THE MONK BY THE SEA

Subject: Art
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 15
Word count: 3975
Topics: Art History, Enlightenment, Painting, Romanticism
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The word ‘sublime’ is utilized these days colloquially as an elusive superlative. But, in specific in the realms of literary studies, philosophy, cultural criticism or art history, it has numerous meanings. It can be used to denote to the numinous, the uplifting, the transcendent or the ecstatic. It is very significant that the definition of sublime is dualistic; it incorporates both the object and its subject, that is, it integrates both the thing and the viewer. The term “Sublime” is both a qualitative and an experience term. Thus, it necessitates both an epistemological as well as phenomenological analysis. The definition of “sublime” has evolved in history and it has been defined different by various scholars. This paper will delve into the study of Caspar David Friedrich’s painting “The monk by the sea” in light of the theory of the sublime in art and philosophy. It will further delve into the various artistic works of Friedrich and discuss his various artistic works in light of the theory of sublime in art and philosophy as an aspect of Romanticism painting.

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The concept of ‘the Sublime’ has been debated throughout history with intellectuals like Longinus anticipating it from the first century. In the eighteenth century, we see it come back into a popular culture where it becomes what is now termed as a ‘discourse’ on the sublime. Enthused by the Romantic poetry of Keats and Milton, the works of Shelly as well as the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich it as well becomes associated with views of political and civil intervention. We are presented to it regarding terror and violence as well as lofty aspirations and divinity. Anthony Haden-Guest asserts in an essay collection named Sticky Sublime, that “Sublime has been pretty much emptied of meaning as a word these days like brilliant, and fabulous, and awesome, and relegated to party chat as in this peach mousse, sublime.”

German romanticism is by tradition regarded as providing an “artistic” continuance of the problem of the sublime which had been thoughtfully expounded by Kant concerning the aesthetic experience of nature. Far from basically being its superlative, according to Kant the sublime is conceptually opposed to the beautiful; and sternly speaking it is not empirically in nature itself. As examined in the Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790), the sublime brings to light a boundary that is “mathematical” as well as “dynamic,” i.e., both theoretical and practical, regarding the ability of the individual to openly access whatever exceeds the sensible world. The Kantian sublime, more specifically, is the designation for that understanding of realizing a limit when the fancy as a power of intuitive presentation is challenged with metaphysical or the supersensible. Therefore, in the artistic experience of nature, Mother Nature as the notion of the absolute whole exceeds the limits of our degree of understanding in one intuition. This is exceeded the impression of the world about the power of representation causes us primarily some distress, a sensation of displeasure on the justification of the inhibition of our vibrant forces. This contradictory association between reason and imagination is what fundamentally separates (in essence) the sublime and the beautiful. For the second is only the basis of a feeling of liking as a result of harmonious consensus between the imagination and the understanding when thinking of the practical forms of nature. If Kant contemplates the feeling of the sublime adversely from the ‘sensibility’ point of view, then its precise positivity is to be found in the position that the sensation of the sublime increases our way of thinking from sensibility to the concepts of reason. Aesthetically, it opens up the human mind to a realization of itself as well as accustoms us to contemplate our rational nature as well as proper determination. Perhaps we catch ourselves discerning the latter more in the “dynamic sublime,” which Kant defines very well as the experience of our physical finitude when confronted with the wrath of nature as a pure force.

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However, the romantic sublime is not a novel topic for research, the discussion over the sublime in the logical reception of Caspar David Friedrich is quite far from settled. Casper Friedrich’s paintings embodied the unique experience of the sublime because all his works sought to capture the experiences of the infinite, of which is artistic works sought to confront the viewer directly with a specific aura of awesomeness.  For his work, Friedrich combines the landscape painting genre, which had been traditionally regarded as unimportant and infused the concept with deep spiritual and religious significance.  As such, his conception of the sublime shows that with the belief on the majesty of the natural world to reflect God’s magnificence, this is featured using foggy expanses and sunlight vistas to relay the impressive power of the divinity or religious piety of which he sought to express through the painting.    Anthony Haden-Guest asserts in an essay collection named Sticky Sublime, that “Sublime has been pretty much emptied of meaning as a word these days like brilliant, and fabulous, and awesome, and relegated to party chat as in this peach mousse, sublime.”

