Some Kant Aesthetic Quotes

Anish Kapoor Marsyas 2002 © Tate Photography
Anish Kapoor Marsyas 2002 © Tate Photography


The Critique of Judgement by Immanuel Kant, translated by James Creed Meredith


Every affection of the STRENUOUS TYPE (such, that is, as excites the

consciousness of our power of overcoming every resistance [animus

strenuus]) is aesthetically sublime, e.g., anger, even desperation

(the rage of forlorn hope but not faint-hearted despair). [Emphasis in the original]


Genius: “(3) It cannot indicate scientifically how it brings

about its product, but rather gives the rule as nature. Hence, where

an author owes a product to his genius, he does not himself know how

the ideas for it have entered into his head, nor has he it in his

power to invent the like at pleasure, or methodically, and communicate

the same to others in such precepts as would put them in a position to

produce similar products. (Hence, presumably, our word Genie is

derived from genius, as the peculiar guardian and guiding spirit given

to a man at his birth, by the inspiration of which those original

ideas were obtained.)”


The concept of fine art,

however, does not permit of the judgement upon the beauty of its

product being derived from any rule that has a concept for its

determining ground, and that depends, consequently, on a concept of

the way in which the product is possible. Consequently fine art cannot

of its own self excogitate the rule according to which it is to

effectuate its product. But since, for all that, a product can never

be called art unless there is a preceding rule, it follows that nature

in the individual (and by virtue of the harmony of his faculties) must

give the rule to art, i.e., fine art is only possible as a product

of genius.


From this it may be seen that genius (1) is a talent for producing

that for which no definite rule can be given, and not an aptitude in

the way of cleverness for what can be learned according to some

rule; and that consequently originality must be its primary

property. (2) Since there may also be original nonsense, its

products must at the same time be models, i.e., be exemplary; and,

consequently, though not themselves derived from imitation, they

must serve that purpose for others, i.e., as a standard or rule of



The sublime is that, the mere capacity of

thinking which evidences a faculty of mind transcending every standard

of sense.


Now, since in the estimate of magnitude we have to take into account not

merely the multiplicity (number of units) but also the magnitude of

the unit (the measure), and since the magnitude of this unit in turn

always requires something else as its measure and as the standard of

its comparison, and so on, we see that the computation of the

magnitude of phenomena is, in all cases, utterly incapable of

affording us any absolute concept of a magnitude, and can, instead,

only afford one that is always based on comparison.

Hence it comes that the sublime is not to be looked for in

the things of nature, but only in our own ideas.


Here we readily see that nothing can be given in nature, no matter how great we may

judge it to be, which, regarded in some other relation, may not be

degraded to the level of the infinitely little, and nothing so small

which in comparison with some still smaller standard may not for our

imagination be enlarged to the greatness of a world. Telescopes have

put within our reach an abundance of material to go upon in making the

first observation, and microscopes the same in making the second.

Nothing, therefore, which can be an object of the senses is to be

termed sublime when treated on this footing.


But the analysis of the sublime obliges a division not required by

that of the beautiful, namely one into the mathematically and the

dynamically sublime.


Sublime is the name given to what is absolutely great.

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