Monday, March 30, 2015

Dewey on Substance and Form

Here I am limiting myself to the Ross selection (in Art and its
) from Substance and Form chapter of Art as Experience.  [See the end of this comment for a note on an editorial mistake in Ross.]

Dewey is relatively unique in discussing art in terms of the creative process, and of expanding the notion of the creative process to include the receiver as well as the artist.  Art is seen as communicative, as a set of languages each attached to its own medium, in which the artist says something that cannot be said in any other language, and in which the perceiver is a partner in the creative process, completing the work through his or her own experience.  The point is phenomenological in that the artist, even when alone in her studio, must bear in mind the audience with which she wishes to communicate. (Dewey is also unique in discussing the work of art “in progress” as well as at the stage of completion.)  The artist must be the audience vicariously.  Thus the creative process has two moments that mirror one another:  the moment of the artist/audience relation prior to the actual experience by the audience, and the moment of actualization of the work by the audience member.  Both involve a triadic relation of artist, audience and work, although, in the first, the work is "in process" and the audience is imagined.

Dewey then offers this wonderfully convoluted sentence:  "He [the artist] can speak only as his work appeals to him as one spoken to through what he perceives."  The artist can only speak or create if the work appeals to him when he perceives it in the way it would to an ideal audience member?  The passage is followed by a quote from Matisse speaking of how a finished painting is like a new-born child it that it will take the artist himself time to understand (he must live with it).  The juxtaposition is odd since the complex relation of artist/object/audience is at least on first sight different from that between artist and new-born work. But the idea perhaps is that the object as new-born child is something that speaks to the artist who perceives it just as it would be to an audience member. 

The distinction between substance and form is between what is said and how it is said.  Does the substance come first and then the form or way of expressing it later?   No, for Dewey, the whole creative endeavor of the artist is “to form material so that it will be in actuality the authentic substance of a work of art.”  The material is not distinguished from substance in the final product.  Another way to put this is that you cannot separate the aesthetic value attached to sense materials from that which is attached to expressive form. 

Dewey goes on, contra Plato, to argue that beauty is not a matter of some form that comes down from a transcendent realm.  Rather it is “a name for the esthetic quality that appears whenever material is formed in a way that renders it adequately expressive….”  Form arises when “an experience attains complete development.”   Form is something that happens in this world, not in another.  In short, it happens when we have “an experience.”  This, of course, is in as much opposition to the formalism of Bell as to that of Plato.

In a way, Dewey synthesizes formalism and expressionism.  Yet his view is as different from the expressionist theory of Tolstoy as from the formalism of Bell.  Tolstoy, Dewey might argue, does not pay sufficient attention to form itself.  Both Dewey and Tolstoy see art as self-expression, but, for Dewey, the self is not isolated from the process or the product of expression.  Self-expression is not external to the thing expressed.  In elaborating his own notion of self-cxpression Dewey incorporates Kant's idea of the free play of the imagination and the understanding.  He speaks of the “free play of individuality” with its “freshness and originality” as necessary for creativity in art.  He observes further that the material of the work of art comes from “the common world,” but then the self “assimilates the material in a distinctive way.”  If the work is successful the viewers will similarly rebuild old materials in their own experience. 

Dewey discusses two ways in which the perceiver can go wrong.  One is to look at the work “academically” i.e. in terms of what is familiar and related to past art.  He can also look at it sentimentally and for illustrations.  That is, he could look at it as kitsch. But to perceive esthetically is to “create an experience of which the intrinsic subject matter, the substance, is new.”

Notice, then, that creating aesthetically is, contrary to Bell again, a matter of activity and something related deeply to subject matter as well as to newness.  It follows that a poem, or any other work of art, is a succession of experiences, and “a new poem is created by every one who reads poetically” since each person is individual and brings something of his or her own”:  “A work of art no matter how old and classic is actually, not just potentially, a work of art only when it lives in some individualized experience.”  So we distinguish between the work of art qua physical object and the work of art qua work of art.  The first is always identical, but the later is recreated over and over again.  To say a work of art is universal is not to say it is always the same but to say that it can be successfully experienced differently at different times in history and by different individuals.   This is made clear when we think that a musical score is actualized in a different way each time it is played.  A work of art as like a musical score in this respect.  We can see how radically different Dewey’s formalism is from that of Bell in his claim that form “marks a way of envisaging, of feeling, and of presenting experienced matter so that it most readily and effectively becomes material for the construction of adequate experience on the part of those less gifted..”  Form is a way of doing something on the part of the artist in relation to his or her materials and subject matter and in relation to the experiencer, the audience.  The form is a triadic relation, not a singular or a dual one.   

