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Hegel's Introduction to Aesthetics:

A Summary

Hegel's Introduction can be divided into four parts: 1) the realm and positition of Aesthetics; 2) scientific treatment of art; 3) the Concept of the Beauty of Art; 4) Division of the Art into the particular forms and kinds.

1) the realm and position of Aesthetics--Aesthetics deals with the beauty of art generated by spirit, and is thus in the same sphere as religion and philosophy.

1. the realm of Aesthetics--beauty of art v.s. beauty of nature

Aesthetics deals with the beauty of art. The beauty of art is higher than that of nature, because the former, generated by spirit, is free and spiritual, while natural beauty is only a sensuous and unself-conscious reflection of spirit's beauty.

2. the position of Aesthetics--refutation of objections to Aesthetics

There are two objections to Aesthetics: 1) art is unworthy of scientific treatment, because it is superfluous, its means deception and its beauty pure appearance; 2) art is no appropriate topic for strictly scientific treatment, because its beauty presents itself not to thought but to sense, feeling, and imagination.

To refute the first objection, Hegel asserts that art is no deception, but it displays the most comprehensive truths of the spirit. Also, what art offers is not a mere appearance but a higher actuality born of the spirit. Here it is clear that Hegel places art, as a unification of the spiritual and the sensuous, above nature and "the merely external" knowledge, but art is still below philosophy and religion, which are to him pure thought and perfect expression of the spirit.

Both on account of art's materiality and the evolution of spirit, art can be a perfect expression of spirit only at a certain stage (e.g. the gods of Greece), while the other kinds of truth (e.g. the Christian view of truth) cannot be expressed through artistic medium. This is why art is a thing of the past, and what we need more is the philosophy of art (Aesthetics) rather than art.

The second objection to Aesthetics (that art is not suitable for scientific treatment) is then refuted by Hegel. Although art appears in a form opposite to thought, it is created by the spirit and thus one means in which spirit (thought) expresses itself. Art, therefore, belongs to the sphere of conceptual thinking and subjecting art to philosophical treatment satisfies the spirit's inmost need.

2) Scientific treatments of art--the empirical, the theoretical, and one that unites the two

Hegel first describes and negates two opposed ways of treating art in order to offer his own way. The two ways are: 1) the empirical way of treating actual works of art from the outside in order to arrange them into a history of art and offer general considerations for artistic production and criticism; 2) the purely theoretical way of understanding the beautiful as such out of itself and fathoming its Idea. While the first one has too small a scope and is incapable of grasping the truth of art, the second one deals only with the universality of art and is thus too abstract. A true philosophical concept of the beautiful, to Hegel, must contain both extremes; in other words, it unites metaphysical universality with the precision of real particularity.

3) the Concept of the Beauty of Art

To Hegel, the Concept of artistic beauty is a presupposition given by the system of philosophy, and one needs to expound the whole system in order to present this Concept scientifically. What Hegel does here is to discuss the three common ideas of art in order to point out different elements and aspects of art. The three common ideas of art are: 1) the work of art as a product of human activity; 2) it is drawn more or less from the sensuous field for apprehension of the senses; 3) it has an end and aim in itself.

1. the work of art as a product of human activity--but also the creation of the spirit

The work of art is made by man as the creation of his spirit. It is better than nature, because man is conscious and self-productive while nature is unconscious. Man is in need of art because he needs to life the inner and outer world into his spiritual consciousness as an object in which he recognizes his own self.

2. the work of art is drawn from the sensuous sphere--but it is both sensuous and spiritual

The work of art, as a sensuous object, is not merely for sensuous apprehension; it is also for spiritual apprehension. Man's relation to art is not that of desire: he leaves it free as an object to exist on its own account. Nor is man's treatment of art purely theoretical, since he cherishes an interest in the object in its individual existence.

The work of art, in this sense, stands in the middle between immediate sensuousness and ideal thought. Its subject matter is drawn both from the sensuous and the spiritual, and in it the spiritual and the sensuous should be one.

3. it has an end and aim in itself--

The prevalent views about the aim of art are: 1) it is an imitation of nature; 2) it awakens and vivifies our feelings; 3) it purifies our passions and improve our morality. To Hegel, these three views all have their weaknesses; the first one subjects art to nature, the second one reduces art to a purely formal task, and the third one ignores the self-sufficiency of art. Art's vocation, to him, is to unveil the truth in the form of sensuous artistic configuration, and to set forth the reconciled opposition between the spiritual and the sensuous, and so to have its end and aim in itself, in this very setting forth and unveiling.

4. Historical deduction of the True Concept of Art

Hegel here traces the history of aesthetics from Kant through Schiller, Goethe, Schelling, Schelgel, Winckelmann, to the theory of irony of Fichte, Solger and Tieck.

4) Division of the Art into the particular forms and kinds

1. the Ideal

To harmonize the form and the content (the Idea) of art into a free reconciled totality, both the content and the form of art should be concrete and thus corresponding to each other. This correspondence of the two is the Ideal.

2. Development of the Ideal into the particular forms of art

The three stages of the development of art--1) the symbolic, 2) the classical, and 3) the romantic--show three relations of the Idea (content) to its configuration (form).

1) the symbolic--the form, defective and abstract, cannot capture the Idea, which is indeterminate, unshapable and sublime above the shapes. One example is the artistic pantheism of the East.

2) the classical--the form and the content are in conformity with each other. The form (the human shape) is the free and adequate embodiment of the Idea, which can express itself in the natural human form. The defect that dissolves the classical art is that the spirit is at once determined as particular and human, and is thus not represented in its true nature.

3) the romantic--the content goes beyond and above the classical form of art. The content at this stage is the known unity of the divine and the human. This known unity can be realized only by spiritually knowing and in spirit. The form, at this stage, has its essence and meaning no longer in itself but in the heart (spirit) which finds its manifestation in itself instead of in the external world.

3. the systems of the individual arts

Hegel here discusses the different kinds of art which correspond to the different artistic forms: i.e. architecture (the symbolic), sculpture (the classical), painting, music, poetry (the romantic). From architecture to poetry, these different kinds of art depend less and less on its external material. Sound, the last external material poetry keeps, is but a sign of the idea, itself void of any significance. Poetry, therefore, is the universal art of the spirit which has become free in itself. But it is also at this highest stage of art that art transcends itself and passes to the prose of thought.


1. What does the word "concrete" mean to Hegel?

a. The concreteness of art (the sensuous, the particular, the actual) must be different from that of thinking. Then what does the latter mean? (p. 72 "...thinking ...is indeed abstract, but it must be concrete, not one-sided, if it is to be true and rational.")

b. Why is the romantic "the most concrete form of art" (87)? Why not the classic? What does "free concrete spirituality" mean?