500 words on Nietzsche’s Art


Art as the highest metaphysical activity

Art sustains life. It is what makes life endurable, and thus possible. Art is what makes life worth living.

Nihilism, in Nietzsche’s philosophy, is sublimated to art as the highest metaphysical activity in mensch*, bestowing life with sublime meaning, while mensch remains the source of order and structure in the universe. Despite mensch being the source of order and structure, they create art. The constituent of this basic aesthetic state is frenzy, or rapture. Rapture reached through dance, music, narcotics…what is primordial in this sense is the increase in strength and fullness from the rapture. Here, the artistic will within the mensch is enhanced.

 “In this state one enriches everything out of one’s own fullness: whatever one sees, whatever wills is seen swelled, taut, strong, overloaded with strength. Mensch in this state transforms things until they mirror its power- until they are reflections of its perfection. This having to transform into perfection is-art.”

Art is not the imitation of nature, but instead a metaphysical complement that will enable the transcendence of nature itself. It is what Nietzsche calls the highest form of human activity.

“The world is a work of art that gives birth to itself.”

The essence (using this term lightly) of Beauty and the beautiful lies in the eyes of the beholder, and mensch is the cause and source of beauty. Mensch mirror themselves onto the world, and art reflects the beauty that resides within them upon the world.

“Once again we may see the artistic buoyancy and creative joy as a luminous cloud shape reflected upon the dark surface of a lake of sorrow.”

The function of art is one that, if fulfilled by the ubermensch, is supporting, maintaining, affirming, and life enhancing.

On Tragedy as Art

The Birth of Tragedy, referring to music and the Dionysian aspect of art, says it “is the direct copy of the will itself, and therefore represents the metaphysical of everything physical in the world.” The virtue of the Dionysian element in art is that it allows the possibility of transcending the limits of individual existence, and establishing communion with humans and the natural world.

“Not only does the bond between man and man come to be forged once more by the magic of the Dionysian rite but nature itself, long alienated or subjugated, rises again to celebrate the reconciliation with her prodigal son, man.”

Through art, mensch gains the ability to transcend the confines of their ego and secure oneness with the universe. It is the courage and freedom of feeling before a powerful enemy, a sublime calamity, a problem that arouses dread – this triumphant state is what the tragic artist chooses, and what they glorify.  Tropes of pain, suffering, existential dread, death. Does it give metaphysical solace? Offer a stimulus for life? Possibly, but it remains within the individual. The purpose in art remains a fight between the moralizing aspect in art and its subordination to morality.

*Using “Mensch,” to stay truer to the original text. Mensch is often translated as “man,” although it refers more generally to a member of the human species.
Posted 2017.02.19 12:13AM

Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche (1906) by Edvard Munch. Thielska Galleriet, Stockholm


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