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The "sublime" in the arts


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#1 Chashab

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Posted 28 June 2006 - 06:47 PM

What is your take on how the "sublime" is part of the arts?

sub·lime, adj.
1. Characterized by nobility; majestic.
2a. Of high spiritual, moral, or intellectual worth.
2b. Not to be excelled; supreme.
3. Inspiring awe; impressive.

It's something that's just recently entered into my own thoughts — via other's use of the word in the context of art — about art, and I'm not sure what to make of it yet.

#2 techne

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 12:30 AM

well, from what i understand the sublime was real popular in the 19th century, and not only with philosophers - though artists associated with the luminists, romantics, symbolists were as much philosophers as anything else.

it seems that many of them were interested in the sublime (as distinguished from the picturesque, which i think is about beauty). the sublime is more about inspiring awe, even terror. it refers to that which is abnormal, the 'not-quite-right'.

in many ways i think it is a term worth reviving, if for no other reason than the increasing use of the abject and fringe element in artistic content, not to mention the embrace of chance, chaos, disorder, ugliness. in contemporary writing about the intersection of spirituality (and rarely faith) and art it is often associated with the open-ended ideas that constitute spiritual art, because it allows the Other to remain faceless and amorphous.

still, nice to see the ineffable discussed at all.

#3 yank_eh

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 02:25 AM

The idea of the sublime, dichotomized beauty into two parts: feminine and masculine, weak and powerful.

The term beauty lost its connection to power and awe and instead came to denote "picturesque" as someone said above. Sublime was the uncontrollable power of nature. A garden is beautiful, a storm is sublime.

It may be a useful term to distinguish between different kinds of beauty but unfortunately it was accompanied by the disparagement of beauty.

#4 yank_eh

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 04:54 AM

I'm not sure where I came across the feminine/masculine argument, but the insight is not my own. I think it's a good one though.

I was not implying that "the sublime" or "the beautiful" were sentient. Just that each bear some (however abstract) resemblance to the historically popular human conception of genders. I am not being literal when I say that a storm is masculine (and therefore sentient), just that the power of a storm coincides somewhat to the popularized idea of masculinity.

Your point about the sublime being "beyond words - and beyond us, bigger and greater than us" is right on. It is more important to understanding "sublime" than my distinction is. I just thought I would offer an insight on a different less noticable aspect of sublimity. Something can be primarily "beyond words" and still have attributes of masculinity.

#5 Chashab

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 09:58 AM

Since posting this thread, I've found and begun to read a chapter of a book dealing with Ruskin's ideas of the sublime. I'm not done, but here are some snippets from the reading:

QUOTE
"The discussion of the sublime was perhaps the single most important concern of the eighteenth centure British aesthetics . . . "

"According to Samuel Holt Monk . . . 'No single definition of the term would serve in any single decade for all writers . . . but the word naturally expressed high admiration, and usually implied a strong emotional effect, which, in latter years of the century, frequently turned on terror.'"

"If one looks at the history of the sublime, one can see how it served to introduce new sources of beauty into modern Western thought. In the sixteenth century, few considered mountains very attractive; in the eighteenth century many were captivated by their sublimity, if not their beauty; and in the twentieth century most people would regard the usual sources sources of eighteenth-century sublimity — mountains, seas, and skies — as sources of beauty."


I didn't mark it while I was reading, but I think I recall some discussion of the masculine/feminine in this writing (by George P. Landrow of Brown U.). And I'm only halfway through the chapter . . .

All the time I have now . . . hope this furthers the discussion for the moment.

#6 techne

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 10:43 AM

quick notes:

eco's history of beauty discusses the sublime a little

there's a wonderful li'i book called mountains so sublime: nineteenth-century british travellers and the lure of the rocky mountain west by terry abraham that might be an interesting read - so much of the sublime seems centered on the landscape (i guess the creation does reflect its maker) and this book explores that using the niagara falls and rocky montains as exemplars.

PS what's the book you are reading?

#7 Chashab

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 10:58 AM

QUOTE(techne @ Jul 18 2006, 10:43 AM) View Post


PS what's the book you are reading?


I don't know tongue.gif I found it online . . .

. . . But using the information I do have . . . . *drum roll*

The Aesthetic and Critical Theories of John Ruskin

Edited by Chashab, 18 July 2006 - 10:59 AM.


#8 techne

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 06:34 PM

hey chasab,

y'all might wanna check out Sublime Embrace: Experiencing Consciousness in Contemporary Art - Curated by Shirley Madill, and on view from May 27 to September 4, 2006 at the Art Gallery of Hamilton

http://www.artgaller...x_current.php#3




#9 Chashab

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 08:39 PM

QUOTE(nardis @ Jul 18 2006, 08:14 PM) View Post


I'm not suggesting that natural things don't suggest - or shouldn't suggest - masculine or feminine images and comparisons. But they are comparisons. And (forgive me for bringing this up, but it's a matter of historical record) guys have, until recently, been the ones to call the shots on these perceptions. (Artists and theorists, too.) It's only in relatively recent times that women have been able to live and work as artists, theorists, critics, writers....


