Sunday 27 December 2015

The Genius Famine in the arts

The 'genius famine' in art and music has been just as damaging as has the decline of genius in science and technology; and has contibuted to the alienation and demotivation characteristic of modernity. 

The 'last geniuses' in these fields - such as Picasso and Duchamp, Schoenberg and Stravinsky - left their subject in chaos (they were, in effect, 'evil geniuses').

In the century since, there have not been further geniuses of equivalent stature (or at least, not recognized geniuses) to re-order and re-energize these subjects; and who could re-connect them with the mass of non-expert people in Western societies. 

Thus art and music have declined into being either mass entertainment (commercial illustration, pop music); or at their hiighest status levels into elite professional subjects - sustained by subsidies from state bureacracies, and where the 'audiences' (such as they are, which is tiny) are critics, academicians and academics - plus financial speculators in the case of the Fine Arts.

Although this situation is dire, it is exactly the kind of impasse which a real genius - but only a genius - can see the way-out from.

The fact that we have remained stuck in this cul-de-sac for four generations is itself strong evidence for the reality of the genius famine.   

Note: The publication of my most recent book The Genius Famine (co-written with Ed Dutton) approaches in about one month -


Hawk Spitui said...

I suspect that's because these days artists of genius caliber are attracted to pop forms for financial reasons. These days the masses have the dollars to make being a popular entertainer very lucrative indeed. Prior to the 20th century the primary source of income for a professional musician would be in the employ of a church or a wealthy patron. While popular music had it's audience, realistically being a street singer or a vaudeville act really didn't pay very well. You notice that the rise of pop music corresponded with the development of media enabling wide distribution. The financial incentives for artists have changed drastically.

JP said...

Mass entertainment hasn't had geniuses for a long time, and at this point, is lacking even people with an ordinary level of competence. To some degree this is because their primary mission is no longer entertainment, but the promotion of various political agendas and the exaltation of "victim" groups.

Hawk Spitui said...

It may be premature to pass judgement on current artists. You might want to consider that artists such as Bach and Shakespeare, while moderately successful in their own time, were largely forgotten after their deaths, and didn't achieve their current status until a few centuries later. As they say, truth is the daughter of time.

Bruce Charlton said...

@HP - Leaving aside the living, the decline in genius is not subtle if you compare the number, proportion, status and quality of geniuses between now and a century, or 150 years, ago. There don't seem to be any counter-examples - i.e. fields in which the number/ proportion of geniuses has increased.

GFC said...

Bruce - a propos of Schoenberg and evil artistic geniuses destroying their own arts, I recommend Dr. Faustus by Thomas Mann. The protagonist is such a figure, a composer, and his music was loosely based on Schoenberg's atonal work. It's a great psychological portrait of such a twisted genius, and a convincing characterization of the kind of man who chooses damnation.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GFC - Yes, I know the book. I liked parts of it and found it generally memorable, but found the English translation by Lowe-Porter a bit unsympathetic. I am actually planning to re-read it soon, in the new translation by Woods (I was hoping to get it for Christmas... so I'll have to treat myself). There was a movie of it in German, which I would like to have seen (assuming there were subtitles) - but it seems to be unavailable expect for a ridiculous price.