If what we tend to call genius is idolatry, can there be any authentic creation? If, as I suggested in my previous post, our geniuses are better thought of as workers, again and again making an effort at an incomplete expression while enmeshed in a world of influences and indebtedness, is there only ever context? Geniuses are those who break with convention, define a new era, and pull free from the world’s determining strings. They are where we can find what is new; they are the innovators, visionaries, and pioneers. At their most profound geniuses are those whose creations create, sustain, and define a world, rather than the world defining them. If we say that this image of genius is an idol, a perfect image held in front of us that thwarts good work, can we still claim a genuine and generative power in art? In this post, I hope to begin to indicate a way forward with Jean-Luc Marion’s descriptions of the icon. Continue reading The Idolatry of Genius, part 2
We’ve had some discussion recently on genius and the possibility for authentic art. Most recently, Lisa (using Woolf) called the term “genius” into question, suggesting that it does not adequately account for the extent to which those reckoned “great artists” are in debt to those who came before (teachers, colleagues, mentors) and to the social conditions that made possible their position as an artist. In this way, genius functions as a sort of privileged male illusion that allows the most indebted to consider themselves self-sufficient and authentically creative because of their self-sufficiency. I agree with Lisa’s critique and would like to push it further. I want to use Jean-Luc Marion’s analysis of the idol to suggest that much of what we consider the marks of “genius” indicates idolatry and illusion. Nevertheless, I would still like to claim that not all art is absolutely determined by a stifling immanence; in other words, that there is more to art than its context. To do this, in part two, I will draw on Marion’s understanding of the icon. Continue reading The Idolatry of Genius, part one
I’m currently working on some further thoughts on genius, in response to Lisa and Joel. It will probably be a few days yet, as I’m currently scrambling to complete grad school applications by their Feb. 1 deadlines. So, for now, here’s a great quip from Pascal that speaks nicely to some of the problems with pursuing genius – at least, to the extent that our conceptions of genius are linked to an achievement of glory. Enough of me. Here’s Pascal.
“That something so obvious as the vanity of the world should be so little recognized that people find it odd and surprising to be told that it is foolish to seek greatness; that is most remarkable.”
Over the last month we’ve had a few discussions on art and genius. One theme has been the question of whether art can reach outside of its context to speak truth, what such art might look like, and whether such art (if possible) would be recognizable to people. I thought we couldn’t do worse than get some of Proust’s ideas on the subject.
In the paragraph I’m about to quote, the narrator is looking at some paintings by his favourite painter, Elstir. He is reflecting, also, on the fact that ‘society people’ despise Elstir’s work. The argument is that genius is never appreciated in its own time, precisely because genius breaks with its own time in its ongoing effort at expression. It’s an open question as to whether this is because art naturally progresses (and people are a step behind) or because the genius creates the foundations for future epochs of art (which are disturbing to those who assume different foundations), though I would tend to favour the latter interpretation. Continue reading Proust on art and genius