6 The knowledge on art, genius and also the sublime

Enlightenment principles on art and the creative process were deeply affected by the contemporary veneration for reason, empiricism and the classics. The service of the artist was conceived of as the imitation that nature, and as far as high arts was concerned, this process of imitation must be notified by one intelligent understand of the processes provided to produce timeless art. The ancients and their arts were viewed as models in the judicious choice of the many beautiful elements observed in nature, producing forms of appropriate or ‘beautiful’ nature that were acquired from a distillation of the very best and also a filtering the end of physics flaws. The leading art critic Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–68) held up Greek statuary for imitation as the embodiment of perfection. Sent come the eighteenth century via a robust Renaissance artistic tradition based on the antique, enlightenment Neoclassicism in its broadest feeling attempted no only direct borrowings native the antique (the imitation of architecture motifs, the usage of classic drapes come clothe figures, idealised treatment of the person figure based upon antique sculpture, recommendation to sculptural poses), but additionally an emulation that the order, unity, proportion and also harmony felt to underpin all classic art. The ethics of classic composition were based upon the id of a clear focus on a central motif (a hero, martyr or saint); grand, unifying (as protest to sparkling, dappled or disjointed) effects of light and shade the wouldn"t distract the eye come the hinderance of mental focus on one elevating subject; noble simplicity, balance and also symmetry (see number 7). You will discover in the arts of Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825) the expression of a an especially pure type of classic composition.

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number 7 Nicolas Poussin, The Holy family in Egypt, 1655–7, 105 x 145.5 cm, The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.The values of classical composition prove in this paint – balance, symmetry, broad, linked light effects and a prominent, ordered positioning of the main figures-influenced generations that eighteenth-century painters. Poussin was considerably influenced by antique friezes and statuary

As the century progressed, the risks of servile imitation, or a formulaic technique to art, were significantly recognised as the cases for much more ‘natural’ arts were asserted. A far-reaching body the opinion developed that was crucial of artists who just imitated the art of the past in a means that degenerated right into artifice and mannerism. In the 1760s Diderot, who additionally wrote together an arts critic, was among those that insisted the artists have to pay an ext respect to nature. Research of idealised antique statuary and the principles of anatomy and proportion that had actually informed the remained important to artists, but it was stressed increasingly that respect for these have to not to exclude, or lessen first-hand observation of the person body. Life illustration classes at the academies of art allowed male artists to study the nude, however the human being models were generally posed in highly artificial ways that followed the conventions of neck sculpture; your poses and the positions of their limbs were solved in the drawing studio through a complex arrangement that ropes, pulleys and also blocks (see number 8). Theorists referred to as increasingly because that less fabricated poses and also methods that observation.


This farming quest for the ‘natural’ expanded to an altering views top top the condition of various genres or topics in art. If high art, influenced by timeless or spiritual subjects, preserved its position at the peak of the hierarchies perpetuated by the academies the Europe, there to be a cultivation appreciation that the lower genres the landscape, tho life and scenes of everyday life, which required more direct observation of a an ext natural reality. In see art, together you will certainly see, the idealised classic landscapes of the seventeenth-century French artist Claude Lorrain (1600–82) remained very influential. Yet there was likewise an increasing tendency to place more emphasis on directly observed sketches the the see that, while quiet beautifying nature, allowed for imitation the a greater range of herbal effects. Knowledge artists and also critics were emboldened to demand greater naturalism or realism in art, in both style and subject matter, together a an outcome of the popularity of Dutch and also Flemish paintings, i m sorry had generated a north tradition significantly seen together a real different to the classical. In England william Gilpin and other artists and writers interested in what they dubbed the ‘picturesque’ advocated travel together a way of viewing real landscapes and directly it was observed sketches as component of the procedure of creating views ‘fit for a picture’. The quest for greater naturalism was seen in France as an antidote to the beforehand eighteenth-century excesses that the Rococo, a details adaptation or ‘debasement’ the the grand classic style characterised by serpentine curves and asymmetric forms applied mainly to portraiture and also to erotic and playful mythological topics (see number 9). In the second half of the eighteenth century, a higher respect for nature was viewed as a moral solution to the luxury and corruption the the Rococo"s aristocratic patrons.


number 9 François Boucher, The Triumph of Venus, 1740, oil top top canvas, 130 x 162 cm, national Museum of fine Arts, Stockholm. Photo: nationwide Museum of well Arts.Boucher"s frivolous and erotic Rococo style and also treatment the mythological subjects exerted a huge influence top top mid-eighteenth-century taste. Associated with aristocratic decadence, they led to calls later in the century for art that was both much more natural and more moral

Given the focus on imitation, the is perhaps unsurprising the the Enlightenment concept of the imagination was basically that the producing new variations ~ above old themes. The creative thinking was held to incorporate impressions observed in nature and previous art, but was usually not taken or compelled to encompass any an excellent flights the fancy. The pleasure of art lay in the acknowledgment of the acquainted reprocessed in ways adapted to modern-day times. When the Encyclopédie write-up on ‘Genius’, written by Jean Francois de Saint-Lambert, characterized genius together consisting of extraordinary strength of mind, intuition and also inspiration transcending just intelligence, most knowledge commentators top top aesthetic matters observed such attributes as ideal to a details stage of the artistic process (the initial moment of inspiration, the preliminary sketch) fairly than as qualities that should conquer or overwhelm. Genius was a quality of mental to it is in welcomed, however the an imaginative process must also involve reflection, study and also observation.

