The Moral Nature of Artistic Genius
By: Brian Hughes
Published: 05/31/2006
Uploaded: 08/16/2006
Uploaded by: Brian Hughes
Pockets: Creative Commons, Arts & Humanities, Art and Art Education
Tags: aesthetics, art education, art history, dissertation, ethics, Gadamer, Gauguin, Kant, MacIntyre, moral philosophy


[download all as a zip file]

Description/Abstract: The aim of my dissertation is to rehabilitate the concept of genius for artists and art educators. This conceptual project is partly a debunking of what artists and philosophers have hitherto understood as genius, and partly an explanation of the artistic activity that often coincides with that recognition. I cultivate a philosophical perspective at the confluence of moral and educational theories by locating John Dewey's view of inquiry as the proper foundation of art education, and I argue that critiquing the concept of genius within a moral framework positions the concept as an educative feature of discussions of artistic excellence.

By turning to examples such as Paul Gauguin's life and art, I show how the concept of genius may influence artists and their practices. I claim that Immanuel Kant's view of genius—a view echoed in Romanticism and contemporary artworld discourses—unhinges artists from tradition and undermines art education. I contend that Alasdair MacIntyre's special concept of subordination 1) describes a key aspect of art education, 2) corresponds to Hans-Georg Gadamer's theory of hermeneutic excellence, and 3) corrects Kant's shortsightedness about the role of tradition in conceptions of excellence. With this conceptual vantage, I explain how subordination sustains relationships among artists while allowing for both the emergence of solutions to problems shared by communities of artists, as well as the emergence of methodological innovations in naturalistic inquiry.

Philosophizing about artistic excellence in this way invites artists and art educators to reflect on the impact and significance of their ordinary endeavors. By developing a multifaceted conception of genius within a moral framework, this study further develops virtue ethics within a tradition that embraces a universalizing mode of analytic philosophy, and also seeks to transform the social imaginary of artists and art educators. I discuss the critique's implications for pedagogy and how the concept of genius serves as a more elegant description of "forward-thinking" practitioners than has thus far been articulated in MacIntyrian ethics.

Login to post comments

Anthony Cocciolo    May 31 2006, 10:13 am
Nice work. I'm tickled by the reference to moi on page 90.