Philosophical relativism and artistic eclecticism

By the beginnings of 19th century, bad effects of French revolution and industrial revolution were diminished with the help of an optimistic faith in human rationality. Dostoyevsky claimed that there exists no rational order of nature to understand and no rational human power to understand order of nature even if it exists. Kierkegaard assumed that existing is tied up with deciding. People face to decisions in each act of them and decisions created by them are what shape their personality. Nietzsche claimed that rational thinking and objective knowledge is futile. He also claimed that scientists and philosophers never understand the original structure of nature. According to him searching some order in nature is nothing more than a useless attempt to ass reason to chaos.

However some architects tried to establish timeless principles, some of them accepted the challenge of relativism. Many of them are affected by previous styles so this century is called as a century of artistic eclecticism.

German idealism, Romanticism and the Gothic revival

Romantic view which is based on uniting rather than dualities, intuitions and emotions rather than reason, personal and subjective rather than shared and objective become a major cultural force and shaped politics, art theory and philosophy. Famous German philosopher Kant made distinction between man and nature, sense and reason… Successors of him wanted Kant to make some synthesis between content and form of experience and phenomenal- noumenal world.


Johann Gottlieb Fichte developed Kant’s theories in a series of publications including “basis of the entire theory of science”. According to Kant, the noumenal realm causes the phenomenal world. But according to Fichte, Kant was in an impossible corner with his argument that causality is a product of the mind and not a characteristic of ultimate reality. He also claimed that phenomenal world cannot be the result of noumenal realm. He denied the view of materialism and additionally he believed that nature must be nothing more than an expression or manifestation of human thought.

According to him, transcendental ego is the sum of all individuals’ and it is greater than individual mind. Because he thought that finite mind is coming and going. Also he believed that transcendental ego creates physical world to have a field where to act morally satisfies the modern sceptic.


According to Schelling, there is a universal ego or mind which called absolute or creates physical world. Nature an absolute connected with each other. A work of art is the vital objectification of the absolute. Many Romantic artists agreed with the new power of the art. According to them, it also gives increased justification to the enlightenment concept of the autonomous genius.


Contrary to Schelling, best known and most influential of the German idealist Georg Friedrich Hegel changed the emphasis that level of reason man and nature are still divided. He claimed that there is a physical world which is created by shared and transcendental mind. He named transcendental mind as “absolute spirit”. He held that the absolute spirit is entirely rational. Sometimes he called absolute “infinite reason”.

If absolute spirit is rational and if it contains finite human minds then a finite human mind thinks rationally should be able to discover itself under the logic of absolute. Hegel claimed that if the real is rational then the rational must be real. Contrary to rationalists, relation between rational and real does not result from knowledge of the outside world’s structure which is given by god. In fact, relation results from the mind intimately participating in world. To intimate connection, mind is supposed to reflect on itself and reconstruct the underlying order of nature. Unfortunately, Hegel emphasized that traditional reason creates artificial pigeon-holes into which perceptions are dumped arbitrarily and randomly; it divides where no division exist. Intuitionism leaves concepts altogether and aims to find true knowledge in undifferentiated immediate experience. But neither of these mental tools can capture the evolving nature of absolute spirit. Hegel considered that a new kind of logical thinking would have to be developed in order to capture the dynamic nature of knowledge.

Absolute spirit and its manifestations concretized a thesis. This creates the opposite, antithesis. Both thesis and antithesis are combined in synthesis. Earlier times of development of absolute spirit there was no synthesis which was fully complete.

If art is the reflection of the absolute, one must examine its development over time to understand. The absolute spirit points out itself as a symbolic art where physical form dominates over spiritual concepts. Symbolic art gave way to classical art where form and spirits equally balanced. In Hegel’s time romantic art replaced classical one.