Very true. I haven't actually given the idea any thought — was just noting that I thought I might possibly could have remembered the text I'm reading saying wink.gif

My thinking along these lines was spurred by the show of a photographer who used the term in a very difficult artist statement, relating to the work in the show (some of which were photographs of post-Katrina gulf coast). Truthfully, I thought the artist statement was contrived, but some of the photographs quite intriguing.

I say this to get back to the original idea for my creating this thread (which I've yet to spell out in so many words), and that would be how the sublime is working or relevant in today's culture and art. I posted a similar question in www.WetCanvas.com, and got little real response, except for a few cursory "it's an archaic idea and has no relevance to modern thinking"(s).

#10 Chashab

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 08:39 PM

QUOTE(nardis @ Jul 18 2006, 08:14 PM) View Post


I'm not suggesting that natural things don't suggest - or shouldn't suggest - masculine or feminine images and comparisons. But they are comparisons. And (forgive me for bringing this up, but it's a matter of historical record) guys have, until recently, been the ones to call the shots on these perceptions. (Artists and theorists, too.) It's only in relatively recent times that women have been able to live and work as artists, theorists, critics, writers....


Very true. I haven't actually given the idea any thought — was just noting that I thought I might possibly could have remembered the text I'm reading saying wink.gif

My thinking along these lines was spurred by the show of a photographer who used the term in a very difficult artist statement, relating to the work in the show (some of which were photographs of post-Katrina gulf coast). Truthfully, I thought the artist statement was contrived, but some of the photographs quite intriguing.

I say this to get back to the original idea for my creating this thread (which I've yet to spell out in so many words), and that would be how the sublime is working or relevant in today's culture and art. I posted a similar question in www.WetCanvas.com, and got little real response, except for a few cursory "it's an archaic idea and has no relevance to modern thinking"(s).

#11 Chashab

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 08:40 PM

QUOTE(nardis @ Jul 18 2006, 08:14 PM) View Post


I'm not suggesting that natural things don't suggest - or shouldn't suggest - masculine or feminine images and comparisons. But they are comparisons. And (forgive me for bringing this up, but it's a matter of historical record) guys have, until recently, been the ones to call the shots on these perceptions. (Artists and theorists, too.) It's only in relatively recent times that women have been able to live and work as artists, theorists, critics, writers....


Very true. I haven't actually given the idea any thought — was just noting that I thought I might possibly could have remembered the text I'm reading saying wink.gif

My thinking along these lines was spurred by the show of a photographer who used the term in a very difficult artist statement, relating to the work in the show (some of which were photographs of post-Katrina gulf coast). Truthfully, I thought the artist statement was contrived, but some of the photographs quite intriguing.

I say this to get back to the original idea for my creating this thread (which I've yet to spell out in so many words), and that would be how the sublime is working or relevant in today's culture and art. I posted a similar question in www.WetCanvas.com, and got little real response, except for a few cursory "it's an archaic idea and has no relevance to modern thinking"(s).

#12 Chashab

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 09:27 PM

QUOTE(nardis @ Jul 18 2006, 08:47 PM) View Post

"Archaic"? No kidding. I wouldn't necessarily have guessed that would happen. It seems awfully short-sighted.

I wonder if the same thing would happen if you posed the question to, say, contemporary classical music composers, musicians and fans. My guess is no.


You kinda have to understand the culture of the WetCanvas boards . . . how shall we say, um, very very much to the left in a belligerent way? At times anyway. And probably snobbish. I don't post there much. I go because it gets a lot of traffic, but am always disappointed in the discussion.

But the "archaic" comment did suprise me also, some.

QUOTE(nardis @ Jul 18 2006, 08:47 PM) View Post
Also, apologies for getting off-track there with the masculine/feminine thing, which is part of us humans (i think it's very hard for us *not* to see the world in our image). one of my other concerns with this is that we get caught in the pathetic fallacy pretty fast, attributing human emotions and motivations to things that can't possibly have them.
****


Enh, no problem. Tis the organic nature of conversation IMO.

QUOTE(nardis @ Jul 18 2006, 08:47 PM) View Post
Re. Aric Meyer's site, I'm somehow missing his artist's statement.... Could you tell me where to look? Many thanks!


It's not there that I know of. I read it, so much as I could get through it, at the show. It was an enormous poster on the wall. I wish I had a copy, but don't think there was any such thing there or ever on the website.


#13 techne

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Posted 13 August 2006 - 12:26 PM

i've been digging through my library to see what i had re: the sublime and found an old issue of art & design entitled the contemporary sublime: sensibilities of transcendence and shock. isbn 1854902237 - you may be able to find it on abebooks (or whatever other bookfinding sites you know of). or maybe through your local libraries (inter-library loans anyone?). essays include: the postmodern sublime, the sublime is how, kant and malevich, sublimity as process, damien hirst and the sensibility of shock, silent visions: lyotard on the sublime, 'religion', transcendence, the light and the dark and the containment of memory. artists mentioned include cornelia parker, philip taaffe, will barnet, malevich, terry shave, barnet newman, yves klein, hirst, rothko, jo volley and (yum yum!) mateusz fahrenholz.

anyway, there may be someuseful stuff therein.

#14 techne

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 06:30 PM

or, try this: Beauty And The Contemporary Sublime by Jeremy Gilbert-rolfe (Allworth Press)...

seems to be the contemporary tack - beauty and surface and people as the post-modern sublime...

whatever