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Slothrop
19-05-2008, 01:38 PM
Hanging around music production forums, it always seems like there's a strong prevelance for a rather old-fashioned romantic notion of what a musician (or other artist) Should Be if they're going to produce anything worth shit. The particular characteristics are:
1) being true only to their artistic conscience ("make music for yourself, not for anyone else"), not interested in making money, not interested in connecting with an audience, not interested in engaging with a scene except as an unintended consequence of following The Great Idea and
2) entirely in control of every aspect of their creation - although collaborations are usually allowed, sampling, using synth presets, getting someone else to mix or master your work or whatever tend to be deprecated. "Why use a sample when you can synthesize it yourself and get exactly the sound you want." "Why not learn to mix yourself so you don't have to let someone else make decisions about the sound of your music?"

In practice this tends to be based on quite a lot of wishful thinking and deliberate blind spots (people tend not to reply when you point out that Miles Davis spent a lot of time worrying about how to connect to the audience he was interested in, or that most great renaissance artists had a team of technicians and apprentices to do a lot of the less interesting bits of their paintings), but does anyone know the history of this sort of ideal of The Artist, and what the actual critical positions that it's a rather woolly version of are? Any reading (pref online) worth a look?

Has anyone else been annoyed by the regularity of this way of thinking, and does anyone have thoughts on why it's hung on so stubbornly in such a strong form when all the evidence seems to show that it's balls? Why people are capable of loving the output of Motown and Studio 1 but still claim that commercial motivation is anathema to great music?

john eden
19-05-2008, 02:11 PM
Great post.

I can't really do the theoretical aspect properly but it is essentially the idea of "genius", I think. Which is, as you say, balls.

The left-communist critique calls it "they myth of the great man" - that "great" people exist as individuals who are "possessed" by genius. A quasi religious concept in which inspiration descends from heaven.

Genii (cf: Genies?) lock themselves away in their castles and develop great art in isolation which the non-creative masses then lap up.

Obv Reynolds counterposes this with "scenius" in which a community of people are influenced by each other, by their surroundings, by the environment, by their shared history of music.

polystyle desu
19-05-2008, 02:38 PM
Aha, this just yesterday from the NY Times.
Another view on a bit of the same subject, how some artists are doing ...
Whether one likes their music or not, they are actually doing it and for the three profiled, it's working.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/18/magazine/18bands-t.html?ref=magazine

UFO over easy
19-05-2008, 03:33 PM
Wicked breakdown of why 99.8% of the music in the production section on dsforum isn't worth shit..


The left-communist critique calls it "they myth of the great man" - that "great" people exist as individuals who are "possessed" by genius. A quasi religious concept in which inspiration descends from heaven.

Totally agree, and it's not just fans either, it's a myth that's propogated mostly by those who stand to benefit I think.. trying to think of all the interviews I've read where Art is described as an uncontrollable force flowing through the Artist. It's all about mystique innit.

droid
19-05-2008, 03:39 PM
But any artist worth his salt can and will describe this experience. be it through writing, drawing or playing/making music. You go into a trance and it just seems to 'flow' instinctively. Next thing you know its 7am and it feels like you've only been working for an hour or so...

I think all great art comes about as a combination of scenius and genius, there is a tension between the two poles and a definite point of intermingling, and I don't reckon they are mutually exclusive states...

john eden
19-05-2008, 03:53 PM
But any artist worth his salt can and will describe this experience. be it through writing, drawing or playing/making music. You go into a trance and it just seems to 'flow' instinctively. Next thing you know its 7am and it feels like you've only been working for an hour or so...

I think all great art comes about as a combination of scenius and genius, there is a tension between the two poles and a definite point of intermingling, and I don't reckon they are mutually exclusive states...

I think seeing it as a combination of the two is a definite step forward but I don't like the mystifying of the process really. Of course it does happen like that, but I think everyone has moments where things just flow.

I'd still argue that the ability to do that is a product of scenius/your influences/picking up tricks from other people tho. It is of course something emerging out of your subconscious but everyone has one of them - it isn't the gods picking mortals out and then zapping them with creativity.

jenks
19-05-2008, 03:55 PM
I like the line attributed to Picasso

'Inspiration exists but it has to find you working'

Seems to me to sum up the tension between 'Genius' and the hard work and dedication that goes into creating artworks of whatever description.

I think the idea of the great artist must have been something promoted firstly by the Renaissance but really seriously enshrined by the Romantic movement - Beethoven, Casper Friedrich, Goethe, Wordsworth etc - all laying claim to an idea about Vision and the movement away from patronage etc. Not serving anyone else other than themselves, the we amke it for ouselves and if anyone else likes it... line pedalled by 101 indie bands

I am not against those persuing The Great Idea - obviously I want my artists to be original and fundamentally produce interesting and challenging works, no matter whether they are using machines, collaborating or whatever.

I, though, am against an over-riding snootiness that can occur when being successful is considered to be bad.

I seem to remember a long running debate on issues of authenticity a while back on here and I should imagine that some of those arguments will chime with this thread

Dunninger
19-05-2008, 03:59 PM
Isn't this the promethean myth? The idea, that man is able to give birth to something just from his own thoughts, instead of being a part of the circle of life.

droid
19-05-2008, 04:05 PM
I think seeing it as a combination of the two is a definite step forward but I don't like the mystifying of the process really. Of course it does happen like that, but I think everyone has moments where things just flow.

I'd still argue that the ability to do that is a product of scenius/your influences/picking up tricks from other people tho. It is of course something emerging out of your subconscious but everyone has one of them - it isn't the gods picking mortals out and then zapping them with creativity.

Yeah sure. Everyone involved in a creative pursuit has the ability to 'flow', or tap into the universal font of inspiration. I think its a separate point really though. Just cos some artists may have claimed exclusivity over this process doesn't mean it should be lumped in with the whole 'artist as visionary' genius thing.