The debate about the applicability of the idea of the sublime to his paintings cannot be overlooked, because it raises a significant question of principle. Three vital explanatory tendencies may be pulled out.

First, it is the idea of infinity that appears fundamental to various commentators: the art of Friedrich of painting visually provides the viewer the impression of this “absolutely large” that establishes the “mathematical sublime” in Kant as well as high points, by contrast, the smallness of all aesthetic conception and our existential smallness.5 An example which is often cited is the Monk by the Sea, where the sky inhabits three-quarters of the structure and where the lack of elements outlining the perspective additionally gives the impress of an infinite lateral extension like the one found in a panoramic view. Furthermore, the symbol of the monk himself is considerably smaller and virtually disappears in this space as compared to the comparatively imposing figure of the wanderer in the focus of the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog. Beside this infinity of space, the paintings of Friedrich show emptiness that is the outstanding of the form, the fluidity of the unequivocally large, as contrasting to formal perfection as in the event of the beautiful. Conferring to these analysts, over and beyond the vanishing of all representation of Friedrich’s art also illustrates the insufficiency of all representation, since it has the formal uniqueness of making some perceptual inconsistency within the description itself. This core misrepresentation underlines the bounds of the imagination in its effort to reabsorb the world into an image. Thus, it is required to demonstrate the Kantian thesis that the whole as an indication of cause is unpresentable in intuition.

To reply to these urgings, the second camp of interpreters’ argue that an individual can help solitarily speak of the sublime in the sense of the Kantian as long as that there is a mention to morality.7 An intuition that suggests the indication of the infinite in itself is not sublime. This means that there has to be the thought of one’s rationality which overwhelms an individual’s subjective determination. However, this stable outlook on the horizon of a social as well as a political community is likely to vanish once we enter the religious world of art of Friedrich. For the second camp, the sublime fades from Friedrich’s paintings to become beautiful. In philosophical standings, this is not the Kantian perception of the beautiful but the Neoplatonic or the Platonic idea of beauty, i.e., a geometrical or mathematical beauty where the sensible forms take part in the idealist of the pure forms transcending being.

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Regardless of this antinomy between the Platonic or Neoplatonic beauty and the Kantian sublime leading the literature, some experts of philosophical romanticism have tried to shadow a third interpretative path. This view borrows the thought of chaos in the intellect of Schelling and Friedrich Schlegel to recommend an immanently romantic interpretation of the sublime in Caspar David Friedrich.

Caspar David Friedrich is the Romantic painter utmost naturally linked with religion and the Sublime. Friedrich hail from the school of thought that an individual should endeavor to concentrate what one saw as faithfully as conceivable, however, he also felt that an encounter with nature was a symbol for a religious experience in which the probability of death and the hopefulness of eternal life to come were intertwined. Mostly, Friedrich’s anticipated meaning in his paintings was mysterious. This was not only the mistake of the public, then Friedrich was powerfully against displaying his most familiar spirits to the casual observer. Friedrich’s most Sublime religious painting, and regarded by some as his most radical, is The Monk by the Sea, painted in 1809. Founded upon the concept that the addition of God adds to the sublimity of a painting, the work is as well filled with a sense of boundlessness, vastness, and, as per one critic, an apocalyptic imprint.

Detail of the Monk by the Sea by Caspar David Friedrich. Retrieved from: https://whatisonthewall.com/home-1/2017/8/28/masterpiece-monday-monk-by-the-sea. 5th July 2018.

