Ovi -
we cover every issue
Resource for Foreigners in Finland  
Ovi Bookshop - Free Ebook
Tony Zuvela - Cartoons, Illustrations
Ovi Language
Books by Avgi Meleti
The Breast Cancer Site
Tony Zuvela - Cartoons, Illustrations
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
BBC News :   - 
iBite :   - 
Arthur Schopenhauer's Concept of Art as Revelation
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2008-10-28 09:20:40
Print - Comment - Send to a Friend - More from this Author
DeliciousRedditFacebookDigg! StumbleUpon
“The Platonic Ideas are the adequate objectification of the will”

      --Arthur Schopenhauer (from The World of as Will and Representation)

Schopenhauer's (1788-1860) conception of art has this in common with Aristotle and Kant’s conception of art: all three philosophers endow art with the greatest significance. Schopenhauer accepts Aristotle’s understanding of art as cognition but goes beyond Aristotle in considering art a revelation of the very nature of reality giving us access to metaphysical truths.

Like Plato and Kant before him Schopenhauer distinguishes appearance from reality-in-itself. The world revealed to us in our everyday experience is a mere representation, governed by the principles of sufficient reason—that everything that happens does so for some reason—and of individuation—that each person or object is a being distinct from every other.

The world revealed by science is simply a more abstract and systematic version of the world of experience. But where Kant claims that reality in itself is unknowable to being such as ourselves, Schopenhauer believes that we have access to it through our own wills. The truth revealed by a contemplation of willing is that reality consists of nothing but endless striving, and the world as it appears is mere illusion. Life is a pointless game in which desire demands satisfaction but in which satisfaction is fleeting and evanescent. Even our precious individuality is illusory, for beneath the appearance of distinctness the will unites all. Pessimism and resignation are the appropriate philosophic attitudes to take to this revelation.

Schopenhauer arrives at these claims by injecting themes from Indian thought into Kant’s philosophy. We would not be too far off target in claiming that Schopenhauer is the first Western philosopher to greatly value non-Western philosophy as a source of important insight. For him the Platonic-Kantian distinction between appearance and reality is just another version of the ancient Hindu doctrine that the world of the senses and desire is mere illusion.

Given this rather pessimistic view of the reality of things, it may be rather surprising that he waxes so lyrical about the power of art. This is so because for Schopenhauer, whereas science is necessarily limited to the realm of appearance, art can reveal metaphysical truth. Like Kant, Schopenhauer places genius at the center of art, but now it is necessary, not just for artistic creation, but also for appreciation. Through art the genius is able to rise above the stream of quotidian entanglements to disinterested contemplation of the world as it really is.

Just as the subject must be in a special state in order to appreciate art, the art object cannot represent things in their usual mode of existence. All art, with the exception of music, presents ideas rather than things. Here, Schopenhauer incorporates a Platonic element into his philosophy of art. Once again the Forms resurface, to the dismay of those who make a false dichotomy between the ancients and the moderns. As for Plato, the Forms are ideas or archetypes of which empirical things merely partake. The implication is clear: the world of spirit is antecedent to that of matter.

For Schopenhauer, art does not represent the merely material and empirical but rather the Ideas that lie behind it. A significant work of art, then, is not concerned with the particular, but rather with the universal Idea that stands behind it as its reality. Schopenhauer speaks of the will as possessing different levels of objectivity—from the lowly plant to the higher animals—and of the Ideas representing these different levels to us.

As mentioned above, music for Schopenhauer is the exception. Rather than representing Ideas (that is, levels of the will’s objectification), music brings us into direct contact with the will itself. Music and the will are two intertranslatable languages in which everything said in one can be said in the other. This is why, for Schopenhauer music is the highest form of art, permitting direct experience of the will both as the substance of ultimate reality and as insatiable. This explains much of the emphasis placed on music by the 19th century Romantic movement whose greatest icon is Beethoven.

If Schopenhauer thinks that the highest calling is in complete detachment, in disinterested contemplation of the spectacle of universal striving, then the artist operates in the space between these realms, depicting the vanity of willing but not yet seized with the futility of all undertaking. As a result, the artist is, for Schopenhauer a tragic figure, condemned to tell the truth about the world, yet doomed to fail.

Print - Comment - Send to a Friend - More from this Author

Get it off your chest
 (comments policy)

Thanos2008-10-27 09:57:57
I have the sense that Schopenhauer's thoughts that art stands beyond material issues is the one that gets closer to the reality of the artists but not necessary the ones who watch/see/touch art. I think to understand better the concept you must be touched from art. And in any form or creation of art there is artist's philosophy/thoughts behind.