For me inspiration is when you're working on something and you stop having to make decisions about the work. They seem to happen automatically, which is why , I think it has been attributed to some outside 'mystical' force... cos thats kinda how it feels.

swears
19-05-2008, 04:30 PM
Hasn't the idea of the romantic genius in art has been replaced by the more cool, detached, ironic, Duchampian "scholar"? Y'know, your Koonses and Halleys?

Popular music hasn't really caught up yet, although a few people like Kid606 sort of flirt with the idea.

Slothrop
19-05-2008, 07:33 PM
Wicked breakdown of why 99.8% of the music in the production section on dsforum isn't worth shit..
Yeah, it's kind of weird to see people into dubstep saying "fuck the DJs, don't worry about the dancefloor, make music for yourself." I mean, do they have any clue as to where any of this music comes from?


I think all great art comes about as a combination of scenius and genius, there is a tension between the two poles and a definite point of intermingling, and I don't reckon they are mutually exclusive states...
I thought one way of seeing scenius was a kind of holistic view of a series of small moments of genius from a whole lot of different people? One thing that pisses me off about a lot of Reynolds-inspired writing is the tendancy to downplay the importance of individual characters and their differences and their ideas and view everyone as mindless cogs in a scenius machine. Whereas really good writers can see people as both...


I think the idea of the great artist must have been something promoted firstly by the Renaissance but really seriously enshrined by the Romantic movement - Beethoven, Casper Friedrich, Goethe, Wordsworth etc - all laying claim to an idea about Vision and the movement away from patronage etc.
Yeah, I'd be interested if anyone could throw further light on the development and subsequent criticism of this idea. I kind of feel there should be a wiki page but I'm not sure what to look for.


Hasn't the idea of the romantic genius in art has been replaced by the more cool, detached, ironic, Duchampian "scholar"? Y'know, your Koonses and Halleys?

Popular music hasn't really caught up yet, although a few people like Kid606 sort of flirt with the idea.
I dunno, it's not so much about them being detached and ironic as about them being willing to compromise and see themselves as in some way functional craftsmen rather than 'pure' artists. Critically a lot of people seem happy to accept that functionalist commercial music from Motown or Studio 1 or whatever as being as capable of being great music as self-consciously 'pure' music like, I dunno, Led Zep or Autechre (and also capable of seeing the amount of commercial compromise that goes on behind the scenes with a lot of allegedly 'uncommercial' music), although I'm not sure how the musicians themselves see it. But a lot of musicians still stick to the idea that as soon as you let considerations of commerce and popularity influence your music making, you're betraying your creative conscience...

polystyle desu
19-05-2008, 09:07 PM
Some find a way to balance both pop and craftsmen ideas, as in the Times article.
The article don't touch onto this idea about 'Romantic' , art inspirations from grr ' heaven' etc.
Those music production forums don't sound too good . ;)

Mr. Tea
19-05-2008, 10:50 PM
I like the line attributed to Picasso

'Inspiration exists but it has to find you working'


Sounds like a virtually identical sentiment to the one expressed by Edison (the great lightbulb-stealing twat) talking about scientific discovery and technological innovation: "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration".

mistersloane
20-05-2008, 12:38 AM
Walter Benjamin might be a good place to start with theories about the auteur, I seem to remember Adorno being quite good on that n all.

http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm

I haven't checked to see how relevant it is, operating from memory, so apologies if you end up reading a bunch of irrelevant guff.

swears is right about artistic theory within fine art being different, indeed fine art is solely about financial and commercial consideration within a marketplace and rarely about anything else now, the solipsistic nature of artists leading to that blind alley.

[QUOTE=Slothrop;137925]as soon as you let considerations of commerce and popularity influence your music making, you're betraying your creative conscience...

It depends on the ontological position your creative conscience took in the first place, no? Which I think is what you're talking about, less genius and more how the idea of self-containment became more 'pure' than that of commerce. I think it changed in the 80s with music, SAW and Paul Morley and Live Aid, and hiphop to an extent, put 'paid' to the idea that there could ever be commerce with intent again in any meaningful context.

CHAOTROPIC
20-05-2008, 01:48 AM
The documentary 'Dig!' is brilliant to watch with all this in mind. Anton Newcombe playing his romantic doomed trajectory to the hilt versus Coutney Taylor-Taylor, pragmatic cynic travelling to his musical office in rock-star drag.

(Both twats.)

mixed_biscuits
20-05-2008, 07:32 AM
Sounds like a virtually identical sentiment to the one expressed by Edison (the great lightbulb-stealing twat) talking about scientific discovery and technological innovation: "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration".

Yes, but that one percent is crucial - perspiration is a necessary but not sufficient condition for genius viz. Robbie Savage / Lionel Messi.

One could say that 'inspiration' = 'genius,' which without necessary work - 'perspiration' - cannot make itself known.

ripley
20-05-2008, 07:52 AM
Has anyone else been annoyed by the regularity of this way of thinking, and does anyone have thoughts on why it's hung on so stubbornly in such a strong form when all the evidence seems to show that it's balls? Why people are capable of loving the output of Motown and Studio 1 but still claim that commercial motivation is anathema to great music?

great post..

this last question has been tackled in-depth in the scholarship around copyright law, in case you are interested in a perhaps more academic take on it. Because of course copyright law depends on identifying an author, and the criteria for identifying one is mostly this romantic vision (although a lockean labor-theory-of-value creeps in too)

however, this scholarship has not focused so much on the *reception* of these concepts, or the way they resonate so powerfully with many people, as they have on the creation or the reinforcement of them. I think a lot of work has yet to be done on why it is people find the attractive. at the very least I would expect that to differ across different cultures (i.e. ones that don't have a Romantic period might feel differently), but it hasn't really been explored much.

But anyway, in case you're interested, With respect to writing (mostly), a great collection of essays is Peter Jazsi and Martha Woodmansee's _The Construction of Authorship: textual construction in law and literature_ . Especially the essay on Helen Keller (the blind-deaf-mute woman who reached some fame in the USA) who was sued for plagiarism. There is actually an okay piece (if I remember right) on Djs and sampling in there by David Sanjek.

