6 Genius, Its Philosophical Significance: The Sublime and the Beautiful

At the same time, I could not help thinking that Mr. Johnson showed a want of taste in laughing at the wild grandeur of nature, which to a mind undebauched by art conveys the most pleasing awful, sublime ideas. Boswell London Journal1762-1763

In the preceding chapter we have followed the development of the theory of genius in the philosophy of art and have concluded that in it we come upon the humanization and naturalization of the great analogy of the artist to God the creator and maker. Psychologically, this development indicates the compulsion which leads men to imagine abstract ideas and ideals in concrete images and suggests the grounds for the recurrence of the analogy and of inspiration in the history of the Western tradition. The ideas and ideals, the humanization of which has produced the figure of the genius as fine artist, are perfection and novelty, the former the limiting conception of technique, the latter that of creativity. Both express the ideal of autonomy.

The philosophical significance of the theory of genius for aesthetic, in contrast to the psychological, is to be sought in the specifications of the ideas of perfection and creativity or originality in the objects and events the genius is presumed to make or create. At this point, the historian of ideas and the aesthetician encounter some obscurity, owing in part to the interest displayed by eighteenth-century thinkers in the merits of artistic objects as objects or events produced either by imitation or imagination. Were mimetic or imagined objects and events in fact the principal structures which eighteenth-century thinkers judged to be those correlative to the artist in the theory


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The Artist as Creator


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