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Sublime: The pleasure of the overwhelming - 4. From the romantic to the postmodern Sublime - Friday series
Friday, 6 June 2014 10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Program: Sublime: the pleasure of the overwhelming

Venue: Domain Theatre, Art Gallery of NSW

Lecturer: Damien Freeman


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Nineteenth-century artists philosophise
The sublime truly came into its own in the 19th century. We shall look at a number of different works of art that involve the sublime, and consider the way in which different artists have thought about it. The sublime is found to exert an influence on various art forms within the Western tradition, and often in quite different ways. We shall examine the theorising of artists on the sublime in their art forms, including Wagner on the musical sublime.

Twentieth century: the sublime becomes political
The sublime has also been influential in thinking about politics and society. We shall consider the most significant theory of the sublime in the 20th century, developed by the French post-modernist Jean-François Lyotard, and examine how the concept was important for the abstract expressionist painters in America, and the way that fascists attempted to recruit the sublime in architecture for their political purposes in Europe.




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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.