Anthology Appearances - check 'em out!

Thought it was about time I gave a shout out to some of the publishers who've taken a chance on my work over the past few years; in particular, James Ward Kirk Fiction and Nicholas Grabowsky from Black Bed Sheet Books. Here is the complete list (including links) of anthologies in which my stories have appeared, in reverse chronological order. The title denotes the anthology name/title and the following title is the name of the story/poem of mine that appears therein.

JWK Fiction Best of Horror 2013 - 'Return of the Creep'

 Terror Train Anthology - 'One Way Ticket'

Serial Killers Quattor - 'Pretty Boy'

Memento Mori - 'The Kaleidoscope Kid'
Ugly Babies (Vol II) – ‘Conceived By Death’


Bizarro, Bizarro: An Anthology – ‘The Colony’


Songs For The Raven - ‘Til Death Do Us Part’, ‘Aspects of Infinity’


Four Ghosts – Dead and Buried (Novella)


Splatterpunk Saints Anthology – ‘King of Terrors’, ”Til Death Do Us Part’


Read Us Or Die – ‘Burnt Offerings’,'The Reader’


Serial Killers tres tria – ‘Blinded By The Light’


I’ll Never Go Away Vol II – ‘Dead Memories’


Serial Killers iterum – ‘Return of the Creep’


Writings on the Wall – ‘Playing the Game’


Dark Light – ‘Beach House’


Putrid Poetry & Sickening Sketches -’In The Dead of night’ (poem)


Masters of Horror: The Anthology – ‘Devil Inside’


Anthology, Horror, Short Fiction, JWK Fiction, Black Bed Sheet Books, William Cook, Bizarro Pulp Press, 


Recent Interview

Recently I was interviewed by author and fellow countryman Tim Jones for his wonderful blog 'Books in the Trees'. I first met Tim whilst completing a creative writing course at Victoria University run by Science Fiction author Robert Onopa. Tim is a fantastic writer and I had the good fortune of being able to include his wonderful story 'Protein' in my horror anthology, Fresh Fear: Contemporary Horror. Please note that Tim is running a give-away for 5 e-copies of Fresh Fear so please visit his blog and follow the prompts to win a copy. Anyway, without further ado, here is the interview:


An Interview With William Cook

William Cook was born and raised in New Zealand and is the author of the novel Blood Related. He has written many short stories that have appeared in anthologies and has authored two short-story collections (Dreams of Thanatos and Death Quartet) and two collections of poetry (Journey: the search for something and Corpus Delicti).

His work has been praised by Joe McKinney, Billie Sue Mosiman, Anna Taborska, Rocky Wood and many other notable writers and editors. William is also the editor of the anthology Fresh Fear: Contemporary Horror, published by James Ward Kirk Fiction.

*** William has kindly made five copies of the Kindle edition of Fresh Fear available to give away! Leave a comment at the end of this article, or respond on Twitter or Facebook, to be in with a chance to win one ***

1) As you mention, you're the editor of the recently published anthology Fresh Fear: Contemporary Horror, in which I'm very pleased to have a story. I'm less familiar with the horror field than I used to be back in the 1980s and 1990s, but even I can see that you've got some major names in there, notably Ramsey Campbell and Jack Dann. How did you manage to secure their work for the anthology?

It took a lot of networking and detective work to track down contact details for some of the bigger names I wanted to include in the anthology. I have been a fan of Ramsey Campbell’s for a long time and consider him the premier U.K. writer of horror, so it was important for me to try and secure one of his stories for the publication. Thankfully he agreed to sell me the rights to one of his stories (Wonderland’) and it was one that I had read before and felt was a good fit for the anthology.

Most of the bigger names were approachable; some more generous than others but most willing to part with stories (mainly reprints) for pro-rates if they didn’t feel the contributor rates were applicable. Jack Dann allowed me the use of his wonderfully frightening story ‘Camps’ and is one of the nicest and most generous authors I’ve met. I feel very honoured to have communicated with some of my favourite authors (albeit via electronic/virtual means) with this anthology and for that reason alone I feel it was worth the cost overall; it also proved a real boost to some of the up-and-coming authors to appear in an anthology alongside the likes of Campbell, Dann, Mosiman, Dunbar et al.

2) Are there common themes that emerge from within a number of these stories, or does the anthology cover the full scope of horror fiction?

The only real criterion I had in mind when selecting the stories for Fresh Fear was that they had to contain the element of fear somehow. I leant slightly towards ‘quiet’ horror when and if it was of a high enough standard but the end result was a really diverse range of stories, ranging from quite hard-core horror to more subtle narratives.

One commonality that emerged from the huge pile of submissions was the amount of stories set in post-apocalyptic or dystopian worlds; so I did become aware that the influx of these kind of stories had to be whittled down to give the reader a more diverse reading experience, as was my original intention. But, in answer to your question, I would say that the only real commonality is that the stories are well-written and that they all contain an element of fear that should entertain the readers’ adrenal glands.

3) Is this the first anthology you've edited, and how did you get interested in editing anthologies?

Yes, it is the first one that I’ve edited. I have always wanted to create my own horror anthology as I’m a big fan of them having falling in love early on with the Pan (Herbert Van Thal ed.) and Fontana collections of the late 70s and early 80s. It is how I, and I suspect, most other readers of horror have discovered new talents and writers of the genre and continue to do so. My interest stems from my love and fascination with the genre and I hope that I get the chance to edit more over the following years. I have always wanted to put together a very eclectic classical horror anthology with the best illustrations to accompany the selection of my favourite stories. One day.