There is unfortunately a significant error in the Ross selection of Dewey.  The selection from Substance and Form ends on page 213 with “form and substance…”  The net paragraph is actually from the chapter “The Common Substance of the Arts” and continues on page 214.  The …. After “with ourselves” on pg. 214 is wrong since the next paragraph is the next paragraph in the text.  So the title “The Common Substance of the Arts” should have been on the previous page.

Friday, March 27, 2015

William James on the psychological question in morality: it is a matter of taste!

I have long thought that aesthetics is short-changed by philosophy in its relation to ethics.  This is almost always the case, but sometimes a philosopher will begin to grant its importance.  Instructive in this regard is a passage in William James’ classic work “The Moral Philosophy and the Moral Life.”  There, he divides moral philosophy into three questions, of which he notes that the psychological is, for most, the only question.  The main point of the essay has to do with the other two questions, the metaphysical and the casuistical  (he deals with each in sequence). But I think sometimes the revealing stuff comes at the beginning.  Here (on the psychological question) he notes that the usual debate is between the doctor of divinity and the popular science enthusiast, for whom the question of ethics is really one of whether there is a unique faculty of conscience or whether such a faculty is superstition in the face of environmental determinism.  He calls it the debate between the intuitionist and the evolutionist.  It still goes on today.   James seems to associate the second school with the utilitarians (Bentham, Mill, Bain).  Utilitarians, he argues, hold that ideals must have arisen from association with simple bodily pleasures and pains.  (He must not be thinking seriously about Mill’s modification of Bentham’s utilitarianism where quality gains over quantity.)  But, James argues, we cannot explain all our sentiments and judgments in this way.  There are “secondary affections” that relate our impressions in a different way than by association.  He lists a number of these, from “the love of drunkenness” to “the passion of poetry.” These cannot be wholly explained by association or utility, even though they might go with other things that can be so explained.  He sees these things as originating not in environmental conditions but in brain structure, and he thinks that a vast number of our moral perceptions are of this kind.  The passion for music figures as highly here as a “sense for abstract justice” and a love of “higher philosophical consistencies.”  He speaks further of “the feeling of the inward dignity of certain spiritual attitudes, as peace, serenity, simplicity, veracity” which he finds “quite inexplicable except by an innate preference….for its own sake.”  I would argue that these “spiritual attitudes” can be seen, at least in the cases of peace, serenity and simplicity, as aesthetic qualities.  (Why not veracity too?)  James then makes the aesthetic theme explicit when he says “The nobler thing tastes better.”  Moreover, he argues, although consequences may “teach us what things are wicked,” they do not explain what we consider “mean and vulgar.”  We are disgusted, for example, when the husband who shoots his wife’s lover and then makes up with her, and with a utopia based on one person’s lonely torture.  He is particularly impressed by recent condemnations by Tolstoy, Ballamy and Guyau of punitive forms of retributive justice.  Such “subtleties of the moral sensibility” go “beyond the law of association” as much as “the delicacies of sentiment” (note the use of this term so closely associated with Hume's theory of taste) as between a pair of lovers that goes beyond mere norms of etiquette in the courting process.   In short, his claim seems to be at least in part that the higher moral considerations, at least the ones that go beyond "commonplace moral maxims" are basically aesthetic.

James assumes that these judgments are based on “subtle brain-born feelings,” insisting that “inward forces are certainly at work” in all of these secondary cases.  But then he follows this with the claim that “all the higher, more penetrating ideals are revolutionary.”  I wonder why the higher, more penetrating ideals would necessarily be attached to subtle brain-born phenomena as opposed to environmental based phenomena or a combination of both.  But let us set this issue aside and continue with his argument.  James goes on:  “They [such ideals] present themselves far less in the guise of effects of past experiences than in that of probable causes of future experience.”  This point seems to veer off from talk of subtle events in the brain, the point being simply that the environment can also be forced to bend to our own needs as well.  He concludes that our ideals have many sources and are not explicable simply in terms of “corporeal pleasures” and pains: the intuitionists at least saw that much.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

William James and the Possiblity of an Aesthetic Turn in Philosophy

When I speak of the possibility of an aesthetic turn in philosophy I speak very speculatively and for a future generation.  It is very unlikely that such a thing will happen in the near run.  Aesthetics is still the step-child of philosophy, as it has been going all of the way back to Plato, who shunted his main comments on the philosophy of art to the end of the Republic, and then added insult to injury by outlawing the imitative arts from the ideal society.   It is unfortunate that aesthetics holds so little interest for contemporary philosophers as the domain of aesthetic value is immense and is equally large and significant to our lives to moral value, often overlapping the issues of moral value as well.   Part of the neglect of aesthetics may be traced to a certain attitude contemporary philosopher have towards consciousness itself, an attitude that William James tried to overcome in his Principles of Psychology.  The comments I will make here are based on material found in the selection from that book, called "The Stream of Thought," found in John J. Stuhr ed.  Pragmatism and Classical American Philosophy 2nd ed. (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2000.)  My argument briefly is that James' attack on associationist psychology is an attack on traditional empiricism going back to Locke and Hume,  that this attack is still relevant today, that those philosophers and that tradition have neglected some fundamental characteristics of thought, which, when attended to, indicate that aesthetic experience may be much more fundamental to consciousness than people ordinarily think.

