Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Notes on Genius

In a study of how the notion of genius evolved, Gender and Genius, Christine Battersby argues that ‘genius’ came into its modern use only towards the end of the eighteenth century. In this time period people revised both Renaissance and ancient views of men’s and women’s natures. The late medieval picture of lustful woman was replaced by a view of woman as pure and gentle. Perhaps strangely, the male became more associated with a set of qualities including not just reason but also imagination and passion. Genius was now seen as something ‘primitive’, ‘natural’, and unexplained by reason. As the notion of genius got tied with men, there were peculiar shifts and diagnoses: Rousseau denied that women could be geniuses because they lack the requisite passion, but Kant reversed things by insisting that genius obeys a sort of law or inner duty, and claiming that women lacked such discipline in their emotions.

 Freeland, Cynthia. Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction.Oxford U Press: New York, 2001.

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