The New Formula for Aesthetics, inspired by Friedrich Schiller

The New Formula for Aesthetics, inspired by Friedrich Schiller

According to Friedrich Schiller - Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller - Aesthetic Art has two primary ingredients: the Beautiful and the Sublime.

Bronze statue of Schiller, sculpted by Johannes Dielmann, inaugurated in 1864

Schiller says it is known that Character is worked upon through the correction of Concepts and the purification of Feelings.  

Concepts deal with the Mind, and Feelings with the Heart. Therefore, to develop Character it is necessary for the Mind to be tuned and learned, and for the Heart to gain purity and direction. Without the Intellect there is a tendency for the Heart to fall for the wrong aim, and without Heart the Intellect is only clockwork and abstractions in a barren desert. Therefore both The Heart and Intelligence must be developed together. 

"Healthiness of Mind must be linked to purity of The Will if Character is to be considered complete" 

Aesthetics deal with both of these, and functions as a synthesis of the two. Aesthetics promotes Wholeness of Living, and a healthy Mind and Instinct.

Ferdinand Leeke - Armin bei der Seherin, 1890. painting of arminius, german idealism

 "The Arts of the Beautiful and the Sublime promote Life, practice and refine the capacity for sensation; they raise the Mind from gross material pleasures to Pure Appreciation of Form, and make it accustomed to combine voluntary action and its pleasures." 


Here are the qualities of Beauty, using the ideas of Friedrich Schiller (paraphrased or quoted directly): 

Sleeping beauty, by Victor Gabriel Gilbert. 1847-1933


Beauty, in its simplest and purest expression, reconciles the contrast of different Natures. It also reconciles the eternal contrast of the two Sexes in the whole complex framework of society. Taking as its model the free alliance it has knit between Manly Strength and Womanly Gentleness, it strives to place in harmony all the elements of Gentleness and Violence. 

Theseus and Ariadne

Beauty belongs to the world of the Senses. Beauty refines manners. When Beauty is present, Reason and Sense are in harmony, and this harmony is the reason why the Beautiful is attractive. 

Charles Amable Lenoir - A Nymph In The Forest (1860–1926). oil painting 

Beauty leads the sensitive man to the conception of Form and to Thought and Contemplation; and it brings the spiritual man back down to Matter and restores his Senses. Beauty plants us in the state between Chaotic Matter and Organized Form, between Passivity and Activity. 

William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - Song of the Angels (1881)

True Beauty is the realm of Unfettered Contemplation and Reflection. Beauty conducts us into the world of Ideas, but unlike what happens when Truth is typically perceived and acknowledged - Beauty does not take us away from the world of the Senses. 

Beauty is Form, because we can contemplate it. but Beauty is also Life, because we feel it. 

Portrait of Maria Fjodorovna Barjatinskaja, by Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844)

Beauty alone confers Happiness on All, and under its influence every being forgets that He is limited. One feels Freedom when in the presence of Beauty, because the Sensuous Instincts are in harmony with the Laws of Reason. 

Albert Bierstadt - California Spring - 1875

However, when Beauty is not balanced by other forces it can lead to the energy of Feelings being extinguished, and the Character loses Strength. Gentleness can degenerate into effeminacy, Politeness into platitude, Correctness into empty sterility, Liberal Ways into arbitrary caprice, Ease into frivolity, Calm into apathy, and lastly, a most miserable caricature treads on the heels of the noblest and most beautiful type of Humanity. 

The Sublime

Benjamin West - "Destruction of the Beast and the False Prophet" - 1804

The Sublime is something that which, upon seeing, the Soul feels itself inspired and lifted above Itself. For an object to be called Sublime it must be in opposition with our Sensuousness. 

The Feeling of the Sublime is a mixed Feeling. It is at once a kind of violent shudder, but also a joyous state that may rise to Euphoria. 

Craig Mullins - Conquistador - digital painting.

There are two kinds of Sublime: the Sublime of Knowledge and the Sublime of Force. Both of them have an inherent way of asserting themselves; one by material dominance and the other by the power of truth.

The Sublime can be seen as a very powerful natural force, armed for destruction, and ridiculing all resistance. 

"The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum" - John Martin

Everything sublime is reasonable, because Reason is the source. In the presence of the Sublime, Reason and the Senses are not in harmony, and this contradiction is the charm of the Sublime.

Here the Physical Man and the Righteous Man separate, for it is exactly in the presence of objects that make us feel how limited Matter is that Morality makes the experience of its Force. The very thing that lowers Matter to the Earth is precisely that which raises the other to the Infinite. 

Heinrich fueger - "prometheus brings fire to mankind" - 1817

The Sublime makes a distinction between the Material and the Eternal. By firmly planting the Material into its rightful place on Earth, the Eternal is likewise free to show its own unique position which lies above. This juxtaposition is what gives the Sublime an irresistible action on our Minds.  

