Thursday, May 10, 2018

Schiller on Art and Freedom

Friedrich Schiller believed that political liberty cannot be achieved until there is an inner transformation of the population, and the traditional way of thinking is countered, through exposure to magnificent works of art. Here’s an excerpt from his “Second Letter,” (On The Aesthetic Education of Man):
But this voice does not seem to favor art; at least not the kind of art to which my study will be devoted. The course of events has lent the spirit of the age a direction that threatens to render the art of the ideal ever more  remote from this spirit. This art has to leave the realm of reality, and with proper audacity elevate itself above simple need; for art is a daughter of freedom, responding not to the demands of matter, but to the necessity in our minds. For the present, need prevails, and bends a sunken humanity to its tyrannical yoke. Utility is the great idol of the age, to which all powers are in thrall and all talent must pay homage. On this code scale the spiritual virtues of art have no weight and, bereft of all encouragement, it disappears from the tumultuous market of our century. The spirit of philosophical inquiry strips the power of imagination from one province after another; the borders of art shrink as science extends its bounds. 
However, Schiller was a witness to the terror and brutal slaughter that got unleashed during the French Revolution and therefore he insists in the final lines of the “Second Letter” that the political problem can only be solved by taking the aesthetic path—“for it is by the way of beauty that one approaches liberty.”
I hope to convince you that this matter is far less alien to the needs of the age than it is to its taste; and that if one is to resolve this political problem one must in practice take the aesthetic path, for it is by way of beauty that one approaches liberty. This proof cannot be made, however, without my reminding you of the principles by which the exercise of reason is guided in the work of political legislation. 
Schiller has attacked Immanuel Kant on a number of issues, but he was deeply influenced by the Kantian aesthetic philosophy. His view of art providing an intellectual and moral direction to political liberty is in line with what Kant has preached in The Critique of Judgement.

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