Event details

Sublime: The pleasure of the overwhelming - 3. Encountering lofty landscapes 18th century Grand Tour - Friday series
Friday, 30 May 2014 10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Program: Sublime: the pleasure of the overwhelming

Venue: Domain Theatre, Art Gallery of NSW

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The rediscovery of Longinus coincided with the era of the grand tour and private travel. Englishmen discovered the Alps, and the special pleasure that they could take in nature, in particular mountains which were not ‘beautiful’ in the sense that a rose or a butterfly is beautiful, but which nevertheless exerted an allure over them. The pleasurable experience of terrible and overwhelming landscapes they called ‘the sublime’. Theories to explain the sublime abounded in Britain and Germany, including the famous treatises of Addison, Burke and Kant. The influence of these theories is seen as far afield as Norwegian and Swiss landscape paintings, and in the Australian landscape paintings of Eugene von Guérard

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Sublime: the pleasure of the overwhelming

Lecture series with Damien Freeman
No philosophical idea has captured the imagination of artists more than the sublime.

The sublime is an enigmatic experience that involves our taking pleasure in being overwhelmed by sights, sounds, sensations or ideas that are larger, greater or more powerful than us, or otherwise threatening to us. In classical antiquity, and in British and European culture, the sublime has fascinated generations of artists and thinkers in different ways. The sublime has been connected with our experience of everything from nature and art to religion, science, and social and political life.

Often philosophers reflect on what artists do. But the sublime is the one major contribution that philosophers have made to art: artists have derived profound inspiration from reflecting on the philosophical concept of the sublime. The sublime emerged as a category of aesthetic appreciation of nature that was distinct from the beautiful and the picturesque. But it can also be distinguished from the tragic and the horrific, as a distinctive way in which aesthetic pleasure can be mingled with an unpleasant experience.

In this new course, we shall discover what the sublime is, and how philosophers and artists have grappled with the special aesthetic pleasure that we take in being overwhelmed by the sublime in art and nature.

Damien Freeman lectures on ethics and aesthetics at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He is a writer, lawyer and philosopher, who was educated at the University of Sydney and Magdalene College, Cambridge, and has written and edited numerous books and articles on art, aesthetics, biography and law, including Art’s emotions, Roddy’s folly, Mao’s toe and his forthcoming literary memoir, The aunt’s mirrors. He has discussed ethics, aesthetics and politics on various ABC Radio National programs. Together with Derek Matravers, he is editing a collection of essays entitled Figuring out figurative art: contemporary philosophers on contemporary paintings. He is currently writing a book based on his 2013 Art Gallery Society of NSW lecture series, Morality at the Gallery.