Thursday, October 17, 2019

Hegel on Architecture and Sculpture

I had previously discussed Hegel's three stages of art in this blog here.

Hegel discusses sculpture both when discussing the classical from of art and when, in a section on the arts, he specifically addresses it.  The classical form eliminates the two defects we find in the symbolic form of art, first that the idea is presented in the symbolic work indeterminately or abstractly, and therefore, second, the relation of meaning and shape is defective and merely abstract in such art.  But classical art is "the free and adequate embodiment of the Idea," the Idea being elsewhere called the Absolute.  So its shape is particularly appropriate to the Idea.  Also the Idea here comes into "free and complete harmony."  I take it that since the Absolute or the Idea evolve in history through the action of humans, this means that the Idea itself achieves harmony in the classical form of art.  The classical art-form therefore completes the Ideal of art, which is the harmonious relation of concrete sensuous form and concrete spiritual content.  Hegel notes that it is not enough to have the content correspond with form (“external configuration”) since this would mean that "every portrayal of nature, every cast of features, every neighborhood, flower, scene" would be classical because of its form/content congruity.  But the content is different in classical art since it is the concrete Idea which is concretely spiritual. 

So, he asks, what in nature "belongs to the spiritual in and for itself"?   In this case the subjective Concept, the spirit of art, has found the shape appropriate to it.  This shape is the human form.  The Idea as spiritual assumes this shape when it proceeds to "temporal manifestation."  I take this to mean that the Absolute naturally arises at this point in the course of historical dialectic.  Now Hegel is well aware that artists who represent gods have often been accused of personification and anthropomorphism, and that it is often thought that such processes degrade the spiritual.  But art has, as its goal, bringing the spiritual to the sensuous, and so must engage in anthropomorphism: "Spirit appears sensuously in a satisfying way only in its body." The idea of “transmigration of the souls” is an abstract idea, which is to say that it is stuck back at the inadequate stage of the symbolic.  Hegel goes so far as to chide physiology for not seeing life as necessarily proceeding to human form as the only possible sensuous appearance for spirit.  [Is Hegel being crafty here?  After all, he sees the romantic as higher than the classical:  and so HE would not see the charge of anthropomorphism as inapt.]

Now the human body is not merely sensuous but is "the existence and the natural shape of the spirit" and hence it must be free from deficiency of the sensuous and “contingent finitude.”  But, for the correspondence of meaning and shape to be perfect, the shape purified.  And the spirituality involved cannot tower beyond the sensuous and bodily.  It must be expressible completely in human form.  Indeed, this is a defect which leads to dissolving of the classical art-form itself.

The romantic form of art cancels this unification of Idea and reality.  It reverts to the opposition of two sides found in the symbolic.  The classical form has achieved the pinnacle for “illustration by art,” and so its defect is the defect of art itself, since art takes spirit in a sensuously concrete form, the classical finding a complete unification of the two. 

And yet spirit's true nature is "infinite subjectivity of the Idea" which is absolutely inward.  So romantic art has a content that goes beyond classical art, and this idea coincides with God (in the Christian sense) as spirit.  So, for classical art, the concrete content is implicitly the immediate and sensuous unity of the divine and the human.  The Greek god is the "object of naive intuition and sensuous imagination" and so his shape is the bodily shape of man, and his power is "individual and particular." The individual viewer's inner being is implicitly at one with this being.  And yet he does not have this oneness "as inward subjective knowledge."  So knowledge of the implicit unity is the higher state.  This going from implicit to self-conscious knowledge is what distinguishes man from animal.  Similarly the nutritionist raises the process of digestion to a self-conscious science.  When man knows he is an animal he ceases to be one.

