German philosopher Nicolai Hartmann described the way works of art exist in terms of layers. Learn about the theory of layers.


Nicolai Hartmann, a German philosopher known for his critical ontology, described the way a work of art exists as a layered theory. In his book Aesthetics, Hartmann explains that a work of art is composed of two components: a "foreground," which is the perceived, tangible material, and a "background," which is the non-tangible, mental connotation. Taken as a whole, the foreground of a work of art is the sensory, tangible layer of "form," while the background is the non-tangible layer of "ideology.

In this way, a work of art has a two-layered structure: a foreground and a background. However, unlike the foreground, the background is a multilayered structure that is subdivided into one to four levels in terms of content. The different layers of the after-view exist organically, and each layer is influenced by the previous layer according to the sequence of layers, so that the ideological and spiritual after-view appears through the sensory foreground.

To use a portrait as a specific example, the foreground is the arrangement of lines and colors that we can see, painted in two-dimensional space on the screen. The first layer of the portrait is the "external material" layer of the person depicted, and the second layer is the "life" layer, which is what we see through the material layer and shows the person's movements, facial expressions, etc. The third layer is a 'psychological' layer that appears through the previous life layer and shows the personality and inner destiny of the character, and finally, the fourth layer is a 'spiritual' layer that appears based on the psychological layer and shows the essence of the character, ideology, and significance of the work.

This perception of the way a work of art exists is how Hartmann defines the relationship between artist and viewer. In other words, the foreground, the mental world that the artist is trying to convey through the artwork, is represented by the background, and the viewer is able to know the background that the artist is trying to express through the foreground. Therefore, it is recognized that to appreciate a work of art is to go deep into the mental layer of the foreground through the sensory and phenomenal layer of the work, and to be able to meet the artist and have a mental conversation with him.

According to Hartmann, the appreciation of a work of art is the viewer's own encounter, dialog, and interaction with the artist's mental world. In the end, the viewer creates a second work of art that goes beyond the original experience. Second-hand experience is the feeling of someone else's experience as one's own, or the feeling of reliving a previous experience. What is the point of appreciating a work of art if it only focuses on experiencing sensory pleasure, understanding its meaning and discussing its value? Appreciation should be about discovering new values and enriching one's spirit.