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Milton C. Nahm

Genius and Aesthetic Relation of the Arts *

The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

Volume 9, Issue 1

Sept. 1950, 1-12.




Enthusiasm, Ecstasy and Madness


Aesthetic Relation of the Arts

HHC: Titling and Index added


However fully aware one fallen under the spell of great art may be of the “superstitions” which, Croce insists, 1 attend “the cult of the genius,” it is difficult, if not impossible wholly to avoid entertaining some of that cult’s beliefs.  How, indeed, escape the notion that the descending cadences of the second movement of Mozart’s Concerto No. 21 in C, the Falstaff who “lards the lean earth,” and the ugliness of those Hell Hounds who

when they list, would creep,

If aught disturb’d thir noyse, into her woomb,

And kennel there, yet there still bark’d and howl’d

Within unseen,

are “original” and beyond exhaustive analysis in terms of craft and technique?  And who would deny, despite such extravagances as the transformation of Vergil into a necromancer, Socrates into a saint, and Aristotle into a divinity, that there are authentic experiences of men whose stature does not permit comfortable fit within the categories with which human beings classify and so understand their fellows?  To one experiencing “birth in beauty,” there is little strain in accepting as unique both the genius and the event he has created.

And yet, as one accepts the novelty of the genius and the individuality of the work of fine art, one may be plagued by the notion that “uniqueness” itself may easily join that procession of superstition-ridden words – “inspiration,” “divine afflatus,” “enthusiasm,” “poetic madness,” “divine Prometheus under Jove” - with which the “cult of the genius” has at various times and in various contexts characterized or “explained” the powers which stir the poet, the musician and the painter to create.  The suspicion is allayed by one fundamental fact: the word “uniqueness” most clearly places the problem of genius in its proper realm, vaguely suggested by other terms, the realm of human freedom, in the specific form called creativity.  This is principally indicated in the assumption that the novel or the individual is that which escapes or is free from exhaustive analysis or precision in prediction in terms of the mechanical processes, either of processes which enter upon the history of the agent who produces it or in the materials, techniques, symbols, styles, or forms which he employs.



Moreover, it is in precisely this realm of human freedom that the crucial issue concerning the classification of the aesthetic arts emerges.  I doubt that many would take umbrage at Croce’s second dictum 2 — "all books dealing with

* Read at the annual meeting of the American Society for Aesthetics, October 22, 1949.

1. Aesthetic as Science of Expression, translated by Douglas Ainslie, p. 15.

2. Ibid., p. 114.


classifications and systems of the arts could be burned without any loss whatever” - if forced to memorize even the post-Hegelian efforts to interrelate the arts.  To burn such books, however, would scarcely resolve the problem of freedom which the aesthetic relation of the arts raises.  For if what is novel is inexplicable in terms of the determined aspects of process and history, it would appear also to escape classification at that most crucial point in analysis - the point at which the painting or the poet becomes “fine” or “free art.”

The critics and poets of the eighteenth century were, fortunately, well aware that the fundamental problems of genius and of judgment inhere in freedom, for from them we may get our bearings in a complex maze.  Alexander Pope 3 sees clearly that artist and critic are closely related:

In Poets as true genius is but rare,

True Taste as seldom is the Critics share;

Both must alike from Heav’n derive their light,

These born to judge, as well as those to write.

And his Essay on Criticism arrives, as well, at the central problem: 4 “Some beauties yet no Precepts can declare,” since

Music resembles Poetry, in each

Are nameless graces which no methods teach,

And which a master-hand can reach.

If, where the rules not far enough extend

(Since rules were made but to promote their end)

Some lucky License answer to the full

Th’ intent propos’d, that License is a rule.

