Hegel and Aesthetics

In his Lectures on Aesthetics, Hegel presents art not only as capable of rational comprehension, but as being an embodiment of our free rationality in the sensible. As free rational beingsas Spiritualhumans strive to objectify, express, and comprehend ourselves. Art is one way in which we do this. In art the outer world of objective reality is shaped in accordance with human subjectivity, imbued with meaning and purpose, rendered intelligible, and thereby transfigured with beauty. Like religion and philosophy, art is centrally concerned with ultimate truth. Its business is to realize and to bring to consciousness who and what we are as creatures engaged in attaining our freedom. Thus, rather than being ephemeral, ethereal, or other-worldly, art according to Hegel addresses the very core of our being. In art fundamental truths about humanity are discovered and brought to understanding.

As comprehended philosophically, art appears as a manifestation of Spirit’s historical development toward freedom. The philosophy of art is a grand historical narrative depicting the stages of the development and transformation of the forms and styles of art, with changes in art reflecting the progress in humanity’s realization and understanding of its freedom. The narrative ends with Spirit’s completion in modernity, revealing, not only that art is subordinate to religion and philosophy, but that the time of art’s greatest glory is past. According to Hegel, art no longer occupies the central place it once did in human experience in that it is no longer the paramount medium through which we display the essential truths of the human condition. In this sense, Hegel’s philosophy of art proclaims, not the death, but the diminution of art’s role in our self-understanding. While still pursued and appreciated, art in the modern world has become secondary to other human endeavors.

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