Philosophy, Literature and the Visual Arts
‘Kant’s conception of genius is outdated in a postmodern context.’ Do you agree?
In an introduction of Immanuel Kant’s ‘Critique of Judgement’ by Clive Cazeaux, fine art is described in a Kantian point of view as a product of genius. He states here that the concept of genius was formulated during the romanticism period, somewhere in between the eightieth and ninetieth century and the term was used to describe an artist who could give a phenomenal form to ‘aesthetic ideas.’ Since Kant wrote during the romantic period, the world has seen many changes since then and the question above asks the question of whether Kant’s idea of genius is still relevant from a postmodern perspective as we have undergone several adjustments especially after the industrial revolution. This essay will attempt to answer that question by looking closely at extracts from Kant’s ‘Critique of Judgment’ in particular the sections under genius and compare it to another theoretical text, however a postmodern one and that is Fredric Jameson’s study, ‘The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.’ It will also look at and compare a number of fine art pieces from the pre-industrial period to postmodern ideas of fine art before coming to a conclusion about the question prosed above.
Since the idea of genius is related to the Kantian view of fine art, we must first look at the term from this particular perspective. The first thing that Kant stresses on is that fine art is not a science. To explain this further, science is always something that needs proof, so to say if we say a rainbow is beautiful, from a scientific perspective, it would require facts and empirical data to prove that it is indeed beautiful. On the other hand if we looked at something from a fine arts perspective, it would not need proof, rather knowledge. This is knowledge outside the world of science such as history, languages and culture. Something such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculpture ‘Apollo and Daphne’. The sculpture shows Apollo chasing Daphne and this was when Daphne begs to be changed in form and is turning into a tree. The sculpture epitomizes what Kant describes as fine art, it is not something merely for entertainment, rather it is a piece rich with history and one of the key things is it is a representation of nature. This was important to Kant as aesthetics of art was something that was natural as everything in the world does in fact revolve around nature.
Moving on to postmodernism, Jamerson opens his study by talking about the spectacles that postmodernism would bring, examples he gave were end to the concept of ideology, social class and art. He goes on to explaining that works such as Wallace Stevens and abstract expressionism in paintings were seen as gone and died with those who created them. Postmodernism gave the impression that progress in science and technology was going to bring about a change where things such as fine art were to decline to give room for supposedly bigger and better things. If this were the case, then Kant’s concept of genius would indeed be outdated as with the elimination of arts would mean that there would be no use for that concept in the first place however, to date there is still art being created and people still have a high regard for it so the question still stands.
The first piece this essay will look at from a postmodern context is the works of Andy Warhol in particular his work in 1962, the ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans.’ The piece is as the title suggests a series of Campbell’s soup painted on a total number of thirty-two canvases. Can this fall into Kant’s term of genius or fine art? There is nothing natural about a can of soup thus the aesthetics may be called into question. This in comparison with the above worked discussed which was Bernini’s ‘Apollo and Daphne’ it seems that Warhol’s work falls short. Even compared to something more human, such as his work ‘Marilyn Monroe’ it...
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