A century rebelling against a traditional interpretation of Aristotelian poetics which ignored the meaning for art of Aristotle’s own theory of free choice 5 and failed to assess at its true worth Aristotle’s bow 6 to poetry as an art of enthusiasm, set as the mark of its attack “rules… made but to promote their end.”  Young 7 maintained that there are in poetry “mysteries not to be explained but admired” and urged that “a genius differs from a good understanding as a magician from a good architect; that raises his structure by means invisible, this by the skilful use of common tools.”  Its poets and critics centered attention upon rules, methods, means and ends in a search for the original.  “The first and leading quality of genius,” wrote Gerard, 8 is “invention.”  The poets and critics asked, in effect, how could what is “original” emerge if it were explicable wholly in terms of rational τέχνη and could, in more modern phrase, on the side of wholly rational criticism, be “subdued to the intellect.”  They had clear vision concerning the nature of the problem and unerringly took their own cue to the alliance of freedom and genius from the fountainhead of speculation on the subject. 9  Plato

3. An Essay on Criticism, lines 11 sq.

4. lbid., 141 sq.

5. Compare E. N. 1140 b 20-25 and Poetics XXV.

6. Rhetoric III. 7, Problems XXX. I, and Poetics XVII, XXV.

7. Edward Young, Conjectures on Original Composition, ed. Steinke, see pp. 45-6, 49.

8. Alexander Gerard, An Essay on Taste. Cf. Plato’s Ion 534.

9. Apology 22.

2 Index

had written that “not by wisdom do poets write poetry but by a sort of genius and inspiration” and so had sought to emancipate the artist he himself had condemned to the servitude of serving as mirror of the world by means of the mimesis which so admirably fits the rational doctrine of Ideas. 10  In Ion Plato delivers 11 the artist from that bondage to the freedom of inspiration.  It is notable that one so raised need have no “knowledge of a whole art” nor can he 12 “make right judgments of the sayings and doings of that art.”  Plato is the source of the eighteenth century’s notions concerning genius, but Longinus, in that great work of ancient literary criticism, de Sublimitate, fixes the image of the great man and of great art.  And, indeed, Longinus stresses 13 the crucial issue, namely that there are profoundly moving works of art whose makers evidently thought “little of minute correctness,” a suggestion which clearly allies technique and judgment to crafts but denies their relevance to the products of free genius.  The writers of the eighteenth century, I repeat, saw the problem clearly in terms of human freedom.  They sought to solve it by denying that there is either an identity of techniques in art and fine art or, indeed, that there may be a technique of fine art.  On this latter issue, they were in error.  And it is precisely in the apparently abortive effort of post-Kantian philosophers to indicate the aesthetic bond among the arts through the analysis of the relations of genius and mechanism that the character of the problem of creative freedom comes clear and may be solved.

Historically, this occurred because the tradition of the artist as free creator flowed into the Critique of Judgment in which Kant, as Bosanquet writes, 14 gave aesthetic consciousness its “final negative definition” in terms of freedom.  The core of Kant’s theory is the proposition 15 that “taste in the Beautiful is alone disinterested and free satisfaction.”  But the very abstractness with which Kant wrote upon aesthetic theory confronted his followers with the task of elaborating upon the original pattern of freedom.  The tradition flows strongly from the third critique in a current of classification of fine arts, through Hegel’s, Schopenhauer’s and Nietzsche’s philosophies of fine art until it encounters the firm obstacle of Croce’s expressionism, constructed in part to stem all classifications of the aesthetic arts in the name of that very freedom which Kant exalts.  In fact, we can best understand the problem of genius and the aesthetic relation of the arts both in its Kantian and later forms once we ascertain the use to which Kant directed the tradition of genius in clarifying his conception of artistic freedom.16  The task he set himself is stated in terms which are but an aesthetic echo of those used in the first critique to express his conception of freedom: “Freedom (independence) from the laws of nature is no doubt a liberation from compulsion,” he had written, 17 “but also from the guidance of all rules.”  This principle is now

10. Republic X, 596.

11. Ion 532.

12. Ion 538. Compare Laws 719.

13. Longinus’ de Sublimitate XXXVI, 1, 3.

14. Bernard Bosanquet, A History of Aesthetic, pp. 265-66.

15. Critique of Judgment, translated by J. H. Bernard, p. 54.

16. I have made no mention in this paper of Kant’s indebtedness to Shaftesbury and other writers on genius who more particularly influenced the Kantian theory of mechanism.

