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Apollonian and Dionysian are the dichotomy elements which are used to explain the concept of heteronomy and autonomy in creative works. The God of light, logic, order and ration, Apollo in Greek mythology stands for heteronomy while Dionysus, the god of wine, chaos, instinct and emotions represents autonomy. These two gods were no rivals but contrast to each other, which Friedrich Nietzsche found it suitable to clarify his opinion of aesthetic. He referred Apollonian to the beauty of balance, self-conscious and ideal, and Dionysian to primitive urges, frantic nature and ecstasy in his The Birth of Tragedy.

According to Nietzsche’s view point, Apollonian is the pursuit the magnificent beauty of appearance, which creates the tranquil illusion shield against the anguish and terror of reality. On the other hand, Dionysian unleash the wildest impulse of human nature that brings not only pleasure but also agony of destruction. The recognition of the essence of human destroys the principle of individuation. That is, indulgence, lust and pain are the essences of all mankind. Individual will dissolve in the collective and no longer exist when these human essences are exceeded to the extreme. These two characteristics, though opposing to each other, held the same goal to escape and to look for extrication. Therefore, it is human instincts to seek the status of dream and drunkenness and to create salvation for human beings’ spiritual world through heteronomy and autonomy of art.

Both art works and product design break the balance of Apollonian and Dionysian as the society changes. Contemporary art works, whether in galleries, museums or craft fairs, are asked to acquire the quality of commodities which could be exchanged. Therefore, the autonomy of art works decay. Art works creators have to modify the route of their works to adapt the external interference. Creators suppress the inner desire for self-liberation to follow the request of the public. On contrary, autonomy develops in product design. The self-determination and internal drive of designers cast their emotions and thoughts on their designs. The more autonomy is in the dominant position, the more designers create their works regardless of the functions and practical factors.

The fusion of art and design, the tug of war between heteronomy and autonomy and the fragile harmony of Apollonian and Dionysian show that the definition of art, or say all creative works, is like a line hung in the air. It shifts and swings with the wind which demonstrates flexibility and liberty in medium, subjects, interpretations and value of art.


The Dionysian and the Apollonian in Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy Alexander Gatherer, Cardiff University

Apollonian and Dionysian From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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