James does not mention aesthetics in this selection, and only mentions art once, although in an important way.  Yet I will show that his examples show an awareness of aesthetic phenomena as foundational to a study of consciousness.  It is perhaps because James studied as a painter when a young man, and then later in his 20s, spent considerable time thinking about the nature of art, that his insight into consciousness has so many affinities to an aesthetic approach to philosophy.  It is also not surprising that in reading these passages from the Principles of Psychology one is often reminded of Dewey's later description of "an experience" in his Art as Experience (1936).  I suspect that there is a direct line of influence here.  But Dewey's book does not make as clear the importance of these insights for philosophy in general.  

James begins by observing that most psychology books begin with sensations "as the simplest mental facts" and then proceed to construct higher stages of thought from these.  Yet "no one ever had a simple sensation by itself."  Rather, consciousness is "of a teeming multiplicity of objects and relations" and even what we call simple sensations "are results of discriminative attention."  Instead, James believes we should start with the fact of thinking itself, where "thinking" means "every form of consciousness."  My argument will be that the shifts in our understanding of consciousness brings out aesthetic features of experience that are systematically neglected by the philosophical tradition up until our own time.  

James lists five characters of thought, all of which are relevant to our purpose, but only two of which I will discuss today.  This is cumulative, and the relation to aesthetics might not seem evident from the first.  Bear in mind that in these passages James has nothing to say about pleasure or aesthetic qualities.  There is no mention of grace, beauty, ugliness, and so forth.  However, James is drawing our attention to the greater complexity of experience than is found in traditional psychology, a complexity that is brought out phenomenologically by referring to a halo of experience (177), and also by a deep awareness of the ways in which an experience of, say, the speaking of a sentence, carries something of the past with it, develops over time, and projects into the future.  The overall aesthetic quality that conscious experience has for James might be called "dramatic structure."  The experience of a thought turns out to be much like the experience of a play in Aristotle, with its emphasis on beginning, middle and end, the whole being an organic whole in which each part represents the whole.  Without this understanding of the nature of consciousness, an understanding of experience as fundamentally related to aesthetics, perhaps as fundamentally aesthetic, is lost.  Ironically, although James' thought is directed against Hume's psychology, there is an affinity between James on consciousness and Hume on taste.  Just as Sancho's cousins are able to engage in subtle discrimination, telling that the wine is good but for a taste of leather in one case and metal in the other (both confirmed by finding the key with the leather thong at the bottom of the barrel) so too the subtle elements of consciousness observed by James require very high levels of discrimination.  

James' first point about thought, that "thought tends to personal form" seems at first little related to the point at issue.  The most of value here is the possible implication that all thought is colored by the self to which it is attached, thus increasing the phenomenological complexity of thought.  The mental procession in my mind is the primary datum of psychology, and  it is my mental procession personified as mine and shaded by my personal selfhood. 