17. Critique of Pure Reason, A 447, Norman Kemp Smith’s translation.


specified for aesthetic: 18 “Art…  is called free… But it is not inexpedient to recall that in all free arts there is yet requisite something compulsory.”  More explicitly, 19 two factors are to be recognized in genius, “Spirit,” introduced to ensure “originality,” and “mechanism,” “without which the spirit, which must be free in art and which alone inspires the work, would have no body and would evaporate altogether.”

Kant’s “reconciliation” of spirit and mechanism in the theory of genius is tantalizingly brief.  Spirit, Kant holds, is “ineffable” and related to “inspiration,” but he is careful to relate 20 it on its ideal side to reason: “We ought only to describe as Art, production through freedom, i.e. through a will that places Reason at the basis of its actions.”  This evidently is based on the supposition 21 that the determining ground of the judgment of taste lies in “the concept of that which may be regarded as the supersensible substrate of humanity.”


Enthusiasm, Ecstasy and Madness

If, however, the theoretical raises tantalizing possibilities for metaphysics, the practical reconciliation, the interrelating of spirit to actual mechanisms, does so no less for the aesthetician: “In poetry,” writes Kant,” “there must be an accuracy and wealth of language, and also prosody and measure.”  From this, the seed, grow such elaborations of “mechanism” as the studies of media, symbols, and feelings which find their places in the philosophies of art in the nineteenth century.  It appears to me that these elaborations remain, principally, studies of classification and interrelations of “mechanisms,” rather than with the aesthetic interrelations of the arts.  As such, there is stress upon the means-end relation in its rational application to the “something compulsory” in signs, media, feelings, and unity.  It is when we ask how what Kant called “spirit” is related to these “mechanisms” that Young’s conception of the genius as a “magician” rather than one with “a good understanding” assumes its proper importance as the reasons for his suggestion that the “magician” uses “means invisible” become meaningful.  For to deal with “mechanisms,” with “common tools,” means to proceed by technique or rationally according to rule and where error enters, the end-product is flawed.  Many an able critic, after Longinus, cogitating upon genius, had been struck by the fact that the artisan who makes a work of fine arts may not only ignore rules but would appear never to have subjected himself to the disciplines ordinarily needed to acquire them.  It is evident that, in this sense, Young’s “means invisible” are means non-technical or non-rational.  This, in fact is all too apparent in the long history of the thesis that the artist is one literally mad, one whose eye in “fine frenzy” doth roll.  The origin of this notion is the theory of enthusiasm or ecstasy, 23 its methodology is the illogical conversion of a- or non-rational into irrational, and its barren conclusion is sufficiently clear in Jung’s remark 24 that “Any reaction to stimulus may be causally ex-

18. Critique of Judgment, Section 43, p. 184.

19. Ibid., pp. 184—85.

20. Ibid., p. 183.

21. Ibid., Section 57, p. 233.

22. Ibid., Section 43, p. 185.

23. Cf. Note 6 above and my Aesthetic Experience and Its Presuppositions, Chapter IX.

24. Modern Man in Search of a Soul, p. 177.


plained, but the creative act, which is the absolute antithesis of mere reaction, will forever elude the human understanding.”



Another “superstition,” no less hoary than that of the madness of the artist has served to illuminate speculation upon the supposed ways in which men produce works of fine art while yet escaping servitude to techniques of science and art.  It would be naive for theorists to ignore those geniuses who have emerged in the sere and yellow period of their lives but there are figurative uses of the terms “youth” and precocity which fit into a general theory of genius as primitivism.  Primitivism provides a clue to the fine artist’s creative powers and freedom, offering, as it does, to explain how a man can know without effort, discipline, or technical training.

Primitivism assumes a variety of forms.  There is Schopenhauer’s suggestion,” that “the genius is to a certain extent a child” in his “naiveté and sublime simplicity.”  It is notable that the view is grounded on the twin assumptions that “the mental powers develop much earlier than the needs they are designed to serve” and that “phenomena are brooded over and stored up carefully for the coming time.”  Thus to lay stress upon the imagination’s powers of preformation of technical skills is interesting but the general theory rests, or so it appears to me, upon an untenable identification of play and art. 26