In this portrait, Friedrich’s lack of attentiveness in the established rules of landscape painting is taken to a different level. It lacks any intellect of perspective or depth. The big expanse of the sky occupies a significant part of the picture plane, and the small lonely figure of the monk looks even smaller when seen beside the massive world. The Monk, with whom Friedrich anticipated his viewers to recognize, feels very small as he considers the vastness of the universe.

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The concept of the sublime is equally seen and evident in Friedrich’s painting, the monk by sea. There is the embodiment of the sublime of which his idea and representation of moody landscape is visible, a technique he always uses in thrusting the viewer into nature’s wilderness thereby creating an emotional connection with the viewer as opposed the little literal interaction with the surrounding or the scene.  The Monk by the Sea, as a painting shows this element of sublime through the natural world, mainly how he uses a horizontal line unusually low as well as stretching uninterrupted from the entire ends of the canvas (from end to end). The natural wilderness is also portrayed by the dark blue sea which is flecked with white giving the impression that there is the raging threat of a storm.  Conversely, above the painting is the turbulent middle areas which are portrayed by the blue-grey clouds whose trajectory gather towards the upper end thereby providing calmer and brighter blue.  Friedrich achieves sublime in his painting by the transition from one end to the other using the scumbling technique whereby one unique is embedded in thin layers on each other as a way of creating or providing the ill-defined and hazy effect.  From this, the connection with the infinite is achieved, which resonates with the sublime theory and even portraying how Friedrich incorporated spiritual significance into landscape painting and as such, making his works popular.

A long way from passing on the infamous philosophical style of the sublime rather than the beautiful in the custom of Burke and Kant, the expression “sublime” in this entry adds up to a grateful metaphor, that is, to a superlative of the beautiful. It is likewise apparent from this section Friedrich comprehends the artistic sublime as far as its aesthetic effect: the artistic sublime is the thing that delivers the most intense impact. One could call this a great degree cliché and constrained idea of the grand, for to create an effect is the objective of all arts. Notwithstanding, as we will see, it is unequivocally this emphasis on the impact that constitutes a right aesthetics here, and not only a hyperbolic appreciation. In the scholastic neoclassical custom, as displayed outstandingly by Goethe, the highest aesthetic impact of work relies upon the intrinsic subject of its topic. Ordinary items don’t contain any thought. Conventional regular objects are by and large just viewed by their physical or visual viewpoint, and at times maybe as items equipped for empowering a feeling in us, yet one that is itself common. To become an essential element as well as to develop the whole probable aesthetic range, the object of a dramatic demonstration ought to be an ideal object that the artist can’t only find given skill.

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For Friedrich, interestingly, all realism is substantially a priority. In his compositions the expression “significant” ought to for sure be taken truly, that is, in its essential importance as connotation it assigns something that seems to be “an indication for something unique,” something that alludes to something else that is outside to itself; i.e., something transcending it. Subsequently, a thing turns into a sign by having a connection to something else. In abstract painting, a stable and standard object of the real world may wind up critical, suggestive, or imperative when it is comprehended or put into connection with something theoretical, imperceptible, and insignificant-in short, with to some degree spiritual. This is the center of Friedrich’s religious origination of the world: the manifestation, the word made flesh or the New Testament as the age of sensible intervention. It ought not to be overlooked that the sentimental painter was raised in the pietistic confidence and creative ability; he put stock in the Incarnation of God in the body of the Son as well as in the holy observance of the Eucharist. It is decisively this association of the divine logos and sensible flesh in the manifestation that the Tetschen Altarpiece (1808) commends, a milestone painting thought to be a pronouncement of his pictorial origination.

Thus, in Friedrich’s perspective of landscape painting, as the artistic portrayal of nature as divine creation, it doesn’t make a difference if the represented objected is a “trivial” or an “elevated” objected. This progressive system does not hold any longer. What is fundamental, be that as it may, concerns the human relationship to divine creation in the sense where the individual is no longer in an immediate connection to the latter and has moved far from the first totality of its significance. In Friedrich’s eyes, this is the place craftsmanship becomes an integral factor, for artistry is endowed with the likelihood of recovering the first importance by outfitting the vital intervention amongst man. And that extraordinary protest outperforming man: the ordinary grand, the regular world as an unending, infinite request (e.g., the sky, the ocean, and the shore, which in the Monk by the Sea can’t be mulled over as totalities). Or, what adds up to a similar thing, the divine sublime, because the world is seen from the viewpoint of divine creation.

