Hegel's Classic and Romantic Art
In discussing his philosophy of art, Hegel emphasizes the evolution involved in the synthesis of art and the Ideal. One of his ideas, although seemingly counterintuitive, involves the proposition that instead of it becoming a more vivid and apt expression of the true Ideal, art's evolution has not progressed in a steadily increasing manner. While this appears to be true, at least superficially, Hegel does not propose that art, or at least his contemporary art, had declined in its value from previous stages in its evolution. He merely states that art's relation to the Spirit had changed because the Spirit had changed.
In what Hegel refers to as Symbolic Art, the Ideal, or reconciled truth is searching for a pure means of expressing itself, but it does not find it. Instead, it finds only abstract and vague symbols to manifest itself crudely. As the spirit evolves, so too does art. Hegel considers the Classic form of art to be a perfect synthesis of form and content:
The perfection of art is here reached in the very fact that the spiritual completely pervades its outer manifestation, that it idealizes the natural in this beautiful union with it, and rises to the measure of the reality of spirit in its substantial individuality. (p. 352)
He goes on to say that "Classic Art constituted the absolutely perfect representation of the ideal, the final completion of the realm of Beauty" (p. 352). Hegel seems to state that Classic Art is the highest form, if one were to merely glance at his writing, superficially. As he continues to discuss the evolution of art, Hegel comes to discuss Romantic Art, his contemporary art. Upon examining his ideas concerning this new level of art, it gradually becomes clear that art has not necessarily taken a step down, it has merely changed direction.
According to Hegel, Romantic Art no longer is the perfect synthesis of form and function as Classic Art once was. For Hegel, Romantic Art can no longer adequately express the Spirit, but not in the same sense that Symbolic Art could not. While the Spirit searched for but could not find adequate expression in Symbolic Art, the Spirit of Romantic Art has evolved to a point were it has surpassed art's ability to contain it:
The external and phenomenal is no longer able to express internality; ...it thus retains the task of proving that the external or sensuous is an incomplete existence, and must refer back to the eternal or spiritual, .... (p. 364)
Here, Hegel presents the two sides of Romantic Art: the external and the internal. He states that the external can no longer completely express the internal, but he does begin to explain why it is still a very viable, albeit different expression:
...art cannot work for sensuous perception. It must address itself to the inward mind, which coalesces with its object simply and as though it were itself, to the subjective inwardness, ...which, being spiritual, seeks and finds its reconciliation only in that spirit within. (p. 382)
The true value of Romantic Art, according to Hegel, lies in its ability to lead the mind to the internal. Even though Classical Art was the perfect synthesis of form and content, there exists nothing beyond the external; the truth is presented as the form of the artwork. Thus, as the Spirit has changed and grown, art's ability and role in expressing it has, as well. "It is this inner world that forms the content of the Romantic" (p. 382).