4) Of course, you're also known as a horror novelist, with your novel Blood Related [receiving good reviews. Without giving too much away, what can readers expect from Blood Related?

By way of an answer to your question, I sent a copy to a favourite psychological thriller author – Jonathan Nasaw (author of ‘Fear Itself,’ ‘The Girls He Adored,’ ‘When She Was Bad’ etc). Now this guy is the standard by which I measured BR – his novels are usually about depraved serial killers and are very dark, so his reply shocked me in such a way that I had to ask his permission to use it as a blurb. “Dark and deeply disturbing,” was his reply. Apparently, he had to put it down after reading the first section because it disturbed him too much! Another reviewer has summed up BR nicely – here’s how they described the novel:

“William Cook's presentation of a family of murderers, most notably the twin brothers Caleb and Charlie, is a chronicle that charts the evolution (or de-evolution) of a killer's psyche. There is a plot in this novel, or rather, a series of events that result in the book's conclusion (no spoilers here). A revolutionary plot on the manic scale of Charles Manson, a damaged family unit that has been depicted in classic horror films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and House of 1000 Corpses, and the downward spiral of the novel's "good guy" all illustrate the environmental conditions which create such monstrosities. Cook did very thorough research; no stone was left unturned, no cause behind the madness unexplored.”

5) You're also a poet, and of course, there's a long tradition of horror poetry, stretching back at least to Edgar Allen Poe. What makes for good horror poetry?

There are so many variables and subjective considerations when one makes a value judgement about what constitutes ‘good’ poetry that it is hard to nail down. ‘Horror poetry’ is a fairly loose term and is not as widely accepted as say ‘Gothic’ poems, but recent years have seen the rise of a number of poets who do write poetry that engages tropes most commonly found in horror novels/fiction. An element of dread must always be present – a sense of foreboding; this can be achieved with the cadence and meter of the poem and is also emphasized by the use of onomatopoeia and description.


I’m personally not a great fan of rhyming poetry and prefer subtle use of alliteration and simile – the poems that really speak to me as works of horror are usually succinct and pack a punch. The poem should make the reader draw breath as they read and to twist their thoughts and emotion in a way that will leave a marked impression. Too much horror poetry relies on mediocre rhyme schemes and fails to deliver impact because of it. You can have a fantastic idea and a scary premise that can be delivered effectively with free verse, but as soon as a rhyme scheme is used it comes across as a cheesy Pam Ayers-type limerick. The poetry that does it right is usually well edited and tightly wrought with selective use of words and phrasing.

Some contemporary poets who I feel do ‘horror poetry’ well are Charlee Jacob, Vincenzo Bilof, Lori Lopez, and Jaye Thomas, and Bruce Boston, to name a few of my favourites.

6) Now that you've finished work on Fresh Fear, what projects do you currently have on the go?

I am currently editing a collection of my 101-year-old Grandfather’s poetry, which is proving to be a challenge. He is a very prolific writer but has seldom been published due to the fact that he has not really shared his work. So there are many hours of reading and editing to get his work to a publishable stage. I am hoping to have his collection published by the end of August, so that he can actually hold a copy in his hands of his own work before he shuffles off this mortal coil. I am also working on a new collection of verse and essays titled ‘Beyond the Black Gate’ – essentially an exploration of depression and its effects and origins. Half of the book will deal with the darker side of depression and the latter half will deal with coping mechanisms and hope. I have a few collaborations I’m working on also including a collection of YA horror stories. For more on all my upcoming and ongoing projects, please come and visit me at my website: http://williamcookwriter.com

7) I know that you've put a lot of effort into building up your social media presence to create a sales platform for your work. What advice do you have for writers who think social media is not for them, or who are just starting to make use of it?

Unfortunately it is a necessary evil but if you can, don’t view it as such. Without the various social medias I would not have achieved the publishing goals I have set for myself so far. I would not have met the publishers, editors, fellow writers, and most importantly – readers. Network, network, network, is the rule of thumb with social media. Use the various platforms for the promotion of your books but use common sense. Don’t over-post things or you will lose the contacts that you have quite quickly – no-one likes a ‘spammer.’

Despite Facebook being the largest social network available it is pretty useless for sharing posts that you make – i.e. you do not have share options that link your FB posts with the likes of Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, MySpace, LinkedIn etc. I believe it is best to have a platform such as a website if you are serious about promoting your work online. Wordpress, Blogger, Wix, Tumblr etc are all viable options and best of all they are free.

Once you have your website/blog set up, then you can use it to share your posts via the social media sites. Most blogs/websites have options for automated sharing of your posts which can save lots of (writing) time and is the most effective way of cross-market promotion. There are countless tutorials via each of these platforms in the help sections or on YouTube.com etc.

Essentially, you need an online presence if you are to succeed as an author in this day and age – especially if you are going down the independent or self-publishing route. The one piece of advice I think is important is to not let it (social media) consume you – I have wasted far too much time over the years on it when I should’ve been writing but in saying that, I have learnt many valuable lessons too. One other point is to remember who it is you are trying to market your work to - the reader.

