the world as it is shaped and felt by the seeing and imaginative subject; even the depiction of banal objects is not concerned with 'the objects as they exist in reality, but in the purely contemplative interest in the external reflection of the internal life'. Hegel's history of painting begins with explicitly Christian themes, as in Italian Renaissance works: the 'perfection of painting' achieved by the 'great masters' (he discusses Raphael, Correggio, and Titian) 'is a peak of art that can be ascended only once by one people' (a judgement shared by other founders of art history such as Jacob Burckhardt and deeply engrained until recently in the discipline's construction of its narratives). Flemish and German painting (this last term includes the Dutch) go even further in abandoning the classical ideal that still haunts the Italian masters; the Protestant movement is anticipated and realized in art that enriches religious themes with an attention to detailed appearances, including landscape and the texture of everyday work and social life. Finally, painting dispenses with explicit religious themes; in Dutch genre scenes and still life there is 'a concrete piety in mundane affairs'. This art achieves a kind of poetry in its display of the entire external world as coloured by human imagination. Hegel sees Dutch painting as the realization of the divine in the everyday, and so brings his discussion of the visual arts to a close here. Although he makes scattered remarks about more recent painters (and fails to notice important contemporaries like Caspar David Friedrich), Hegel believes that the heights of painting have already been achieved by the Italians and the Germans. Almost two hundred years later, Hegel's account of what we now call the visual arts is likely to seem severely limited by the art historical knowledge of his age. Yet his work was indispensable in furthering the discipline that allows us to make such criticisms. If we were to seek resources in his thought for dealing with a wider range of art, including contemporary work, we should focus as Arthur Danto does, for example, on the principle of reflection and self-consciousness that Hegel finds essential in romantic art and on his sense that art is strongest when it involves a critical response to its own history. We should also recall that what we have left of Hegel's Aesthetik is largely a compilation of his own and his students' notes, not a finished manuscript. This can be supplemented by his treatment of the 'Religion of Art' in his Phanomenologie des Geistes (Phenomenology of Spirit), which is concerned with the complex, dynamic relations among artist, work, and audience, although its historical scope is limited to the Greeks and their immediate predecessors. There Hegel describes the 'abstract' (sculptural) work which sets up something of 165


an obstacle between artist and audience, because the latter fails to see the effort, thought, and struggles of the sculptor. This is contrasted with the 'living' work, composed of human bodies in motion (the Olympic games, the dance) or the 'spiritual' work, which involves a language shared by artist and audience. Translating this analysis into contemporary terms, we find Hegel wrestling with questions having to do with the relation between artist's intention and critical interpretation, and with forms of art that could be compared with more recent tendencies and forms such as ('abstract') minimalism or ('living' and 'spiritual') performance art. Biography

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born on 27 August 1770 in Stuttgart, the son of a minor civil servant at the court of the Duchy of Wiirttenberg. He studied theology at the Ttibingen Seminary from 1788-93 and later, from 1793-1801 was a tutor in Bern and Frankfurt am Main. He was a private lecturer and then professor at the University of Jena from 1801-6. In 1807 he became the editor of the Bamburger Zeitung, a Catholic newspaper and in the same year wrote Phenomenology of Spirit. He was Rector of the Nuremberg Gymnasium from 1808-16; full professor at the University of Heidelberg from 1816-8 and then the University of Berlin from 1818-31. He died in Berlin on 14 November 1831. Bibliography

Main texts Phiinomenologie des Geistes, 1807, trans. A.V. Miller, Phenomenology of Spirit, New York, Oxford University Press, 1977. Aesthetik, 1835-8, trans. T.M. Knox, Hegel's Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2 vols, 1979. Vorlesungen uber die Philosophie der Geschichte, 1840, trans. J. Sibree, Philosophy of History, New York, Dover Publications, 1956.

Secondary literature Besarn;:on, Alain, L'image interdite: une histoire intellectuale de l'iconoclasme, 1994, trans. Jane Marie Todd, The Forbidden Image: An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2000. (See chapter 6:2 'Hegel: nostalgia for the image'.) Bungay, Stephen, Beauty and Truth: A Study of Hegel's Aesthetics, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1984. Derrida, Jacques, Glas, 1974, trans. John P. Leavey, Glas, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1987. 166

ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER Desmond, William, Art and the Absolute: A Study of Hegel's Aesthetics, Albany, State University of New York Press, 1986. Poggeler, Otto (ed.), Hegel in Berlin, Berlin, Staats Bibliothek Prussischer Kulturbesitz, 1981. Shapiro, Gary, 'Hegel's dialectic of artistic meaning', Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol XXXV, no. 1 (1976), pp. 23-35. Steinkraus, Warren, and Schmitz, Kenneth (eds), Art and Logic in Hegel's Philosophy, New York, Humanities Press, 1980. Winfield, Richard Dien, Systematic Aesthetics, Gainesville, University of Florida, 1995. Wyss, Beat, Trauer der Vo/lendung, 1985, trans. Caroline Dobson Saltzwedel, Hegel's Art History and the Critique of Modernity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999.