With respect to music, Ethnomusicologist Lydia Goehr has a pretty fun book called _The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works_ in which she argues against a naturalized concept of a "work" i.e. a finished piece with set boundaries, pointing out that this too is a Romantic concept.

Legal scholar Anne Barron wrote an interesting rebuttal to this in an article where she argues that the rise of copyright law actually helped create this romantic concept of the work and the author. that's in a very cool issue of _Social & Legal Studies_ 'Introduction: harmony or dissonance? Copyright concepts and musical practice.' Social and legal studies 15, no. 1 (2006), pp. 25-51

and in the cultural studies world quite a few scholars have examined this with respect to musical practices that may or may not be influenced by Romanticism- for example some of the more afrocentric scholarship on "black music" sometims motivated by perhaps equally essentialist visions of what "african practices" are and how they don't go well with this vision of authorship. Otehrs just focusing on the practices themselves, whether african or just not-fitting-in-w/-trad-notions-of-authorshop. Scholarship on Jazz and hip-hop makes some of these points rather well. Jason Toynbee's work on Jamaica (as well as a cool article by Wayne Marshall and Peter Manuel - "the riddim method"l) also go there to some extent

sorry to geek out, but this stuff is part of my dissertation research so i have scads of articles about this kind of thing, if anyone lacks access to academic networks and wants a copy of an article I'd be happy to share..

luka
20-05-2008, 12:05 PM
well the men writing songs for motown were geniuses. geniuses exist. stop pretending you could do what they do. you can't. they're geniuses. you're not.

like the savage/messi comparision... savage can't be messi. you can't be a musician/poet/aritst for the ages.

i know its hard to hear, in this democratic crabs in a pot world but its true. genius is real.

john eden
20-05-2008, 12:24 PM
well the men writing songs for motown were geniuses. geniuses exist. stop pretending you could do what they do. you can't. they're geniuses. you're not.

like the savage/messi comparision... savage can't be messi. you can't be a musician/poet/aritst for the ages.

i know its hard to hear, in this democratic crabs in a pot world but its true. genius is real.

but where do you think it comes from?

UFO over easy
20-05-2008, 12:26 PM
prove it, luka :)

mixed_biscuits
20-05-2008, 12:54 PM
prove it, luka :)

It's incumbent on you to prove it (as, so far, most people have singularly failed to show genius) - Luka will randomly pick a field for you to excel in and you will do so, through sheer effort.

I suggest that you become a world-class topiarist.

elgato
20-05-2008, 12:55 PM
sorry to geek out, but this stuff is part of my dissertation research so i have scads of articles about this kind of thing, if anyone lacks access to academic networks and wants a copy of an article I'd be happy to share..

thanks so much for the post ripley, really interesting, and some great tips! definitely going to follow some of them up

Mr. Tea
20-05-2008, 12:57 PM
Yes, but that one percent is crucial - perspiration is a necessary but not sufficient condition for genius viz. Robbie Savage / Lionel Messi.


Oh sure, I wasn't trying to deny that! When you have perspiration without inspiration you end up with...well, Status Quo, I guess. ;)

Who are those guys you mentioned?

luka
20-05-2008, 01:03 PM
savage runs around a footbal pitch like a headless chicken enthusiastically fouling anyone he can catch up with. messi is something like the 3rd best young footballer in the world.

elgato
20-05-2008, 01:12 PM
are things not getting mixed up? i think i definitely am so please forgive any confusion that i add...

the initial post was about why people find a specific notion of 'genius' so appealing, attaching certain conditions to the idea. this is now about a very specific aspect of that notion. either way, the definition of 'genius' is a key i think

this might derail the thread further, but it seems fundamental to the question... how do we recognise 'genius'? football is imo an inadequate analogy as it is a practice framed by much more certain objectives, wheras when it comes to music i am a staunch believer in ultimate subjectivity... progress can only be made by coming to agree certain objectives or ideals which are to be aspired to

is anyone denying that different people have different tendencies and different abilities to achieve given objectives? is the original post not really about the value we place on those tendencies and trying to understand the reasons that we do?

UFO over easy
20-05-2008, 01:14 PM
It's incumbent on you to prove it (as, so far, most people have singularly failed to show genius) - Luka will randomly pick a field for you to excel in and you will do so, through sheer effort.

I suggest that you become a world-class topiarist.

I don't think genius is just a matter of effort at all - but I'd be interested in an argument for the idea that genius necessarily exists as something abstract outside those conditions that allowed for any particular 'genius' to excel in his given field.

So you know, like if luka had been brought up exactly like ghetto, and had also put the same work in, he could be as good an MC.

arcaNa
20-05-2008, 01:16 PM
There is no tabula rasa mind from which the genius spring from birth, fully formed... Never has been.
The few artists who happen to achieve their full potential in the course of their working life (the so-called 'geniouses') have grown slowly, following a learning curve. And that learning curve starts with the teachers, the influences and the first fumbling experiments.
Some artists happen to have both the talent, the luck to be able to fine-hone and develop that talent, and the time and economic means to devote themselves to their Art.

A teacher once told me, "genious is 1% talent, 99% hard work"...Well, that's not quite true.
Some people work 500%, yet still lack the undefinable something which makes the difference between just 'good', and 'great'.
But that doesn't mean their art is less valuable, just that the really great talents are few and far between. This naturally causes some envy, perhaps jusifiably so as a lot of brilliant people when faced with success can turn into/come across as a bit up their own.

That doesn't meant that collective art will automaticallyproduce any better results than the lone individual, each approach have their advantages- A lot of art, especially in brief partnerships between two equally ambitious and able craftsmen (songwriters, f.i.) can lift the results to a whole new level where the sum is greater than the parts, something which they never could have made alone.

However, every scenes have their mediocrities and hangers-on, there are few names who will be remembered... Not always the "great ones" either, lol- will the retirement homes in a few decades' time play britney and GA?

