Chapter 9. "Art is Ideal Imitation" by Joshua Reynolds

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from Discourses On Art
The Reading Selection from Discourses on Art: VII
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Sir Joshua Reynolds adapted from Duykinck, A Portrait Gallery

About the author …

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), the predominant portrait artist of the Enlightenment, clarified the principles of the ęsthetic theory of ideal representation. Reynolds grew up in Devon, but learned his art under Thomas Hudson in London. He founded "the Club," i.e., the well known Literary Club of Edmund Burke, Samuel Johnson, and James Boswell. As the elected president of the Royal Academy, his philosophy of art developed through his lectures to the members and students of the Academy at the annual awarding of student prizes.

About the work …

In "Discourse VII," in his Seven Discourses on Art, [1] Joshua Reynolds sets out some of the principles of artistic education and ęsthetic criticism. For Reynolds, beauty is an intellectual quality and is obtained in art as a kind of rational reconstruction of nature, whereby the general forms of objects are become represented. Although Reynolds assumes that general rules or principles account for artistic excellence, artistic genius applies these precepts in an original manner.

Ideas of Interest from Discourses On Art

  1. What does Reynolds mean by the assertion that the foundations of art are established in science?

  2. What is it that Reynolds believes the beginning artist can particularly learn, not from reading, but from "learned and ingenious" persons?

  3. With what kinds of philosophy does Reynolds believe that the young artist should be conversant?

  4. How does Reynolds define artistic taste? How is taste related to genius? Why does Reynold believe artistic genius is not intuitive?

  5. Describe Reynold's characterization of the two levels of principles or truth to which art should conform. What is Reynolds' first presiding principle of art?

  6. According to Reynolds, how does one form a true idea of the imagination? How is agreement and uniformity of opinion (i.e. of standards of taste) in the arts obtained?

  7. What does Reynolds say is the main purpose of art?

  8. According to Reynolds, why should the artist study philosophy?



Joshua Reynolds. "Discourse VII: Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy on the Distribution of the Prizes, December 10th, 1776, by the President." Seven Discourses on Art. London: Cassel. 1901.