Hegel was a German philosopher who lived from 1770 to 1831 and even today continues to influence discussions about aesthetics and art history. Despite his sometimes closed-minded judgments concerning art, he knew a remarkable amount about as well as a wide variety of art. The following paragraphs will examine Hegel’s dialectic and Geist theories.
First, Hegel believed in the dialectic. His theory “entails the confrontation of any thesis with its opposite (antithesis), and the resultant synthesis of the two through a process of ‘overcoming’” (Leitch 537). Therefore, there are two conflicts and then a compromise between the two; then there are two more conflicts and another compromise. This process continues onward, suggesting that Hegel’s theory stresses change.
Second, Hegel was interested in the Geist, meaning Spirit. Hegel uses the terms Universal Spirit or Absolute Idea interchangeably. Thus, Hegel thinks platonically. The Idea is not only a concept but also its own embodiment in reality. This Idea is the blueprint for the world in realization, thus becoming what it was meant to be, but the Idea is also realized in expressions over time, since it is constantly occurring in history. The over spirit is constantly pushing the world towards this final Idea, and art plays an important role in this process and change. However, the Idea is not wholly Platonic because it occurs through a historical development.
How can we understand where humans are in this quest towards the Absolute Idea? We must look at the art of humanity across time. Art not only reflects where the artists are but also works towards the Absolute Idea. Therefore, art gives us evidence of progress in history and presents cultural expression. According to Hegel, art serves specific purposes, and in Aesthetics, he writes, “[I]t is the vocation of art to find for the spirit of a people the artistic expression corresponding to it” (603).
In each era, a particular category of art presents the most authentic form of expression and maximizes the possible journey with and towards the Idea. This process occurs not through individual artists but many artists following their way, which becomes part of the human experience of working towards the Idea. Thus, the individual artist becomes part of a larger process of change.
The Idea makes it possible for each era of art history to be distinct. Yet the Idea also makes it possible to show a connection between the diverse forms of artistic expression throughout time and various societies. Finally, the Idea provides the ability of progress and development. The past and the present become connected through artistic expression and the Idea driving it.