Art functions as a mediator between nature and man. The archetype is too broad as well as too sublime to be clutched by the masses. Its reflection, the work of man, is much more accessible to the weak.

Therefore, the artistic sublime is a method for this expressed goal of art. Its physical description in the earlier entry demonstrates that the aesthetic sublime is the idea that most openly deals with the interiority of the subject. It’s anything but an issue of any poignancy or nostalgia yet of the otherworldly quality of the influence that can move the spirit effectively, “profoundly,” as well as “personally.” That is to say, the artistic sublime relates to art’s active virtue of reinforcing the relationship between the created and the Creator by way of a more straight feeling, experienced in the interiority as the summit point of two worlds, the spiritual and the corporal, the intelligible and the sensible. That is to say, in the strict sense, Friedrich regards the artistic sublime as the religious efficacy of art.

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Taking a look at the typical treatment of this somewhat uncomplicated view of the sublime. So far we have realized that sublime grandeur is not associated to the status of the subjects but the intensity of influence devoted to the subject and that the extreme effect of the painting does not only depend on upon visually impressive hyperbolic grandeur. Undeniably, the point that Caspar David Friedrich most stresses are the figurative simplicity of the sublime.  And I do not necessarily mean here towering mountains or endless abysses and a little later in the same text. This does not imply at all that it must necessarily be some unique region, e.g., a large Swiss mountain or the boundless sea; but a simple wheat field would suffice, or even a more straightforward object, but one that is still dignified.” Thus, in painting his abstract landscapes, Friedrich admits the risk of appearing rudimentary. Rocks, trees, deserted seashores, a “simple wheat field,” “or even a simpler object,” like the sandbanks of the Elbe riverbed northwest of Dresden under dusk skies as demonstrated. All are signifiers presented to the artist for a new visualizing of nature, and he is modest enough to be content with them.

Notwithstanding, what precisely decides the more prominent or lesser quality of these artworks? The entirely quantitative and geometrical parts of the picture (in other words, the spatial structures of size, scale, and plans) can’t be the sole vehicle of the sublime. On the off chance that the sublime is comprehended as what disgracefully fortifies the colossal excellence of nature and influences us to end up mindful of it, at that point the figuration or picture requires an extra subjective element. This is its perceptual measurement that is identified with both permeability and time. With a specific end goal to make an ever more profound power of feeling in the personal circle of the subject. And not exclusively at the physical level of sensation, Friedrich utilizes two first devices (among others).  A sublime of scale where scale is not merely a quantifiable approximation of magnitude; and a sublime that acts on the dual modality of perceptibility—either opacity or transparency. For it has to be noted that the subject of vision is twofold in Friedrich: it is an inward and external view.

The painting of Friedrich entitled Fog (1807) perfectly demonstrates this point: in its great figurative straightforwardness it rouses our desire to see the fog-enshrouded three-masted boat that is behind the boat rowing in the front, at that point to see the distant coast behind the sailboat, and then once more maybe to sight the horizon behind the distant shore. However, this desire is not aroused in “those whose imagination is too poor to see in fog anything other than gray.” This prominence of desire describes the Friedrichian sublime; it obliges a positive attitude or state of mind on the part of the observer and rouses a dynamic emotional response to the painting. Friedrich is powerfully opposed to the art of illusion, since the latter simply passively dazzles the viewer, and prevents her from actively exercising this close activity.