Emanuel Paparella2008-10-27 11:54:58
Indeed Thanos, I concur that such is the other side of the coin, for if it is true that the Platonic Forms stand behind art, it is equally and paradoxically true that art, when it touches us, or better when it calls us out of the existentially trivial and meaningless world of striving and desire, reveals the Forms to those who are perceptive to it, or in layman’s language, it is a revelation of the spiritual. It is no wonder that the ancient Greeks understood Beauty, Truth and the Good and the One, as transcendentals pretty much connected to each other and even interchangeable. Kant, Schopenhauer, Hegel and Nietzsche, three giants of modern philosophy, were giants because they knew that they stood on their shoulders, even then they disagreed with them in some aspects, and that’s why they could see so much further than those dwarfs who would pit the moderns against the ancients declaring antiquity passè and reinventing the wheel.

Sand2008-10-27 13:12:53
This quotation from Schopenhauer is not about art but perhaps it is significant as to his perceptive capability and the general quality of his thinking:
"The highest civilization and culture, apart from the ancient Hindus and Egyptians, are found exclusively among the white races; and even with many dark peoples, the ruling caste or race is fairer in colour than the rest and has, therefore, evidently immigrated, for example, the Brahmans, the Incas, and the rulers of the South Sea Islands. All this is due to the fact that necessity is the mother of invention because those tribes that emigrated early to the north, and there gradually became white, had to develop all their intellectual powers and invent and perfect all the arts in their struggle with need, want and misery, which in their many forms were brought about by the climate. This they had to do in order to make up for the parsimony of nature and out of it all came their high civilization."

Emanuel Paparella2008-10-27 15:22:37
So, to continue Shopenhauer's argument, the further north one goes, the greater the quality of civilization and the Eskimos take the prize. Unfortunately quite a few of the philosophers of the 19th century held such misguided racist eugenic views among which Kant and Hume who both made embarassing gaffes regarding the evolution of the races in nature. So, using their own recommended tool, discriminating reason,those views are to be rejected while accepting their more enlightened insights.

Sand2008-10-27 19:11:46
Wise of you, Paparella, not to cast Schopenhauer into your bonfire.

Emanuel Paparella2008-10-27 22:00:06
In fact philo-sophia means love of wisdom which the ancients certainly understood while the modern men who burned a variety of classical books in their bonfire of May 1942 in Germany, certainly did not. So much for inevitable progress! Oh, yes the bonfire could not have been mine since I was merely a couple of weeks old at the time; however, judging by some of your pronouncements in this forum regarding the "idiocy" of the ancients, it could have been yours however at least conceptually even if you were alledgedly fighting the new barbarians of the intellect. You might have not have had any choice about that.

Sand2008-10-29 05:07:39
What is most disturbing about this presentation is the use of what are considered universal ideals or standards that are assumed to be understood and held in common by all individuals. Beauty, truth, good, will, are all horribly vague and in most cases individually personal standards that leaves much of the content in a meaningless limbo. Whatever may have been contended previously in thought, art is not solely concerned with beauty or perfection (whatever that might be) and the discipline changes radically from age to age and from culture to culture.

Emanuel Paparella2008-10-29 08:55:05
Everything is relative? The laws of the universe too? It seems that we want the cake and want to eat it too. Schopenhauer to the metaphorical bonfire you go, you are not up to date and at the cutting edge! For the five year olds or the disengenuous, or the sophists, the statement above is ironic not to be put in the mouth of the one who proffered it thus making a fool of oneself.

Sand2008-10-29 09:20:35
Now, now, Paparella. Ease up on the personal attacks. We are discussing universal laws and art never conformed to any of those.

Emanuel Paparella2008-10-29 10:11:07
Now, now, Mr. S. you don't have to be in academia to understand that glib shallow one-liners such as the above can easily be proffered and just as easily be refuted and even ignored.

Sand2008-10-29 12:39:29
Then you consider attributing moronic intellect to someone as not being an attack? What was your purpose, then, in declaring it?

© Copyright CHAMELEON PROJECT Tmi 2005-2008  -  Sitemap  -  Add to favourites  -  Link to Ovi
Privacy Policy  -  Contact  -  RSS Feeds  -  Search  -  Submissions  -  Subscribe  -  About Ovi