Upon study of G.W.F. Hegel's two volume work Lectures on Fine Art he presents a schema of the arts based on the external and internal relations of the Idea in its dialectic mode of expression. Of course, art is to be transcended by religion and eventually philosophy according to Hegel's philosophy of history. Art manifest truth moving in a process of exterior intuition to its internalization. I was struck by the concise neatness that this generated in ranking the arts according to the proportion of experience they serve in the development of human experience. Hegel would have had little sympathy for the avant garde of today much like he shared a disdain for the Romanticism in his own time.

Hegel claims that the lowest form of Art is architecture as the purest material form of the Idea, which transforms to the second level--sculptor, the material becoming life-like, and third is painting where the truth is conceptualized onto the canvas. From Painting we move into the rhythms and harmonies of music or the unfolding of truth according duration and time. Through sound we move to the pinnacle of the arts which is poetry (tragedy, comedy, and drama); speech and conceptualization bring to fruition the "concrete, actuality" of the Idea as embodied in the individual characters. Thus, Hegel schematizes and ranks the arts from architecture, sculptor, painting, music, and poetry. If we disregard Hegel's triadic grand narrative of the history of Spirit (Idea), which this formulation aims to support, and his thesis about "the end of art" (that eventually works to the end of history!), does this way of categorizing the types and genres of art still matter? Or should we abandon any efforts to systematize the aesthetic in this fashion because it does not reasonate with a post-Warholian artworld?

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Good question! I agree that it looks like Hegel was aiming at a characterisation whose direction approaches the human condition - but I was also struck by how he was aiming at etherealising it: from being in the round, to the flat plane and then to airy nothings, following the progressive movement of the soul from clay, to life to itself. In this it is no different to most cosmologies of religion.

I think, though, it was Schopenhauer that said that music that most approached that condition though - rather than poetry.

One notes that in Antiquity it was Poetry that ranked as the supreme art. Which might explain Platos antagonism to it as the new purveyors of sophia. In Arabia too, and many other traditional parts of the world poetry is still seen as the best of arts. One ought to recall though, that this is not the poetry that is printed on the page to be read in silence - but to be recited, sung or chanted. Different subject-matter calling for different meters - one sees this in the revival of the spoken word performance and urban rap.

So, Hegel, seems to have the weight of history on his side.

I'd also date the reaction to this - the traditional canon - back to Dada than to Warhol. Warhols innovation was the aesthetic of mass manufacture, boredom & kitsch.

I say Dada as this was the reaction of at least one section of the artistic elite to the mass murder & destruction that was the second world war. Before then, at least in the visual arts, it was a period of formal experimentation of form and subject - cubism, impressionism, primitivism & surrealism pushed on by the great strides that the sciences were making at that time.

Between them lay Duchamp whose introduced the philosophical gaze to Art, the playful, ironic gesture of the artist who is no longer much interested in his art and questions & undermines its own importance & the cultural establishment.

The categorisation I think still works and still holds. Despite a century of iconoclasm. The arc that Hegel draws, being the arc that most religions make in the cosmos, and being itself the arc we ourselves follow points to something quite deep in the wrorld - though by its very naiveity and simplicity seems a bare coincidence and nothing much of import.

  • Great response and examples. That is correct about Schopenhauer. I would expand the question to include how would Hegel's schema account for popular culture and other forms like a folk opera, Porgy and Bess? Would it just end up not being considered art or taken seriously? For example, I see urban rap as way more than dithyramb in the ancient sense and don't know if Hegel can account for these nuances. As always, it's fun to learn from and "rap" with you...lol! Feb 17, 2014 at 0:13

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