"The Funeral of a Viking" - Frank Bernard Dicksee (1853–1928) - 1893

In the presence of the Sublime we feel Ourselves Sublime, because the Sensuous Instincts have no influence over the jurisdiction of Reason. The Pure Spirit acts in us as if it were not subject to any laws other than its own. 

Peter Nicolai Arbo - The wild Hunt of Odin - 1872

The capacity of the Sublime is one of the noblest aptitudes in Man. The Sublime applies to the Pure Spirit. 

The downside of the Sublime is that it does not protect against a certain residue of savage violence and harshness. 

Beaty and Sublimity together

Beauty and Sublimity both have clear benefits to the Character, but then comes the question of how to address their negative aspects. The solution to this problem is to combine them. Each one supports the other's weakness and elevates the other's strengths. Beauty alone can lead to Fatigue, whereas Sublimity alone can lead to Frenzy; therefore both are necessary.

The Sublime must be materialized by Beauty, while the Beautiful must be Invigorated by the sublime. Beauty is more intuitive whereas the Sublime is more logical. 

Idun and the Apples - James Doyle Penrose, 1890

Beauty advances the Savage and rationalizes the merely sensuous man, while the Sublime lends Force to the refined man of Art. 

In a forest, the Sapling's appreciation for Sunlight comes from the taste of his senses. The senses fall under the category of Beauty, whereas the Sublime is what impassions the struggle to grow and pierce the canopy so that it may survive and have a greater fill of Light. This example shows how there is a greater expression of Life when the Beautiful and the Sublime are synthesized. If the sapling had no capacity for the Sublime, it would be pathetic and die low to the ground, and without the capacity for beauty it would have no direction. 

Albert Bierstadt - Giant Redwood Trees of California - 1874

"We are only perfect citizens of Nature when the Sublime is wedded to the Beautiful."  


"The Sublime must be joined to the Beautiful to complete the Aesthetic Education, and to enlarge Man's heart beyond the sensuous world." 

Sanguinius - artist unknown

"As all Sublimity and Beauty consists in the appearance, and not in the value of the object, it follows that Art has all the advantages of Nature without her shackles" 


Art has utilitarian value when it synthesizes and integrates the positive qualities of the Beautiful and the Sublime. Under Aesthetics, Character is improved and the laws of Nature and the laws of Reason are enhanced. 

"Alexander the Great and Bucephalus" - Nicolas Andre Monsiau (1754-1837)

"In the midst of the formidable realm of Forces and of the sacred empire of Laws, the Aesthetic impulse of Form creates a third and a joyous realm, that of Play and of the Appearance, where She emancipates Man from fetters, in all His relations, and from all that is named Constraint, whether physical or moral." 


"It is only the Aesthetic disposition of the Soul that gives birth to Liberty." 

Thomas Cole - The Voyage of Life: Youth. 1842

Aesthetics is the bridge between Matter and Spirit, as well as Their expression. Here the Soul is active in the Moral and Physical spheres, yet is not restrained by them. Aesthetic determination is logical and moral, but also real. There is relation between the sense perceptions and the Ideal, and the Mind and the Heart are connected.

Aesthetics maintain the qualities of Matter and Spirit - which are eternally separated - yet aesthetics allow a synthesis of Matter and Spirit such that no apparent separation remains between them, nor any suppression of either one. 

"The Awakening of Germania" - 1849 -  Christian Kohler

Wholeness of Humanity is lost when one engages in the one-sided compulsion of Feeling, or in the exclusive legislation of Reasoning. The Aesthetical disposition allows for Feeling and Reason to be expressed without one limiting the other, and in this way It maintains Wholeness. For this reason Schiller says that Aesthetics provides the highest of all gifts - the gift of Humanity. 

"Aesthetics do not exclusively shelter any separate function of Humanity - therefore Aesthetics are favorable to all functions of Humanity. Nor do Aesthetics favor any particular function, since Aesthetics itself is the foundation of all possibility. All other exercises give some special aptitude, and for that reason there are some definite limits imposed. Only Aesthetics lead man to the Unlimited." 

"The Gods on Mount Olympus" - Antonio Verrio (c.1636–1639–1707)

"Aesthetics is a complete whole in itself. Here alone we feel ourselves swept out of Time, and our Humanity expresses Itself with Purity and Integrity." 


"To listen to the voice of Reason amidst the tempest of the Senses, and to know where to place a limit to Nature in its most brutal explosions, is, as we are aware, required by good breeding, which is no other than an Aesthetic law. This is required of every civilized man." 

Grace and Dignity

It has been established that Aesthetics are good, and Schiller has emphasized that Beauty and Sublimity are the necessary parts. However, in other works he discusses two more concepts which seem to fit just as well within the realm of Art and Taste. These are: Grace and Dignity.

Souls on the Banks of the Acheron, oil painting depicting Hermes in the underworld. Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, 1898

Grace is the expression of a noble Soul, and Dignity is the expression of an elevated Feeling. Grace is flowing, Dignity is mental. 

When the Mind is emancipated upon healthy moral Forces ruling over Instincts, this is called Dignity. In Dignity the Mind reigns over the Body. 

