Feb. 8 Reading Notes--Kant/Genius

Posted by Alexandra Scarborough (on members list as HAS)

Reading sections 46-50 (p. 187-197), Critique of the Power of Judgment

46: Beautiful art is art of genius.

Kant’s definition of genius is “the inborn predisposition of the mind through which nature gives the rule to art.” This faculty is innate within the artist, a gift of nature, if you will. Kant also says “beautiful arts must necessarily be considered as arts of genius.” Soon, K. will elucidate the difference between genius and mere imitation, to underscore his argument for the delineation of beautiful art from other art.

Additionally, K. argues that beautiful art cannot create its own rules for beauty; therefore, the beautiful emerges through genius, as a product.

Kant proffers four framing characteristics of genius: first, that it is shown through a talent by which no rule is followed—therefore, originality is at its center; secondly, art through genius is exemplary—thereby not being imitative or derivative; thirdly, that it is not calculated—its rules cannot be described by the artist (within whom genius is housed) as emerging from his/her nature as the underscoring factor. Additionally, the artist/genius would not be able to describe the precepts of his/her art to another, so as to suggest derivative works that could be produced. Finally, the “rule” of genius should not be ascribed to science, but to art—and then, only beautiful art.

47: Elucidation and confirmation of the above explanation of genius.

Kant says we now understand genius is the exact opposite of imitation. Even someone who has the ability learn the techniques for producing art (as opposed to a “blockhead”—someone who can never do more than merely learn and imitate), is still following a path of inquiry that is not unlike imitation. Kant relates this to that Newton’s laws—saying they could be learned, because they follow specific scientific steps—but in contrast, one cannot learn the genius of Homer or Wieland, as those artists could not explain from where their ideas came or could not teach their ideas to others. K. gives credit to scientific men, claiming their contributions as necessary and useful, but does not feel that such persons can be called geniuses, as their knowledge can be maintained through communication, whereas artistic genius dies with its creator, only to later appear in another, discreet, new genius, by the hand of nature.

Then how is a gift of nature also a rule of art, Kant asks? He says it cannot be seen as a precept, as that leads to judgment by concepts; instead, he argues for it coming from the product of a genius’s talent, lending itself to being imitated by others (rather than simply copied). Instead, the “ideas of the artist arouse similar ideas in his apprentice if nature has equipped him with a similar proportion of mental powers.” This way, the genius/artist’s vision can be carried on, in models of beautiful art, “for posterity.” Because of the mechanical necessity for the production of art, the genius must employ certain methods of form, through being academically trained to produce a work that can “stand up to the power of judgment.” Both the material of the genius’s mind and the form to execute it are necessary for the production of work worthy of judgment. K. concludes this section with a commentary of those who would present themselves as geniuses when they are merely imitators—deriding both the artist him/herself, and the public who would accept them as such.

48: On the relation of genius to taste.

Producing beautiful art requires genius; judging such requires taste. Kant further articulates how the beauty of nature requires taste, whereas the beauty of art (also judged) requires genius. He caps off these assertions with: “A beauty of nature is a beautiful thing; the beauty of art is a beautiful representation of a thing.”

Beauty in nature, Kant says, can be judged without having knowledge of its “material purposiveness (the end) … the mere form without knowledge of the end pleases for itself in the judging.” However, if the object judged is a product of art, the judging has to take into account “the perfection of the thing,” which Kant argues isn’t even necessary in judging natural beauty. He does mention when things in nature such as men and horses are judged, that they move out of aesthetics into the realm of taste. Kant uses the illustrative example of a beautiful woman—the appraisal of her is seen through the eyes of someone merely appreciating this particular female’s conformity to what is “logically conditioned aesthetic judgment.” In contrast, beautiful art can represent things in nature that are “ugly or displeasing” quite successfully. Kant does add the exception of “loathing” represented artistically; he feels it cannot be adequately represented “adequate to nature without destroying all aesthetic satisfaction.” He goes on to describe how sculptors use beautiful imagery to communicate ugly objects—such as death or the spirit of war.

An art object can be beautifully represented, so as to satisfy both the artist and the viewer, but the final form is merely a matter of taste, which Kant refers to as “merely a faculty for judging, not a productive faculty.” Ultimately, such a work, while pleasing and conforming to certain standards, is simply “studied” and not to be referred to as beautiful art. In all art forms, however, one can find “genius without taste, while in another, taste without genius.”

49: On the faculties of the mind that constitute genius.