The second point, that "thought is in constant change" takes us however in a direction directly opposed to the Lockean theory of simple ideas.  The point is deeply Heraclitean, although oddly requiring a non-Heraclitean view of the external world to do its work.  He writes:  "no state once gone can recur and be identical with what was before."  and further "there is no proof that the same bodily sensation is ever got by us twice." (164)  What is got twice rather is the same object.  It is noteworthy here that the examples suddenly veer to the aesthetic realm:  "We hear the same note over and over again; we see the same quality of green, or smell the same objective perfume, or experience the same species of pain." (165)  We believe in the permanent existence of these realities.  And it is these realities that come up again and again in thought.  But it is careless to think that the ideas of them are ever the same.  He alludes to a later chapter where he will observe that "our habit of not attending to sensations as subjective facts, but only as stepping stones to pass over to the recognition of the realities whose presence they reveal." (163)  Attending to these sensations is the aesthetic as opposed to the practical way of perceiving.  This hunch is immediately confirmed by James when he now brings up what we would today consider to be one of the main insights of the Impressionist movement in art.  Bear in mind that James publishes this in 1890, that he constantly travels to Europe, and that Monet and Renoir are doing impressionist painting in 1869.  So there is ample time for the ideas to pass over.  Here is the quote:  "The grass out of the window now looks to me of the same green in the sun as in the shade, and yet a painter would have to paint one part of it dark brown, another part bright yellow, to give its real sensational effect." He further asserts:  "We take no heed, as a rule, of the different way in which the same things look and sound and smell at different distances under different circumstances."   James' awareness of the phenomenological complexity of sensation, based on the notion that it is never the same, goes also to differences in sensibility based on differences in emotion  about things from one age to another or in different overall moods:  "What was bright and exciting becomes weary, flat, and unprofitable.  The bird's song is tedious, the breeze is mournful, the sky is sad."  That is, things shift in their aesthetic/expressive properties.  A similar thing happens to "every thought we have of a given fact":  "The friends we used to care the world for are shrunken to shadows; the women, once so divine, the stars, the woods, and the waters, how now so dull and common!  the young girls that brought an aura of infinity, at present hardly distinguishable existences; the pictures so empty; and as for the books, what was there so mysteriously significant in Goethe, or in John Mill so full of weight?"  (166)  All of this, although focused in negative aesthetic experience, is still aesthetic.  

I will save discussion of the third and fourth points for later.

The last (fifth) point about thought, that "it is always interested more in one part of its object than in another, and welcomes and rejects, or chooses, all the while it thinks" is directly related to aesthetics by James himself.  What is the aesthetic approach to sensation but a matter of selecting?  As James puts it:  "Accentuation and Emphasis are present in every perception we have." and he takes an example from music: "a monotonous succession of sonorous strokes is broken up into rhythms, now of one sort, now of another, by the different accent which we place on different strokes."  (178)  Further, "what are our very senses themselves but organs of selection?" so that "out of what is in itself an undistinguishable, swariming continuum, devoid of distinction or emphasis, our senses make for us, by attending to this motion and ignoring that, a world full of contrast, of sharp accents, of abrupt changes, of picturesque light and shade." (178)  He even defines things as "special groups of sensible qualities, which happen practically or aesthetically to interest us." (178) 

Not only do the senses select ranges of sound, for example, to attend to, the mind also selects from among sensations to most truly represent something.  For example I may take a table-top as square (and other ways it looks as matters of perspective), erecting "the attribute squareness into the table's essence, for aesthetic reasons of my own."  

When he finally passes to the "aesthetic department" of thought he finds that this law is even more obvious than in other domains since the artist selects tones, colors, shapes and so forth to create unity, harmony, etc.  (179) 

Finally, he sees the entire activity of consciousness as art-like:  it consists of selection of some possibilities and suppression of others by way of attention:  "The mind, in short, works on the data it receives very much as a sculptor works on his block of stone." (180)  It seems that the very construction of consciousness is deeply and fundamentally aesthetic.  

Shusterman on Living Phllosophically

"It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do.  To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.  Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour."  Thoreau, Walden, quoted in Thinking Through the Body (288) (This and the next two quotes are taken from “Chapter 13:  Somaesthetic Awakening and the Art of Living:  Everyday Aesthetics in American Transcendentalism and Japanese Zen Practice.”) 

"to live philosophically means living in a waking rather than sleeping state...the discipline of awakened life can provide everyday experience with deep aesthetic enrichment and even spiritual enlightenment"  Shusterman (288-9)

"We fail to see things as they really are with the rich, sensuous resplendence of their full being because we see them through eyes heavy with conventional habits of viewing them and blinded by stereotypes of meaning."  Shusterman (291)

"But apart from … sublime, quasi-mystical moments of grasping a timeless now, there is the simpler yet significant value of attentive awareness of our mundane experience, of being fully present in what we do and where we are so that we can more fully profit from what our surroundings actually offer."  Shusterman (299).  

"Through...heightened, appreciative awareness and the mindful movements and actions that emerge from it, one can achieve extraordinary aesthetic experience in everyday living"  Shusterman (302)

It is only in the context of deep sympathy for these quotes that I made the following interrogatory comments.  Both Shusterman and I see the task of living philosophically partly in terms of Socrates.  (See his Chapter 3 “Self-Knowledge and Its Discontents:  From Socrates to Somaesthetics.”)  This is not surprising.  Socrates was one of my earliest philosophical heroes, and that is probably true for most Western philosophers.  He taught that the unexamined life is not worth living, and I still believe that to be true, taking it to mean something like:  to make life worth living (to enhance value in one's life) one needs to (at the very least) reflect on the key concepts that guide one's perception and action, reflect deeply, constantly questioning, constantly coming up with hypothesis to test, never accepting one of these as the final answer, recognizing that the only thing worthy of the name "wisdom" comes out of this process.  But this does not, on the face of it, seem to be the same as the aesthetic life.  Can the philosophical life as exemplified by Socrates and the aesthetic life work together?  (Shusterman, as inventor and promoter of somaesthetics, would, of course, add that the examined life should also include examination and improvement of one’s bodily sensations.)

