An Enquiry into the sublime and beautiful

  • Painting: oil on canvas
  • Size: 36Hx42Wx2 inches

Firstly, a sublime number. In number theory, a sublime number is a positive integer having a perfect number of positive divisors, to include itself, and whose positive divisors add up to another perfect number. 12 is a sublime number. It has a perfect number of positive divisors (6): 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 12, and the sum of these is again a perfect number: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 6 + 12 = 28. Therefore, I’ve made the painting's dimensions is 36x48 which when multiplied equals 1,728 square inches, which when divided by 12 equals 144, which when divided by 12 equals itself, or 12. I find an infinite comfort in this.

Secondly, in “A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful,” Edmund Burke distills the analysis of his inquiry in the three quotes below, within the first few chapters of the book - Burke was a master, as were most of his period, of organization and an accepted logical adherence. "And my point in this enquiry is to find where there are any principles on which the imagination is affected." The key terms in this quote are "principles" and "imagination." Next: "All natural powers... which I know, that are conversant about external objects, are the senses, the imagination; and the judgment." And, "that the critical taste does not depend upon a superior principle," a theory of knowledge or any a priori consideration – a number for instance - "but upon superior knowledge [acquired by means of Locke's "blank slate"], may appear from several instances." 

What makes the imagination transcend itself, educate itself, is the sublime - and all sublimity begins in darkness. Contrary to John Locke's empiricism, the mind starts in darkness. Not blank, the slate is darkened only, for fear of not perceiving impels it to strive. In this case darkness is not a metaphor, it is a condition. It can be likened to the darkness of a deep well, a cold depth that one fears, but that can nonetheless be entered. Hence, the simile gains reality only in the seemingly ineffable origins of the mind to conduct thought. The condition of existence to impinge itself on thought elicits itself in color, for the dimension of sight is primary without impairment, without its geometry and its precepts, and imposes itself upon our physical, perceptual world. .

In all the complexity of the night sky, in its color, in all the evolution of the universe, there is an instance of minutia that draws the eye, – this captivating minute speck - to a reeling perception of an inviolable inundation of one’s being into a concentrated moment of visual perception. Or elsewhere, it can be, to summarize Nietzsche in the Birth of Tragedy, “the artistic taming of the horrible” (section 7).  

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