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Who Are You Calling a Genius?

Ron Rosenbaum over at Slate writes about genius-dom. He discusses Me and Orson Welles, an upcoming Richard Linklater film about Welles rise. He also writes about other artists that we have dubbed genius.

Has the term been applied somewhat—or wildly (Tarantino?)—indiscriminately of late? And have the prerogatives of genius too often been used to excuse transgressions or mediocrity? (“Not his best work, but he’s a genius!”)

Those are precisely the questions—the nature of genius, the profligacy of genius, the questionable allowances made for genius—that are at the heart of Me and Orson Welles, which is perhaps Linklater’s most ambitious film and is scheduled to be released this Thanksgiving. I think it will cause a stir. Oh, let’s not be restrained: When I saw it, I found it amazing and moving.

Chiefly because of Welles, his genius and his tragedy. The film celebrates the triumph of Welles’ genius, but it also gives us a Welles who abuses the prerogatives of genius in ways we know will eventually cost him. The future casts a melancholy shadow over the proceedings.

He concludes at the end of the essay that instead of tagging artist’s as geniuses, we should only tag their work as genius. I agree, but I still don’t like the idea of genius. First, genius-dom is controlled by the high brow society. If you’re low educated you’ll never understand what’s so great about Picasso. Second, most of the time it’s in hindsight. It took some years, about a decade or so, for Citizen Kane to become one of the greatest films of all time. Third and lastly, it implies that people have unique and inherent talent that comes out of nowhere… or mythical muses in a soul. And this inherent talent myth is something that the neuroscience field keeps debunking everyday. It’s not that I’m against holding people’s work and art in high esteem, but the genius idea should be left back with the guys with wigs of the Renaissance.