Group Questions

According to YOU and/or to Pippin and/or to Houlgate and/or to Hegel:

 Group 1:

How might the modern world—either Hegel’s or our time, or both—be considered prosaic and unheroic?

Is there mystery in modernist art? Was there in trad art? Why is this even a question in relation to Pippin and Hegel?

How does this relate to Pippin’s thoughts on Hegel’s “The End of Art” Thesis?

What do you think of it?

Group 2:

Why does our and or Hegel’s time need a philosophy of art? And why wouldn’t traditional art need its own philosophy?

Is art more intellectual now?—I.e., is abstract painting or more contemporary art less or more contentful, or neither, than trad art? How if at all, are they different in content? Or is it just their form that differs?

What are the pros and/or cons of engaging abstract painting without any philosophical background, and of philosophically engaging abstract painting?

Group 3:

Why and how would abstract painting be adequate in its own time (WWI & WWII—you can treat them separately or together)?

Is it true that traditional art is in adequate for us (i.e. now)?

Is there any relationship between its (possible) inadequacy and art’s secularism, vs. trad. art’s role in society and its religious functions?

Is the divine still in art today?


Kazemir Malevich, “Suprematist Composition: Airpline Flying” (1915), Pippin pg. 1


In the midst of painterly abstraction taking full international swing during the early twentieth century, artists in Russian developed novel experiments in art of the avant-garde, inaugurating new, architectonic visuals of Modernism. In the style of Russian Suprematism, Kazemir Malevich rejected the conventions of representational painting and turned to complete abstraction as a mode of realizing realism, not in the figurative sense, but in terms of its most “real,” fundamental components that define it as painting. For Malevich, this toolbox consisted of color, line, and brushwork–elements best understood through juxtapositions and overlays of solid-colored, two-dimensional geometric forms. Malevich’s white backgrounds represented the “boundless space of the ideal.”

Robert Pippin invokes the example of a painting by Malevich in order to introduce the emergence of abstract part in the early part of the twentieth century in the context of its production, appreciation, and commodification (1). For Pippin, the art of Malevich demonstrates self-conscious reflexive on what it is to paint, what painting is, and painting that answers these questions. He attributes to Hegel the idea that abstraction may be a logical culmination of modernist self-consciousness, elaborating on this concept to posit the the necessity of “non-image-based art” in the service of human spirit (Pippin 2).




MoMA Website:

Robert Pippin, “What was abstract art?”

Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), Woman and Bicycle, 1952–53


This work of de Kooning is somewhat unique for its genre in that it is highly abstract but maintains the form of a recognizable subject. Here, de Kooning is able to bring out intense emotions in the work but does not reduce the piece to the point that it is no longer representational. De Kooning is quoted as saying. “I’m not interested in ‘abstracting’ or taking things out or reducing painting to design, form, line, and color. I paint this way because I can keep putting more things in it–drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space. Through your eyes it again becomes an emotion or idea.”

This work is highly aggressive, even sinister, despite its typically anodyne subject. There is almost something satirical about the piece. The paintings “garish” color palette and the woman’s caricatured features have the effect of mocking the subject and challenging the viewer.

When describing his opinion on other 20th century art de Kooning said that, “Of all movements, I like Cubism most. It had that wonderful unsure atmosphere of reflection …. And then there is that one man movement: Marcel Duchamp – for me a truly modern movement because it that each artist can do what he thinks he ought to – a movement for each person and open for everybody.”



Sources: A History of Western Art (Adams, Laurie) / Whitney Museum of American Art



Piet Mondrian-Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow


This piece by Mondrian was painted in 1930. Piet Mondrian is a Dutch artist, well-known for his simple abstractions. His works are cited as depicting the “spirituality of nature.” Mondrian’s emphasis on nature may, to Hegel, may detract from its worth as an abstract piece (10 Pippin). Hegel was not interested in “the beauty of nature” (9). His disinterest in nature was due to his belief that liberation came from human’s ability to depart from the “imprisonment of nature” (11). Art was to be seen as a means to self-educate the human about itself (8). Art expressed the human’s divinity, outside of natural senses (8).

Hegel may have appreciated Mondrian’s piece because it does not look like a landscape or any identifiable form of nature (10). It is not representative of anything sensuous such as a dog or heart (6). It does, however, convey expression (8). Hegel claims “representational art cannot adequately express the full subjectivity of experience” (19). Abstraction frees the artist to express her subjectivity (20).


Portrait of an old woman, Balthasar Denner (Houlgate,68)


Balthasar Denner was a German painter born in 1685 Hamburg. He was a miniaturist but became famous for his portraits of people within many European courts, from which he received great praise and acclaim. Hegel believes that paintings should represent and “manifest the human spirit” on a canvas through color, detail, and expressions, particularly paintings of people. Paintings in particular, according to Hegel, must portray human beings and natural things to attest to this human spirit and project what he calls an “inner subjectivity”, and not in an effort to mimic people and natural everyday objects. He mentions Denner’s work as a great example of what painting should be in terms of portrait; that it should depict the liveliness and spirit of its subject with more than just the use of a few imitative details. Hegel believes that the whole purpose of portrait is to, through individual strokes, facial expression and gestures, have the ability to have the subjects spirit within show through the image itself.

Jackson Pollock: “Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952”

Blue Poles was painted towards the end of Jackson Pollock’s career after he has had much practice with his drip method.  People say he had mastered this technique by this point in time and this can be conducive to considering art.  He uses random objects to splatter the paint, but here we can see how detailed it appears to be in depth and design.  Pollock said that these paintings not only reflected the realms of unconscious experience but also responded to contemporary life. As he stated: “The modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any past culture”.