While the romantic ideal stereotype of the suffering, white male genious Artist with a capital 'A' is easily ludicrous, and the pointless 'up on a pedestal', 'larger than life' artist myth is bollocks, there is a part of me who still thinks that it's a good thing to retain some sense of fascination for mystery, the fantastic, lofty ideals/visions, re: the artistic process...
Rationalism only gets you so far (socialist realism, anyone?), and some of the psychological or (neuro-?)biological processes which makes up the 'inspirations' which fire up creativity tend to express themselves better in irrational, intuitive form- Whether one chooses to think of this as 'mystical' or not, there will always be an element of this [the unknown, irrational, intuitive] in artistic creation...
Luckily one doesn't need to be a 'genious' to have access to such inspiration. :)
The more, the merrier.

mixed_biscuits
20-05-2008, 01:19 PM
Oh sure, I wasn't trying to deny that! When you have perspiration without inspiration you end up with...well, Status Quo, I guess. ;)

Who are those guys you mentioned?

They're both footballers - Messi is a genius, Savage is a water-carrier.

What I find odd is that in most things, there is a dominant force, a genius excelling all others - Tiger in golf; Nadal in clay court tennis; Federer in all other tennis; Pele in football; Gretsky in ice hockey; O'Sullivan in snooker - and they overcome through superior skill and creativity, not dull force. It is implausible that they are better just because they have worked harder, especially as most of them reach the top of the tree early on in their careers.

Mr. Tea
20-05-2008, 01:22 PM
I don't think genius is just a matter of effort at all - but I'd be interested in an argument for the idea that genius necessarily exists as something abstract outside those conditions that allowed for any particular 'genius' to excel in his given field.


I would say the existence of a certain kind of child prodigy falls into this category. Not the musician/singer/athlete who's been coached practically from birth by an obsessive 'champion breeder' parent (Michael Jackson, the Williams sisters), I'm thinking more of the mathematical prodigy in the vein of Carl Gauss of Paul Erdos who spontaneously exhibits the use of exceptional analytical skills from a very young age, simply because they find it rewarding.

Naturally I guess discussion of 'genius' in the context of Dissensus is going to focus more on music (and perhaps 'the arts' more generally)...

Edit: durrr, I just saw the title of this thread, OBVIOUSLY it's more about artists than 'thinkers' as such.

mixed_biscuits
20-05-2008, 01:30 PM
progress can only be made by coming to agree certain objectives or ideals which are to be aspired to

Genius appears in relief - against a backdrop of mediocrity cf. Burial and dubstep

I suppose when people are 'ahead of their time,' there is no backdrop available.

There might also be genius (ie significant individual difference) in some people's unusual receptivity to training.

UFO over easy
20-05-2008, 01:34 PM
spontaneously exhibits the use of exceptional analytical skills from a very young age

some folks would call that autism innit?


Naturally I guess discussion of 'genius' in the context of Dissensus is going to focus more on music (and perhaps 'the arts' more generally)...

yep, and Elgato is on point I think - focusing on being good at snooker or something is completely different, and I would never call Tiger Woods a genius for being good at golf.. I would take it further, maybe, and say that possibly that kind of ultimate subjectivity is just another condition for a successful definition genius - there's nothing mysterious about being good at golf.. is there? Being world number one simply means you are better at doing a very specific thing than anyone else. Whereas music is so subjective and personal that it's incredible that one musician can connect on a deep, personal level with millions of people.

At the moment I'm leaning towards thinking that this kind of subjectivity being a condition for genius actually makes the term rather pointless, and I only really use it when being flippant. It also seems kind of self-defeating - attempting to define the undefinable as undefinable...


Genius appears in relief - against a backdrop of mediocrity cf. Burial and dubstep


I'd say that's an argument against Burial displaying genius, rather than for it. Lowered standards makes for an easier target.

mixed_biscuits
20-05-2008, 01:38 PM
I'd say that's an argument against Burial displaying genius, rather than for it. Lowered standards makes for an easier target.

Heh, yes, but what does the 'target' look like if only one person hits it? That's where the inexplicable genius bit comes in.

Mr. Tea
20-05-2008, 01:39 PM
some folks would call that autism innit?


Umm, they might, but they'd be wrong. Most autistics are of below average intelligence, and many are severely retarded.

mixed_biscuits
20-05-2008, 01:43 PM
there's nothing mysterious about being good at golf.. is there? Being world number one simply means you are better at doing a very specific thing than anyone else.

Sure, it might be easy to imagine a 'textbook' golfer doing everything perfectly - what is mysterious is that a fallible human can dare approach this impossible standard and, in doing so, might find solutions to golfing problems of which others wouldn't even be able to conceive, not just find difficult to execute mechanically.

UFO over easy
20-05-2008, 01:48 PM
haha fair play! but has tiger woods done that? that sounds superhuman to me, like a condition for being a genius golfer being to learn how to break the laws of physics :D


Umm, they might, but they'd be wrong. Most autistics are of below average intelligence, and many are severely retarded.

I know nothing about it, I had just thought that one of the things to look out for in extremely young children was an unusual aptitude to certain kinds of thinking.

mixed_biscuits
20-05-2008, 01:53 PM
haha fair play! but has tiger woods done that? that sounds superhuman to me, like a condition for being a genius golfer being to learn how to break the laws of physics :D

I suppose I am thinking of strategic thinking - applying yourself physically after taking a mental reading of the state of play and guaging possibilities for action. This would take good analytical skills and a dash of creativity.

Ugh I apologise for my part in diverting this topic to golf. Very poor show.

Mr. Tea
20-05-2008, 01:54 PM
haha fair play! but has tiger woods done that? that sounds superhuman to me, like a condition for being a genius golfer being to learn how to break the laws of physics :D


Pffft...

SCOTTIE: "Ah cannae change the laws o' physics, Capn'n!"
KIRK: "Dammit! Where is...Tiger Woods when...you need him?"

:D


I know nothing about it, I had just thought that one of the things to look out for in extremely young children was an unusual aptitude to certain kinds of thinking.

Well there's no such single syndrome as autism, people talk about 'autistic spectrum disorders' instead, from the very mild (eg. Asperger's, which is often associated with people who are good at analytical thinking - and has become something of a self-diagnosis fad among unsociable Internerds to explain why they don't have any friends) to 'low-functioning autism', which basically requires people to be looked after their whole lives (and not because they're too busy doing advanced mathematics to feed and wash themselves).

