“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein
According to the Webster dictionary, a genius is…
: a very smart or talented person : a person who has a level of talent or intelligence that is very rare or remarkable
: a person who is very good at doing something
: great natural ability : remarkable talent or intelligence
So in other words, a genius is just about any significantly intelligent human. Talk about vague. Keep in mind that the term “intelligence,” used twice in Webster’s definition, is debatable in it’s complexity, as well.
Why do we dislike when creative minds like Kanye call themselves geniuses? If Kanye believes that he is remarkably talented at what he does, isn’t he by definition a “genius,” and therefore simply describing a fact about himself by using the word? Or is it that a term like genius is to be reserved as a compliment only? Since the definition of “genius” is so vague, has it become a term society uses to recognize individuals whose accomplishments rise above their peers? It is possible that the only difference between a highly intelligent person and a genius is an individuals desire to share their knowledge with the world? If that is the case, it’s possible that some level of community recognition is necessary for any person to be allowed to be called genius.
In other words, if a tree falls in the forest when no one is around, does it make a sound? Is the late scientist, Heinrich Friedrich Weber, Einstein’s academic adviser (who was arguably one of Einsteins great influences) as much of a genius as Einstein, though very few people are aware he ever existed? We as human beings often answer yes to this question, incapable of recognizing our absence is an equation that in no way involves us. We cannot separate our consciousness from our perception. And therefore, there will always (always) be bias.
So to have a word in the English language so reliant on our perception of the world, as a collective and as individuals, is to ignore the complexity of human beings. If our consciousness as human beings is synthetic and simply based on perception, wouldn’t that make a term like “genius” utterly undefinable and therefore a fundamentally flawed term in the English language? And so when it comes to words like “genius,” we are definitely incapable of agreeing completely on who is a genius and who is not.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the wildly successful ” Eat, Pray, Love,” gave a TED talk in which she argued that we should do away the term “genius” all together, in terms of using the word to describe an individual. Gilbert expressed the ongoing understanding in society, often universally, that creative minds are expected to struggle. The pressure of artistry that led Vincent Can Gogh to cut his own ear off is the same pressure that creatives of all genres face, on some level or another. The pressure to make art so great that the world recognizes it’s greatness. But is not all art from the heart of it’s creator worthy of being deemed relevant in our culture? Is not all art, as individual work as well as in relation to other creative work, what builds culture in the first place? What makes us so beautifully human is that we’re able to create art. To single out one individual as a genius because we greatly enjoyed some or all of their work is to miss the point of human creativity. Many writers, singers, musicians ect. will tell you that some of their best work just “came to them.” Gilbert mentioned this idea of working like a mule at the creative work until magically “struck” by genius. As if genius is separate from the person. It seems that human intelligence and creativity is different from genius. When there is high human intelligence, there is a mule at work, when there is human creativity there is a desire to share the artistically intelligent idea with the world, and at the rare change that there is genius in the work, there is an overpowering desire by those experiencing the work to share it with others.
Genius is the community’s response to works that go above and beyond. That is why no one cared for Kanye calling himself a genius. Genius is not an individual, and it’s not about ego. “Genius” is in itself it’s own entity. To reserve genius for the work and not the creator is to understand that any human with the ambition, creativity and intelligence necessary, is capable of creating genius work. I am definitely on team Gilbert to redefine our concept of genius and I hope that one day we can appreciate great creativity not by idolizing it’s maker, but sharing it’s brilliance.
What do you think it means to be a genius, mainly a creative genius? Am I missing the point? Overthinking it? Let me know your thoughts below. Please join the discussion!