In the “Discourses on Art” by Sir Joshua Reynolds, he describes the process the Artist must experience to aspire the Ideal Beauty and its purpose. The Painter must examine the forms in nature continuously, until the artist has an idea of the central form. After comprehending the central form, the Painter must understand a variety of knowledge and chastise oneself of “mechanik and ornamental arts” (48) – vanity. In conclusion, Reynolds endeavored to minimize the idea of beauty as one “so there can be but one great mode of painting” (52). Reynolds understood art as a process of experience through constant examination and education.

William Blake disagreed with Reynolds. He believed that, “knowledge of Ideal Beauty is Not to be acquired it is Born with us” (464). Blake’s principles reminisce of Plato’s Theory of Forms, which reintroduces the argument regarding the existence of God between Reynolds and Blake. It is indicative that Blake maintained significant faith in God. In William Blake’s “The Lacoon,” the quote “Israel deliverd from Egypt is Art deliverd from Nature & Imitation” (352) illustrates his religious perspective and contempt for Reynolds. Israel was delivered from Egypt through the instructions of God. However, art delivered from nature and imitation is a contradiction to Blake’s beliefs. It is an allusion to Reynold’s “Discourses on Art,” and Blake’s endeavor to ridicule him. His comparison to Israel being delivered from Egypt through God insinuates that, art is delivered from nature and imitation through the accordance of God.

Reynold and Blake’s disagreement regarding the definition of art reminds me of the discourses of Existential thinkers – Sartre, Camus, etc. – that argued the necessity of the existence of God in our being. In the past our ancestors regarded God as an undeniable absolute. However, in our contemporary period, is the existence of God necessary to determine our existence?

Hongxi Su