Slothrop
20-05-2008, 01:56 PM
are things not getting mixed up? i think i definitely am so please forgive any confusion that i add...

the initial post was about why people find a specific notion of 'genius' so appealing, attaching certain conditions to the idea. this is now about a very specific aspect of that notion.
Yeah, to reply to this and Luka's post at once, I wasn't really thinking about whether genius exists or not, the point is that the geniuses writing for motown (and performing for motown) were doing so in an unashamedly commercial 'hit factory'. Perhaps - even probably - financially motivated hitmakers need to have at least a spark of genius if not several if they're going to produce great music, but the original post was about people who'd say that making financially motivated decisions is anathema to making great music, that if the funk brothers or Holland-Dozier-Holland had wanted to make 'great art' they should have been purely true to their artistic drive and not worrying about producing successful records...

elgato
20-05-2008, 01:59 PM
i agree that genius is more or less a term which is best not used if analytical clarity is what we are after, it is too loaded with what i believe to be wool to be worthwhile


Heh, yes, but what does the 'target' look like if only one person hits it? That's where the inexplicable genius bit comes in.

Burial's 'genius' can be deconstructed to a great extent, if we want to be analytical about it... the textures and melodies resonate with a (often unexpressed) sentiment and emotion shared by a large group of people living in our society at this time, while also in a broader sense communicating feelings which a great number of people have experienced, whether in the primary societal context he resonates with or not. he appealed to people on emotional, intelectual and obsessive/'cult' levels - is his 'genius', as posited in any objective sense, not broad appeal?

UFO over easy
20-05-2008, 02:00 PM
fao slothrop - I think the only way to tackle that question though is to admit, and try and figure out why, our common conception of genius is so flawed.

Slothrop
20-05-2008, 02:03 PM
thanks so much for the post ripley, really interesting, and some great tips! definitely going to follow some of them up
Yeah, totally, this is just the sort of stuff I was after.

mixed_biscuits
20-05-2008, 02:12 PM
Burial's 'genius' can be deconstructed to a great extent, if we want to be analytical about it... the textures and melodies resonate with a (often unexpressed) sentiment and emotion shared by a large group of people living in our society at this time, while also in a broader sense communicating feelings which a great number of people have experienced, whether in the primary societal context he resonates with or not. he appealed to people on emotional, intelectual and obsessive/'cult' levels - is his 'genius', as posited in any objective sense, not broad appeal?

I don't just think he's great because I like him - it's because I like him a lot. Appeal can have different intensities.

elgato
20-05-2008, 02:38 PM
I don't just think he's great because I like him - it's because I like him a lot. Appeal can have different intensities.

yeh i agree. but there lies the inherent subjectivity of the issue, and it always seems to me that the term genius is used in common currency to imply something which reaches further than that.

Gavin
20-05-2008, 04:46 PM
however, this scholarship has not focused so much on the *reception* of these concepts, or the way they resonate so powerfully with man people, as they have on the creation or the reinforcement of them. I think a lot of work has yet to be done on why it is people find the attractive. at the very least I would expect that to differ across different cultures (i.e. ones that don't have a Romantic period might feel differently), but it hasn't really been explored much.


Related to Western bourgeois conception of the individual perhaps? The "genius myth" is a major pillar of holding up the idea of the autonomous subject removed from history, economy, culture, etc. The nature of the posts in this thread seem to support it: those who want to ascribe superior artistic work to effort, privilege, education, position, and those who want to rely on a more nebulous mystical inner well of inspiration and creativity apart from external factors...

"Genius" goes back before Romanticism, but it's Romanticism where it takes on the tenor of individual struggling against crippling society, which I understand as a kind of anxiety surrounding the social shakeups of the industrial revolution. Michelangelo was considered a genius in his lifetime, but worked on specific commissions from the most powerful people Europe, and no one thought of it as a compromise. Few artists of the Middle Ages are even known because superior skill was the result of God (and for His glory), not the individual artist.

ripley
20-05-2008, 06:11 PM
Related to Western bourgeois conception of the individual perhaps? The "genius myth" is a major pillar of holding up the idea of the autonomous subject removed from history, economy, culture, etc. The nature of the posts in this thread seem to support it: those who want to ascribe superior artistic work to effort, privilege, education, position, and those who want to rely on a more nebulous mystical inner well of inspiration and creativity apart from external factors...


oh absolutely. A lot of legal discussion focuses on how copyright law reinforces this - building in rewards for creativity based precisely on the points where you define yourself as an autonomous subject.

Also, there are interesting counter-arguments from the indigenous rights communities who are attempting to claim (and sometimes successfully claiming) ownership of cultural works as a community. Applying property claims to traditions. These are hugely problematic, especially because Western legal systems tend to assume and reproduce individualism in the name of 'equality before the law.'

I also kind of agree that discussing the meaning of "genius" is likely to get us nowhere, since either it's completely subjective on an individual level (people I like a lot), or subjective on a cultural level (people that a mass of people like a lot.. and that's where you end up with those "why are there so few female geniuses" discussions -shudder-)

Slothrop
20-05-2008, 07:01 PM
"Genius" goes back before Romanticism, but it's Romanticism where it takes on the tenor of individual struggling against crippling society, which I understand as a kind of anxiety surrounding the social shakeups of the industrial revolution. Michelangelo was considered a genius in his lifetime, but worked on specific commissions from the most powerful people Europe, and no one thought of it as a compromise. Few artists of the Middle Ages are even known because superior skill was the result of God (and for His glory), not the individual artist.
Yeah, that's what I kind of suspected / had heard somewhere / had put together from bits and pieces of information but I hadn't found a unified discussion of it.

Did the idea of complete artistic control - not farming out the job of colouring the sky or filling out second violin parts or whatever because that would detract from the artistic integrity of the piece - follow the same sort of trajectory?

