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The Wiley Handbook of Genius by Dean Keith Simonton

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24 Evaluating Excellence in the Arts

Victor Ginsburgh and Sheila Weyers

Though many philosophers, historians, psychologists, or sociologists deal with the question of genius in the arts, their definitions hardly help to identify such individuals. The difficulty is beautifully illustrated in an anecdote reported by Gombrich:

I remember my elder colleague Ernst Kris [keeper at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and psychoanalyst] returning from a trip to Italy and my asking him eagerly what new insights about psychology of art he had brought back. “I have made a discovery,” he said gravely. “It is the great masters who are the great masters.” (1979, p. 165)

For Kant (1790, § 49), genius “is a talent for producing that for which no definite rule can be given [and] originality must be its first property … [its products] must be models, i.e. exemplary.”

A more “operational” definition had been proposed a few years earlier by Hume (1757, p. 9) in his celebrated essay “Of the standard of taste”: “A real genius, the longer his works endure, and the more wide they are spread, the more sincere is the admiration which he meets with.” This definition contains the idea of the “test of time.”1 To make his point clear, Hume adds that:

envy and jealousy have too much place in a narrow circle; and even familiar acquaintance may diminish the applause due to [the artist's] performances: but when these obstructions are removed, the beauties immediately display their energy; and while ...

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