Art and the Absolute: A Study of Hegel's Aesthetics

By William Desmond | Go to book overview

Chapter One
Art, Imitation and Creation

Imitation: Art and the Metaphysics of Image and Original

It is appropriate that we first consider art as a phenomenon in its own right in the light of two interpretations that have dominated western aesthetic reflection, namely art as imitation and art as creation. 1 Art as imitation is more characteristic of ancient views, as in the classical perspectives of Plato and Aristotle. Art as creation has been in the ascendent in more modern times, and particularly since the Romantic era, concepts like "creativity," "originality," "self-expression" have exerted strong influence not only within art but outside of art also in numerous other areas of human activity. 2 Where are we to situate Hegel's aesthetic relative to these concepts? As one might expect from a thinker deeply immersed in the cultural currents of the nineteenth century, Hegel was not the least of those in recent centuries who have attempted to criticize the view that art is imitation in order to uphold a position closer to art as creative. Indeed, in articulating his system of Absolute Spirit, which ranks art along with religion and philosophy at the very highest level of spiritual activity, Hegel explicitly claims to have disposed of the principle of the imitation of nature. 3 This claim invites our attention, especially since some are still wont to think of Hegel, not as the defender of art's creative power, but as the proclaimer of its death.

My purpose here will be to show how Hegel's response to imitation involves an inherently ambitious or "double" evaluation of art,

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