So, is The Garden of Earthly Delights Sublime to Kant?
Kant explains that the sublime is an attribute of the mind and not of nature, thus, it is not the object in itself that is sublime. Philip Shaw paraphrases Kant, in stating it as, “the feeling that arises whenever we become aware of the transcendental dimensions of experience”, (Shaw, 88). It is important to note that Kant explains, “One can describe the sublime as thus: it is an object (of nature) the representation of which determines the mind to think of the unattainability of nature as a presentation of ideas” (Kant, 151, 5: 268). The sublime, apart from the beautiful, can rise from an incomprehensible perception of the dissonance between the imagination and understanding. Art, to Kant, is a type of knowledge that is dependent on skill and more importantly, the ability to concieve a work without prior or redcible concepts. When considering the prior knowledge that operates within The Garden of Earthly Delights, Bosch’s brilliance lies in his ability to manipulate preconceived notions of religion and morality in order to invent his own creative world. Consequently, when viewing The Garden of Earthly Delights, the sublime experience is manifested in the overwhelming portrayal of the possible consequences of the decay of a virtuous society.
In conclusion, though Kant does not give a clear representation of sublimity in art, he does make clear a few inherent points about how a good work of art is produced. For Kant, there are two key words that function as such, the ideas of ‘genius’ and ‘aesthetic ideas’. Aesthetic ideas allow fine art to have soul, in other words, these aesthetic ideas enable an artist to successfully convey visions of reason and moral judgement. Genius provides the a priori substance and talent that goes into the process of a work of fine art, the genius also provides the aesthetic ideas. In this mode of expression an artsit is able to exhibit tastefulness. While the substance and form of the object sets the faculties into play, an open understanding makes the same hightened, yet incomprehensible, feelings that are experienced in an artistic process attainable for the viewer and thus, creates a feeling of pleasure. This incomprehensible perception occurs when viewing Bosch’s triptych. The Garden of Earthly Delights is engaging and stimulating, vast and obscure, pushing the viewer beyond the substantive elements of its form and into unfathomable concepts that confront an inventive vision of religious doctrine. This free play of the faculities leads us to an esoteric experience which presents us with the concequences of an unscruptulous world beyond our comprehension, this in turn, produces a sublime experience.
How Does Kant’s Interpretation of The Garden Relate to Post-Modern Works?
So, you may be asking: “how does all of this fits together?” Lets go back to the abstract!
Firstly, because The Garden of Earthly Delights dates back to the Northern Renaissance, it preceeds the ‘Critique of Judgement’ by Immanuel Kant, as well as many other philosophical accounts on aesthetics and sublimity. Since we are able to attach Kant’s theories on sublimity to Bosch’s work, I believe The Garden of Earthy Delights successfully proves that Hieronymus Bosch had developed an equivalent version of sublimity that predates modern accounts.
In virtue of the cogency of research and further evidence, I have provided the philosophical account of Jean-Francois Lyotard (which hinges on Kantian theories) in order to bridge the gap between the early and post-modern notions of sublimity. I have also referenced the sublimity of the artistic movements and explorations by Barnett Newman and Salvador Dali to explicate the parallels betwen each of the three artist’s stylistic genius. By linking the artistic movements of surrealism and abstract expressionism to Bosch’s inventive, dreamlike abstraction of piety in the late 1400s, it has become evident that The Garden of Earthly Delights is not only very comparable to the innovations of post-modernity, but also pertinent to the interpretations of contemporary viewers.