8) You've recently been involved in setting up the NZ Horror Writers' Facebook Group. Who should get involved, and why?

Well it was more of an experiment than anything else really. I was curious as to how many New Zealand authors write horror and whether there was a need for such a group. So far the response has been positive but I think a more apt title for the group would be: New Zealand Dark Fiction Authors. If you write dark fiction/horror and want a forum for your ideas and to network with other like minds them it would probably be a good place to start.

Many of the members are also active members in groups like the AHWA (Australian Horror Writers Association), SpecFicNZ and the HWA and use the group to share open submission calls and industry news. The criteria for membership is pretty simple – if you are a New Zealander and you write within the genres mentioned, come join up.

9) In addition to those with stories included in Fresh Fear, who are up and coming horror writers that readers should be looking out for?

There are so many good writers out there with little or no recognition. Some of the more promising authors that I have had the pleasure of dealing with are as follows: Vincenzo Bilof, Carole Gill, Scathe meic Beorh, Lindsey Beth Goddard, William Malmborg, Anna Taborska, Dane Hatchell, Thomas A. Erb.
There are so many and I’m sure to have missed out others. For a full list of recommended authors, please come and visit my website where I have a full page devoted to writers who are good at what they do.

*** William has kindly made five copies of the Kindle edition of Fresh Fear available to give away! Leave a comment at the end of this article, or respond on Twitter or Facebook, to be in with a chance to win one ***

Tim Jones, Books in The Trees, Robert Onopa, Charlee Jacob, Vincenzo Bilof, Lori Lopez, Jaye Thomas, Bruce Boston, William Cook, Poetry, Horror, Publishing, Books, Fresh Fear, Dreams of Thanatos, Corpus Delicti, Jonathan Nasaw, Joe McKinney, Billie Sue Mosiman, Anna Taborska, Rocky Wood, Carole Gill, Scathe meic Beorh, Lindsey Beth Goddard, William Malmborg, Dane Hatchell, Thomas A. Erb.


New 'My Books' page and update

Hi everyone - time to update my publications page/s. I have recently added a My Books page where you can easily find a display of all my current titles. I will update this page as more come to hand. I am also preparing a new page especially regarding all the anthologies and magazines where my work has appeared (will do a new post when it is ready to go live). Both pages will have live links and excerpts to make it easy for anyone who wants to check out my work. A heart-felt thanks to all of those who have taken the time to read this website/blog and especially to those of you who have taken a chance on a newbie author and actually purchased my work. If you have read something you like please spare a moment and drop a review on the appropriate Amazon page - it really helps a lot to raise my profile and encourages me greatly to continue this crazy occupation and produce more work for you to read. Thanks again.

William Cook



"Dark and deeply disturbing."
- Jonathan Nasaw, author of Fear Itself and The Girls He Adored.

"Blood Related is a nasty but nuanced take on the serial killer genre. Cook's bruising tale of twin psychopaths who are as cold as mortuary slabs is not for the weak-kneed."
- Laird Barron, author of Occultation and The Imago Sequence.

"A thought-provoking thriller."
- Guy N Smith, author of Night of The Crabs and Deadbeat.

"Great - Riveting - Amazing - take your pick. I just read William Cook's Blood Related for the second time. Both readings were followed with one thought, Wow. A horrific crime-filled tale of terror that makes us understand why we lock our doors at night, Blood Related is by far the best read I've experienced in years."
- John Paul Allen, author of Monkey Love and Gifted Trust

"Blood Related is a terrifying psychological thriller. William Cook is an author to watch." 
- Mark Edward Hall, author of The Lost Village and The Holocaust Opera.

"William Cook makes serial killer fiction exciting again! Expert narrative, bursting with flare, originality, and enough passion and brutality that even a real-life serial killer will love this book . . . and it's twisted and complex enough to make you question your own sanity after the first intense read."
- Nicholas Grabowsky, best-selling author of Halloween IV and Everborn.

About Blood Related

A novel of 383 pages.
Meet the Cunninghams . . . A family bound by evil and the blood they have spilled.

Meet Caleb Samael Cunningham, a diabolical serial-killer with an inherited psychopathology, passed down via a blood-soaked genealogy. Caleb is a disturbed young man whose violent father is a suspected serial killer and mother, an insane alcoholic. After his Father's suicide, Cunningham's disturbing fantasy-life becomes reality, as he begins his killing spree in earnest. His identical twin brother Charlie is to be released from an asylum and all hell is about to break loose, when the brothers combine their deviant talents.

Semi-finalist in The Kindle Book Reviews - Indie Book of the Year 2012 - Mystery/Thriller category.




About Dreams of Thanatos

DREAMS OF THANATOS: Collected Macabre Tales

Dreams of Thanatos is a collection of macabre short fiction from William Cook, the author of the novel Blood Related. Demons, murderers and ghosts roam these pages although the most horrifying aspect Cook describes, is the dark soul of humanity. Whether writing about the horrors of modern life, or things that go ‘bump in the night,’ Cook’s writing is always “intense” and often “visceral” in his portrayal of the macabre. Included in this collection of fifteen stories is a novelette (Dead and Buried) and the origin story (Legacy: The Eternal Now and Thereafter) behind the novel, Blood Related. 


