Kant's Conception of Genius
As part of his Critique of the Aesthetic Judgement, Kant sets out to
explain what constitutes a fine work of art, and in doing so he asserts
that "fine arts must necessarily be regarded as arts of genius." (page
168, 'The Critique of Judgement', Immanuel Kant). He then goes on to
justify this, and to explain what genius consists of, and how a work of
genius is arrived at.
Kant begins by stating that for the representation of any work of art
to be possible, it must have certain rules at its foundation. However,
with fine art, the beauty of the object is judged independently of any
concept, and therefore a work of fine art cannot have been derived from
any rule which had a concept as its basis. From this it follows that "fine
art is only possible as a product of genius", where "genius is a talent for
producing that for which no definite rule can be given." (page 168). It
follows from this notion of genius that as no definite rule can be given,
the author will not be able to explain how the ideas that created the fine
work of art came to them.
Kant now goes on to make an important distinction between the
work of a genius and the work of what he terms "a man of brains." (page
169). As rules cannot be laid down to enable others to create works of
genius, the work of genius differs crucially from the work of a scientist.
We may refer to Newton as "a man of brains...[but] all that Newton has
set forth in his immortal work on the Principles of Natural Philosophy
may well be learned...but we cannot learn to write in a true poetic vein."
(page 170). Scientists can explain the steps that they followed and
methods that they used to reach their discovery, but no fine artist can
show how their ideas came to them as they themselves do not know.
We can therefore see that no matter how important the work of a
scientist, it can never be termed the work of a genius.
So what is the rule with no concept as its basis that is behind a
work of fine art? As we cannot actually set out this rule due to its lack
of a concept, Kant feels that the only way in which it can be understood
is by experiencing the works of geniuses directly. In this way the works
become exemplary models, which a pupil can then use for following,
though not for imitation. Alternatively the work of a genius may inspire
other geniuses to create their own original works of genius.
15/06/93 However, Kant does not want to say that a work of genius
is devoid of any rules whatsoever. "Genius can do no more than furnish
rich material for products of fine art; its elaboration and its form require
a talent academically trained, so that it may be employed in such a way
as to stand the test of judgement." (page 171-172). In other words,
without experience and technique, a genius will not produce a fine work
of art. A genius needs the best training and conditions possible to
flourish, and only...