Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

J.W. Yarbrough


This is a study of artistic imagination--literally, the process of image-making--the act of translating sensory information into visible symbols. Specifically, it is a study of three eighteenth century artists' detailed theories of imagination, and a comparison of the visual effects described by these theories. William Hogarth, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and William Blake ar~ three roughly contemporary artists who each describe a means of approaching nature, recording sensory facts and translating them into the images of art. I intend to pose three related questions to these artists and to seek answers in their respective treatises on aesthetic composition. Two of these are formal analyses: Hogarth's Analysis of Beauty (1753) and Reynolds' fifteen Discourses on Art {1769-1790). Blake's opinions will be collected from three major sources, his "Annotations on Sir Joshua Reynolds' Discourses on Art," his Descriptive Catalogue of 1809, and his public address accompanying an exhibition of Chaucer engravings in 1810. My hypothesis in posing the following questions to Hogarth, Reynolds, and Blake is that these artists represent three degrees of objective/subjective "seeing," and that the issues of imitation, originality and sensual appreciation of nature, which are so critical to eighteenth-century aesthetics, are more clearly illustrated in the visual artist's experience than in the poet's or historian's. While all art involves contemplating and interpreting the world, visual art--because it does not necessarily involve translation into more abstract language--is often more immediate and more accessible: A picture of a tree is likely to be recognizable to a Russian, an Indian, a Hausa tribesman or an Englishman; the word "tree" is not. To understand the aesthetic choices made by these three articulate, practicing artists is to be aware of imaginative options open to all artists of their time. This awareness in turn resists easy generalizations about the state of the arts in Neoclassical England, and provides a point of departure for further critical study of image-making in a particular age.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Blake, William, 1757-1827
Reynolds, Joshua, Sir, 1723-1792
Hogarth, William, 1697-1764



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University