For Hegel, the relation of Kant’s dualism of freedom, “spirit” and mechanism, would appear to be grounded on what I prefer to call cultural primitivism.  On this hypothesis, the modifications of material employed in art, if taken from the age in which we live, 27 will not readily escape the appearance of a purely artificial and intentional composition.” Hegel argues, 28 therefore, that the “artist has a freer hand for his artistic powers of composition… if the actions, histories, and characters are borrowed from ancient times.”  The hypothesis, which might perhaps fairly be called a cultural analogue to “aesthetic distance,” is presupposed by an heroic age.  It but partially frees the artist from the need to submit to the compulsions of signs and, certainly, does not account for the acquisition of such technical skills as fine art requires, perhaps on the unphilosophical assumptions that the fine artist is not only a magician but a prophet as well.

The emphasis which Schopenhauer and Hegel place upon the function of the imagination in interrelating art and fine art, spirit and mechanism, anticipate the most radical, systematic and general form of genius as primitivism.  This I should call epistemological primitivism and, in its employment in the task of freeing the artist from the compulsions of rules and mechanisms, it is perfected by Croce in his theory of genius.  In its epistemological form, however, primitivism was becoming explicit in the writings of both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, more particularly in their application of Kantian theory to music.  Schopenhauer urges 29 that this art is a direct expression of the will and infers 30 that “the essence

25. The World as Will and Idea, translated by R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp, Vol. III, Chapter XXXI, p. 314.

26. See Aesthetic Experience and Its Presuppositions, Chapter VII.

27. The Philosophy of Fine Art, translated by F. P. B. Osmastoii, Vol. I, p. 254.

28. Ibid., p. 254-55.

29. The World as Will and Idea, Vol. I, Book III, Sect. 52, pp. 150 sq.

30. Ibid., Vol. III, Chapter XXXI, p. 293.


of genius must lie in the perfection and energy of the knowledge of perception.”  Such knowledge he characterizes 31 as “the most original and fundamental,” and that through which the 32 “peculiar and true nature of things… discloses and reveals itself.”  All primary thought, he maintains, 33 “takes place in pictures,” which are contrasted to the abstractions of thoughts and conceptions.  Finally, for Schopenhauer, it is imagination which, as the “indispensable tool” of genius, draws fresh nourishment from perception.  In Nietzsche’s writing, the strands of cultural and epistemological primitivism begin to be drawn together.  “Only in so far as the genius in the act of artistic production coalesces with this primordial artist of the world,” writes 34 the author of The Birth of Tragedy, “does he catch a glimpse of the eternal essence of art,” that essence upon which Schopenhauer had pondered.  Culture and theory of knowledge do tend to coalesce in Nietzche’s thoughts concerning genius but, simultaneously, the original interrelation of “spirit” and “mechanism” which for Kant set the very problem of the freedom of genius, moves forward to its disruption: “By no means is it possible,” Nietzsche maintains, 35 “for language adequately to render the cosmic symbolism of music, for the very reason that music… symbolizes a sphere which is above all appearance and beyond all phenomena.”  Nietzsche goes so far, indeed, as to assert that all our knowledge of art is “basically quite illusory.”

These are, however, but signposts on the highway of genius.  Croce’s theory of expression is the ultima thule toward which that highway runs.  In its Crocean form, epistemological primitivism is generalized to assure the unrestricted freedom of the genius, now adjudged to be “humanity itself.” 36  Art is imagination or intuition, the first and primitive stage of spirit, sharply differentiated from knowledge obtained through the intellect. 37  At one stroke, the theory of genius and of his free creativity is extended not only to all humanity and to the denial that there are specific aesthetic arts.  What Pope but hinted at is now asserted in philosophical language: the identity of genius and taste, of creativity and judgment.

Croce understands clearly what he has done.  Imagination, he holds, 38 “has no need for a master” and expression is “free inspiration.” 39  Spirit, in Kant’s sense, has been freed from the “something compulsory” of “mechanisms” and so thoroughly has this been done that imagination, intuition or expression is not only emancipated from technique but - since genius and tests are identified - from objective judgment as well. 40  To one troubled by the nominalism of Croce’s

31. Ibid., p. 295.

32 Ibid., pp. 295-96.

33. Ibid., p. 296.

34. Op. Cit., p. 50, translated by W. A. Haussman.

35. Ibid., p. 55.

36. Aesthetic, p. 15: “It has been forgotten that genius is not something that has fallen from heaven, but humanity itself.”  Croce urges the point in order to ensure the identity of genius and taste.