Socrates also plays a leading role in Plato's Symposium where we get a different take on the philosophical life, one that sees it ultimately as aesthetic.  As one engages in philosophical examination one is also in search of beauty.  One travels up a ladder of love, where the object of love is always something of beauty.  The final stage is apprehension of Beauty itself, the eternal Form of Beauty, which holds roughly the same place in the metaphysics of the Symposium as the Form of the Good does in The Republic.  Recognition of Beauty itself is seeing the vast sea of beauty in the world as we experience it:  it is being able to recognize when beauty is present.  I take this to mean that close attention to the aesthetic dimension of human existence can be one path to an awakened state of being, which, in Plato’s account, happens when one grasps the eternal Form of Beauty or the Good.
The issue that Shusterman has raised concerning how to live philosophically is an important one for everyday aesthetics.  In response to the question "what is the point of everyday aesthetics" his answer would be, not to simply open up and explore a new field of inquiry in philosophy but to help us learn how to live philosophically where living philosophically is not just a matter of examining concepts and arguments but is also of paying attention to the phenomena so that rich sensuous qualities are revealed.  Much more is involved as well, particularly related to somatic self-improvement.  The question remains how these two things, examining concepts and paying attention for somatic self-improvement, can fit together.  How can you both examine life in Socrates’ sense and also live life with the intensity of perception and orientation to somatic self-improvement required by, for instance, Zen practice? (292).   (A high point in Shusterman's book is his discussion of his aesthetic experience at a Zen monastery.)

Shusterman's Zen-influenced recommendation for living the philosophical life of heightened awareness is simplicity, slowness, and focusing on the here and now.  Let us first consider the issue of simplicity.  It is hard to understand what exactly simplicity means in the context of “the examined life,” especially when we reflect on the life and activity of Socrates.  When we engage in Socratic dialogue (which is pretty much how Socratic characters examine life under the direction of Socrates or some other Socrates-like character, for example Parmenides in Plato's Parmenides) things become increasingly complex:  simple things are no longer so simple.  We thought we knew what, for example, piety was, and then we discover that we are ignorant (the result of Plato's Euthyphro).  Instead of one definition for a concept we have several, none of which are fully adequate, even though the later, more complex ones, are taken as better.  So where is simplicity in all of this?  A possible answer is that grasping Beauty itself, or any Form, is not a matter of grasping a complex proposition but grasping something that is simple, although this can only come at the end of a process that is itself complex.

Although accepting the project of examining life, Shusterman rejects the Socratic search for definition as found in the dialogues.  In doing so, he seems to reject the project of the philosophical life as a life of concept-examination.  In the end, though, I think that these two approaches to the philosophical life can be reconciled.  In aesthetics, the Socratic quest for definition is most discussed in relation to the definitions of art, beauty and aesthetic experience.  In “Somaesthetics and the Limits of Aesthetics” Shusterman attacks the “wrapper model of theory” (134), i.e. the belief that one should construct theory by way of a definition of X in terms of necessary and sufficient definitions, for example in trying to define are.  This is largely because such a theory, with regards to art, attempts to “conserve the conventional limits of art” (134). I agree with this critique of contemporary attempts to define art.  However, Socrates himself (or, as portrayed by Plato) never tries to preserve the conventional limits of the concept under consideration.  He questions, for example, Euthyphro’s conventional definition of piety.  In rejecting the wrapper model, Shusterman appears to reject the Socratic quest itself, although perhaps he wouldn’t if he accepted my analysis of the result of that quest as grasping something that is both complex in one respect and simple in another.  I agree with Morris Weitz that, although a “real definition” of “art” in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions will never be found (and is impossible), the process of seeking and coming up with what he called “honorific definitions” of art is immensely valuable.  Moreover, previous attempts to define art, rather than simply being failures at real definition, were unconsciously exactly that.[1]  Hence, unlike Shusterman, I value the Socratic project of trying to come up with definitions as long we do not take seriously the idea usually (perhaps falsely, as I have suggested) attributed to Plato that the end product of this quest is description of an eternal unchanging object, i.e. a definition in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions.[2] 

[1] Morris Weitz, “The Role of Theory in Aesthetics,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 15, no. 1 (1956): 27-35. Weitz’s strategy can be applied to all philosophical debates, but this need not be argued for here. 
[2] See my “The Socratic Quest in Art and Philosophy,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 51, no. 3 (1993): 399-410 for a more positive approach to Socratic dialogue and its relevance to the quest for essences.  See also my “Metaphor and Metaphysics,” Metaphor and Symbolic Activity (Special Issue on Metaphor and Philosophy) 10. no. 3 (1995): 205-222.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Hegel's Three Stages of Art, But Nietzsche to Be Preferred

Hegel’s Aesthetics following the Ross anthology Art and Its Significance pp. 149-153.   From the Knox translation.

