Volume 5, Issue 3, 2005
Kant on Painting and the Representation of the Sublime
The essay deals with the question of how works of art that evoke a sense of the sublime are to be analysed in terms of Kant’s theory. Although Kant assumes the possibility of a beautiful representation of the sublime, of a sublime “shaped by beauty”, that a work can appear sublime is not immediately clear. Contrapurposiveness plays a key role in the experience of the sublime, but art is an essentially purposive context and aims at beauty. Following readings such as those by K. Pillow and R. Wicks, this paper argues that a work of art can occasion a feeling akin to that of the sublime by expressing aesthetic ideas. According to Kant, the beautiful form conveys representations of imagination that strive towards a presentation of the ideas of reason, that is, the true sublime for Kant, opening up for the mind the prospect of an immensurable field of related representations. The image itself suggests that, in confronting this multitude of representations, the mind is “animated” in a way that can be compared -- albeit with significant
differences -- to that typical of the sublime. In the essay this possibility is further pursued with particular regard to painting.