37. Ibid., p. 1.

38. Ibid., p. 2; cf. p. 116.

39. Ibid., p. 51.

40. Ibid., pp. 70, 71, and 90.  See the discussion of this point in “On the Relations of Public and Private Art,” College Art Journal, Vol. VI, No. 4, pp. 255 sq.  It should be noted [that for Croce the aesthetic stage is one of “genuine sensible certainty… where there is no distinction of subject and object, no comparison of one thing to another.” What is Living and What is Dead in Hegel’s Philosophy, p. 123.]

HHC: [bracketed] displayed on page 8 or original.


theory and accepting Kant’s inference that “freedom… from the laws of nature is no doubt a liberation from compulsion but also from the guidance of all rules,” there is one sentence in Croce’s generalization of the theory of genius and free creativity which makes it possible to ascertain, in fact, what is implied and whether, indeed, what is implied makes an aesthetic relation of the arts impossible.  That it ostensibly does render such a relation impossible is a recurrent theme in Croce’s aesthetic and the theme recurs because Croce’s is an aesthetic of the unique individual, of the original and unclassifiable work of art, produced by sheer originality.

The one sentence is “the search for the end of art is ridiculous… since to fix an end is to choose… to choose is to will.” 41  And it is significant because to the word “end” have adhered in philosophical speculation the two aspects which Plato attributed to the idea of good, namely, intelligibility and power. 42  In asserting that the artist genius need not search for the end of art Croce is attempting to establish the free originality and autonomy of the genius precisely as did St. Augustine in maintaining that “the world was created by God out of nothing and this creation was due to God’s absolute free will, not to any logical or other necessity, or to any Idea outside himself.” 43 Young’s genius who used “means-invisible” is now recognizable.  In Croce, the denial to the fine artist of a rational technical means-end relation is the assertion that the genius is precisely analogous to the God of the Hebraic-Christian tradition. 44  Croce’s genius, like God the creator, creates out of non-existent matter 45 and without external compulsion of logic or ideas. 46


Aesthetic Relation of the Arts

We may go farther and extend our statement of the problem of genius to that of the aesthetic relation of the arts.  As we have seen, this is essentially the relation of the free genius to the “something compulsory” of mechanisms and Croce’s radical emancipation of the genius’ unconditioned freedom is but a reflection of a violent reaction to a second and differing theological assertion concerning God’s freedom.  This is evident in Croce’s criticism of Hegel who, he writes, 47 “could not discover the first ingenuous theoretic form, which is the lyric

41. Aesthetic, p. 51 and p. 112: “Expression does not possess means, because it has not an end.”  Cf. R. 0. Collingwood, The Principles of Art, Chapter II.

42. See Republic VI. 509 and Sophist 249.

43. Quoted from Erich Frank’s “St. Augustine and Greek Thought,” (The Augustinian Society, 1942).  See also Professor Frank’s Philosophical Understanding and Religious Truth, Chapter III, note 19.

44. See my ‘The Theological Background of the Theory of the Artist as Creator,” The Journal of the History of ldeas, Vol. VIII, No. 3.

45. Aesthetic, pp. 5-6: “On the hither side of the lower limit is sensation, formless matter, which the spirit can never apprehend in itself as simple matter.  This it can only possess with form and in form, but postulates the notion of it as a mere limit.  Matter, in its abstraction, is mechanism, passivity; it is what the spirit of man suffers, but does not produce.”