“This man is simply scary. There is both a clinical thoroughness and a heartfelt emotional thoroughness to his writing. He manages to shock as well as empathize, to scare as well as acclimatize, yet beneath it all is a well read intelligence that demands to be engaged. I loved Blood Related. Ordinarily I hate serial killer stories, but William Cook won me over. He is a unique and innovative talent.” – Joe McKinney, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Flesh Eaters and Dog Days



About Corpus Delicti

Corpus Delicti: Selected Poetry, is an eclectic collection of verse selected from over twenty years of writing. Nearly 200 pages of poetry that deals with darker aspects of life in a philosophical and experiential manner. While many of the poems are of a darker nature, readers will also find uplifting poems that counter the more taboo subjects in Corpus Delicti.

A reader's review:

May 25, 2014 by Anthony Servante
Format:Kindle Edition

"Corpus Delicti by William Cook is an extravagant challenge. It is at once an abundant selection of poems on a wide range of topics while it is also individual little gems that captivate the reader. One might say that each poem has its own job, its own vision that leads one to the next poem, and so on. If anything, its greatest feature, its size, is also my one criticism. I see three books here, a trilogy, in one volume. But that's good news for poetry fans: you get three books in one, close to two hundred pages of gems to appreciate one by one. This is not a book to devour in one sitting. It is to be savored slowly, over multiple readings, perhaps three to four poems at a time. I tried random readings and sequential readings, and both work equally fine, with only a subtle difference in reading experience. It is not often that a book of such magnitude of thought and word reaches the modern reader. Purchase Corpus Delicti with confidence that you will have a year's worth of reading joy and introspection. And if you come to read William Cook from his fictional work, then you are in for a treat. Fans of Blood Related can enjoy these little intellectual challenges to the mind in the same way we enjoyed Cook's toying with the line between fiction and nonfiction with his serial killers in Blood Related. The pulse of poetry is as strong as the poet's heart in this very large compilation of poems."


"William Cook is an uncompromising horror writer. Be prepared to slink down the underbelly of the world as visions are revealed that can't be unseen. Strong stomachs required here folks!"
- Rocky Wood, President of The Horror Writers Association and Stephen King biographer.

"William Cook - writer, poet, artist, editor. This talented man has no illusions about the horror that is human nature. His exploration of torture, murder and mayhem combines the scientific precision of a scientist dissecting a specimen with the creative flair of a sculptor working with words. Something tells me that he is just getting started and we'll be seeing a lot more of his dark crafts in the future."
- Anna Taborska, author of For Those Who Dream Monsters, director of The Rain Has Stopped, Ela, The Sin, My Uprising, A Fragment of Being



About Death Quartet

DEATH QUARTET (A Selection of Short Horror Fiction & Verse) is an eclectic miscellany of stories, poems, and ephemera, wherein the subject matter relates to the study of homicide and the aesthetic portrayal of such an act. In other words, themes of death and murder abound in this horrific collection brought to you by William Cook, an up-and-coming indie author of macabre fiction and the novel 'Blood Related.'

Amongst the selection of four short stories you will find the never-before-seen 'origin story' that generated the novel 'Blood Related'. A stand alone story in its own right, 'Legacy: The Eternal Now and Thereafter' rounds off DEATH QUARTET and gives fans of Cook's novel Blood Related a chance to see where it all began. Make sure you read it with the doors locked.

From Blinded by the Light:

"The tip of the sharp blade pressed hard on Patrick's lower eyelid. A tear bubbled and fell from his twelve-year-old eyelashes, gathering in the indent caused by the presence of the knife, before running the full length of his young face and falling onto his white t-shirt. His dad's breath smelt bad, real bad - like something had died inside him and was stinking him up big-time. Patrick stood on his toes, his father's muscled forearm pressing hard against his chest, pinning his scrawny back against the kitchen wall. Patrick stood as still as possible, cross-eyed with fear, his gaze never left the glint of the knife's blade in his face. His father gave the tip a slight twist and Patrick felt a stab of pain as warm blood traced the path of his tears to drop on his t-shirt. Patrick's breath hitched and all he could think to himself was - "this is it! Dad is gonna kill me. He's gonna kill me. He's gonna . . ."



About Dead and Buried

DEAD AND BURIED: A Supernatural Young Adult Thriller

A Novelette.

Ever been bullied? Ever been murdered? Ever been dead and buried? Ever been a ghost?

Donny is sick of everything, at home and at school. Most of all, he hates the bullies who have made his life a living hell. Strange things have been happening in the Cox household – Donny’s mother has mysteriously disappeared and his drunken father has been acting more strangely than usual. Donny’s little brother Max is relying on him to find their mother and to protect him from all the things little kids need protecting from. The local gang of thugs is intent on making Donny and Max’s lives as miserable as possible. They will resort to almost anything to make the Cox brothers’ suffer. What the bullies don’t consider, is the possibility that their cruel actions will have consequences far beyond their realms of imagination. 

A supernatural coming-of-age story that deals with the consequences of bullying.

Recommended for mature Young Adult readers 16yrs +
Contains scenes of violence and low-level supernatural horror.