I guess another significant factor must have been the postion of the artist in society - in much the same way that dropping out requires you to be reasonably well off to start with. I know that artists like Durer and Velasquez and musicians like Mozart were unashamed about working to enhance their social standing because at that time artists commanded relatively little respect, and getting wealth and social status was a way of getting the importance of the artist taken seriously. It's only after artists actually have credibility that that it becomes possible to ask whether chasing money and success is detrimental to it.

And when did people start to question this sort of ideal? It certainly seems to be to some extent present in mid-twentieth century European avante-garde stuff (Adorno afaict, serialism etc) that I'm familiar with, and then gets pretty much completely rejected by Cage and Young and people. Objets trouves appear to be a resignation of control, but on the other hand, surrealism seems to be very much about the artist expressing themself in as unmediated a way as possible. Obviously there have always been functional, pragmatic, craft-minded people working in less high culture, and at some point critics started to view 'lower' forms (and thus the people who created them) as great artists despite their willingnes to make artistic compromises.

I'm thinking aloud here and extrapolating a lot, anyone more up on cultural history feel free to straigten me out...

Corpsey
20-05-2008, 10:02 PM
I read a book called ''What Good are the Arts?'' by John Carey which featured a lot of issues in it that are directly relevant to this question. Essentially he looks at many of the classic arguments for the value of art (as he tries to determine if art/artistic work has any intrinsic value- moral, spiritual or otherwise) and dismisses them one by one as subjectively derived inventions that are made to masquerade as objectively quantifiable and verifiable truths. Think he looks at the romantic notion of 'genius' and scorns that too.

Personally I think the idea that great music/art cannot be produced with popular/commerical success in mind complete nonsense. I think producers should perhaps seek to be as individual and original as possible, so as to avoid contributing to artistic stagnation on a wider scale, but I wouldn't expect anybody to come up with some sort of completely unique and original type of music. Every great artist is the product of their influences... in fact one might argue that artistic genius ordinarily involves the inspired (or lucky) combining of various influences into a new form. Then there is also technical skill to think about, I suppose.

The subject of why some music resonates with millions of people and some music doesn't resonate with more than one person is presumably incredibly complicated. I started reading a book called ''This is your brain on music'' which promised to touch on issues like that, I should really read it.

Chris
21-05-2008, 11:20 AM
As far as the whole Romantic cult of the individual, it wasn't as selfish as it might sound these days to lefty-intellectual types. It was in part an outgrowth of Rousseau's passionate individualism that emphasized choice, the chance to metaprogram yourself free from authority... which was a revolutionary concept meant for everyone. Kant's Idealism was also an influence, in his point that we can only understand life through our own ideas, because reality is ultimitely unknowable, so in the face of the ineffable we then engage with our own perceptions, and freely and reasonably make our own judgements. It wasn't all naval-gazing, some of it was an outgrowth of the more progressive intentions of the Enlightenment (a period I couldn't give two shit's about personally.. but find the themes and spirit of the Romantic era intoxicatingly on point).

As far as Genius, I don't know if I exactly like the word, but I do think that people are obviously gifted in different areas, tend to be more gauged towards different fields of understanding and skill, and I don't understand this need to deny that some people are just more naturally talented at some things... and have more curiosity, drive, desire, imagination, vision, etc... than others. I don't think there's any need to take offense because talent can't be resolved in the scheme of this levelling, antihuman, Socialist belief that NOBODY IS SPECIAL, THERE ARE NO GREAT THINKERS. I think scenius is one of the engines of cultural progress, but even these zones are ultimately moved forward by talents and tastemakers, and as for lone auteur artists, eccentrics, benign egomaniacs, etc; they play an important part too, and life would probably be a lot less interesting without them. Romantics themselves weren't actually antipopulist though, they valorized folk cultures, and today they'd perhaps champion any folk scenes that propagate counterintuitively (by folk I mean grass-roots, localized, scene-based movements). The values listed in the original post, to me, are more the sentiments of the worst kind of Rockists, ones with small imaginations and narrow tastes.*

Also, this idea of an artist that follows his/her own muse without regard to how people will receive it... well, popularity shouldn't be their primary concern if that means lowering their standards or being less inventive; but it's also hard to imagine their work being considered Great Art by anyone's subjective definition if it doesn't connect with anyone beyond the artist. But extremely personal art can be the most universal. And there's nothing wrong with a gifted artist pursuing their own ideas, it's actually very important. If you have a committee or PR team trying to whitewash the vision to make it dumbed-down and safe enough for an audience that they assume is stupid, well you get Post-Grunge or Mall-Emo or Walmart-Country (and thank God for artists that "know better" than what the masses think they want, take for instance this experiment (http://blog.wired.com/music/2008/05/survey-produced.html)where some dudes tried to make a song based on a survey of what The People said they want in music. Heh.). That doesn't mean that pop factories haven't churned out great, 'culturally important' art, but obviously there was a level of inspiration that managed to survive intact through the creative synergy of the production team/writers/vocal trainers/performers. And crucially, somewhere in there were great talents... gifted writers and producers and designers, who were the real artists in the process. Where does talent come from? Dunno. Is there something almost seemingly mystical about the creative process? Well, yeah, and trying to deconstruct it rationally seems pointless and utterly impossible. That's why Romantics prefered allusive, koan-like Fragments, or art or poetry to try to express their emotional reactions to the Sublime. I do too.

*edit: this wasn't meant as a dig against the poster but the ideas he was critiquing, hope it didn't come across that way...

zhao
31-12-2008, 10:00 AM
this bit was inspiring for me:

David Foster Wallace once said "feeling that i am just another normal person has been the greatest asset to my writing... where as thinking that i'm a genius almost killed me."

poetix
31-12-2008, 11:52 AM
"feeling that i am just another normal person has been the greatest asset to my writing... where as thinking that i'm a genius almost killed me."

