Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone



Now that increasing numbers of people are stuck at home and sheltering in place, I figured I’d do a little series. Every weekday for the duration of this intense period, I’ll post a short definition of some term in/related to aesthetics and philosophy of art. Let’s see how this goes! See them all here.

Terms of Art #27:
the sublime


one of the most paradigmatic paintings of the sublime:
Caspar David Friedrich’s Monk by the Sea (c. 1808-1810) [source]

Pronunciation: sub-LIME (as in, below the limes) (jk that is not what sublime means)

Definition: The sublime is a concept with a long history. But the short version is:

Some people thought about how things are sometimes scary but also impressive. And then someone translated their thoughts into French as the “sublime”.

Later on, in the 18th century, a bunch of English dudes climbed the Alps (it was kind of a fad) and were like WHOA we need some term to capture this experience. The sublime!

And ever since, people have been debating what exactly it is. So what is it?

Well, it’s like when you hear a huge thunderclap and you’re like YEEKS but also WOW and feel a little thrill.


listen for yourself

Or when you stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon and you’re like shit this is VAST and I am tiny and powerless and if I just slipped the teensiest bit… and you’re amazed.

Or when you are awestruck by the number of stars in the heavenly firmament and just feel like you sink back into the earth because you’re so small and insignificant…

It’s being filled with awe at something truly powerful. Like you’re terrified but also maybe sort of enjoying it…?

Here are some fun puzzles people think about:

  • Can things be sublime and also pleasurable at all? Why do we ever like this feeling?
  • Can things be sublime and beautiful? Or are they incompatible?

Not to be confused with:
The 90s pop-alt rock-ska band. Their music is decidedly not sublime.


  1. So Sublime is not sublime, but could be if i put my old CD under a lime? (yes I have the CDs still)

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.