Continuing from part one on our excerpt from Theory of Art (ca. 1800), we get more into the text, covering Schlegel’s critique of various elements of Kant’s philosophy of art.
We start with the distinction between free and accessory beauty: Are there some perceptions of beauty that are entirely divorced from a notion of the purpose or type of thing that we’re perceiving as beautiful? Schlegel says no; we always read meaning and purpose into things, and this is necessary for us to find them as beautiful.
Also, what is genius? If it’s pure inspiration, then it’s essentially nature acting through artists. Schlegel thinks the best art fuses conscious craft with unconscious inspiration, and this harmonic fusion of the animal and divine is the goal of art-making. Relatedly, Schlegel distinguishes between “manner,” which is personal idiosyncrasies that interfere with achieving this goal, and “style,” which amounts to a discovery of a new way to achieve such fusion. The genius work created in this way also gets at (and really establishes) an ideal. Art does not so much imitate nature as we see it (e.g. the most beautiful face is not a mere average of the faces we’ve experienced) as prescriptively say what nature should be like, with the caveat that Schlegel sees nature as dynamic and so already containing implicit goals (ideas, telos) that natural systems (like faces) seem to be shooting for.
Learn about the online Core Philosophy Texts course Mark is running this fall at partiallyexaminedlife.com/class.
Next episode: We’ll finalize our treatment of German Romanticism by revising Friedrich Schelling, first reading the final sections about art from his System of Transcendental Idealism (1800), and then reading a later essay, “On the Relation Between the Plastic Arts and Nature” from (1807).