This article is on Blake’s conception of the sublime and imagination－ 18th century’s major concept of European Aesthetics－and how he applied his art theory to his paintings.
Blake did not develop a complete theory of the sublime, but he used the word regularly as a term of the highest praise and as one describing the art of which he truly appreciated. Therefore, During in the Romanticism era and the Post-Modern his extraordinary world of poetry and visual art began to make a mark, as the sublime was becoming more and more influential.
Although he criticized E. Burke “mocks inspiration and vision”, but in many ways he follows burke’s thoughts on the sublime. That is, Blake gave pictorial expression of the sublime in his paintings, by applying the Burke’s quotations from literature works presented as examples of the sublime to his visual image. And such literature theme, along with distinctive and detailed description of lines by his experience as an engraver, seems to be one of the reasons why his art works were different from those of other artists in those days.
Especially, Blake designed his works, keeping mind Burke’s Sublime theory, in creating an image for Hebrew literature and works of Shakespeare or Milton, contrary to Greek and Roman Arts. Furthermore, his religious view and vision seemed to have accelerated this tendency. This was because Blake initially viewed the Roman and Greek arts derive from Hebrew arts and although the original form disappeared, he viewed himself as gifted to be able look at the originality through vision. Blake’s thought like this reflects that he did not influence on Neoclassicism’s art theory such as ‘general nature’ or ‘deal Beauty’.
Unlike Neoclassicism which strived for general concept of nature, Blake interpreted nature as a reflection of the world of soul and painting was unrelated to a copy of a physical world. Moreover, he viewed the world of soul as a world of imagination created by the dreamers.
Furthermore, contrary to what Neoclassicism artists such as Mengs viewed modern arts as low class, and Greek and Roman arts as ideal, Blake respected Michelangelo, Raffaello, and Durer as his ideal artists. However, when he borrowed from the great artists, he copied their works ‘without modifying’ and showed tendency toward focusing on the detail representation. Likewise, Blake did not monomaniacally represent details, only in copying the works of great artists. Blake put much effort in ‘portraying the characteristics of details’, especially in accuracy and sensitiveness of outlines, evaluating highly to what classic artists such as Reynolds viewed as violation of generalization standard. And, Blake’s focus on detailed outlines and elaborations like this is closely related to his opinion on how concrete and accurate the images are. For Blake, creation of arts works began from an accurate visual image that only must be recorded in most accurate form.
Nevertheless, Blake’s work process was executed in the old academic customs followed by the great part of artists in his times. Although his poet and visual art based on distinctive philosophical his speculation and Christian perspective, Blake also established his artistic view by borrowing many motifs from various materials in visually complex and various era of innovation, establishing his artistic view.
Therefore, Blake understood the exact characteristics of his visions, and although he was describing the hallucination as if it was real, he, at the same time, acknowledged that they were different from the process of seeing the physical world. In other words, his theory of painting, alike his theory on poetry was based on his firm belief toward imagination and inspiration.