Kant talks of spirit as a term of aesthetic significance, saying that a piece of art may be judged beautiful in terms of taste, but if lacking spirit (described as “the animating principle in the mind”), then it lacks value. He uses the examples of a “pretty and elegant” poem or a “thorough and at the same time flowery” oration that lacks spirit as examples of how this can occur. Further, Kant likens the animating principle of spirit to that which fires “the soul” of art—“which purposively sets the mental powers into motion, i.e., into a play that is self-maintaining and even strengthens the powers to that end.” This is the part of genius that allows for the origination of aesthetic ideas—concepts that are not able to be articulated in an intelligent way, although they are fully cognized. K. sees aesthetic ideas as “counterpart (pendant) of an idea of reason,” not just an intuition. Here, K. elaborates on the imagination as a central mechanism for creating art—seeing it almost as another nature, emerging from genius. This faculty allows for ideas to arrive, “step[ping] beyond nature” to intellectualize concepts of human experience, as well as the fantastic—to make “sensible rational ideas of invisible beings … the kingdom of hell … death, envy … love fame, etc.” However, K. does say this faculty, “considered by itself alone, is really only a talent (of the imagination).” Through the representation of such concepts through art, “it gives more to think about than can be grasped and made distinct in [only the concept of the object itself].” Thereby, the representations serve as attributes of the imagination—K. gives Jupiter’s eagle, “with the lightning in its claws” as an example—as a “powerful king of heaven,” ultimately providing us with a way to “animate the mind by opening up for it the prospect of an immeasurable field of related representations.”

Kant gives an example of this in beautiful art: through poetry, relating the advice to conduct one’s life as that of a “beautiful summer day, drawn to a close”—the sun’s rays spreading out for the “well-being of the world.” Kant argues that such representations relate inexpressible concepts in this way—“combin[ing] spirit with the mere letter of language.”

Therefore, Kant says, “The mental powers … whose union (in a certain relation) constitutes genius, are imagination and understanding.” They balance each other out, existing in a “happy relation” to each other, “finding ideas for a given concept” and “hitting upon the expression for these through which the subjective disposition of the mind that is thereby produced, as an accompaniment of a concept [that] can be communicated to others.” In the expression of these concepts is the spirit to which K. referred earlier, making the concepts “universally communicable, whether the expression consist[s] in language, or painting or in plastic art.”

Kant sums up this section by reviewing: first, he says, genius is “a talent for art, not for science, in which rules that are distinctly cognized must come first and determine the procedure in it”; second, he discusses the importance of artistic representation for “relation of the imagination to the understanding”; third, how the expression of aesthetic ideas are key to the imagination’s ability to understand the purposiveness in a work of art; and fourth, despite the purposiveness of the object, the apprehension of such is not constrained by any rules of “science or mechanical imitation, but that only the nature of the subject can produce.” This means that the genius is using his/her innate abilities to create something that is purposive, original and imbued with spirit, through the free play of his/her cognitive faculties. Through this exercise, more geniuses are created, because the “product of a genius … is an example, not for imitation … but for emulation by another genius, who is thereby awakened to the feeling of his own originality, to exercise freedom from coercion in his own art in such a way that the latter thereby itself acquires a new rule by which the talent shows itself as exemplary.” The “school” of art that can emerge from such a phenomenon, however, can create imitation in beautiful art, “to which nature gave the rule through a genius.” K. goes on to describe ways that the genius’s genius can be degraded—through aping, copying, and mannerism—the last of which is contrasted against method. Both appropriate the work of a genius (manner through “the feeling of unity in the presentation” and method through the “determinate principles” of a work) thereby, invaliding themselves as viable artistic representations. As K. says, “only the first is valid.” Finally, he delineates mannered from mannerism, in that mannered is intended to look original, rather than following an already established format. He appears to have particular distain for this method of appropriation.

50: On the combination of taste with genius in products of beautiful art.

Kant compares whether genius or taste in art is more important to whether imagination or the power of judgment is more significant in art. He says the first two have more to do with art being inspired, while the latter two have to do with beautiful art. “To be rich and original in ideas is not as necessary for the sake of beauty as is the suitability of the imagination in its freedom to the lawfulness of the understanding.” Thus, the first two bring about pleasure but “nonsense”; but “the power of judgment … is the faculty for bringing it in line with the understanding.”

Kant relates taste to a corrective measure (the power of judgment, equally so); it polishes a work and regulates genius—“giving it guidance as to where and how far it should extend itself if it is to remain purposive”—keeping it ‘on task’, as it were; universal, and enduring. Kant argues that, in weighing the two, the sacrifices must be made “on the side of genius” as the power of judgment “makes its pronouncements on the basis of its own principles [and] will sooner permit damage to the freedom and richness of the imagination than to the understanding.” This seems an odd statement, as up to this point, K. seems to be extolling the superior value of genius in beautiful art. Perhaps it is his way of recognizing the importance of reason (including understanding) over all other factors? At any rate, K. concludes this section with the statement: “For beautiful art, therefore, imagination, understanding, spirit and taste are requisite.”

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