Rob Miller artist

What painting is for me.

For me painting sits on the same library shelve as poetry and music. Like its library companions what painting is can be anything it wants to be. Although at first glance this notion seems maddenly obtuse it does mean that painting like the arts can be an exciting imagionative exploration that can cross over every boundry known and unknown to man. The best book in my humble opinion that explores this is What Painting is? by John Elkin.


The Sublime


This web page is part of a collection of readings musings and painterly tribulations that cross my mind as I paint ...along with references to books that I feel are of interest. A haphazard but interesting colection of articles on Painters  and the sublime including what is painting Sublime.

18th century

[edit] British philosophy


Grosser Mythen, Swiss Alps. British writers, taking the Grand Tour in the 17th and 18th centuries, first used the sublime to describe objects of nature.

The development of the concept of the sublime as an aesthetic quality in nature distinct from beauty was first brought into prominence in the 18th century in the writings of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, third earl of Shaftesbury, and John Dennis, in expressing an appreciation of the fearful and irregular forms of external nature, andJoseph Addison's synthesis of concepts of the sublime in his The Spectator, and later the Pleasures of the Imagination. All three Englishmen had, within the span of several years, made the journey across the Alps and commented in their writings of the horrors and harmony of the experience, expressing a contrast of aesthetic qualities.[1]


John Dennis was the first to publish his comments in a journal letter published as Miscellanies in 1693, giving an account of crossing the Alps where, contrary to his prior feelings for the beauty of nature as a "delight that is consistent with reason", the experience of the journey was at once a pleasure to the eye as music is to the ear, but "mingled with Horrours, and sometimes almost with despair".[2] Shaftesbury had made the journey two years prior to Dennis but did not publish his comments until 1709 in the Moralists. His comments on the experience also reflected pleasure and repulsion, citing a "wasted mountain" that showed itself to the world as a "noble ruin" (Part III, Sec. 1, 390–91), but his concept of the sublime in relation to beauty was one of degree rather than the sharp contradistinction that Dennis developed into a new form of literary criticism. Shaftesbury's writings reflect more of a regard for the awe of the infinity of space ("Space astonishes" referring to the Alps), where the sublime was not an aesthetic quality in opposition to beauty, but a quality of a grander and higher importance than beauty. In referring to the Earth as a "Mansion-Globe" and "Man-Container" Shaftsbury writes "How narrow then must it appear compar'd with the capacious System of its own Sun...tho animated with a sublime Celestial Spirit...." (Part III, sec. 1, 373).[3]


Joseph Addison embarked on the Grand Tour in 1699 and commented in Remarks on Several Parts of Italy etc. that "The Alps fill the mind with an agreeable kind of horror".[4] The significance of Addison's concept of the sublime is that the three pleasures of the imagination that he identified; greatness, uncommonness, and beauty, "arise from visible objects" (that is, from sight rather than from rhetoric). It is also notable that in writing on the "Sublime in external Nature", he does not use the term "sublime", but uses terms that would be considered as absolutive superlatives, e.g. "unbounded", "unlimited", as well as "spacious", "greatness", and on occasion terms denoting excess.[2]


Addison's notion of greatness was integral to the concept of the sublime. An art object could be beautiful but it could not rise to greatness. His work Pleasures of the Imagination, as well as Mark Akenside's Pleasures of the Imagination (1744), and Edward Young's poem Night Thoughts (1745), are generally considered the starting points for Burke's analysis.

[edit] Edmund Burke


Edmund Burke's concept of the sublime was developed in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1756).[2] Burke was the first philosopher to argue that the sublime and the beautiful are mutually exclusive. The dichotomy is not as simple as Dennis' opposition, but antithetical to the same degree as light and darkness. Beauty may be accentuated by light, but either intense light or darkness (the absence of light) is sublime to the degree that it can obliterate the sight of an object. The imagination is moved to awe and instilled with a degree of horror by what is "dark, uncertain, and confused."[5] While the relationship of the sublime and the beautiful is one of mutual exclusiveness, either one can produce pleasure. The sublime may inspire horror, but one receives pleasure in knowing that the perception is a fiction.[6]

Burke's concept of the sublime was an antithetical contrast to the classical notion of the aesthetic quality of beauty as the pleasurable experience described by Platoin several of his dialogues (Philebus, Ion, Hippias Major, and Symposium) and suggested ugliness as an aesthetic quality in its capacity to instill feelings of intense emotion, ultimately creating a pleasurable experience.[7] Prior to Burke, the classical notion of the ugly, most notably related in the writings of Augustine of Hippo, had conceived it as lacking form and therefore as non-existent. Beauty was, for St. Augustine, the consequence of the benevolence and goodness of God's creation, and as a category had no opposite. The ugly, lacking any attributive value, was a formlessness in its absence of beauty.[8] For Aristotle the function of art forms was to create pleasure, and had first pondered the problem of an object of art representing the ugly as producing "pain." Aristotle's detailed analysis of this problem involves his study of tragic literature and its paradoxical nature to be shocking as well as having poetic value.[9]

