Hegel's Philosophy of Fine Art
In his philosophy of fine art, Hegel goes to great lengths to argue that art is an end in itself and cannot be truly appreciated as a means of achieving another goal. Throughout the introduction, Hegel defends his position by presenting the common view and then defeating it by arguing the position that art, as a product of the spirit, is an end in itself and that it serves no utilitarian purpose.
One of the most interesting arguments Hegel presents involves the status of nature in relation to art. Contrary to the commonly held view that art is a mere imitation of nature, and therefore lesser, Hegel argues that, because it is a product of the human spirit, art is the truly higher form:
But we may assert against this view, even at this stage, that the beauty of art is higher than nature. The beauty of art is beauty born of the spirit and born again, and the higher the spirit and its productions stand above nature and its phenomena, the higher to is the beauty of art above that of nature. (p. 2)
In this statement, Hegel presents a major theme in his philosophy of art: it originates in the human spirit, which elevates it above nature. Because in art "spirituality and freedom are always present" (p. 2), it should be regarded as a higher and more beautiful form than nature itself. "A natural existent like the sun is indifferent, not free and self-conscious in itself" (p. 2).
The Hegelian belief that because of this "journey through the spirit" (p. 29), a work of art stands higher than a natural product. From this vantage point, one is offered a glimpse into some of Hegel's deeper philosophy:
For everything spiritual is better than any product of nature. Besides, no natural being is able, as art is, to present the divine Ideal. (p. 29)
At this point, Hegel begins to articulate his philosophy concerning the true role of art. Throughout his lecture, Hegel emphasizes that art should not be appreciated as a means to an end, but rather as an end in itself. In fact, Hegel spends a great deal of his lecture, refuting the objections and commonly held notions concerning an exterior aim of art. He views the goal of art to be a self contained one; a goal which serves no external purpose, only the internal manifestation of truth:
Art's vocation is to unveil the truth in the form of sensuous artistic configuration, to set forth the reconciled opposition just mentioned, and so to have an end and aim in itself, in this very setting forth and unveiling. (p. 55)
In art, Hegel perceives the dissolution of opposition, "not in the sense...that the opposition and its two sides do not exist at all, but that they exist reconciled" (p. 55). The root of Hegel's high regard for art becomes apparent here, when he perceives in art the almost holy ability, not to eliminate opposition, but to truly resolve it with what is true. He sees in art the highest ideal of truth expressed in sensuous form, the spirit manifest in the physical world.