The Legacy of the Burkean Sublime: Representations of the British Landscape in Visual Art
My research project seeks to explore the possibility that Britain’s current cultural climate is deeply informed by regressive eighteenth century values, aesthetic, political and moral. By considering Edmund Burke’s influential eighteenth century text, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, (1757) I intend to explore this hypothesis. Burke is credited with creating a psychology of fear which had a profound effect upon British landscape depiction and the aesthetic of the Sublime. Burke also contributed to the wider British eighteenth century zeitgeist via his successful aesthetic correlation of the need to make social stratification natural and meritorious. Burke’s example fed the Sublime’s ability to evoke terror, especially amongst the middle classes, which derives potency from an instinct for self-preservation and enjoyable hatred of the Other. This psychology of fear, now as then, must have some positive critical purpose to account for its popularity and it is this purpose which my research seeks to explore and explain.
Original contributions to knowledge will be made through site specific investigations of landscape in relation to the cognitive dimensions of the Burkean sublime and the creation of my own artworks. These artworks will explore the Burkean conceptions of the sublime and the beautiful and analyse the extent to which the contemporary experience of the natural sublime is being replaced by man-made interventions as a primary source of sublime feeling in Britain. Qualitative interviews with artists associated with the sublime and a critical reinvestigation of the aesthetic history of the British sublime will add depth to these investigations.