46. Ibid, page 2 on the relation of concepts and intuitions.

47. What is Living and What is Dead in Hegel’s Philosophy ,E.T., p. 122

7 Index

or the music of spirit, and in which there is nothing philosophically contradictory, because the philosophical problem has not yet emerged.”  Now Hegel held that the core of the theory of genius is this, 48 that “true originality is identical with true objectivity.”  This can only mean that true artistic freedom consists in the objectification of imagination in suitable media [matter] and with reference to the end of art. 49  Stated in this way, Hegel’s thesis is no less absolutist than Croce’s - and for good reason.  What we are in fact dealing with is that alternative interpretation of freedom which stems not from Genesis but from Plato’s Timaeus, a conception of freedom within rational limitations of idea and matter, in which freedom is not freedom to perform miracles but the freedom of self determination within fixed laws of nature.50  Indeed, it is startling and illuminating, to find Hegel curbing the absolutism of his own statement concerning complete originality and rationality.  Hegel’s genius is artistically inspired in the sense that he has the “capacity of being entirely absorbed in a given subject.” 51  The emphasis is upon the “given.” 52  The rational genius, as does Plato’s Demiurgos, encounters something external, which he does not create, is faced by something which “the individual is unable to evolve from himself but has to find it” or, indeed, may not find at all. 53

Are we, then, correct in concluding that artistic freedom in terms of genius is but a great analogy of the fine artist to God, a bifurcated analogy formulated within the western tradition of speculation in efforts to resolve the theological antinomy of God the maker and God the creator, of god the rational technician or god the performer of miracles?  Does it reflect merely the assertion of man’s omniscience or omnipotence or his lack of these perfections because, historically,

48. The Philosophy of Fine Art, E. T., Vol. I, p. 400.  The more complete statement which immediately precedes this in Hegel’s discussion of originality (Vol. I, Chapter III, C) is as follows: “The final result, then, of our inquiry on this head is that true originality does not consist in merely conforming to the paramount conditions of style, but in a kind of inspired state (in der subjektiven. Begeistrung) personal to the artist which, instead of committing itself wholly to a mere external manner of composition, seizes hold of a particular subject-matter that is essentially rational, and by virtue of its own resources and quality, re-clothes the same as from within the artist himself and not merely in a way conformable to the essential notion of the art adopted, but also in a form adequate to the universal notion of the Ideal.”

49. See Hegel’s discussion, Introduction to the Philosophy of Fine Art, Chapter III, Part II, Bosanquet’s translation, pp. 115-42.  It should be noted that Hegel maintains that the imagination is creative but that to create is “to apprehend it [i. e. the inner core of reason] clothed in the concrete form of actual existence and individuality.”  The quotation is from The Philosophy of Fine Art, E. T., Vol. I, p. 383.  See, also, Bosanquet’s Three Lectures on Aesthetic, p. 62.

50. See H. A. Wolfson’s “Philo on Free Will,” Harvard Theological Review, XXXV, No. 2 (1942), pp. 138-40.

51. The Philosophy of Fine Art, Vol. I, p. 391.

52. Ibid. See, for example, p. 391: “The impulse to production can therefore be given by something entirely outside the artist’s life…” and p. 385, “This artistic creativeness consequently encloses within itself, as art does throughout, the aspect of immediacy envisaged with the directness of Nature’s own creations, and it is this appearance, which the individual is unable to evolve from himself, but has to find it, if he finds it at all, as immediately presented to him.”

53. See above, footnote 52.

8 Index

the nous of Plato’s macrocosm is the nous of our microcosmic soul, 54 and because the long history of the development of the conception of a unique, rather than a typical soul in the middle ages finds a modern application in Croce’s assertion 55 that “every work of art expresses a state of the soul, and the state of the soul is individual and always new, the intuition implies infinite intuitions… particular works of art are infinite: all are original… each one unsubdued by the intellect”?  Are we, finally, to accept as the result of a century of speculation upon the genius the absurdity that we are all geniuses in the sense that we are in aesthetic and artistic experiences, wholly free of conditioning factors?