“This man is simply scary. There is both a clinical thoroughness and a heartfelt emotional thoroughness to his writing. He manages to shock as well as empathize, to scare as well as acclimatize, yet beneath it all is a well read intelligence that demands to be engaged. I loved Blood Related. Ordinarily I hate serial killer stories, but William Cook won me over. He is a unique and innovative talent.”
– Joe McKinney, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Flesh Eaters and Dog Days


About Creep

(Short Story - approx 8,500 words + Novel Excerpt from Blood Related)

Be careful who you get into a car with, even if that car is a taxi! A dark story of a young girl's date with death. CREEP is a story that will leave you on the edge of your seat until the gripping climax which is unexpected and will leave the reader cheering for more. Serial Killers don't always get away with murder, no matter how hard they try.

CREEP, is the first story in an exciting and gritty new psychological thriller series. Cassandra: Hunter of Darkness, is a hero to the victim and a merciless angel of death to the evil ones. A killer of killers, she strikes fear into the hearts of those who get their kicks off hurting others. Join Cassandra on her quest for justice and revenge as she begins her journey into the dark underbelly of serial murder and takes care of business as only she knows how.
A reader's review  

"5.0 out of 5 stars A New Horror Mythos Begins  
May 18, 2013 by Vincenzo Bilof
Format:Kindle Edition
An origin story drenched in blood, "Creep" is an excellent precursor to an intriguing premise. By reading the title and the story synopsis, readers will know what to expect from this tale, but Cook's method of introducing his new brand of madness is where the intrigue lies.

Cassandra's development is the result of the detailed writing that Cook uses to capture the sensory deprivation and overload; emotions broil over in stomach-churning revelation. The story is a moment of self-discovery for Cassandra; with so many torture movies and stories on the market, the audience is quite familiar with this scenario. However, this story is the chrysalis; Cassandra's physical and emotional transformation is revealed through the amount of detail Cook pours into the environment around her. On the literal level, "Creep" offers visceral scares and bestial symbolism to explain Cassandra's moment.

Read by itself without any further context, "Creep" stands by itself well enough. It's a quick read if you allow yourself a quiet, dark place to read with low light. Cook continues to improve as a writer; there are still some moments / actions that are characterized through "telling" rather than showing, but this remains a personal preference of mine. Personally, I don't think Cook necessarily has to include this origin story in the upcoming novel; it can be referred to in scattered flashback moments, because this is rather a complete episode in Cassandra's life.

Considering what the story is designed to achieve/explain, Cook delivers upon his promise: the terror is personal and life-changing for Cassandra, and he explains why with well-crafted imagery and moments of revulsion.

Side note: Cook included one of my favorite scenes from his highly recommended novel, "Blood Related." There's enough entertainment value in this package to turn lovers of serial killer horror into William Cook fans"



About Devil Inside

Devil Inside is a short horror story that will leave you wanting more. Graphic and descriptive, the tale winds itself around a young boy who discovers that when you make a wish, you better make sure you really want it.

Horror, Violence, Supernatural, M15+

Short Story + 4 x Poems + Excerpt from Blood Related (novel).

A reader's review 

“5.0 out of 5 stars Edge of My Chair Horror
December 21, 2013 by Diane J
This review is from: Devil Inside (Kindle Edition)

I am very picky about my horror. I have been hooked since I read Poe in High School. William Cook is one of the best writers in this genre that I have read. From the minute I began reading Devil Inside, I was drawn into the world and mind of the young main character, Jacob. The story builds in suspense and mutilations flawlessly, ending in an exceptionally gratifying outcome, at least for me. William is a master of the genre. I am going to get every book, story and poetry piece he has written and indulge in a blood bath of intense, unrelenting fiction. Bravo!”


Kant's Notion of 'Genius' in Art

This article was written in 1999 and was part of a paper I was completing in Art Theory under the tutelage of Dr Denis Dutton. Having the good fortune to be a student of Dr Dutton was a highlight of my academic studies and I am very proud to boast of an 'A' mark for this particular essay. I have updated it slightly and it will be part of a larger collection of academic articles I plan on publishing later this year, concentrating on art and philosophical theory. Dr Denis Laurence Dutton unfortunately passed away in 2010 (9 February 1944 – 28 December 2010) but had an impressive career as a philosopher of art, web entrepreneur and media activist. He was a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. He was also a co-founder and co-editor of the websites Arts & Letters Daily, ClimateDebateDaily.com and cybereditions.com. I highly recommend you check out Dr Dutton's website here.

Dr Denis Dutton


Immanuel Kant (22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804)

In an integral section of The Critique of Judgement[1] that deals with notions of art, Kant attempts to explain what constitutes a fine or beautiful work of art and that which is called genius. In the ‘Deduction of Pure Aesthetic Judgements’, he begins his analysis by stating that for the representation of any work of art to be possible; it must have certain rules at its foundation. He initially asserts that a work of art can only be “fine art if its purpose is that the pleasure should accompany presentations that are ways of cognizing”(§ 44.2). That is, that the pleasure is in the reflection, rather than the sensation, that the work presents. With fine art, however, being distinct from other art (i.e. ‘agreeable’ art), the beauty of the work is independent of any concept. Therefore, for Kant, a work of fine art is not derivative of any rule that has a concept as its basis.  From this deduction, it follows that “fine art is only possible as the product of genius” (§46.3).
This definition, of the kind of purpose a fine artwork has, evolves alongside the notion of genius as Kant continues. He claims that such a purposiveness “without a purpose”, generates (on a universal level) a development of the intellect and our ability to communicate socially. Presumably, this communication is to be about the very thing that has furthered the “culture of our mental powers”(§ 44.4), i.e. fine art. He then seeks to justify this claim by explaining what genius consists of and how a work of genius (fine art) is determined (or indeterminable). The defining purposiveness of fine art and its aesthetic characteristics is central as the locus for his treatment of genius and a definition of both as natural in character, purpose, and effect.