But this movement from the implicit unity of divine and human nature to immediate and known unity is no longer a matter of the spiritual in the body of man but of "inwardness of self-consciousness." Christianity brings God not as individual particular spirit but as "absolute in spirit and truth."  It "retreats from the sensuousness of imagination into spiritual inwardness."  It makes the inwardness the medium and the existence of truth's content.  Romantic art, then, is the self-transcendence of art within art.
Hegel then says that art, at this stage, must work, not for sensuous intuition, but for “the inwardness which coalesces with its object simply as if with itself.”  It strives for freedom in itself, finding reconciliation only in inner spirit:  “The inner world constitutes the content of the romantic sphere and must therefore be represented as this inwardness” which is to say “depth of feeling.”  Inwardness triumphs over the external and manifests its victory in and on the external.  The sensuous becomes worthless.  Still it needs an external medium for expression.  The sensuous external shape is now seen as transient, as well as the finite spirit and will of the individual.  All that is contingent and is “abandoned to adventures devised by an imagination whose caprice can mirror what is present to it” as it can also jumble shapes and distort them grotesquely.  The external medium now finds its essence in the heart, and it preserves this “in every chance, in every accident that takes independent shape, in all misfortune and grief, and indeed even in crime.”  As I take it, this means that romantic art may be wildly avant-garde, as we later find in John Cage, Jackson Pollock, and  other late 20th century and early 21st century artists.  This of course is a replay of the separation of Idea and shape in symbolic art, but here the Idea “now has to appear perfected in itself as spirit and heart” and it can only seek union within itself.  This, finally, is “transcendence of the Ideal as the true Idea of beauty.”
When we turn to the specific discussion of sculpture we find it as part of an overall scene set up by the previous discussion of architecture.  Architecture exists characteristically at the symbolic level.  It involves "manipulating external inorganic nature" to express spirit.  The material of architecture is "matter itself in its immediate externality as a mechanical heavy mass" and its forms are the forms of nature in terms of symmetry, which he sees as a matter of abstract Understanding.  But architecture cannot realize the Ideal of beauty since concrete spirituality is not expressed.  That is, the material of architecture is not penetrated by the Idea.  Or to put it another way, architecture cannot express the Absolute.  Although Hegel is right about the importance of mechanical heavy mass in architecture, nothing else he says about it here can be true, and one wonders whether he ever seriously contemplated one of the great Gothic cathedrals that were readily available to him.  It is only by ignoring the masterpieces of architecture that Hegel can say that its fundamental type is the "symbolic form." 

However, he lightens up his relatively negative approach when he says "architecture is the first to open the way for the adequate actuality of the god, and in his service it slaves away with objective nature in order to work it free from the jungle of finitude and the monstrosity of chance."  Note that "adequate actuality of the god" refers to "the god" as within experience and as evolving within human consciousness: one might say it is the concept of god rather than God himself.  We are not talking about any real independently existing god. 

So the purpose of architecture is primarily spiritual and primarily a matter of creating a physical church, i.e. a place for worship.  Architecture "levels a place for the god" and builds a temple for "the inner composure of the spirit and its direction on its absolute objects."  In particular it provides a protected place of assembly for the congregation.  So architecture reveals "the wish to assemble."
But when architecture does "fashion in its forms and material an adequate artistic existence for" spiritual content it has moved beyond the symbolic form of art to the classical form, which is the higher stage.  It has transformed itself to sculpture.  Architecture is limited in that that the spiritual is only inner and is not synthesized or cognate with its external form.  Sculpture overcomes this limitation.

But when we come to sculpture we find that it needs architecture.  Architecture has prepared the place, the ground, for the activity of sculpture.  The paradigmatic sculpture is the cult sculpture within the Greek temple.  (And one could add that the statue of Jesus crucified plays a similar role in the Christian church.)  Hegel begins the discussion of sculpture noting that architecture purifies the external inorganic world, sets it in order symmetrically, and makes it into something like spirit.  Moreover it creates God's house, and that of His community. 

At this point we get a bit a mythology.  We have already seen that architecture has prepared a protective setting for the community of worshipers.  Now the god enters his temple "as the lightening flash of individuality striking and permeating the inert mass" breaking the symmetry of the symbolic form of spirit.  Sculpture's task is to spiritually shape something corporeal. 

So sculpture takes the classical art-form as its type.  In sculpture expression of the sensuous is the same as expression of spirit.   It only can represent spiritual content in bodily form.  And when this happens the spirit stands before us "in blissful tranquility," the form brought to life by the content.  So, instead of focusing on mechanical quality, mass possessing weight, and the form of the inorganic world (as in architecture), sculpture focuses on the ideal of the human figure.  Hegel picks up the idea of blissful tranquility again when he mentions the spiritual coming into appearance in "eternal peace and essential self-sufficiency."  This peace and self-sufficiency is shared both by the external shape and the spiritual content, which is shaped according to its "abstract spatiality."  He also stresses that the spirit is presented as compact and unified, not splintered.  Abstract spatiality means that variety of appearance is not emphasized, but rather unity and totality. 

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