The answer is in each case, in my opinion, no.  We do well to emancipate ourselves and aesthetic from the trappings of a theological tradition which in the context of philosophy of art would involve acceptance not of an “attendant,” but of a central “superstition,” namely, that man is omnipotent or omniscient.  It is of no less importance, however, to know why the notion of genius is so tenacious, why it recurs, and what place it merits in the problem of free creativity in art.  Genius does have meaning, both psychologically and philosophically.  Psychologically, it is understandable in aesthetic precisely as the old saying that history is what Alcibiades said and did is understandable to the historian.  Men do not ordinarily think in terms of souls, techniques, or rules.  They cherish images of personages, of heroes, of saints, and of geniuses in art, images in which inhere deeds of unparalleled valor, virtue without stain, and constructions of supreme excellence.  There meet in the genius two notions, that of the miraculous creator of unique individuals and of the wholly rational demiurge, and the product is a personification or hypostatization of the imagined limit of men’s powers.  The genius is a species of the free man, of which the hero is the genus.  As the hero is free to face and overcome dangers fatal to lesser mortals, the saint free in his incapacity to sin, so the genius as artist is free to make without error.  The genius as creator and maker alike is the product of the imagination, a work of art.  If it, as work of art, comes under rules of technique - and it must be remembered that this is a most fertile source of symbol for fine art - it may indeed become a work of fine art.  Shaftesbury, it appears to me, has correctly sensed 56 the psychological needs satisfied by the image of the genius: “No poet,” he writes, “...can do anything great in his own way without the imagination or supposition of a divine presence,” and adds, sagely enough, that whether the “divine presence” be spectral or real is of no consequence.  The need is to transport the mind, as Shaftesbury insists, 57 “with more than what I feel at ordinary hours.”  Men need the image of the fine artist as genius to embody their own idealizations of perfection and power to avoid or to transcend error.  As, in Lord Rosebery’s words, “France in chill moments of disaster... will turn and warm herself at the glories of Napoleon,” so man will be inspired by the names of Leonardo, Dante, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Giotto and their fellows.  Whether this source of

54. See, for example, Philebus 29-30 and Rep. X, 603.

55. The Essence of Aesthetic, E. T., pp. 56-57. Compare Rep. III, on ‘faculties’ and functions of the soul.

56. “A Letter Concerning Enthusiasm,” Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, etc., by Anthony Earl of Shaftesbury, ed. John M. Robertson (1900), p. 36.

57. Ibid., pp. 8-9.


inspiration in their own moments of frustration, despair or discouragement is an image of a producer of uniqueness and perfection endowed with power of sheer creativity overleaping all natural law or one of sheer rationality who understands and controls all means-end relations, we may with confidence infer from the psychological the philosophical abstraction: unconditioned creativity and wholly conditioned rationality of craft are limiting conceptions of human freedom.  The first is required to give the notion of the “original” and the “unique,” the second to emancipate man from limitations actually confronting a rational approach to the unique.  Each is needed to set the desired but unachievable end of productivity and to guarantee progress toward that infinitely approachable but unachievable goal.  Sheer uniqueness is impossible, the theory of the genius to the contrary notwithstanding, for the work of fine art must fall within categories of intelligibility.

Within the bounds of these limiting conceptions, may a meaningful statement be made concerning the aesthetic relation of the arts?  We can make such a statement, once we have cast forth such paraphernalia as Young’s “invisible means.”  The arts may be interrelated aesthetically and classified intelligibly provided we also discard the dearly bought and dearly held myths that freedom is freedom only if one may do anything one wants to do and that the only ‘law of freedom is, as Pope suggested, the rule of license.  There is a law of freedom in art and its principal hypothesis is that the work of fine art is explicable in terms of a rational means-end relation. 58 Fine art, no less than craft, is τέχνη and it is free only in comparison and contrast to art or craft.  Granted such a technique called fine art, its correlative in judgment - since I should hold that artistic productivity and aesthetic experience are generically the same in being productive although they are specifically different in that one is making and the other is judging - will be rationally grounded and a classification of the aesthetic arts is possible.

This means that epistemological primitivism is unsound precisely because, despite Croce’s assertion, the philosophical problem has emerged in the aesthetic stage.  No aesthetic stage is conceivable except by comparison and contrast to a non-aesthetic stage.  The non-aesthetic work of art is sign or symbol, medium, objectified feeling, i.e. “a concrete significant form” belonging to the realm of mechanism and fact.  The work of fine art, ordered in terms of end, is a single instrument. 59

It should next be noted that the mechanisms of art condition but do not determine the work of fine art or artistic freedom.  Architecture, painting, music, poetry, sculpture and the dance are generic names for the specific mechanisms of art, i.e. for buildings, paintings, etc.  As mechanisms, such works of art are not interchangeable. 60  Not only is it true that if a man need a habitation he will

58. I have examined some of the principal problems of the work of art as a mechanism in “Structure and the Judgement of Art,” The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. XLV, No. 25, pp. 684-94.  It should be noted at this point that such structural or mechanical descriptions of the work of art as form, sign, artefact and object of feeling, i.e. the work of art as “concrete significant form,” presuppose the work of fine art.

