Slate published a fascinating article this morning about the concept of Genius. Although it bothered me that no women were mentioned until a fleeting Joni Mitchell and Amelia Earheart reference near the end, let alone the lack of any multiculturalism, the article was still thought-provoking. And freeing. Why?
Because! I am not a genius. Big old sigh of relief there. Here’s the thing, when you’re an accountant, nobody is looking for you to be particularly innovative. Bully for you if you are and I’m sure you’ll get a promotion and maybe even write a book about what method you use, but what they really want you to do is make the numbers work. Now, your ability to do that floors me. So this is not a condemnation of the accounting trade from the perspective of a flighty artist. I’m glad you’re out there…(And by the way, have you considered becoming a board member of a non-profit arts organization? THink about it….) But as an artist, on some level, I think we’re expected to just blow everybody away with our staggering selves. Staggering I can do. Flooring you with my artistic insights? I dunno.
So it’s freeing to think, you know what? I’m not a genius. So let’s get to work. Let’s do this project right. And while right and wrong are fluid terms in the art world, we know the difference.
Maybe it’s just me. And I suppose on some level, it’s a really arrogant notion that I actually have to occasionally remind myself that I am not brilliant. But there it is.
I am, however, good at what I do. And while what I do has yet to quite manifest itself into one job, I still find ways to do it. And I don’t have to be “genius” at it because I’m not one. I just have to be “me” at it. And that I can do.
Isn’t that a little relaxing? You next project doesn’t have to be genius. It might end up being genius. Theatre is the prime example of things becoming way more than the sum of its parts. But it doesn’t have to make people collapse into the aisles clutching their chests at how brilliant you are.
I think that could lead to better art.
The article basically says that we throw the word genius around way too much. We probably do. Okay, we totally do. This isn’t some crusade I’m going to start because frankly it doesn’t matter. BUT it does kind of lessen the impact of truly staggering works of heartbreaking genius (a book I’ve never read, btw.)
So this begs the question: What is genius? Well. On some level it has to be relative. The article even says “Physicists aside.” I mean, I totally agree. In reference to physics, the closest I’ve ever come to even comprehending “genius” is that, at one time, I understood String Theory on a very relative level. Anyway, the best way for me to figure out whether or not I’ve just in the presence of genius is what I look like afterward. After reading Grapes of Wrath, my face was tear-stained, my mouth slack-jawed, my heart fluttering, my hair at different angle from me shoving my hands into it because I didn’t know what else to do with them. Basically I was horribly unattractive. So I guess, in my case, when in the presence of genius, I will not be able to keep “it” together. In short, I will be a damn mess. To prove my point further, I look the same after viewing a brilliant comedy. Tear-stained, out of breath, maybe even sweaty. (I sound like a hot date, don’t I?) Once, after seeing a gospel choir, a friend almost had to drag me out of the concert hall on a stretcher. I sobbed. I mean SOBBED, full body through the whole thing. The chord structure was so powerful.
But then again, here I sit at a computer and I am a-okay. I listen to my I-pod, and the only way I’ll be a mess is if whatever I’m listening to is genius (or “Somewhere Out There”). But Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are freakin’ geniuses, right? Or at least they know how to hire geniuses, which would in turn make them at the very least “hiring geniuses.” So that’s why it’s relative.
Who do I think is a genius? Who is unflappably brilliant? As opposed to a savvy purveyor of common sense (Jon Stewart)? Or inspired imitation (Ann Reinking)? Plain ol’ really talented (Elton John)? A gifted editor and innovator (Ann Bogart)? Or just brave as hell (Harriet Tubman)? What about Marie Curie? What she a genius or just persistent? She KNEW, she just KNEW Radium was a singular element. I mean, that’s genius…right? And then there’s Tolkien. The man created an entire world including languages and creatures. But then, most of it is based in Celtic lore and religious allusions. So is that genius? Is the creator of a work of genius an actually a genius (To Kill a Mockingbird)? Or is it like a theatre company, you’ve got to do three full runs before you’re even offered membership, Harper Lee.
It doesn’t really matter.
But in the spirit of the moment, I give my
INCOMPLETE LIST OF STAGGERING GENIUS ACCORDING TO ME
The Grapes of Wrath
To Kill a Mockingbird
Alice in Wonderland
Steve Martin. A true genius. He understands comedy and how it works as a physicist understands molecules and how they work.
Queen Bees and Wannabes
A Christmas Carol
Angels in America
Ludwig Von Beethoven
Leonardo Da Vinci
Whoever came up with pretzels.
Christian Laboutin (really. Sigh if you want, but the structure of his shoes is truly perfection. On an engineering level.)
Pharmaceutical Scientists. (Look, if someone can come up with a chemical that makes me not react in a violently allergic way to nearly everything, that’s brilliance.)
And Dolly Parton.