The Sublime


A term drawn from philosophy and closely associated with the wonders of nature, the sublime is meant to describe that which inspires feelings of awe, grandeur, or even anxiety and helplessness in the face of power that surpasses human scale or comprehension. In the 19th century, the German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich famously painted landscape scenes as a way to contemplate and depict the sublime, representing tiny figures dwarfed by the surrounding scenery. Artists have also evoked the sublime through abstraction, such as Abstract Expressionists Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, who used large fields of color to envelop and overwhelm the viewer. In contemporary art, photographer Andreas Gursky includes more detail than the human eye can perceive in order to represent the digital sublime of the information age. The Internet, global warming, and globalization have become the exemplars of the modern-day sublime—ideas so vast they are impossible for any individual to grasp.

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