Arthur Hacker - "Temptation of Sir Percival" - 1894

Grace is the liberty of Voluntary Movements, and Dignity consists in mastering Involuntary Movements. Grace gives independence to the Sensuous Nature, whereas Dignity submits the Sensuous Nature to the Mind. Virtue should have Grace while Inclination should have Dignity. 

Charles Courtney Curran - "Summer" - 1906

Dignity prevents Love from degenerating into Desire. Grace prevents Esteem from turning into Fear. True Beauty and Grace ought never to cause Desire, for if there is desire it means that either the object is lacking in Dignity, or the person considering the object is lacking Morality. True Greatness ought never to cause Fear, for if it causes Fear then it means the great object is lacking in Taste and Grace, or that the person who considers the object is not at peace with his Conscience. 

"The Monarch of the Glen" - Sir Edwin Landseer - 1851

"The utmost degree of Grace is ravishing Charm. Dignity, in its highest form, is called Majesty" 

Flirtation is the degenerate form which can take the place of Grace, and a further degenerated Grace ends in spilled compassion. Likewise, stupidity is the thing which appropriates the position of Dignity, and a degeneration of Dignity leads to pollution and mental rot. Real grace honors the Beautiful and real Dignity honors the Sublime.  

Jacques Louis David - Oath of the Horatii. roman salute, neoclassical painting - 1786

Grace is the Beauty of Form under the influence of Free Will. Grace should come naturally, or at least have the appearance of being involuntary or intuitive, whereas Dignity is the expression of Control.  

"Martyrdom of Saint Christina" - Vicente Palmaroli

Grace testifies to a peaceful soul in harmony with itself and a feeling heart. Because of this, the addition of Grace can give Balance to Dignity, because Dignity testifies that Desire and Inclinations are restrained within certain limits and therefore not in Harmony. Grace can provide Effortlessness to Dignity, whereas Dignity can protect Grace from harmful impressions.  

Freya, Norse Godess - artist unknown

"If Grace and Dignity are united in one person, supported by Beauty and Force, then the Expression of Human Nature is accomplished. Such a person would be justified in the Spiritual World and set at liberty in the Sensuous World. Here the two domains touch so closely that their limits are indistinguishable. This noble majesty is the sublime adieu of the necessity of Nature. There, where Grace and Dignity are united, the Spiritual Nature is attracted and the Sensuous Nature is repulsed." 

Charles Ernest Butler - "King Arthur" - 1903

Further integration

Schiller did not combine Grace and Dignity into the Formula for Aesthetics - alongside Beauty and Sublimity - but upon studying Dignity and Grace in the context provided by him, they appear to cooperate at a fundamental level similar to that of the Beautiful and the Sublime. They seem to meet the requirements to be applied to Aesthetics, as Grace appears to be the sister of Beauty, and Dignity - the brother of the Sublime.

All four terms seem to correspond to a specific Element, according to the Pre-Socratic tradition which persisted into Rome (also corroborated by Vedic culture). Grace, Beauty, Dignity, and Sublimity correspond respectively to Water, Earth, Air, and Fire. 

The four qualities laid out by Schiller relate to each other in the same way that the four elemental principles relate to one another:


Grace cools the Sublime and humanizes Dignity, and it gives movement to Beauty  

Andreas Achenbach - "Clearing Up Coast of Sicily"


Beauty gives consequence to the Sublime and practicality to Dignity, and it lends form for Grace to realize. 

"A View up Yosemite Valley" - Thomas Hill - 1871

Dignity gives purity to Grace and it elevates Beauty, and it refines the Sublime  

Oak Grove - Ivan Shishkin - 1887
Sublimity gives power to Grace and it energizes Beauty, and it gives passion to Dignity. 


It is clear that Dignity and Grace are worthy of being formally included, with Beauty and the Sublime, into the system of Aesthetics. Furthermore, the fact that they fit into this four-way framework gives further legitimacy to Aesthetics, because this framework is based on the relation of the Elements - which is an eternal principle. By incorporating Grace and Dignity into the system and organizing them this way, we are able to have a greater understanding of Aesthetics.  

This new organization does not disprove Schiller's initial binary formula, since the traditional model of the elements also has a basis in the dual categorization of Masculine and Feminine, from which the four elements are derived (Fire and Air being Masculine; and Earth and Water being Feminine). The essence remains the same, but with enhanced specificity. The new formula rests on, grows from, and validates the work of Schiller. 

 "Majesty of the Mountains" - Albert Bierstadt


For something to be Aesthetic it must have Beauty, Grace, Dignity, and the Sublime.

Without Beauty there is no form or attractiveness. Without Grace there is no movement or ease. Without the Sublime there is no energy or life. Without Dignity there is no knowledge or elevation.

When Art contains all four parts it is called Aesthetic. Aesthetic art is a positive influence to culture and it improves the character of Man. Aesthetic art nourishes and synthesizes the Mind, Body, and Spirit. Aesthetic art contributes to the wholeness of Mankind and a healthy expression of Humanity.

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