Hegel divides his “science” of aesthetics into three sections.  The first concerns the idea of the beauty of art or what he calls “the Ideal.”  He stresses that the idea of beauty in art is not the Idea as such, which would be studied by metaphysics and which, I suspect. would be much like a Platonic Idea.  He speaks of the Idea of beauty in art rather as one which is “shaped forward into reality” and is immediately unified with this reality.  Whereas the Idea itself is “absolute truth” the Idea of beauty in art is both individual reality and reality destined to embody the Idea.  This implies a demand that the Idea and its configuration in reality should be adequate to each other.  When the Idea is shaped in this way it is the Ideal.   He urges us not to confuse the Ideal with the notion of precisely representing the Idea in a shape.  This would confuse truth of the Ideal with “mere correctness,” i.e. correct expression of the meaning of the Idea in the shape.  For contents can be represented adequately without having the artistic beauty of the Ideal.  In comparison with such an Ideal, that (overly precise) representation may appear defective.  So defectiveness in art is not just due to lack:  defectiveness of form sometimes results from defectiveness of content.   The Chinese, Indian and Egyptian religion and art is defective in this way:  they never get their god images “beyond formlessness or a bad and untrue definiteness of form.”  Their mythological ideas therefore fail to achieve true beauty.  The reason is that the ideas are “indeterminate, or determined badly.”   [By contrast, Kant believes that the aesthetic ideas of an artistic genius are indeterminate.]  They do “not consist of the content which is absolute in itself.”  In one of my favorite sentences he writes:  “Works of art are all the more excellent in expressing true beauty, the deeper is the inner truth of their content and thought.”  (148)  It may well be that this is true regardless of his own interpretation of it.  He contrasts this approach to art against that which stresses imitative accuracy, in which skill is able to imitate “natural forms as they exist.”  There may even be an “abandonment and distortion of natural formations” in the art which is based on “intentional alteration” coming out of the artist’s own mind.  This passage seems to foretell the possibility of modern art with all of its distortions.  It follows that some art may be imperfect even though it is technically good in its “specific sphere.”  It is simply defective “in comparison with the concept of art itself and the Ideal.”  [This is somewhat similar to Kant’s idea of merely academic art that is not informed by genius.]  In the highest art, of course, Idea and presentation are in accord with one another.  The Idea also “must be determined in and through itself as a concrete totality” which would give it the principle of its being.  This principle is made particular in external appearance.  The Christians may represent God in human form because the Christian God [in Jesus Christ?] is known “in himself as spirit.”  If the Idea is determinate/concrete then this makes particularization possible.  In other cases, as in other religions, the determinacy may be imposed from outside and the shape is thus merely external to the abstract Idea.  So “the truly concrete Idea [as in the Christian case] alone produces its true configuration” and thus the Ideal.

The next stage in the argument concerns the development of the ideal into particular forms of the beauty of art.  He writes that “because the Idea is in this way a concrete unity, this unity can enter the art-consciousness only through the unfolding and then the reconciliation of the particularizations of the Idea.”  This development allows artistic beauty to acquire “a totality of particular stages and forms.”  That is, artistic beauty evolves through the totality made up by the Symbolic, Classical and Romantic stages.   These forms are different ways “of grasping the Idea as content” i.e. “different relations of meaning and shape.”

