A Kantian Perspective

City of the Lake by Leonid Afremov

Featured above is the stunning painting City of the Lake, crafted by Russian-Israeli, Leonid Afremov. The bright fluorescents of oil paint have been sculpted with the use of a pallet knife– explaining the bold brushes of color throughout every inch of the painting.

Leonid Afremov - Last Trolley at Night & Retro Car Near the House - 2015.jpg
Leonid Afremov


Breanne Parry is one of the very few willing to divulge any reference of opinion to Leonid Afremov’s art work. Within Parry’s September 14th, 2017 blog post, she proceeds to acutely analyze the composition of Afremov’s City of the Lake. Breanne Parry suggests several artistic methods compose the completed artwork, detailing the methods one-by-one to discuss how these create a sense of surreal beauty. “Leonid has given life to his painting by using color as light, contrast, mood, and movement, along with tone and lines to emphasize depth” (Parry). The combination of these techniques force the eyes to scan the painting in its entirety. Afremov’s City by the Lake demands attention, demands viewers to be caught within a web of bold, colorful oils. “I would certainly like to own a copy of this painting and others like it” (Parry) Parry adds, firmly cementing her enjoyment of City of the Lake. Thus, the heart of Parry’s critique can be pinpointed towards a general enjoyment of the techniques within Afremov’s artwork, wherein Parry has been drawn into and made to feel pleasure.

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Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant suggests a series of rules one must follow to determine whether or not an art piece can truly be considered “beautiful”– or, in more exact terms, whether or not an art piece ought to be considered beautiful. Of the Four Moments, as Kant would call the aforementioned set of aesthetic rules, the following entry will relate Kant’s First Moment with Leonid Afremov’s City by the Lake.

Perhaps most important to the understanding of the First Moment is to, then, understand the judgement of taste. Kant is specific, suggesting the following: “… when we question if a thing is beautiful, we do not want to know whether anything depends or can depend on the existence of the thing, either for myself or for anyone else, but how we judge it by mere observation” (Kant 281). Therefore, the judgement of taste is disinterested. When judging the aesthetics of an object, one cannot approach any piece through the cloudy lenses of personal bias. The critic must carry with them an unwavering degree of neutrality, judging only whether the object sparks “pleasure or pain” (Kant 281). When one foolishly offers criticism of beauty on the basis the objects relation to the self or other, the object gratifies the user. “All interest presupposes or generates a want,” Kant says. “…and as the determining ground of assent, it leaves the judgement about the object no longer free” (Kant 285-286). The spark of the beautiful is a free thing beyond the limits of logical judgements, when one judges beauty on the basis of personal inclination then all art becomes purely relative from observer to observer. The beautiful pleases without the cognitive chains of rules, principles, or even concepts– the beautiful merely is.

When first observing City of the Lake by Leonid Afremov, I must, of course, consider whether the painting produces a disinterested feeling of pleasure or pain. The artwork does, in fact, evoke pleasure. However, the question then concerns whether the sensation is merely of gratification masquerading as pleasure. Leonid Afremov is not an artist I am familiar with, and therefore I hold no bias towards Afremov as an artist. City of the Lake does not stir within any experiences within my personal life that I might relate the painting to. The painting simply emits a sense of pleasure, a pleasure that is unexplainable beyond the understanding that the feeling is present. I am drawn to the painting for reasons beyond knowledge, therefore City of the Lake by Leonid Afremov succeeds at passing the First Moment.

A reasonable counterargument might suggest that, to some subconscious extent, the painting does indeed gratify my existence. Perhaps, within me, there exists a level of inclination towards the style or the color choice that I have yet to be made aware of. To the aforementioned counterargument, the only sound objection would argue that true universal validity is impossible due to these subconscious impulses. However, rather than completely invalidating the possibility of disinterested judgement of taste– one merely should reach a state of being as close as possible to the ideal judgement of taste.



  1. kathrynchuc says:

    I LOVE THIS PICTURE! -But not for the right reasons according to Kant.
    I find it interesting that when you look at “City of the Lake” you can look at it from a “disinterested” perspective. For me, this makes me think of visiting Paris and finding romance!
    (-So I suppose I’m not a very good judge when it comes to this particular piece of work.) 🙂


    1. jarogrant says:

      Haha, honestly you have a very valid point. Re-looking at the painting, I definitely admire the intimacy that vibrates within the painting. When I first judged the painting, I did attempt to force myself into as severe a form of neutrality as possible. Coming out of that headspace certainly forces me to admire the painting in a different, more cognitive light which perhaps isn’t the best thing to admit!


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