The need to think of oneself as normal is not intrinsically more healthy than the need to think of oneself as a genius. Actually normal people would not have either need. And DFW was not altogether normal, and was unable to reconcile himself to the fact. Thinking of yourself as a genius is also failing to reconcile yourself to the fact that you're not altogether normal - if you're a transcendent superbeing, you're so far away from normal that your non-normality is just taken for granted, you've escaped normality's pull. The problem of people with highly unusual talents like DFW's is that they're freaks, not gods among men. The pattern for such people, uncomfortable with their own oddity, is to alternate between Olympian condescension and passionate denunciation (as "fascist", or whatever) and ridicule of any and every claim to be "different". But freaks occur, difference is what there is. Self-hatred doesn't help anyone.

Tanadan
31-12-2008, 03:05 PM
Slothrop: A quite famous musicologist at Berkeley, Richard Taruskin, has made this one of his main hobby-horses - it almost pervades his quite recent (2005) and mammoth (five volume) Oxford History of Western Music. If you have access to Jstor or similiar, read his article 'The Poietic Fallacy', which summarizes his views, and argues that the genius-visionary trope originated not quite with the early "Romantics" (Beethoven, Friedrich, etc.) but with the more historically-minded generations (the "New German School" of Liszt, Wagner, etc but more importantly various historians and critics who surrounded them) that succeeded them and turned the early Romantics more into myths than artists. I generally agree with him (and his writing is amazingly enjoyable) but he's occasionally too polemical and comes to judgements too quickly, but, I mean, we all do. And sometimes he's just flat-out wrong - at the end of the article he slams Schoenberg's orchestral variations (which I love, and he says he likes other music by Arnold) just because they contain the B-A-C-H code... :confused: If you can't access it, I'll happily send a pdf.

nomadthethird
31-12-2008, 03:15 PM
The need to think of oneself as normal is not intrinsically more healthy than the need to think of oneself as a genius. Actually normal people would not have either need. And DFW was not altogether normal, and was unable to reconcile himself to the fact. Thinking of yourself as a genius is also failing to reconcile yourself to the fact that you're not altogether normal - if you're a transcendent superbeing, you're so far away from normal that your non-normality is just taken for granted, you've escaped normality's pull. The problem of people with highly unusual talents like DFW's is that they're freaks, not gods among men. The pattern for such people, uncomfortable with their own oddity, is to alternate between Olympian condescension and passionate denunciation (as "fascist", or whatever) and ridicule of any and every claim to be "different". But freaks occur, difference is what there is. Self-hatred doesn't help anyone.

Trying to be "normal" killed Andy Warhol.

nomadthethird
31-12-2008, 05:15 PM
I have a friend who insists that the "vampire" myth/legend was an outgrowth of conflicted feelings toward the Romantic visionary artist.

He says the Romantic visionary-artist had powers others couldn't understand, they stayed up all night burning midnight oil and leeched off society, sucking cultural blood out of everything to feed their endeavors.

Chronologically/historically, early vampire literature does coincide with nascent Romanticism.

nomadthethird
31-12-2008, 05:22 PM
Bram Stoker's is later, though. 1897.

zhao
31-12-2008, 10:45 PM
The need to think of oneself as normal is not intrinsically more healthy than the need to think of oneself as a genius. Actually normal people would not have either need. And DFW was not altogether normal, and was unable to reconcile himself to the fact. Thinking of yourself as a genius is also failing to reconcile yourself to the fact that you're not altogether normal - if you're a transcendent superbeing, you're so far away from normal that your non-normality is just taken for granted, you've escaped normality's pull. The problem of people with highly unusual talents like DFW's is that they're freaks, not gods among men. The pattern for such people, uncomfortable with their own oddity, is to alternate between Olympian condescension and passionate denunciation (as "fascist", or whatever) and ridicule of any and every claim to be "different". But freaks occur, difference is what there is. Self-hatred doesn't help anyone.

DFW suffered from intense anxiety from the pressures of being perceived as genius after getting the macarther grant... and i totally understand the relief of choosing to consider oneself not special. i mean whether one is "normal" or not, how one chooses to see oneself can have enormous consequences.

Mr. Tea
01-01-2009, 12:53 PM
I have a friend who insists that the "vampire" myth/legend was an outgrowth of conflicted feelings toward the Romantic visionary artist.

He says the Romantic visionary-artist had powers others couldn't understand, they stayed up all night burning midnight oil and leeched off society, sucking cultural blood out of everything to feed their endeavors.

Chronologically/historically, early vampire literature does coincide with nascent Romanticism.

I'm sure there's that pyschological/mythical element to it as well, but I also heard about a hereditary form of anaemia (obv. much more likely in a very noble, i.e. inbred, family) that makes sufferers so pale that normal sunlight can burn them very quickly and that whatever meagre iron stores they manage to keep hold of are easily destroyed by compounds in garlic. Not too much of a leap of imagination to think that some sufferers who could get away with it might have drunk blood (animals, maybe) almost as a matter of survival. It seems almost too neat and tidy to be true, but I think I read in a reasonably serious journal or magazine of some kind. Depending on whether or not you consider New Scientist to be especially serious, possibly. Intriguing idea all the same.

nomadthethird
01-01-2009, 05:16 PM
I'm sure there's that pyschological/mythical element to it as well, but I also heard about a hereditary form of anaemia (obv. much more likely in a very noble, i.e. inbred, family) that makes sufferers so pale that normal sunlight can burn them very quickly and that whatever meagre iron stores they manage to keep hold of are easily destroyed by compounds in garlic. Not too much of a leap of imagination to think that some sufferers who could get away with it might have drunk blood (animals, maybe) almost as a matter of survival. It seems almost too neat and tidy to be true, but I think I read in a reasonably serious journal or magazine of some kind. Depending on whether or not you consider New Scientist to be especially serious, possibly. Intriguing idea all the same.

Yeah I've heard, it's called "porphyria" isn't it? Or something like that. I've also heard people says vampires and werewolfs were the folk explanation for the work of serial murderers.

nomadthethird
01-01-2009, 05:17 PM
DFW suffered from intense anxiety from the pressures of being perceived as genius after getting the macarther grant... and i totally understand the relief of choosing to consider oneself not special. i mean whether one is "normal" or not, how one chooses to see oneself can have enormous consequences.

