Natural Beauty and Art Beauty: Kant, Hegel and Adorno revisited

Essay, 2011

12 Pages, Grade: A+




Marcio Hemerique Pereira

Birkbeck College

University of London

[...] The true purpose of painting is to represent objects as they really are; that is to say, differently from the way we see them. It tends always to give us their sensible essence, their presence, this is why the image it forms does not resemble their appearance [...][1]

The present essay proposes to compare and contrast the relationship between natural beauty and art beauty as it is conceived by Kant, Hegel and Adorno.[2] Exploring these forms intrinsically attached to public and private concerns of the Aesthetics Theory, I will try to go beyond the author’s texts and understand, if not explore, what they intended to say to the society and the implications it had in our society after that. Equally important, relate their works in Aesthetics and inside-out world. Finally, the essay tangles the different efforts of the writers when using representative forms of speech and what considers being a more viable and broader definition of that Aesthetics.

Natural Beauty and Art Beauty

Beauty is an element which gives pleasure to the human beings. The concept of beauty is found in different cultures with a lot of features.[3] Hegel, Adorno and Kant were great modern philosophers with their concepts on Beauty of Art and Beauty of Nature. Hegelian philosophy declares that true beautiful is divine creature in material shape that finds out beauty in fine art and he keeps out the beauty of nature. Aftermath of Kant, the concept of natural beautiful is turned down mainly because of the arguments of Hegel for the beauty of art. He affirms that a simple art work pass through individuals mind is superior to any creation of nature. Adorno considers realistic beauty happens through the ability of a person to access the object in its distinctiveness. He was inspired by Kant so one can see this influence in his notion. Adorno acquired some support from Kant for his idea of beauty.

However Adorno, says that there is an evil star hangs over the concept of natural beauty. Kant claims that the beautiful should recognize with purposive, but not any specific purpose. But art works have definite purposes given by the artists while their production, that is, beauty is the spirit forms through the judgment of mind.[4]

The discussion on the relation between artistic beauty and natural beauty started from the time of the ‘ Critique of Judgment’ introduced by Immanuel Kant. Nature plays an imperative role in his explanation of beauty. Philosophical suggestions on the art and nature were shifted in the direction of a philosophy of fine art mainly by the arguments put forwarded by the German philosopher Hegel. Kant claimed that the superior structure of beauty is free and self-regulating[5] but Hegel persisted that, to obvious beauty of art is superior to all that is exterior. He used the possibilities of spiritual elements with his scientific view point to define beauty. By a reasonable scientific treatment, his spiritualization of content keeps out the natural beauty. One can see same attitude in the writings of Kant and Hegel but it only in their hierarchical arrangement that consider the relation connecting natural beauty and artistic beauty. Kant considered natural beauty as greater than artificial beauty but according to Hegel the beauty of art is better than the beauty of nature. At the same time 20th century philosopher Theodor W. Adorno, changed their hierarchies related with the idea of beauty. Ástráður Eysteinsson and Vivian Liska, for instance, pointed out that, “Adorno occupies a modernist position in the area of aesthetics because he breaks Hegel’s ideals of artistic harmony” (Eysteinsson, 2004, p.144). In his ‘ Aesthetic Theory,’ Adorno explains that natural beauty is not a superior one over artistic beauty. He argues that natural beauty is a prerequisite for the positive treatment of artistic beauty. Adorno recognizes the aesthetic skill of nature and also positively consider aesthetic experience of art works. Thus he made a synthesis between Kant and Hegel to clearly define the concept of beauty. In short Adorno’s attempt was to avoid the bias of Kant and Hegel towards the realization of beauty.

Aesthetics concept of Hegel is regarded as one of the greatest theories made after Aristotle. Like other many German philosophers Hegel was also a child of neoclassical approach and looked back to the ancient classical age of Europe. Hegel was understood about the setback which continued his own period also.[6] Consequently, he supported that the artist should take theme from the ancient time. His philosophy related with beauty is influenced several thinkers and he was very exact regarding the type of art to find out beauty. His principles on aesthetics are comprehensive notions of beauty and ideal. Beauty in art is the production of the spirit or truth through an object and it can identify only by a deep form called the ‘ideal’ that transcends it to a special form. Beardsley states that, “The artistically embodied idea, Hegel calls ‘Ideal” (Beardsley, 1975, p. 237). On the opposite, spirit is only the true, realizing everything in itself, and then one can say that all are truly beautiful only as distribution in this superior sphere and made by it. Hegel puts forward his argument about beauty. He exclusively finds out beauty in fine art and he totally keeps out the beauty of nature. According to Hegel, the idea is constantly opposite to Nature and the mind generates art, which provides idea to nature. Moreover, he considers beauty in nature is too formless and there are no criteria to analyze it. In addition he argues that a silly fancy pass through a person’s mind is superior to any creation of nature. This constant difference between beauty of art and beauty of nature is a vital point.[7] Thus, Hegel inserts into the history of aesthetics against the concept of Kant which is more recognized beauty of nature.

Carritt writes that, “Hegel refuses to consider nature as strictly beautiful, and defines aesthetic as the philosophy of fine art” (Carritt, 1962, p. 102). Hegel is profoundly making a scientific and an objective study of beauty and in the second chapter of ‘ Lecture on Aesthetics’. He observes that recent concepts of beauty pointed a dichotomy between the representation of beauty and content. This dichotomy involves that a basic element of the beautiful.


[1] Jacques Rivière (1886-1924) ‘ Present Tendencies in Painting’ p. 190. In Art in Theory (1900-2000). An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Ed. by Charles Harrison & Paul Wood. Blackwell Publishing, 2002.

[2] Hegel considered that the artistic beauty as the defining characteristic of works of art while Adorno considered it as the moment that turns an artefact into art and determines its greatness. Kant on the other hand considered that some beauty does not express a function at all, but it depends entirely on how the thing is considered in itself. These considerations are referred to in: Kant, Critique Judgment, transl. Meredith (Oxford: Oxford University Press), section 16. Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. C. Lenhardt (New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), p.16. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, “The Philosophy of Fine Arts,” in Philosophies of Art and Beauty, ed. Albert Hofstadter and Richard Kughns (New York: The Modern Library, 1964), p.30.

[3] Jacob (quoted by Matineau) says, “The beautiful has this feature, in common with all that is original, that there is no mark by which we know it. It exists and is self-manifest; you show it but not prove it – es kan gewiesen, aber nicht bewiesen weiden.”

[4] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, Translated by Werner S. Pluhar, Hackett Publishing Co., 1987

[5] Kant recognizes, and gives special treatment to, four classes of beautiful objects: free beauty, dependent beauty, beauty in art, beauty in nature. Kant also recognizes two kinds of judgments of taste: pure judgments of taste (the object of which is always free beauty) and impure judgments of taste (the objects of which is always dependent beauty). This point can easily accessed in Eva Schaper in “Free and Dependent Beauty,” which is chapter 3 of Studies in Kant’s Aesthetics (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1979).

[6] William Desmond, Art and the Absolute: A Study of Hegel’s Aesthetics. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986).

[7] G. W. F. Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. Chapters on ‘Natural beauty’ and ‘Art Beauty’ in part I [In volume 1 of the Knox translation]. Full reference is given in the end of this essay.

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Natural Beauty and Art Beauty: Kant, Hegel and Adorno revisited
Birkbeck, University of London  (Humanities)
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MA Marcio Hemerique Pereira (Author), 2011, Natural Beauty and Art Beauty: Kant, Hegel and Adorno revisited, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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