4 The Genius

. . . it is, as it were, a fragment of Divinity.


Kant maintains that genius is the talent for beautiful art.1 He intends to emphasize the superiority of artificial beauty over natural beauty, and this he does by maintaining that the art of genius is superior precisely because it is able to describe as beautiful things which may be "in nature ugly or displeasing."2

For the historian of aesthetic, the collocation of concepts and problems explicit and implicit in these remarks is of extraordinary interest. In the first place, their context is a systematic account of judgment which, as Kant believed, "makes possible the transition from the realm of the natural concept to that of the concept of freedom," specifically applied to art.3 Secondly, it is precisely in the art of genius that Kant locates the capacity to make the ugly identical with its contrary. The power attributed here to genius is one which, as was observed in the previous chapter, has added no little to the force of a tradition in which the artist's power and knowledge are implicitly or explicitly analogous to God's. Finally, as will be evident as we proceed, Kant's suggestion implies that the distinction between freedom to know and freedom to make, which arises in historical considerations of God's relation to ideas and matter, begins to blur once the conception of genius is elaborated and the problems of art are subjected to systematic and technical analysis.

Despite this convergence of ideas and problems, it is erroneous to interpret the genius solely or even principally by reference to the ugly, which speculation tended to consider the test

K.d.U., sec. 48, trans. Bernard, p. 193.
Ibid., pp. 194-95.
Ibid., Introduction, IX, p. 40.


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The Artist as Creator


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