After the Beautiful: Hegel and the Philosophy of Pictorial Modernism (Paperback)
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In his Berlin lectures on fine art, Hegel argued that art involves a unique form of aesthetic intelligibility—the expression of a distinct collective self-understanding that develops through historical time. Hegel’s approach to art has been influential in a number of different contexts, but in a twist of historical irony Hegel would die just before the most radical artistic revolution in history: modernism. In After the Beautiful, Robert B. Pippin, looking at modernist paintings by artists such as Édouard Manet and Paul Cézanne through Hegel’s lens, does what Hegel never had the chance to do.
While Hegel could never engage modernist painting, he did have an understanding of modernity, and in it, art—he famously asserted—was “a thing of the past,” no longer an important vehicle of self-understanding and no longer an indispensable expression of human meaning. Pippin offers a sophisticated exploration of Hegel’s position and its implications. He also shows that had Hegel known how the social institutions of his day would ultimately fail to achieve his own version of genuine equality, a mutuality of recognition, he would have had to explore a different, new role for art in modernity. After laying this groundwork, Pippin goes on to illuminate the dimensions of Hegel’s aesthetic approach in the path-breaking works of Manet, the “grandfather of modernism,” drawing on art historians T. J. Clark and Michael Fried to do so. He concludes with a look at Cézanne, the “father of modernism,” this time as his works illuminate the relationship between Hegel and the philosopher who would challenge Hegel’s account of both modernity and art—Martin Heidegger.
Elegantly inter-weaving philosophy and art history, After the Beautiful is a stunning reassessment of the modernist project. It gets at the core of the significance of modernism itself and what it means in general for art to have a history. Ultimately, it is a testament, via Hegel, to the distinctive philosophical achievements of modernist art in the unsettled, tumultuous era we have inherited.
About the Author
Robert B. Pippin is the Evelyn Stefansson Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, the Department of Philosophy, and the College at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books, including Nietzsche, Psychology, and First Philosophy and Interanimations, both also published by the University of Chicago Press.
“In his engaging, innovative study, Pippin uses the work of Manet and Cezanne (the grandfather and father of modernism) to embark on a kind of philosophical time travel with Hegel. Pippin persuasively argues that Hegel’s thought remains relevant for helping one understand the achievements of modernist painting as philosophical achievements. . . . The theoretical and historical sweep of Pippin’s study is impressive and delightfully illuminating. . . . Highly recommended.”
— E. Millán
“After the Beautiful is a strikingly original contribution to the debate on the relevance of Hegel’s Aesthetics to the contemporary world, and not just the art world. Taking a modified Hegelian approach shorn of metaphysical commitments, the author seeks to shed light on the ‘crisis’ of modernism: how art might perhaps make sense—both intelligible and felt sense—of a senseless, disjointed reality. Through subtle readings of texts and artworks, Robert B. Pippin brings out the need to interpret art as a mode of address, as communication in a society that puts communicability in question. This is a challenging book, which brings Hegel to life in unexpected ways.”
— Martin Donougho, University of South Carolina
“There is a fair amount of philosophical literature about whether Hegel could accommodate modern, post-1840s art within his philosophy, but that field usually divides into the ‘Yes, he can,’ and ‘No, he cannot’ camps. Both camps generally argue on the basis of canonical Hegelian texts, differing only on the implications they draw from those texts. In After the Beautiful, however, the historical Hegel himself is drawn into criticism under Robert B. Pippin’s contemporary interpretation—called to alter his original account in certain key areas if he is to stay true to his original program. This is a very ambitious way of doing philosophy, and Pippin pulls it off very well.”
— Terry Pinkard, Georgetown University
“From the first contemporary commentaries on Édouard Manet to the most sophisticated art historical interpretations, the critical response to modernist painting has always suffered from a mismatch between aesthetic and social accounts of its nature. Robert B. Pippin’s new book offers nothing less than a compelling argument overcoming this dualism. His philosophical reconstruction of the history of art from Manet to Cézanne demonstrates forcefully that in modernist painting the most unsettling question of modern life found expression: whether a meaningful social practice is conceivable.”
— Ralph Ubl, University of Basel