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Yesterday I attended an art exhibits by local artists. The works exhibited were often pleasant and/or interesting and showed that a great deal of thoughts went into creating some of the works. It was great to see artistic sensibility and efforts poured into creating art works. But, somehow they seem to lack something – something akin to genuine inspiration (it’s possible this impression is only in my head). And this made me think about Kantian sublime and Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy. According to Kant, there are two kinds of beauty: one is tranquil and comforting kind of beauty that is calming without causing any emotional turbulence, such as the beauty of well-manicured golf course, Renoir’s Little Girl, and smiling pretty faces; and the other is somehow disquieting kind of beauty, which Kant calls sublime, that inspires awe, indescribable terror wonderment, such as the Sea of Japan on a stormy winter day that I witnessed this winter. Van Gogh’s Self-Portraits and enigmatic / somewhat strange faces that nevertheless strike one as beautiful. Kant would say simple beauty is small and understandable while sublime is deep and unfathomable. And if I borrow Nietzsche’s idea of Greek tragedy, which was born out of the exquisite struggle between the Apollonian (the realm of ideation and reason) and Dionysian (the realm of sensation and ecstasy) tendencies of humanity, sublime may contain a more fierce struggle (perhaps tinged with madness – a very romantic idea, I know) between these forces that allow humans to create art. It’s easier to encounter simple beauty but sublime is the sensation we are forever trying to capture in great works of art as well as nature.

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