3. Project 3: The Beautiful and the Sublime

3.2. ‘The Sublime’ Historically

The sublime is not simply confined to visual art works. Examples of the sublime within mythology and narrative are rife throughout all cultures. The terrifying aspect of the sublime is no more clearly expressed than in the Hollywood disaster movie, both the historically based and more fantastic. In A Night to Remember (1958) and the more recent (and yet somehow more dated) Titanic (1997) the audience is subjected to the peril of the sub-zero conditions of the Atlantic Ocean. Environmental apocalypses have been explored in movies such as Day after Tomorrow (2004) and The Road (2009). A viral epidemic threatens to wipe out mankind in Outbreak (1995), while in Arachnophobia (1990) it is spiders. (Burke recognised small animals and insects in relation to the sublime.) Perhaps most terrifying of all, screenwriters have tapped into our fear of the vastness of outer space and the possible dangers it might pose in movies such as Independence Day (1996) and Deep Impact (1998).

Further Research

Search ‘The Sublime’ on the Tate website to find a whole host of material regarding the subject.

Exercise 5: The Contemporary Abyss

Read Simon Morley’s essay Staring into the Contemporary Abyss published on the Tate website.

This should provide you with a good overview of the sublime as a theme within visual culture.

Next, choose any body of work that you feel explores the sublime. It may be a photographic project, a work of literature, cinema, or any other medium.

In your learning log, write at least 300 words describing how you believe the work you’ve selected relates to the sublime. Use Morley’s text to support your argument.