Hegel's first paragraph in his 'Introductory Lecture on Aesthetics' establishes his discussion of beauty as solely concerned with beauty as found in fine art. Hegel completely excludes the beauty of nature from discussion because without any criteria, beauty in nature is too vague and mainly because "even a silly fancy such as may pass through a man's head is higher than any product of nature." This continuous distinction between beauty as found in art and as found in nature is a vital point that Hegel injects into the history of aesthetics and one that Kant had previously failed to recognize.

Hegel is deeply concerned with making a scientific and an objective study of beauty and in the second chapter he goes on to discuss the current state of aesthetic history. Hegel observes that the most recent theories of beauty point directly towards a dichotomy between the content and the representation of beauty where "we begin with what presents itself immediately to us, and after that go on to consider what is its significance or content." Accordingly, this dichotomy entails that a fundamental element of the beautiful is something inherent in the object's content.

The focus on the content of fine art is what makes Hegel's philosophy of beauty unique. The content that is ultimately found in fine art is what Hegel calls the Idea. The Idea can basically be described as truth, where the Absolute acquires knowledge of itself. When the material reality of art conforms equally and perfectly with the Idea they merge to become the Ideal in the form of beauty. As Hegel puts it "the content of this world is the beautiful, and the true beautiful is spiritual being in concrete shape, the Ideal." The Ideal cannot necessarily be understood but Hegel goes as far as to say that the more beautiful a work of art, the more profound its inner truth of content is.

It could be said, then, that the function of art is to reveal the truth through beauty. While Hegel does acknowledge cases where art can help or instruct mankind in some form or another, he insists, however, that art is an end in itself and not a means to something else. Art for art's sake was a fairly new concept introduced by Schiller and Hegel adopted it immediately. Kant's work on aesthetics, however, didn't have the benefit of Schiller's theories and Kant often attempted to link beauty with ethics as the symbol of morality.

Kant insisted on the subjective aspects of beauty and the 'Critique of Judgement' is obviously mainly concerned with the subjective judgement of taste. Hegel rarely refers to judgement and is, on the other hand, more concerned with a movement away from Kant's subjectivity and towards a more objective criteria. Hegel disregards judgement of taste and sternly declares "what is called good taste takes fright at all the more profound effects of art, and is silent where the reality comes in question, and where externalities and trivialities vanish. For when great passions and the movements of a profound soul are unveiled, we are no longer concerned with the finer distinctions of taste and its pettifogging particularities."


Thomas Cummins art philosophy