|Wanderer above the sea of fog - Casper David Friedrich|
THE SUBLIME IN ART
What does one feel, when he looks at the painting of ‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’ by Casper David Friedrich, the German Romantic artist. The painting draws attention to the smallness and insignificance of an individual in comparison to the untamed and possibly hostile natural setting. In it one can even sense the immensity of the mysteries before us.
Well what is the Sublime? The sublime is defined as having the quality of such greatness, magnitude or intensity, that our ability to perceive or comprehend it is temporarily suspended. Does’nt it remind one of God? In Hindu thought, the concept of Brahman is beyond comprehension, is beyond definition. It is the same in all religions. When we stand on the shores and look across the oceans we are struck with wonderment and also a sense of fear at the immensity before us. The awe is beyond definition. The same sense prevails when we look at the night sky, the stars and the world beyond. One would want to merge with this immenseness.
Man in his quest to achieve an identification as a part of this Sublime expresses himself in various modes. He sees the flowering of his inner quest through the medium of his choice and in the process, proceeds on the way to sublimation.
So, it is when we stand before a painting or a sculpture or hear music we are transported to the world of the creator. Though this transportation and the ultimate effect is subjective, one cannot deny the fact of its effect on us.
Art is defined as the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others. Man’s quest for self expression has always been there. We have evidence of this from the pre-historic cave paintings to contemporary art.
Hegel in his ‘The Phenomenology of the Spirit’ says that the understanding of any aspect of human life must be concerned with its history, its evolution, its genesis, or its roots, rather than with the empirical observation. So also art is an offshoot of the evolution of the human mind, which has passed various stages in the history of mankind. So we see the development from the prehistoric to Renaissance, Classicism, Realism, Romanticism, Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism to Modernism and various movements. If one follows their development, one can see the themes varying from the religious to forms of intense self expression moving away from the biblical, to representations of nature in all its glory, to subjective impressions, to distortion of reality to enhance the emotional effect. Of course art has now become so subjective that it is difficult to comprehend what the artist is conveying.
Art Appreciation is such a vast subject with hundreds of great painters, and movements, it is difficult to decide where to start, you get carried away. But there are individual preferences, like I said before, each one sees the sublime in any piece of art his own way.
The essence of Ayn Rand’s view of art is that an artwork presents a philosophy of life. “What an artwork expresses, fundamentally, under all of its lesser aspects is: ‘this is life as I see it.’
As I do not have words of my own to describe what the sublime in art is, I have borrowed the following passage from Hildebrand Jacob’s ‘The Works’
“All the vast, and wonderful scenes, either of delight, or horror, which the universe affords have this effect upon the imagination, such as unbounded prospects, particularly that of the ocean, in its different situations of agitation or repose; the rising or setting sun; the solemnity of moon light; all the phenomena in the heavens, and objects of astronomy. We are moved in the same manner by the view of dreadful precipices; great ruins; subterraneous caverns, and the operations of nature in those dark recesses... the sight of numerous armies, and assemblies of people ... the whispering of winds; the fall of waters in cataracts, or heavy showers; the roaring of the sea; the noise of tempests amongst lofty trees; thunder; the clash of arms, and voice of war.”