Why We Should Stop Calling Every Artist A “Genius”

Translation: This was the heart attack I desperately needed to realize that we secretly fear or hold in contempt those individuals who will themselves through the creative processes that we are too afraid of. I couldn’t blame the ethers. I couldn’t blame the greats. Instead, I blamed myself and everyone that had ever used the word “genius.” Many, many years ago, I swallowed the word like a poison and I let it spread into every organ. Pollock took the jump, hell, a leap across time, in his work. He studied the greats, learned from them and built a new architecture. This “new” architecture wasn’t in any ether — because ethers don’t exist. Instead, this architecture came out of a deep, perhaps irrational, trust.

A trust in his artmaking process.

Remember when you were just a little kid and you learned about the the Scientific Method? You’re probably thinking: What’s that got to do with art? Bear with me, here. The Scientific Method was hailed as a process of investigation and discovery. You make a hypothesis, you create an experiment, record your observations and draw your conclusion. Anything less was a betrayal of the process. If you were doing it right, occasionally your observations would prove your hypothesis wrong. And in that process, you discovered something new. That feeling of discovery which I had assumed had come and gone in tandem with my childhood was not, in fact, tied to my being a child.

When I was a child, I had trust and faith in the process. A faith that had been shaken once the seed had been planted. As the process of artmaking demystified, the thick, lazy fog that I had been wandering through for so many years dissipated. I felt myself seeing the world in a different way. I wasn’t accessing the ethers, no. I was observing the world because there wasn’t a pressure for the end result. My observations were catalogued. Hypotheses were made. Experiments were conducted. I was writing again; I wasn’t crippled anymore, but I was severely out of shape. I wrote without any preconceived ideas about what I might end up with. I wasn’t concerned about being placed aside the literary Hall of Famers. I was finally free.

“Genius” is a misconception that threatens the very faith integral to art-making. It places an undue focus on the conclusions that artists arrive at rather than their processes. If I have some insight into how Pollock created his splatter paintings, are they suddenly less genius? Art is not, in fact, magical. It’s a process that requires grit and the ability to take both rejection and failure. After all, did you throw up your hands in science class when your experiment failed to prove your hypothesis? Of course not. You learned something new.

Because we’ve bought into the idea of “genius,” we don’t want to hear the process behind art because it takes away the magic, and once you take away the magic, suddenly people feel bad about themselves. They’ve made a lot of excuses for why they aren’t pursuing art. Whatever the excuse is, people don’t want to be confronted with this harsh truth: the reason that they are not pursuing art is because they don’t want to work for it. The idea of “genius” scares them into mediocrity. They’d rather believe that the ethers are inaccessible, as I once did.

I liken my process of writing to figure drawing. The figure itself is the ideal form of my idea and the actual craft of it – writing – is the drawing on paper. However, my eye is better than my hand. I see the image in my head, but I have a hard time ‘copying’ it. What I get, instead, is some deranged interpretation. Occasionally, and I mean, it’s not very common that this happens, the interpretation is actually pretty intriguing on its own. This analogy isn’t perfect because art isn’t about directly copying a conceived idea. A lot of artists do this and it undermines the process, which requires that you take a leap of faith. It means allowing yourself to be open to the idea that what’s on the page isn’t pretty or perfect. Maybe it’s actually quite ugly.But the point is that you’ve taken a chance on the process and that makes you an artist.

Which, in my book, is far better than being a “genius.” TC mark

This post was originally featured on Medium.


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