On cinematic genius : ontology and appreciation

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


The word 'genius' is often associated with the idea that artistic creativity is entirely a matter of an involuntary sort of inspiration visited upon the individual artist. 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-104
Number of pages20
JournalRoyal Institute of Philosophy Supplement
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2012

Bibliographical note

Versions of this paper were presented at the Royal Institute of Philosophy and at the University of Kent, Canterbury, and I am grateful to members of the audience for their questions and comments. Thanks are due as well to Rafael De Clercq and Kelly Trogdon for criticisms of a draft of the paper. This research has benefited from financial support from the Research and Postgraduates Studies Committee of Lingnan University, Hong Kong


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