The Science of Knowing
XXI. The Activity of Knowing and Artistic Creativity
Our epistemology has divested human knowing of the merely passive character often attributed to it and has grasped it as an activity of the human spirit. One usually believes that the content of science is taken up from outside; it is believed, in fact, that the more man's spirit refrains from any participation of its own in what is taken up, the more one will be able to maintain a high level of objectivity in science. Our considerations have shown that the true content of science is not at all the perceived outer material but rather the idea grasped in the spirit, which leads us deeper into the working of the world than all dissection and observation of the outer world as mere experience. The idea is the content of science. In contrast to perception, which is taken up passively, science is therefore a product of the activity of the human spirit.
With this we have brought knowing activity nearer to artistic creativity, which is also a productive, human activity. At the same time we have introduced the necessity of clarifying their mutual interrelationship.
Both knowing and artistic activity are based upon the fact that the human being lifts himself from reality as product to reality as producer; that he ascends from the created to the creating, from chance happening to necessity. Because outer reality always shows us only a creation of creative nature, we lift ourselves in spirit to the unity of nature that manifests to us as the creator. Each object of reality presents us with one of the endless possibilities lying hidden in the womb of creative nature. Our spirit lifts itself to the contemplation of that source in which all these possibilities are contained. Now science and art are the objects into which the human being impresses what this contemplation offers him. In science this occurs only in the form of the idea, which means in a directly spiritual medium; in art it occurs in an object that is sense-perceptibly or spiritually perceivable. In science nature manifests in a purely ideal way as “that which encompasses everything individual”; in art an object of the outer world appears as depicting that which encompasses everything individual. That infinite element, which science seeks within the finite and seeks to present in the idea, is what art impresses into some medium taken from the real world. That which appears in science as idea is an image in art. The same infinite element is the object of both science and art, only it appears differently in one than in the other. The manner of presentation is different. Goethe therefore criticized the fact that one spoke of the idea of the beautiful as though the beautiful were not simply the sense-perceptible reflection of the idea.
Here we can see how the true artist must draw directly from the primal source of all existence, how he impresses into his works the necessity which, in science, we seek ideally in nature and spirit. Science seeks out the lawfulness in nature; art no less so, only it implants this lawfulness in addition into raw substance. A product of art is no less nature than a product of nature, only the lawfulness of nature has already been poured into the product of art in the way this lawfulness appeared to the human spirit. The great works of art that Goethe saw in Italy appeared to him as the direct copy of the necessity that man becomes aware of in nature. For him art is therefore also a manifestation of the secret laws of nature.
In a work of art everything depends upon the degree to which the artist has implanted the idea into his medium. The main thing is not what his subject is but rather how he handles it. If in science the externally perceived substance has to disappear completely so that only its essential being, the idea, remains, so in the product of art this substance has to remain — but the artistic treatment has to overcome completely anything about it of a particularized or chance nature. The object must be lifted entirely out of the sphere of chance and transferred into that of necessity. Nothing must remain in the artistically beautiful upon which the artist has not impressed his spirit. The what must be conquered by the how.
The overcoming of the sense-perceptible by the spirit is the goal of art and science. Science overcomes the sense perceptible by dissolving it entirely into spirit; art does so by implanting spirit into the sense-perceptible. A statement of Goethe, which expresses these truths in a comprehensive way, may serve to bring our considerations to a close: “I think one could call science the knowledge of the general, abstracted knowledge; art, on the other hand, would be science turned into deed; science would be reason, and art its mechanism; therefore one could also call it practical science. And so, finally, science would be the theorem, art the problem.”