Does anybody really think those MacArthur grants are given to geniuses and not handed out politically based on what good business connections the board members need to make on a given year? Or what's consideredly "politically" relevant by gliberals.

nomadthethird
01-01-2009, 05:33 PM
http://www.scottmccloud.com/comics/porphyria/porphyria.html

nomadthethird
01-01-2009, 06:44 PM
Also, nobody who commits suicide does so because of a fucking MacArthur grant.

People who commit suicide do so because they've been suffering with serious mental illness for years, in DFW's case, a very intense and unrelenting anxiety disorder accompanied by major depression, one that did not respond well to treatment.

He did his best, I'm sure, but not everyone can win over biology through sheer force of will-to-normalcy.

Agent Nucleus
01-01-2009, 08:06 PM
Also, nobody who commits suicide does so because of a fucking MacArthur grant.

People who commit suicide do so because they've been suffering with serious mental illness for years, in DFW's case, a very intense and unrelenting anxiety disorder accompanied by major depression, one that did not respond well to treatment.

He did his best, I'm sure, but not everyone can win over biology through sheer force of will-to-normalcy.

agree with this absolutely. i had to be institutionalized earlier this year after a botched suicide attempt. i'd been manic-depressive for almost ten years but i never took my medication, and no one really insisted on it.

re: the Modernist auteur- this is definitely a myth. It seems to rely on a vague concept of aesthtetics (ie great artists have an identifiable aesthetic that can't be copied). But the modernists were iconoclasts, they defined themselves against aesthetics - the Dadaists esp were opposed to aesthetics and even beyond 'anti-aesthetics' - they were like the postmoderns, so the difference is minimal if there even is one. I mean, Francis Bacon was an auteur, so is Pynchon, Fellini, Lynch, and Beuys and the Actionists.

This is from one of the Dada manifestos. It is definitely against any romantic myth whatsoever:


DADA!!!!
gathered together to put forward a new art from which they expect the realisation of new ideas. So what is DADAISM, then?

The word DADA symbolises the most primitive relationship with the surrounding reality; with Dadaism, a new reality comes into its own.

Life is seen in a simultaneous confusion of noises, colours and spiritual rhythms which in Dadaist art are immediately captured by the sensational shouts and fevers of its bold everyday psyche and in all its brutal reality. This is the dividing line between Dadaism and all other artistic trends and especially Futurism which fools have very recently interpreted as a new version of Impressionism.

For the first time, Dadaism has refused to take an aesthetic attitude towards life. It tears to pieces all those grand words like ethics, culture, interiorisation which are only covers for weak muscles.

THE BRUITIST POEM

describes a tramcar exactly as it is, the essence of a tramcar with the yawns of Mr Smith and the shriek of brakes.
THE SIMULTANEOUS POEM

teaches the interrelationship of things, while Mr Smith reads his paper, the Balkan express crosses the Nisch bridge and a pig squeals in the cellar of Mr Bones the butcher.
THE STATIC POEM

turns words into individuals. The letters of the word " wood " create the forest itself with the leafiness of its trees, the uniforms of the foresters and the wild boar. It could also create the Bellevue Boarding House or Bella Vista. Dadaism leads to fantastic new possibilities in forms of expression in all arts. It made Cubism into a dance on the stage, it spread the Futurist bruitist music all over Europe (for it had no desire to maintain this in its purely Italian context). The word DADA shows the international nature of a movement which is bound by no frontier, religion or profession. Dada is the international expression of our time, the great rebellion of artistic movements, the artistic reflexion of all those many attacks, peace congresses, scuffles in the vegetable markets, social get-togethers, etc., etc.
Dada demands the use of

NEW MATERIALS IN PAINTING

Dada is a club which has been founded in Berlin which you can join without any obligations. Here, every man is president and everyone has a vote in artistic matters. Dada is not some pretext to bolster up the pride of a few literary men (as our enemies would have the world believe). Dada is a state of mind which can be revealed in any conversation so that one is forced to say: "This man is a Dadaist, this one isn't." For these reasons, the Dada Club has members all over the world, in Honolulu as well as New Orleans and Meseritz. To be a Dadaist might sometimes mean being a businessman or a politician rather than an artist, being an artist only by accident. To be a Dadaist means being thrown around by events, being against sedimentation; it means sitting for a short instant in an armchair, but it also means putting your life in danger (M. Weng pulled his revolver out of his trouser pocket).... A fabric tears under the hand, one says yes to a life that seeks to grow by negation. Say yes, say no; the hurly- burly of existence is a good training ground for the real Dadaist. Here he is lying down, hunting, riding a bicycle, half Pantagruel, half St Francis, laughing and laughing. Down with aesthetic-ethical tendencies! Down with the anaemic abstraction of Expressionism! Down with the literary hollow-heads and their theories for improving the world!
Long live Dadaism in word and image! Long live the Dada events of this world! To be against this manifesto is to be a Dadaist!

Berlin, April
Tristan Tzara, Franz Jung, George Grosz, Marcel Janco, Richard Hülsenbeck, Gerhard Preisz, Raoul Hausmann.

zhao
01-01-2009, 08:13 PM
Also, nobody who commits suicide does so because of a fucking MacArthur grant.

another insinuation i did not make...


People who commit suicide do so because they've been suffering with serious mental illness for years

of course. i would never say anything different. apologize if it sounded like i did?

nomadthethird
01-01-2009, 10:12 PM
agree with this absolutely. i had to be institutionalized earlier this year after a botched suicide attempt. i'd been manic-depressive for almost ten years but i never took my medication, and no one really insisted on it.

I know what you're going through. The height of my humiliation with bipolar disorder is probably how these days I have to go get my multiple scripts filled at a pharmacy where someone who I know from grade school is head pharmacist, and each time it comes with "PATIENT REFUSED HOSPITALIZATION" in big letters on the insert, by way of a liability disclaimer so if I kill myself before my next visit, my parents can't sue my doctor for malpractice.

Of course, the scripts don't work, nothing does, except the "bad" drugs that big pharma doesn't have patents on.