Kant’s notion of genius tends to provide a privileged view of the artist, or producer of fine art, with ethereal and conjectural claims. For example: “the artist’s skill can not be communicated but must be conferred directly on each person by the hand of nature” (§ 47.1). This particular quality of natural endowment is what distinguishes a genius from a scientist, who incidentally can not be a genius unless he/she meets the criteria for genius, and is a fine artist. This is near impossible, in relation to Kant’s ‘rules’ of genius, considering that discoveries of science rely on pre-existing rules and empirical proof of explanatory explanation. Any exception to the rule, I suspect, would be considered an accident of fate or a scientific misadventure rather than the work of a genius. However, it is clear that Kant’s does not favour these scientists below the producers of fine art or works of genius. He in fact claims that they are “far superior to those who merit the honor of being called geniuses”(§ 47.1).

Kant’s explication of genius does not definitively say how or why nature endows a particular person with genius in order to produce fine art. This leads one to inquire as to whether ‘nature’ favours those, whose habitus enables the pursuit of ‘fine art’ and the expression of genius. Moreover, whether such bestowed status is a phenomenon of Western society and breeding, as that is where the majority of ‘fine art’ is produced. Of course there have been many non-western artists from cultures lacking in fine art environments and education, which have mysteriously produced works of genius commonly known as fine art without any recourse to intent, rules of tradition, technique, qualifications etc. Despite my obvious (politically correct) scepticism about this aspect of Kant’s notion, it raises an important question about fine art, which is what ‘fine art’ means for Kant.

Kant defines fine art as being the ‘art of genius’, claiming that “nature, through genius, prescribes the rule not to science but to art, and this also only insofar as the art is to be fine art” (§ 46.4). He defines genius as an innately natural enigma that characterizes the creator of fine art and which is also necessary for the creation of fine art that is original, exemplary, and ‘naturally’ endowed. It is primarily a talent that can not be taught by rules, its main principle (or property) being ‘originality’; rather it applies and creates the rules with its ‘exemplary’ products that others seek to imitate. The creator of fine art is born a genius; a product of ‘nature’, devoid of reason and empirical explanation for their involuntary bursts of inspired ideas (§ 46.4).

Aesthetic ideas, rather than the work itself, seem to define Kant’s notion of genius. The ingenious idea and its effect on related objects and concepts, the manipulation of imagination and the means to do so, and the originality of the idea, are all aspects that take precedence over the aesthetic form of an artwork.  Moreover, these characteristics reveal ‘genius’ and not the work itself (on its own). For Kant, fine art is the art of genius, characterized by beauty, which has no purpose and is of universal character. The produced work is reflective of that genius which is a necessary part of its own production and ‘greatness’. Genius is an innately natural faculty that is a ‘rule’ unto itself, that imparts original talent and rules of art to the art-world. It is, no less, than “the innate-mental predisposition (ingenium) through which nature gives the rule to art” (§ 46. 1). This is paradoxical considering that for fine artworks, genius is the creator, and is also that without dependency or imitation of other ‘rules’. As Kant states, “genius must be considered the very opposite of a spirit of imitation” (§ 47.1).

Kant does not elaborate in depth on his proposition that originality is the central property of genius. He claims “genius is the exemplary originality of a subject’s natural endowment in the free use of his cognitive powers” (§ 49.12). Yet, he seems to take this as a given principle of genius without any further need of explanation, as he does ‘natural endowment’. These ambivalent aspects of his definitions provoke many questions and few answers, and it is probable that this is the reason why there is a shortage of explanatory elucidation. [2]

   Fine art, for Kant, eventuates and is discernible as a product of genius, only where “genius is a talent for producing something [more definitively: fine art] for which no definite rule can be given” (§ 46.4).  Therefore, as no definite rule can be a basis, the genius (artist/author) will not be able to explain how, why, and where the ideas that created the fine work of art originated. He claims that the “artist’s skill cannot be communicated but must be conferred directly on each person by the hand of nature” (§ 47.1). He distinguishes between the work of a genius and the work of a great mind in terms of determinative rules.

As rules do not enable the creation of works of genius, this is the reason why fine art works differ crucially from the work of a scientist, whose work is based entirely on formula, principles, and theoretical concepts of law.   He gives the example of Newton as a prime candidate for a great thinker who is not a genius because he, as a scientist, could “show how he took every one of the steps to get from the first elements of geometry to his great and profound discoveries . . . in an intuitive[ly clear] way, allowing others to follow”. Kant implies that no genius could empirically explain and track the origin of their ideas, as they themselves do not know. Therefore, no matter how important or groundbreaking the work of a scientist (or any other great thinker); it can not be the work of a genius. Kant sees this area of the genius’s mind as distinct from the scientist’s, because genius is characterized by ‘spirit’. This ‘spirit’ is the ability to present aesthetic ideas and a self-sustaining and “animating principle in the mind”(§ 49.2), and the justification for Kant’s distinction between fine arts, other art, and science.

