Chapter 14. "Art is a Mode of Absolute Spirit" by G.W.F. Hegel

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from The Philosophy of Fine Art and Lectures on Ăsthetics
The Reading Selection from The Philosophy of Fine Art and Lectures on Ăsthetics
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

G.W.F. Hegel, adapted from Projekt Gutenberg-DE

About the author …

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) was born in Stuttgart and studied theology at TŘbingen. At the turn of the century, he joined his friends Friedrich H÷lderlin and Friedrich Schelling at the University of Jena to study Kant. Soon thereafter he completed Phenomenology of Spirit. When Napoleon invaded, Hegel left Jena for a time. With the publication of his logic and encyclopŠdia he, at length, obtained a chair in philosophy at the University of Berlin. Hegel's philosophy is often characterized as an Absolute Idealism, yet his influence is traceable through many various philosophical paths in the succeeding centuries. His Šsthetics is integral to his metaphysics—the Šsthetical is one of the modes of apprehension of Absolute Spirit. For this reason, it is doubtful his Šsthetics can be extracted successfully and meaningfully from his philosophy of Spirit; even so, selections from his posthumously published lectures on Šsthetics are presented here as evidence of their significant subsequent influence in the history of the philosophy of art. The story is told that at his death Hegel demurred to his admirers that no one understood his philosophy.[1]

About the work …

In his Lectures on Ăsthetics[2] and his The Philosophy of Fine Art,[3] Hegel's Idealistic philosophy, perhaps, can be best begun by understanding his identification of reality with what is rational. On Hegel's view, the history of the universe is specifically traced through the stages of the developmental process by which Absolute Spirit comes to be aware of itself. Art, then, as the expression of the spirit of different epochs, develops much as history develops. Thus, it follows that, since the real is rational and the rational is real, the main stages of art are rationally established by idea and form. The three states of art Hegel discusses in our reading selection are (1) the Symbolic, where artistic forms are distorted in an effort to express artistic ideas as in Oriental and Egyptian art, (2) the Classic, where the ideal form is realized with superficial artistic ideas in Greek sculpture, and (3) the Romantic, where the artistic idea overwhelms the form as in religious art. Hegel believes art to be one of the three modes of apprehending the Absolute—although art is not not the highest mode. Beauty is seen as the sensuous appearance of the Idea of the Absolute. As art becomes less sensuous, it merges into religion or philosophy. Again, for Hegel, just as history comes to an end in the process of the Absolute coming to know itself in and through itself, art, as a moment also comes to an end.[4]

Ideas of Interest from The Philosophy of Fine Art and Lectures on Ăsthetics

  1. How does Hegel define the philosophy of art, and why does he think art is rationally comprehensible? Why is art said to be "superior to the works of nature"?

  2. How does Hegel characterize the ideal of the beautiful in art? What are the three main forms of art he identifies?

  3. How does Hegel define "symbol"? What are examples of Symbolic Art?

  4. How does Hegel explain the origin of art?

  5. How does Hegel characterize Classic Art? What are examples of Classic Art? What does Hegel say is the true ideal of Classic Art?

  6. According to Hegel, how does Romantic Art differ from Symbolic and Classic Art? What is the content of Romantic Art?

  7. What does Hegel say about the question as to whether art is truth?



Anthony L. Lincoln, Lord Eldon's Anecdote Book. London: Stevens & Sons. 1960. 17.


G.W.F. Hegel. Lectures on Ăsthetics. Translated by B. Bosanquet and W.M. Bryant. London: Kegan Paul. 1905.


G.W.F. Hegel. The Philosophy of Fine Art. Translated by F.P.B. Osmaston. London: G. Bell & Sons. 1920.


Curiously enough, the end of art is a view examined by the contemporary art critic Arthur Danto for other reasons. He argues if an artistic work can be any artifact (e.g., Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes, which are virtually indistinguishable from the appearance of everyday Brillo industrial boxes) then a proper definition of art is no longer possible. (Arthur C. Danto. "Art, Philosophy, and the Philosophy of Art". Humanities. Vol. 4, No. 1, 1-2.)