Pippin insists that Hegelian logic would say that Pollocks painting is not called abstract art because the style is the abstraction of everything that was not intrinsic to art as such, but rather there is abstraction from dependence on sensual immediacy and so a kind of enactment of the modernist take on normativity.  This means that Pippin is against Greenberg’s interpretation of Hegel’s theory that says that abstract art is reductionist and materialist.  That is to say that that Pollocks drip paintings are not presenting paint and colors and form, but instead, they conceptualize the way that the artist saw art.  The way that the freedom in art has to stray from traditional forms of nature or humans or even objects and allows for unique interpretations. (Pippin 23)

Rothko-“Blue and Grey”, 1962


Mark Rothko created “Blue and Grey” in 1962 as part of a collection of works referred to as “color field paintings”. His intention in creating these pieces was to evoke metaphysical emotion which he referred to as “the sublime”. Rothko did not consider himself an “abstractionist” or a “colorist”, despite the formal and color-based elements of the paintings. Insisted he suggested that his painting were meant to depict human emotions such as “tragedy, ecstasy, doom”, and create the closest relationship between the idea and the observer.  Early in his career, Rothko was influenced by expressionism and surrealism before arriving at this style which he would continue to create through out his career. Rothko was greatly influenced by philosophy, particularly Nietzsche, and believed in artistic freedom of expression.

According to Pippin, Rothko’s paintings would “matter” to Hegel. Since Hegel’s aesthetic theory is historical, he would probably say that Rothko’s paintings capture and represent the time in which they were made. Despite being non-representational,  Rothko’s paintings were highly conceptual, which is a huge criteria for Hegel (pgs.22-23).


The Stonebreakers – Gustave Courbet (Houlgate 73)

Gustave Courbet was born in France in 1819 and is considered a leader of the realism movement in painting. His works were a break from the norm and were not easily accepted by the establishment at the time in part because of his dull use of colors and everyday scenes that the paintings depicted. Courbet used this intentionally as a way to express exactly what he saw and to draw attention to contemporary social issues in France.

The painting “The Stonebreakers” is one of Courbet’s earlier works painted in 1849. The painting uses dull muted colors which is apparent in the people of the painting, it depicts two men laboring on the countryside, breaking stone who are facing away from view and whose faces almost blend into the dark background. This suggests a sense of hopelessness in the situation of the laborers as being products of their environment as they literally almost become a part of the background. The brightest color is the blue of the sky in the top right corner of the painting which is almost barely visible and out of reach of the men. Courbet was trying to convey the plight of these workers as he saw it, not an idealized version.

When discussing Courbet, Houlgate refers to Greenberg’s idea that the way modernist painting distinguishes itself is through its ability to create space on a two dimensional plane.(73) From Hegel’s point of view Greenberg fails to see the importance of painting taking our attention to what is “ultimately immaterial” (74) through the material, and fails to recognize the importance of the painter giving “concrete expression to subjectivity and life through naturalistic illusion”. (75) In Stonebreakers Courbet provides naturalistic illusion through his dark use of colors and perspective of the sky to allow for subjectivity on the situation of the laborers.

Sources :

Pablo Picasso- Grapes and Violin (Pippin, Pg 22 on Cubism)

Grapes and Violin by Pablo Picasso is archetypical of the Cubism style developed by Picasso and Georges Braques. Picasso and Braques developed the Cubist style of painting in 1912 while sharing a summerhouse in Sorgues. Turning away from both the traditional artistic tecniques of perspective and shading, as well as the historically mimetic conception of art as copying nature, Cubism embraced the two-dimensionality of the canvas. Only by exploring and embracing the two-dimensionality of the canvas are Cubist artists able to capture the fundamental essence of the painting’s object insofar as a Cubist painting, however distorted it might be, still can be said to elicit in the audience an image of the painting’s subject matter.


Put another way, the cubist painting I chose, Grapes and Violin, can be said to capture the essence of a violin by revealing to the audience the visage of a violin out of the distorted vestiges of such an instrument. I think Pippin would be fond of this piece of art and Cubism more broadly because it fits Pippin’s definition of abstract art perfectly. That is to say, Pippin contends that abstract art is about exploring the freedom of intersubjectivity; that a good piece of abstract art is ultimately attempting to capture the myriad of perspectives one could take towards the modern condition of life, and that the direct representiality of the piece of art is of little significance. As Pippin himself puts it on page 22, “painterly and indeed sensible representations cannot be understood on some sort of mimetic model of seeing through the image (or sensation) to the object itself and that, without the work of (historically variable) meaning making in perception, the constituents of meaning are shapes, borders, dots, frames, and so forth.”

Madonna of Chancellor Rolin by Jan van Eyck


The Madonna of Chancellor Rolin is an oil painting dated back to around 1435 by Jan van Eyck. A majority of Jan van Eyck’s artwork is influenced heavily by religion. He had many painting including the Virgin Mary. Eyck was the most influential painter at this time. It was commissioned by Nicolas Rolin, the duke of Burgundy and was hung in the Saint Sebastian chapel in the church of Autun until 1793. It has been stored in the Louvre since 1805. The painting depicts the chancellor kneeling before the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. Mary is also being crowned by an angel.

According to Houlgate’s interpretation of Hegel’s philosophy of art, “The form of spiritual inwardness that can best find expression in painting…the highest form of which is the feeling of love” (p. 69). Hegel acknowledges painting depicting christian figures like Mary, Jesus, the Apostles, and others are the purest form of expressing religious love and devotion.