The Symbolic.  Here the Idea is “in its indeterminacy and obscurity” or bad determinacy.   Since it is indeterminate it does not have enough individuality for the Ideal.  It is too abstract and one-sided and this means it is “defective and arbitrary.”  So it is merely searching to portray the Idea and does not truly present it.  It is “struggling and striving.”  In the symbolic form the Idea has its shape in “natural sensuous material.”  But it is imposed on perceived natural objects in an external way.  They are to be interpreted as if the Idea were present in them.  This kind of art, [for example, an Assyrian representation of a lion] can only give an abstract idea of, for example the lion’s strength.  But since this relation is abstract we are conscious of the fact that the Idea is foreign to the natural phenomena.  The Idea then “seeks itself” in them “in their unrest and extravagance.”  It “exaggerates natural shapes”  and “staggers round in them, it bubbles and ferments in them, does violence to them, distorts and stretches them unnaturally”  and tries to elevate them by way of “diffuseness, immensity, and splendor.”  There is a contrast and incompatibility between the Idea, as here indeterminate, and the natural objects as determinate.  The Idea then takes a negative relation to the objective world and is taken as sublime, above all of these non-corresponding shapes.  The natural phenomena are seen as incompatible with their non-mundane meanings.  This is found in the pantheism of the East which either “ascribes absolute meaning to even the most worthless objects” or “violently coerces the phenomena to express its view” and then becomes “bizarre, grotesque, and tasteless.”  A third alternative is that it turns the abstract freedom of the one substance or God against all phenomena “as being null and evanescent.”  [Perhaps this refers to Zen.]  In all of this the Idea and shape remain incompatible. 

[The symbolic mode of art insofar as it is associated both with the sublime and with the indeterminate seems to be set up as an attack on Kant who understood the aesthetic ideas as indeterminate and as sublime.  It is as though Hegel believed that Kant’s idea of fine art and the artist genius is stuck at the first stage of art.] 

The Classical.  Here, the double defect of symbolic art is “extinguished.”  The defects are (1) Idea is presented as indeterminate “or determined abstractly” and (2) meaning and shape have a defective correspondence which is “purely abstract.”  Classical art is “the free and adequate embodiment of the Idea in the shape peculiarly appropriate to the Idea..”   Both shape and Idea are in harmony.  Thus it gives us a vision of the completed Ideal actualized.  This is not a purely formal correspondence between content and configuration.  If it were, then “every portrayal of nature” for example of every flower or scene as content would be classical.  The content of classical art is the concrete Idea in the sense of concretely spiritual.  The spiritual is the inner self.  So what, in nature, “belongs to the spiritual in and for itself”?  “The original Concept” [i.e. God?] “invented the shape for concrete spirit.”  That is, God created the world with the idea in mind of correspondence of spirit and natural shape.  Now the “subjective Concept,”  i.e., in this case, the spirit of art has found the shape “and made it…appropriate to free individual spirituality.”  The Idea, as spiritual and individually determinate, assumes this shape, i.e. the human form.  Some have seen [such] anthropomorphism as degrading the spiritual but since the goal of art is to bring the spiritual before our eyes in a sensuous manner it must anthropomorphize “since spirit appears sensuously in a satisfying way only in [this] body.”  Physiology [biology] thus insists that life develops necessarily to the human form as the only one appropriate to spirit.  [Maybe in his time, not in our own!]  The form of the human body in this regard counts only as the natural shape of spirit.  Because of this it is not affected by the “deficiency of the purely sensuous” or from the fact that our “phenomenal world” is merely contingent and finite.  Spirituality as content “must be of such a kind that it can express itself completely in the natural human form” and not tower above it.  So, spirit is determined here as “particular and human” and not as purely absolute and eternal, since it can only express itself in the latter sense as spirituality.  But this is a defect in classical art and this defect brings about its dissolution and “transition to a higher form.” 

The Romantic.  The romantic form cancels the unification of Idea and reality found in the classical and “reverts” in a “higher way” to the opposition of these two sides as found in symbolic art.  [This is also found in Nietzsche’s later idea of the conflicted marriage of the Apollonian and the Dionysian.  Indeed, Nietzsche’s account is similar to Hegel’s: the Dionysian (especially the pre-Greek Dionysian) representing the symbolic, the Apollonian representing the Classical, and the tragic synthesis of the two representing a return to the Dionysian by way of the Apollonian.]   Oddly, Hegel holds that it is Classical art that achieves the “pinnacle” of what art can achieve, and that whatever is defective in it is what is defective in art itself, i.e. that art takes spirit as its subject matter and yet can only give it in sensuously concrete form.  In blending the spiritual and the sensuous it fails to represent the true nature of spirit which is “the infinite subjectivity of the Idea.”  As “absolute inwardness,” the Idea cannot freely “shape itself outwardly” in a bodily form.  The romantic form then goes beyond the classical.  This content is what Christianity asserts of God as a spirit in contrast to the Greek religion exemplified in classical art.  The unity of the divine nature and the human in classical art is “only immediate and implicit” and is manifested sensuously.  It is because the Greek god is naively intuited that it is in human shape.  Hegel contrasts the Greek god, which is individual and particular in substance and power with [the Christian] which possesses oneness “as inward subjective knowledge.”  The content of Classical art is knowledge of implicit unity that can be perfectly presented in bodily shape.  But once this is elevated into self-conscious knowledge we come to the tremendous, even “infinite,” difference between, for example, man and animal.  Unlike the animal, man is not confined to the implicit and immediate but becomes conscious of his animal functions and lifts them into self-conscious science.  Because he knows he is an animal, he ceases to be an animal and knows himself as spirit.  So the unity of divine and human nature “is raised from an immediate to a known unity” and the truth is no longer the spiritual in the body but “the inwardness of self-consciousness.”  Christianity brings God before our imagination as “absolute in spirit” and thus no longer particular.  It “retreats from the sensuousness of imagination into spiritual inwardness,” and thus, this, and not the body, is the medium of truth’s content.  The unity of the divine and human is “only by spiritual knowing and in spirit.”  So this new content is freed from immediate and sensuous existence which is now seen as negative.  So, romantic art is “self-transcendence of art” but “in the form of art itself.” 