Burke's treatise is also notable for focusing on the physiological effects of the sublime, in particular the dual emotional quality of fear and attraction noted by other writers. Burke described the sensation attributed to the sublime as a "negative pain" which he called delight, and which is distinct from positive pleasure. Delight is taken to result from the removal of pain (caused by confronting the sublime object) and is supposedly more intense than positive pleasure. Though Burke's explanations for the physiological effects of the sublime experience (such as tension resulting from eye strain) were not taken seriously by later writers, his empiricist method of reporting from his own psychological experience was more influential, especially in contrast to Kant's analysis. Burke is also distinguished from Kant in his emphasis on the subject's realization of his physical limitations rather than any supposed sense of moral or spiritual transcendence.[10]

[edit] German philosophy

[edit] Immanuel Kant

See also Immanuel Kant's Aesthetic philosophy


Viviano Codazzi: Rendition of St. Peter's Square, Rome, dated 1630. Kant referred to St. Peter's as "splendid", a term he used for objects producing feeling for both the beautiful and the sublime.

Kant, in 1764, made an attempt to record his thoughts on the observing subject's mental state in Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime. He held that the sublime was of three kinds: the noble, the splendid, and the terrifying.

In his Critique of Judgment (1790),[11] Kant officially says that there are two forms of the sublime, the mathematical and the dynamical, although some commentators hold that there is a third form, the moral sublime, a layover from the earlier "noble" sublime.[12] Kant claims, "We call that sublime which is absolutely great"(§ 25). He distinguishes between the "remarkable differences" of the Beautiful and the Sublime, noting that beauty "is connected with the form of the object", having "boundaries", while the sublime "is to be found in a formless object", represented by a "boundlessness" (§ 23). Kant evidently divides the sublime into the mathematical and the dynamical, where in the mathematical "aesthetical comprehension" is not a consciousness of a mere greater unit, but the notion of absolute greatness not inhibited with ideas of limitations (§ 27). The dynamically sublime is "nature considered in an aesthetic judgment as might that has no dominion over us", and an object can create a fearfulness "without being afraid of it" (§ 28). He considers both the beautiful and the sublime as "indefinite" concepts, but where beauty relates to the "Understanding", sublime is a concept belonging to "Reason", and "shows a faculty of the mind surpassing every standard of Sense" (§ 25). For Kant, one's inability to grasp the enormity of a sublime event such as an earthquake demonstrates inadequacy of one's sensibility and imagination. Simultaneously, one's ability to subsequently identify such an event as singular and whole indicates the superiority of one's cognitive, supersensible powers. Ultimately, it is this "supersensible substrate," underlying both nature and thought, on which true sublimity is located.[13]

[edit] Schopenhauer

In order to clarify the concept of the feeling of the sublime, Schopenhauer listed examples of its transition from the beautiful to the most sublime. This can be found in the first volume of his The World as Will and Representation, § 39.

For him, the feeling of the beautiful is pleasure in simply seeing a benign object. The feeling of the sublime, however, is pleasure in seeing an overpowering or vast malignant object of great magnitude, one that could destroy the observer.

Feeling of Beauty – Light is reflected off a flower. (Pleasure from a mere perception of an object that cannot hurt observer).

Weakest Feeling of Sublime – Light reflected off stones. (Pleasure from beholding objects that pose no threat, yet themselves are devoid of life).

Weaker Feeling of Sublime – Endless desert with no movement. (Pleasure from seeing objects that could not sustain the life of the observer).

Sublime – Turbulent Nature. (Pleasure from perceiving objects that threaten to hurt or destroy observer).

Full Feeling of Sublime – Overpowering turbulent Nature. (Pleasure from beholding very violent, destructive objects).

Fullest Feeling of Sublime – Immensity of Universe's extent or duration. (Pleasure from knowledge of observer's nothingness and oneness with Nature).

[edit] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Hegel considered the sublime to be a marker of cultural difference and a characteristic feature of oriental art. His teleological view of history meant that he considered "oriental" cultures as less developed, more autocratic in terms of their political structures and more fearful of divine law. According to his reasoning, this meant that oriental artists were more inclined towards the aesthetic and the sublime: they could engage god only through "sublated" means. He believed that the excess of intricate detail that is characteristic of Chinese art, or the dazzling metrical patterns characteristic of Islamic art, were typical examples of the sublime and argued that the disembodiment and formlessness of these art forms inspired the viewer with an overwhelming aesthetic sense of awe.[14]





In this group show of three painters' late works, Cy Twombly looks very much at home in the company of Turner and Monet

4 out of 5 stars


Image 1 of 3

'Hero and Leandro' by Cy Twombly (1984)

By Andrew Graham-Dixon 5:36PM BST 11 Jul 2012Comments1 Comment

Turner Monet Twombly is an intriguingly peculiar affair. Following up Tate Britain’s 2005 blockbuster Turner Whistler Monet, this new exhibition extends the comparative scope of its predecessor by leaping forward from the 19th to the late 20th century – and indeed beyond, all the way into the 21st. Cy Twombly died just a year ago and, at first sight, his inclusion looks like a deliberate provocation.