59. The work of art is an object, the work of fine art is an event.  Consequently, a division of the fine arts into spatial and temporal will not suffice.  Cf. “Structure and the Judgement of Art,” p. 691.

60. See E. A. Singer, Jr.’s “Esthetic and the Rational Ideal,” On the Contented Life, p. 18.

10 Index

find that neither painting nor poem will adequately protect him from the elements; it is also true that no man can “poem a picture” and that only in figures of speech is architecture “frozen music.”  It is no less true that no aesthetically qualified building will exist unless the non-aesthetic and mechanical architecture to construct it, the symbols it incorporates, the feelings it expresses, likewise exist.  It is nonetheless true that in their aesthetic meanings, the conditioning but not determining mechanisms are interchangeable, i.e. precisely in relation to what Kant called “spirit.”  The aesthetic arts are interchangeable instruments for the single and unique end of stimulating the productive imagination to create the creator. 61

The work of fine art, the single instrument related to this end, operates as an “individual event,” intelligible not as a species of a genus but as an individual of a class.  It is intelligible not as a mere fact but as a valuable individual belonging to a category of value.  Our value experiences of works of fine art consist in movements of the imagination and our reflection upon those movements.  The specification or individualization of those value experiences turns upon the kinds of equilibrium reestablished after we have been profoundly moved in aesthetic experience. 62

I have urged thus far that, by way of illustration, a poem is a fact or mechanism and may be analyzed at that level without reference to value in terms of unity, media, signs, expression of feeling.  I do not argue that these “factual” attributes may not be later interpreted in terms of value.  In fact, I should argue that prior to such aesthetic valuation the mechanism must be treated as a whole and related to the end of creativity.  But may we not break down the category of value, creativity, into principal subdivisions and so make clearer what we mean?  We may and the terminology is readily available, although history has often obscured its meaning.  The fact or mechanism becomes an aesthetically valued individual the moment we assign to it the terms ordinarily associated with aesthetic “types,” i.e. the terms comic, tragic, sublime, or ugly.  In this sense, the aesthetic relation of the arts is an answer to two questions, not one.  For the technique of fine art consists in the artist employing the mechanisms of art, i.e. media, signs, feelings, etc., to produce, let us say, a tragic or a comic whole.  The artist may succeed or he may fail and we may judge correctly or falsely but if he succeed technically and we succeed in sound judgment, the painting he paints and the poem he writes may both be classified as tragic or comic and classified both correctly and aesthetically.

This means that the precise relation of the aesthetic arts may be determined by the impact of the whole work of fine art upon our imagination.  These wholes - individuals which fall under the categories of the comic, the tragic, the ugly, and the sublime, although each individual must vary in its mechanical content - are evaluations of the work of fine art in terms of human goods.  If, under the impact of great art, values are destroyed 63 but the experience nevertheless “establishes a new world on the ruins of the old which has been overthrown,” the individual work of fine art belongs to the aesthetic class called tragic; if the

61. See Aesthetic Experience and Its Presuppositions, Chapter XVIII.

62. Ibid., Chapter XVII, particularly pp. 480 sq. and Chapter XIX.

63. See Singer, “Esthetic and the Rational Ideal,” pp. 50 sq.


old values are restored and reaffirmed, to the class of comic; if the values are destroyed beyond recovery and the imagination driven but to repetition and immersion in irony and despair, the work of fine art is ugly.

In this I have been speaking of the “total structure of art,” that enormously complex interrelation of artist, work of art, aesthetic experience and end of art.  Within that structure, the genius and the aesthetic relation of the arts are conjoined in human freedom in the only meaningful sense in which the conception of freedom applies to human beings: under the condition of relating mechanisms to ends within the scope of limiting conceptions of complete creativity and complete rationality



The Competitiveness of Nations

in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

September  2002

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