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In this part, I would like to draw attention to the reinterpretation of Anish on Friedrich’s Sea of Ice (1824), which, together with the Monk by the Sea as well as the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, is regarded by critics as one of the most significant illustrations of the sublime in Friedrich. The Kantian idea of a “dynamic” and frightening sublime is often applied to the Sea of Ice. However, it is precisely this painting that gives the finest illustration of what makes the art of  Friedrich the sublime fundamentally different from the Kantian analysis.

At an initial glance, this image also referred to as The Wreck of Hope and appears to be a plot idea, a shipwreck, enthused by a real-life voyage to the North Pole in 1819–1820. Nevertheless, an image arises here in which the sublime experience don’t reside anymore in the tension of Kant’s “dynamic sublime” which is typical of devastating paintings. From the perspective of  Kantian, the resolution of this tension encompasses concrete human rationality. Contrary, Friedrich’s painting conveys out a relocating to nature. Swallowed by ice, the ship itself is hardly observable, while the loaded blocks of ice substantially take over the center of the confirmation. Or more specifically, the photo displays the fragmentation of a ship whose wreckage intermingles with natural forms. However, this image is even more exclusive and disturbing if one remembers that all human benchmark does not, in fact, vanish entirely. The work consist of the presence of a discerning subject, yet one that is not represented. The picture unfolds under this observation and gives it a very intimate nuance. The sublime experience be inherent in in a discreet as well as oneiric vision of a natural time, an archaic and a cosmic time which is faced to the time of history, a natural time in its essential processes: the solidification of water to form ice, and/or the petrifaction of the ice in the forefront that slowly takes on the colour of rock. This basic matter is marked and borne by the temporality of its formation. It is a deliberate, minute movement that edges upon immobility of the movement of a sea of ice.

The work of Kapoor, however, provides a diverse treatment of the sublime: I think the real topic for me, is sublime. It’s this entire idea of somehow trying to cut the distance of sublime experience. Thus, if an individual is viewing at a Friedrich painting of the image looking at the end of the day, then one is having one’s daydream regarding their skill. I desire to create that distance smaller so that the reverie is straight. You’re not looking someone else does it. You’re forced to do it yourself. In other words, Kapoor purposes at getting rid of one of the very symbols of Caspar David Friedrich’s art, the image with its back turned to the viewer, such as in the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog.

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As discussed above, there is a threefold sublime in Caspar David Friedrich: a natural, divine, and artistic sublime. His art of landscape painting tries to make the surplus of the cosmic and divine sublime turn out to be noticeable within the framed space of a canvas. Also, it aims at inspiring the spirit of the viewer. But if an individual remains at an explanation of Friedrich’s portrait regarding the Kantian sublime, one fails to realize how his interpretation of the sublime cannot be shortened to one of hyperbolic grandeur exceeding the form. Also, if one only put stress on the transcendence, the distance and incommensurability amid the divine cosmic and the human order, one ignores the aim of the artistic sublime. The latter pursues to stir the viewer’s emotive as well as creative participation and to minimize the distance between divine cosmic order and human order. While the Kantian sublime articulates a radical dualism and tension between the intelligible and the sensible, in the religious view of Friedrich’s art the physical and the spiritual contrast, however, are not opposed. They are complementary rather than antagonistic, and the entire point of his painting is to make us a link and not separate them. Therefore, assertions that the experience of the sublime cannot be resolved with the supernatural natural ability of Friedrich’s paintings fail to comprehend that their religious vocation, in fact, depends on the sublime.

It might be debated that art that speaks the aims and soul at a recognition of the consecrated is now dated historically. However, without looking for to eradicate the actual distance amid his epoch and ours, Friedrich’s views give artistic standpoints that are still significant for modern artists as well as theoreticians of art. The utilization of scale to liberate space, perceptual opaqueness to inspire both our inner and outer sight, besides, above all, as a simplification of the work of art.

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  12. Christina, Mullan. Introduction to Sublime. [Online]. Retrieved from: https://christinamullan.weebly.com/the-sublime.html. Accessed 5th July 2018.
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