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Hegel and Nietzsche are German philosophers, whose works considered being fundamental. Their view and outlook on the world was very different, sometime directly opposite. Both of them, in their time, received much criticism as well as gained many followers. There is much that can be said about their respective teachings and philosophies as well as their understanding of art.
Hegel built his philosophical views on the Christian philosophy, and until his death he considered himself an Orthodox Lutheran (Wood 163), even though many of his views very not in line with Orthodox Christianity. He presented the nature, history and Spirit as a process, a dynamic that is constantly changing, developing and growing. Hegel strived to synthesize philosophical knowledge of all the Christian sources into a single system. His are concepts of “Being-Nonbeing-Becoming”. The System is structured from Logic, Nature and Spirit (Wood 168), and it is contingent.
Spirit is a product and the goal of Nature. There are few spheres where Spirit operates: in the realm of art and the realm of religion (Wood 171). The first realm is a sensory form of displaying Absolute; and realm of religion is a place where spirit turns back to the heart. Therefore, religion and art are closely connected. Art stands on the higher level than the beauty of nature because it allows the expression of ideality, the presentation of the Spirit (Wood 173).
Art allows detachment from the limitations of manifestations; it is the realm where the spirit is free. Hegel states that “art is born of Spirit because it reveals more about nature of things than what can be seen on the surface. Thus, art is a higher manifestation of the nature. Being creation of Spirit, it manifests the exteriority as well as gives insight beyond the subjective Spirit; it is also a matter of cultural interpretation. Art is the medium between abstract ideas and reality. “In the art the spiritual is sensualized and the sensuous spiritualized” (Wood 174).
Hegel also discusses the purpose of art, indicating that if its purpose is the mere imitation of the nature, even if a very skillful, the art is not useful. It should express the spiritual life and “elevate its object from the everyday to ideal”. Also, the art should “arouse the heart to sympathize” with human emotions and feelings (Wood 175), and the aim of art is moral instructions.
According to Hegel, heroism and heroic times are the most worthy subject matters for the artistic expressions (Wood 179). And the highest function of the art is the revelation of the divine.
Nietzsche, among other things, is known for his parable of a madman and a proclamation that God is dead and is in the state of decomposition, although people are still unaware of it (Wood 203).
From this point of view, there is no “any single point of reference”, “not even a dream of totality or of any kind of a fundamental principle or foundation, any kind of ultimate point of reference” (204). Consequently, it is an experience of emptiness. If, over the history, the transformation was taking place in defining God from being highest good and the ideal to the intricately contradictory ground of all things which has to be avoided. In Nietzsche’s philosophy the denial of God reached its peak. The place of God was left vacant and the existence of it questioned. Nihilism brought emptiness and despair (Wood 205). On the other hand, there is a notion that we have to become gods ourselves to be worthy of the deed (Wood 206).
That notion leads to inequality, to the existence of higher and lower men: competent and incompetent. It leads to the development of democratic socialism, which is, in fact, secularized Christianity. The term itself shows “the inversion of the natural, master morality” (Wood 206). The supreme government is, then, “Will-to-Power”, which is built on creativity, understood as a “will-to-create” and is a continuity of the realm of art and the culture as a whole (Wood 208). According to Nietzsche, “Will-to-power” operates in every sphere of human life and one of the higher levels of it is a political state, at which different individuals and groups are influenced over long periods of time. The most powerful way of such influence is not physical force, but “the bestowal of comprehensive meaning” (Wood 211) through which souls are conquered. Everybody is striving for power and rational man cannot relate to an intuitive man (Nietzsche). The “higher men”, which embody the “Will-to-power” ground, are artists, philosophers and such (Wood 211); they are also intuitive men.
Nietzsche states that people live in the perpetual state of lying, with the language itself being a form of deception as the words that are used in speech do not relate the proper meaning, but are mere symbols that people agreed to use. The whole world is defined through this symbolism and the only possibility for redefining the reality is the art. Artists create a new reality; they invent new symbols and expressions (Nietzsche). However, “every mature art has a host of conventions as its basic”, (Wood 219) which are conditions of great art. Artists relate the true nature of an object, not mere symbolic description of it, thus the art that is subjective is considered by Nietzsche as bad art (Wood 219). An artist is a medium through which the real meaning of the subject is revealed (Wood 222).
The art itself is produced by nature. Its function is to supplement and overcome the nature (Wood 228) and it allows the intuitive man to reach into the world of abstraction, thus, leaving himself open to failure and hardness of life, but having more happy and satisfying life. (Nietzsche) Nietzsche “calls us to celebrate life” and to “say Yes! to being as it is” (Wood 214).
Thus, the Hegel’s and Nietzsche’s approaches, understanding and purposes of art are different. However, both of them consider art an important expression of the spirit and a sphere superior to the nature. It is a reality which allows freedom.