>Schiller’s Aesthetic Education

>I recently took issue with Kant for insisting that an aesthetic education was possible, while entirely avoiding any actual explanation of such an education. I have found, in Schiller’s Aesthetic Education of Man (excepted in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2nd Edition), an attempt to describe just such a curriculum. It occurs in his Ninth Letter, after an explanation of his conviction that Art is the “instrument not provided by the State” which might “open up living springs” of moral justice even from under the heaviest corruption (490). The fourth paragraph he begins thus:

The artist is indeed the child of his age; but woe to him if he is at the same time its ward or, worse still, its minion! Let some beneficent deity snatch the sucking betimes from his mother’s breast, nourish him with the milk of a better age, and suffer him to come to maturity under a distanct Grecian sky. The, when he has become a man, let him return, a stranger, to his own century; not, however, to gladden it by his appearance, but rather, terrible like Agamemnon’s son, to cleanse and to purify it. (490)

Here Schiller seems to create the vision of the Artist as Outcast that strikes me as so key to the Romantic poets and the Romantic hero alike. Schiller’s Artist takes “his theme” from his own time, so it would follow that the more invested he is in understanding and internalizing the experience of his own time the more clearly he will express his theme. But “his form he will borrow from a nobler time, nay, from beyond time altogether, from the absolute, unchanging unity of his being” (490). The Artist for Schiller is necessarily political, necessarily moral, as he is charged with the task, “Impart to the world you would influence a Direction towards the good” (491).

There is something of DFW in this concept of the Artist. Wallace was so invested in the mainstream ideas of socio-normative behavior, inhabited them so fully and naturally, and yet, was continuously is reminded (and constantly reminding) of his (and our) essential isolation, alienation, disunity.

Finally, Schiller even suggests that the formal aspects of the art object are necessarily and appropriately determined by historical context:

…nothing is more common than for both, science as well as art, to pay homage to the spirit of the age, or for creative minds to accept the critical standards of prevailing taste (490).

This acknowledgment of taste as historically and culturally determined is notably absent in Kant, who is so determined toward universality and eternality that he glosses the issue of the Artist altogether.


About Noah Brewer

I am an English teacher and Debate coach living in Carrollton, GA. I like gardening and critical theory. I like teaching and learning. I like language and technology.
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