The aim of my project is to explore the potential repercussions of the non-dichotomous relationship between the genius, the madman, their works of art and the concept that said works of art may be used for the purposes of moral edification.
The western tradition of linking art with morality began with Plato and Aristotle, who each viewed the potential of art in a different way; Plato believed art was dangerous and should be censored, whilst Aristotle believed that art could get people to emotionally engage with traumatic events that they had not yet experienced.
However, the turning point for art originated in the 18th century with the work of Kant, who cemented the relationship between art and morality by concluding that judgements concerning beautiful things were of the same nature as judgements concerning the ethical and the good.
From Kant’s work, the concept arrived in the philosophies of Schiller and Schopenhauer. Schiller believed that art was necessary in order to heal that which he saw as the fractured human spirit; beautiful art would improve the soul and return it to its proper moral course. For Schopenhauer, the beautiful was a part of the realm of Ideas, a, concept for which Schopenhauer is indebted to Plato. In turning our intellect towards the study of the beautiful, in whose realm resides also the moral, we can cancel out the influence of the will on our lives, the will which is the source of all human suffering.
These ideas form the philosophical basis of my project, in which the next step would be to apply the concepts of Schiller and Schopenhauer’s philosophy to the work of an accepted genius/madman.
For this part of the project I chose the work of Sylvia Plath, as I think she fulfils the criteria for both the genius and the madman. After her suicide, Plath left behind a rich body of poetic works, the themes of which correlate nicely with the work of Schiller and Schopenhauer. As such, I was able to examine her poetry using their philosophy and conclude that there are undeniable repercussions associated with the study of the artwork of a mad genius.
At the end of my study, I was able to discern that art, in a moral capacity, exists as somewhat of a double-edged sword and that we should be careful not to put too much faith in its ability to lead us to morality.