On cinematic genius : ontology and appreciation

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Journal article

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Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement

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Cambridge University Press


is often associated with the idea that artistic creativity is entirely a matter of an involuntary sort of inspiration visited upon the individual artist. [1] My aim in referring to cinematic genius is not, however, to defend that dubious thesis, but to direct attention to the remarkable artistic achievements that some film-makers, working individually or in collaborative teams, have managed to bring about in their intentional and often painstaking creation of cinematic works. Genius, as I understand it, is the exceptional ability to do something difficult, such as the intentional making of an innovative and valuable work of art. My central claim in what follows is that our longstanding and legitimate interest in manifestations of this kind of skill has important implications for a number of interrelated issues in the philosophy of art, and in particular, for some of the questions taken up in the ever-expanding literature on the ontology of works of art.

I begin by evoking some of the central questions in the ontology of art and recommend one approach to their solution. In the second section of the paper I discuss aspects of a particular case in some detail, namely, Mira Nair’s (2004) cinematic adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s (1848) Vanity Fair. One upshot of this discussion is that when we take into account what it means to appreciate a cinematic adaptation as such, we discover additional support for the
recommended approach to the ontological questions. In the final section of the paper, I examine some implications for our understanding of the nature of cinematic works and conclude with remarks on the distinction between multiple and singular art forms.

[1] For background, see my ‘Poincare’s “Delicate Sieve”:OnCreativity in the Arts’, in Krausz, Michael, Dutton, Denis and Bardsley, Karen (eds.), The Idea of Creativity (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 129–146; ‘Creativity’, in Borchert, Donald (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition (Detroit: Macmilland, 2006), Vol. 2, 688–691, and Art and Intention: A Philosophical Study (Oxford: Clarendon, 2005), chapter 2.



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Livingston, P. (2012). On cinematic genius: Ontology and appreciation. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement, 71, 85-104. doi: 10.1017/S1358246112000215