The links between Turner and Monet are well documented: Monet admired Turner deeply, and spent much of his creative life developing insights derived from the work of his English forerunner. But why has an American painter, working so much later, been elevated into their august company? While Twombly was a fine painter, he was hardly a titan of world art. A sceptic might conclude the whole enterprise to be little more than a misguided attempt to piggyback him to an undeserved eminence, on the backs of two far greater artists.

The exhibition turns out to be more thought-provoking than expected, though. It is best regarded as a controlled experiment, first exploring the connections between Turner and Monet, then examining how a much later artist has coped with the predicament of working with their inheritance. Twombly appears as an interesting test case, a paradigm for the anxiety of influence.

The paintings are grouped by themes, such as “Melancholy” or “Atmosphere”, and all are drawn from the later period of each painter’s life. But behind the rubrics and the slightly forced rhetorical preoccupation with old age, a familiar story is being told – albeit with an unexpected twist.


Van Gogh to Kandinsky, at Scottish National Gallery – Seven magazine review 15 Aug 2012

My encounters with Cy Twombly  06 Jul 2011

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye, at Tate Modern, Seven magazine review  06 Jul 2012

The Horse, at British Museum, Seven magazine review  09 Jun 2012

Yoko Ono, Serpentine Gallery, Seven review  27 Jun 2012

Turner in his later years daringly broke away from the straitjacketing preconceptions of 19th-century academic art. In many of the experimental oil paintings included here – such as the sense-stunningThames Above Waterloo Bridge – as well as in his improvisatory watercolours, he liberated himself from the narrative paraphernalia that encumbered his contemporaries’ expectations of great painting. At the centre of his late work lay a single, deeply original proposition, which had nothing to do with telling stories and everything to do with defining the nature of the universe: light, in all its transience and mutability, is the one constant element that constitutes reality.

Whereas most saw eccentricity or even madness in Turner’s late work, Monet instantly grasped its profound implications. He never matched Turner’s originality or technical subtlety: his paint was applied more heavily, in impasted dabs and dashes, rather than in etherised veils of colour.

But Monet brilliantly expanded on Turner’s work. His series paintings, in which he painted the same motif at different times of day – the front of Rouen Cathedral, say, ocean-blue at dawn or pink as a prawn at dusk – are programmatic demonstrations of the extent to which apparently stable objects are caught in the constant flux of changing light and passing time. In his late water-lily paintings, he created vast open fields of light flashing and sparkling on water.

In doing so, he was taking Turner’s big idea and giving it monumental expression. Such panoramic depictions of light and colour would be among the principal inspirations of the New York School – the Abstract Expressionists, in particular.

It is at this late point that Twombly sidles into the narrative. A member of the same generation as Jasper Johns, he reacted against the grand claims made for abstract painting by an Abstract Expressionist such as Jackson Pollock (“I am nature,” Pollock had famously remarked).

Twombly, something of an aesthete, was drawn to the fluid look of New York painting; and drawn too to the work of Turner and Monet, who had helped to shape it. He created expansive fields of light, loose, drippy paint, shot through with explosions of colour reminiscent of Monet’s waterlilies or Turner’s suns.

But he knew it was not enough merely to reprise their perceptions about light and nature. So, as this show reveals with surprising vividness, he forced their language back towards all that Turner had liberated it from in the first place – story and legend.


Many of Twombly’s pictures are titled after ancient myths and many have words from those myths scribbled into their otherwise inchoate surfaces. The most eloquent example is a triptych inspired by the tale of Hero and Leander.

At first sight these increasingly watery abstracts might almost be a homage to Turner or Monet, but they are meant, in fact, to suggest the successive stages of Leander’s tragic drowning as he swims the Hellespont to join his lover. Going, going, gone: almost comically, the final picture conjures an emptiness of water, and the submersion of the dead protagonist.

So Twombly’s relationship to Monet and Turner is both direct, and bizarre. To achieve their ambitions, they removed narrative from art altogether, and turned it towards the light. To achieve his ambition, he went straight back to the infernal academic storytelling they had regarded with such horror. Twombly is the most modern of the three, yet also the most old-fashioned.


The Practical Business of Painting by John Piper


Abstraction is a luxury. yet some painters today indulge in it as if it was the bread of life. The early Christian sculptors, wall-painter and glass-painters had a sensible attitude towards abstraction. However hard one tries (many attempts have been made to make them tow the line with modern art) one cannot catch them out indulging in pure abstraction. Their abstraction, such as it is, is always subservient to an end - the Christian end, as it happened. Abstraction is a luxury that has been left to the present day to exploit It is a luxury just as any single ideal is, and like a single ideal it should be approached all the time, but not pre-supposed all the time. To pre-suppose it always, if you are a painter is to paint the same picture always: or else to give up painting altogether because there is nothing left to paint....