Is genius an attribute or a ‘circumstance’?

Albert Einstein. Image credit: F. Schmutzer
[T]he notion of genius as a capability a person can possess has come under attack recently in several ways. Megan Garber, writing in The Atlantic, criticized the excuses of bad behavior that so-called geniuses—specifically men—enjoy.

Yuval Sharon, artistic director of The Industry in Los Angeles, whose experimental operas have won widespread acclaim, shared his anxiety about winning a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship, notoriously called the “Genius Grant.” In an essay titled “Genius as Circumstance” in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Sharon writes, “Moments, ideas, a single poem in a collection—a work of genius, no matter how individually wrought—is never the product of a single individual. We should stop thinking of genius as an attribute and instead start to think of it as a condition, a circumstance.”

Related article:  Evolution’s unpredictable dark side: Everything ‘natural’ is not always good


Jazz artist Vijay Iyer, another MacArthur fellow, is also uncomfortable with the conventional meaning of genius. In a Nautilus interview with Kevin Berger, Iyer says the label “genius” narrows our understanding of art and artists, and by extension, science and scientists.

“The location of genius is not in any particular individual’s mind, but in a virtual space, or system, where an individual interacts with a cultural domain and with a social field,” [psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi] wrote in his 2015 book, The Systems Model of Creativity. He suggests that genius, as a noun, has always been a sort of illusion.

Read full, original post: The Case Against Geniuses

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