Kant’s notion of a rule without concept, as the basis for a work of fine art, is problematic, as it is illogical in the standard sense of a rule, due to its lack of concept or principle characteristic.  Kant suggests that the only way, in which genius can be understood as a rule, is through experiencing works of genius. Yet, he also says, that “fine art cannot itself devise the rule by which it is to bring about its product” (§ 46.3). The works themselves become exemplary models, or rules, which a pupil can then use for inspiration although not for imitation.  Alternatively, the work of a genius may inspire other geniuses to create their own original works of genius.

Kant’s notion, that the artist cannot connect the rule of genius with aesthetic ideas and expression (or spirit), is not conclusive. If a ‘genius’ can not discern whence an idea originated from, then how could they possibly know that it was an original idea or one of exemplary genius? The answer is simple: if you can not identify the cause of an idea, it does not necessarily follow that the idea is ‘natural,’ original, exemplary, or of genius. It can also not be proven, nor does Kant even try to, that an idea of genius is not merely a memory of another work of genius that acts as a rule?

In other words, genius can not conclusively distinguish itself from other prior influences and rules, which ultimately affects the main principle of originality and the total subjectivity of the genius’s mind. Kant would refute this possibility, as he states:

“Genius is the exemplary originality of a subject’s natural endowment in the free use of his cognitive powers. Accordingly, the product of a genius (as regards what is attributable to genius in it rather than to possible learning or academic instruction) is an example not meant to be imitated, but to be followed by another genius.  (For in mere imitation the element of genius in the work – which constitutes its spirit – would be lost.) The other genius, who follows the example, is aroused by it to a feeling of his own originality, which allows him to exercise in art his freedom from the constraint of rules, and to do so in such a way that art itself acquires a new rule by this, thus showing that the talent is exemplary.” (§ 49.12)   


As decisive as this definition sounds, it is problematic. How can a work of fine art (the product of genius), not be affected by the rule of those fine artworks which it is meant to ‘follow’ on from, without a degree of imitation or appropriation in the idea of its creation? Here we can see, that a work of genius may ‘follow on’, and therefore may be traced at least to its origins by the inspiration of a prior work. It is also logical, as Kant claims, that if works of genius ‘follow on’ from each other, then “fine art is to that extent imitation, for which nature, through a genius, gave the rule” (§ 49.12). Here he actually gives us a rule that determines the procedure and the purpose of an aesthetic idea, i.e. to represent (imitate) nature by a natural faculty and procedure.

The main question generated by these ambivalent evocations of meaning, is what is nature for Kant? If ‘nature’ can pass on the rule, through a naturally endowed genius (who acts as a type of medium), to impart an exemplar to be followed by “another genius” – why does not nature just ‘give the rule’ to all geniuses, rather than by transference between like minds and their products? The question of who was the first genius that generated such a response from other geniuses, who were obviously just waiting around to be inspired by example, remains to be answered. ‘God’ seems like the most probable conclusion, rather than ‘nature’, for like the concept of God the notion of genius seems as mystical, creationist, aesthetic, conceptual, and inconclusive.     

If we accept that genius consists of ideas that cannot be explained, then there is good reason to think that maybe the term is itself redundant. If we cannot explain how or why genius occurs in certain people, other than some kind of phenomenological natural selection, then we are in no position to justify a definition of it, for no matter how logical the rest of the characteristics of genius may be, this ethereal aspect denigrates the whole notion’s validity as a definition. Kant does not give any reason why not everyone else has such a fundamental and evolutionary faculty either, which does nothing to justify his position that only a select few are so ‘endowed’.

Kant claims that fine artworks are essentially products of new and original ideas i.e. the work of genius. However, an original idea is logically indefinable, in that its uniqueness is hard to define, because it is supposedly like no other. This is where the term genius applies to that which is not understandable, or definable, because of its originality. Genius can not exist without the idea of genius existing before it; it is the concept that determines the term not the other way round. That is, we do not call someone a genius unless we have an understanding of what a genius is; otherwise, we would call them something else.

Kant’s notion of genius helps us to understand more about the artist (subject) and the processes of imaginative inspiration, than the artwork (object). However, like ‘art’ itself, we need to understand what ‘genius’ is, before we come to recognize it as such. In this respect, it is an associative principle that requires the empirical and material proof of its existence for us to perceive it as genius, contrary to Kant’s view. In order to see the genius in an artwork, we must be able to understand its significance as both an artwork and as an example of genius.

 For Kant genius, like art, is a manifestation of a natural and creative disposition toward imaginative and intellectual practice. Such a notion is far from an absolute justification of the artist, as somehow any more special than the rest of us. Instead, genius seems like an attempt to enlarge the profile of poetry as a fine art, as being somehow more valid as an aesthetically motivated production of genius. Why poetry is any more viable as fine art, let alone as the production of genius, than say prose, seems strange because both are constrained by form and conceptual rules, language being the main one. If it is because poetry was an oratorical mode, rather than a literary one, this might make sense; but even then, it would clash with Kant’s notion of music without words being a fine art. 

