"Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel (1770-1831) ... was an art lover and a student of the arts, and developed a more complete philosophy of art than most philosophers before him. In keeping with his emphasis on the historical development of ideas and of consciousness, he claimed that:

1) Art expresses the spirit of particular cultures, as well as that of individual artists and the general human spirit.

2) There is progress in art (no surprise here, as Hegel thought that history in general was moving forward to a climax).

...The three main stages of art history recognized by Hegel in his lectures on Aesthetics are symbolic, classical, and romantic art. Each of these is defined by the relationship beween idea and form that is common within it. In the first or symbolic stage, a powerful idea is expressed in a variety of forms that are felt as not really adequate to its expression. As a result, the form is distorted in the attempt to accomodate the transcendent power of the idea...

Along with his division of western art into periods, Hegel also arranged the particular arts hierarchically, from those most tied to image and the physical, and hence most suited to symbolic art (e.g., architecture) to those most suited to inwardness and the self-realization of Spirit (e.g., poetry)...

Perhaps the most famous of Hegel's claims about art is that art comes to an end. As Spirit reaches its full self-realization, the need for images and symbols withers away, and with it goes the need for any art that uses physical means to express itself. This "end of art" thesis is puzzling in somewhat the same way that his "end of history" thesis itself is puzzling. Hegel does not seem to have meant by it that art would stop altogether; but rather that the need for it, and its role in the development of spirit would be fulfilled..."

Aesthetics: Hegel

From the Lectures:

"Lectures on Aesthetics
by G.W.F. Hegel

Part I
Of the Symbolic Form of Art

I. Of the Symbol in General

The symbol, in the sense which we here give to this term, constitutes, according to its very idea, as well as from the epoch of its appearance in history, the beginning of art... [...]

We will first explain what should here be understood by the term symbol.

1. It is a sensuous object, which must not be taken in itself such as it presents itself immediately to us, but in more extended and more general sense. There are, then, in the symbol two terms to be distinguished: first, the meaning, and, secondly, the expression. The first is a conception of the mind; the second, a sensuous phenomenon, an image which address itself to the senses.

Thus the symbol is a sign, but it is distinguished from the signs of language in this: that between the image and the idea which it represents, there is a relation which is natural, not arbitrary or conventional. It is thus that the lion is the symbol of courage, the circle of eternity, the triangle of the trinity.

Still, the symbol does not represent the idea perfectly, but only from a single side. The lion is not merely courageous, the fox cunning. Whence it follows that the symbol, having many meanings, is equivocal. This ambiguity ceases only when the two terms are first conceived separately and then in combination; the symbol then gives place to comparison...."

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Hegel's Lectures on Aesthetics

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Hegel: Aesthetics