[It is hard for me to see the advantage of this move since it is hard to know just what spiritual inwardness is.  Instead of abandoning the sensuous imaginative element it might be better to simply see Hegel’s move as a stance that allows us to find a greater depth in works by, e.g. Rembrandt, than in those by the great Greek sculptors.  Self-consciousness or “knowing thyself” goes back as an ideal to the Greeks, especially to Socrates.  So it is nothing original.  Moreover, contra Hegel, I think there is something else to Christianity of value to aesthetics, perhaps what is caught more by Tolstoy, with his emphasis on empathy and love.  I don’t think we can get the inwardness of Christianity just through a Platonic-like self-consciousness connected with rejection of the sensuous.  If we follow Nietzsche, instead, we have the capacity to combine the sensuous, the imaginative and “saying yes to life” as will to power.  In my view Nietzsche’s philosophy overcomes the limitations of Hegel’s when it comes to aesthetics, religion, and even self-consciousness since it engages in a true dialectic.  Hegel is just dressing up Plato by putting it all in a setting of historical development.]

Hegel then uses language like “free concrete spirituality” to describe the romantic.  [Incidentally, his romantic stage has little to do with the period now called “the Romantic period.” This more common definition of “Romantic” is associated mainly with art of the early 19th century but sometimes with the late 19th century.  Thus it is associated with Hegel’s own time.  Hegel seems not to have been much interested in the art or music of the decades in which he was writing, although his closeness to Goethe is well known.]
Now, art “cannot work for sensuous intuition.”  [In a sense one can say that art becomes non-aesthetic.  But I think that this is neither possible nor advised.]  Art must “work for the inwardness which coalesces with its objects simply as if with itself.”  Words like “feeling” and “emotion” come out.  This spiritual feeling “strives for freedom in itself.”  Hegel also speaks of “the inner world” as the content of the romantic and of “depth of feeling.”  One thinks of the ways in which works by some artists, for instance Raphael and Rembrandt, seem to represent or exhibit a deep inner world of feeling. 

Let’s say that exhibiting such a world of feeling is important, that what the Classical world lost was the ways in which humans have existential angst, deep love, and other deep and conflicted feelings.  Setting aside the religious idea, we seem once again to move in the direction of Nietzsche. To see this inwardness as a “triumph over the external” is to treat it like the Platonic soul that leaves the cave:  but the notion of “inwardness” implies not looking to the Forms but looking to one’s private life of intense emotions.  Both Hegel and Plato would agree, however, that “what is apparent to the senses …sinks into worthlessness.”  And that is a problem they share.

Hegel concludes his discussion of the Romantic by observing that, since the Romantic needs an external medium for its expression, and since spirituality has “withdrawn into itself,” the “sensuous externality of shape” comes back, as it was there in symbolic art.  It is treated as “inessential and transient.”  The individual, i.e. “the subjective finite spirit,” is also treated as inessential.  Thus in drama, individuality of plot and character become unimportant.  Instead imagination is freed to represent what is present “exactly as it is.”  This is in contrast to how it distorted the world under the symbolic mode.  The external medium of art now has its home “in the heart” and not in the external world.  It finds “reconciliation with itself” in chance, accident, grief and even crime.”  [One thinks of Dostoyevsky here, in which a path to the spiritual is found by way of a reaction to crime.  Or perhaps Hegel is pointing forward to the novelistic realism of Zola.  The use of the word “crime” here is a great mystery.]   So, as in the symbolic, the separation of Idea and shape come back except that here the Idea is no longer deficient.  Rather, it is “perfected in itself as spirit and heart.”  This is why it cannot adequately be united with the external.  [But I think this is exactly wrong with a painter like Rembrandt or Vermeer.]  In the end, then, the Ideal is transcended “as the true Idea of beauty.