   In Kant’s discussion of genius and fine art, he primarily concentrates on poetry, as the main aesthetic vehicle for the ‘faculty’ of the imagination. It is as much a notion of autonomous freedom as it is about aesthetic creation; the work of genius i.e. fine art, could be seen as a quintessential expression of the freedom of the unfettered mind of the fine artist. Kant’s notion of genius also works paradoxically in confining fine art to that produced only by genius, yet imbuing it with an evolutionary purposiveness that ensures its perpetuation and its autonomy. The only other concept, that has similar properties of such indeterminable origins, is the religious or numinous concept of God. It is an attempt by Kant to see fine art as a transcendent form of freedom, an exemplar of morality and the human ‘spirit’ linked to its creator, in that it serves as a model for successive progression.

Whilst I have attempted to show that aspects of Kant’s notion of genius are inconclusive, if not empirically improbable, it is not to say that such a notion cannot be applied to aesthetic creation indefinable by any other means. Kant’s notion of genius is still useful in defining products of the creative faculty of the imagination, as fine art, and as a means of making some sense out of the phenomenon of original works and their creators. A recent art phenomena, which has used criteria similar to Kant’s to define peripheral (outside the fine arts) artefacts and the process by which they are created as art (and more specifically as fine art), is the genre of ‘Outsider Art’.

Arthur Danto compares the work of outsider artists, who he defines as “deeply outside artists, in that the art world does not enter into any explanation of their work . . . [e]ach was an art world unto himself”, to fine art and the Modernist era. He frequently uses the term ‘genius’ to describe the quality, process, originality, and characteristic qualities of the work of these people who create art on a par with fine art, but without any prior training, rules, or determinate concepts.[3]

Another recent article discusses the same topic, except under the different title of ‘visionary art’. John Maizels traces the origins of marginal forms of art and their subsequent inclusion and acquired status as viable works of art. He discusses the art of the mentally ill and ‘Art Brut’, amongst other art movements that appropriated and encouraged work of those who did not consider their work as art, rather as a means of expression. Maizels defines ‘visionary art’ as a concept that can:

“. . . restore the impetus of the reasoning behind the original “Art Brut” and “Outsider Art” concepts: work that is free from commercial pressures, that has little or no contact with the art world, that originates from deep within the creator, that is entirely personal, inventive, original; a pure and genuine expression of each individual that owes nothing to teaching or tradition and everything to an inventive mind, an idiosyncratic vision and an inner creative compulsion.”[4]

As can be seen, there is allusion to Kant’s notion of genius in these attempts to understand art in terms of creativity, originality, and as works that seem to have no allegiance to rules, standards, conventions of practice, or art tradition. They also meet the criteria for genius in that they are ‘successive’ in their influence, on generating new genres of art, within the art world, and the on other artists who recognize their own originality in their predecessors examples.

Danto’s relation of the Modernist’s example, whose credo was “make it new” (c/o Ezra Pound), to outsider art, also echoes Kant’s primary principle of genius, ‘originality’. David Novitz also traces the origins of the twentieth-century art world to a notion clearly resembling that of Kant’s:

“The twentieth-century has taken shape around a narrative according to which genuine artists enjoy a bountiful reservoir of talent – what some call “genius” that demands its own development and fulfilment. On this view, artists have both the right and, it seems, the sacred obligation to follow their genius wherever it may lead. In the end, it is the originality of an individual’s vision which allows him or her- the highest accolade of all: that of being an artistic genius.”[5]

If Kant’s notion of genius is still necessary for understanding art, which it obviously is, then it is to understand that in art, which is unexplainable. As I have shown, Kant’s deductive account of genius is both decisive, yet problematic in parts. Perhaps, the greatest weakness of his notion of genius in art, is the fact that the problematic aspects I have emphasized cannot be either disproved, or empirically proven. Nevertheless, it gives us a term and a set of characteristic qualities, which we can apply to artefacts and their producers as evidence of the creative process, that would probably otherwise remain a mystery.


[1]  Kant, Immanuel, The Critique of Judgement, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987). All textual citations in parentheses refer to section and paragraph numbers.

[2]  Some of the exasperating questions I found myself asking of these particular notions of Kant’s, are as follows. If genius is innate in the subject, how is it that it is only manifests as a sporadic occurrence and not an everyday event? If one is naturally endowed, why is it that one may only create a single work of genius, and at the same time be entirely hopeless at other naturally normal activities like conversation or love-making?  Is it the ‘genius’, or the ‘talent’, that is fundamental? Can someone who is not a genius discern that which constitutes a work of ‘genius’ and the character of a genius? In other words can we all (universally) recognize a genius, or a work of genius, if what is needed to create a work of genius is surely what is needed to recognize it as such? Some of these questions are answerable, but seem too obvious. Some are probably not worth asking, yet were provoked by the particular notions, so are possibly relevant. As I have not read his other major works, I can not say with any certainty that Kant does not provide the answers to my questions. Hence my exclusion of these questions from the main text and argument of my essay.

[3]  Danto, Arthur, “Outsider Art”, in The Nation Digital Edition (World Wide Web: The Nation Company, 1997), at http://www.thenation.com.

[4]  Maizels, John, “An Introduction to Visionary Art”, in Raw Vision: An International Journal of Intuitive and Visionary Art, No. 27  (World Wide Web: Raw Vision, 1996?), at http://rawvision.com.

[5]  Novitz, David, The Boundaries of Art (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992), p. 201.


Dr Denis Dutton, Immanuel Kant, Philosophy, Art Theory, Article, Academic Essay, Genius, Art

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