Thursday, June 10, 2010

On the Aesthetic Education of ManOn the Aesthetic Education of Man
by Friedrich von Schiller

“Since the aesthetic disposition of our nature, as I have explained in the foregoing letters, is what first gives rise to freedom, it may easily be realized that it cannot itself arise from freedom, and consequently can have no moral origin. It must be a gift of Nature;” (Letter XXVI, p 124)

Friedrich Schiller wrote Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man in 1793 for his friend the Danish Prince Friedrich Christian who had provided him with a stipend to help him through an illness. In 1795 the letters were published and the provide a worthwhile consideration of the nature of Aesthetics for us still today. The collection of twenty seven letters is not an easy read but it is worth persevereing to gain the insights of this great poet and playwright, friend of Goethe and inspiration for Beethoven and many artists, particularly in the Romantic era.

The book touches upon a broad range of topics, some of which you do not normally associate with aesthetics. However the letters do consider the nature of Beauty and its relationship to art and man. For Schiller beauty seems to arise as a synthesis between opposing principles "whose highest ideal is to be sought in the most perfect possible union and equilibrium of reality and form"(Letter XVI, p 81). Schiller also discusses the nature of the ideal man and how the impulse for play interacts with man's nature, especially his rational and sensuous aspects which form a juxtaposition within him. This juxtaposition is discussed at length with a synthesis described in terms that suggest a transcendence that culminates in our very humanity (Letters 18-20). Man and his nature is important to Schiller as his reason, but "The first appearance of reason in Man is not yet the beginning of his humanity. The latter is not decided until he is free," (Letter XXIV, p 115).

Through discussion of the work of art and the fine arts Schiller brings us closer to a conception of what art means to man and how important "Homo Ludens" is as a conception of man. Schiller admired classical Greece and its art and saw the role of history and freedom important in the discussion of the nature of art. Above all both as a poet and a thinker Schiller held the ideal of freedom to be sacrosanct. According to Schiller, freedom is attained when the sensual and rational in man are fully integrated but his aesthetic disposition is seen as coming from Nature. These letters provide a rich vein of ideas from which the thoughtful and attentive reader may find inspiration in consideration of the aesthetics and the nature of the work of art.

On the Aesthetic Education of Man by Friedrich Schiller. Continuum, New York. 1989 (1795)

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