Indeed, plenty of Enlightenment thinkers common the conviction that good art to be largely, though not exclusively, the product that compliance v well-established rules acquired from the classics and empirical reason. Together Voltaire observed in 1753, ‘I value poetry just insofar as it is the ornament that reason’ (quoted in Furst, 1969, p. 19). Voltaire"s aesthetics, choose those of many French authors of the eighteenth century, were based on the neoclassical canons of literature laid down in the power of luigi XIV through such movie critics as Nicolas Boileau in his art of city (1674). Therefore while Voltaire to be a pioneer in introducing Shakespeare come the europe public, that did so with profound reservations and, as it were, hold his nose, saying that Shakespeare"s plays included ‘gold nuggets in a dung-heap’. He gift Shakespeare as a distinctive genius who succeeded regardless of such lamentable hurt of the neoclassical rules as mixing comic and also tragic aspects in the very same play. Voltaire was in an excellent company in defending the embraced literary canons and also explaining ‘genius’ together the exception that verified the rule. Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–92), president of the imperial Academy in London, adopted the same view in relationship to art:

Could we teach taste or genius by rules, they would no much longer be taste and genius. But though over there neither are, nor can be, any specific invariable rules for the exercise, or the acquisition, of these an excellent qualities, yet we may truly say the they constantly operate in proportion come our attention in observing the works of nature, to our ability in selecting, and also to our treatment in digesting, methodising, and comparing our observations. There are countless beauties in our art, the seem, in ~ first, to lie there is no the with of precept, and also yet may easily be decreased to helpful principles.

(Reynolds, 1975, p. 44)

The artist, in other words, have to not let his creative thinking run away v him. Hume, too, warned that this danger:

The creativity of man is normally sublime, happy with whatever is remote and also extraordinary, and running without control into the most distant parts of space and time in stimulate to protect against the objects which custom has actually rendered too familiar to it.

(Quoted in Hampson, 1968, p. 158)

The depth irony because that today"s reader is that it was specifically this unconstrained escapism into long ago and much away, the ‘remote and also extraordinary’, the was to captivate and characterise the Romantics.

Summary point: Enlightenment ideas on art and the artist were conquered by reason, moderation, classicism and control. However, over there was acknowledgment of the elusive high quality of initial ‘genius’.

If many aesthetic ideas of the enlightenment emphasised reason and also experience, and also classified ‘genius’ together something external the rules, there was one further ide mentioned through Hume, ‘the sublime’, that appeared to strain enlightenment rationality come its limits. Theorised by Edmund Burke in his thoughtful Enquiry, a sublime aesthetic endure was one that influenced awe and also terror in the spectator or reader. The sublime was something literally overwhelming, either since of the enormity (a high mountain, a deep chasm, a blinding light), that is infinity (the spirituality or timeless) or that is obscurity (a cloud-capped mountain, a floating mist, night, intense darkness) – all, significantly, the contrary of the precise, measured, penetrating ‘light’ of the Enlightenment. When faced with the sublime, the viewer, listener or reader felt a sort of paralysis that the will and of the strength of understanding and also imagination. At the very same time, as an aesthetic experience (grounded in art quite than reality) the sublime enabled for the thrill of risk without its actual consequences. Immensely popular in this context across Europe were the ‘works’ the Ossian, ostensibly a poetic cycle by a Gaelic bard that the third century CE, yet in reality the creation of James MacPherson (1736–96), who published his prose ‘translations’ in 1760. Napoleon was among the numerous devotees of Ossian, as much relocated by the story of legend heroes in a wild, rugged and also primitive northern setup as through Homer"s much more familiar Greeks and Trojans. This kind of exalted endure was progressively sought in art and also by the late enlightenment was a dominant aesthetic mode:

It is night. Ns am alone, hope on the hill of storms. The wind is heard in the mountain. The torrent pours under the rock. No hut obtain me from the rain, forlorn on the hill that winds. Rise o moon from behind the clouds. Stars of the night, arise!

(MacPherson, Colma"s lament indigenous Ossian, quoted in Barzun, 2000, p. 409)

In Mozart"s Don Giovanni the sublime emerges in the infernal pressures that swallow the key character in ~ the finish of the opera, and perhaps in the sublime ship of the male who defies them. The picture of Prometheus, the demi-god punished for his defiance that the king of the gods, started to haunt the poetic creativity when Goethe (1749–1832) specialized to it a dramatic fragment and also ode (1773). Because that the theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it to be the possession that a non-material soul that allowed people to seize the infinity the the sublime. This sensation of phenomena straining or exceeding the limits of person understanding was later to type the communication of a fully-fledged Romantic aesthetic.

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Summary point: in the knowledge the theorisation and popularisation that the sublime began to threaten the eighteenth century"s otherwise clear focus on the knowable, the rational and controllable.