Genius(es) Wanted

Guest Post
By Santiago Ramos

Where do literary geniuses come from? Or should the question be: Where does literary genius come from? Does genius live only in certain persons or can even a mediocre writer get a humble share? These questions are agitating certain sectors of American letters.

“No more appeals to the inexplicable nature of genius,” observe the editors in a recent issue of n + 1. “Poets now are music makers, not mythmakers,” laments Mark Edmundson, in a recent essay for Harper’s.

The n + 1 editorial is titled “Too Much Sociology,” and wrestles with the ambiguous legacy of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu who, in thick books with commanding titles like Distinction and The Rules of Art, developed a “sociology of taste” that attempted to map out the ways in which class and social standing determine artistic taste and creation.

His project was meant to be subversive, not merely descriptive; Bourdieu was a Marxist. And yet, decades hence, it seems as if those very same capitalist bourgeois forces that Bourdieu wished to subvert have adapted to his critique and even harnessed its power. [Read more...]

Sisyphus with a Lawnmower

I hate mowing the lawn. I hate lawnmowers.

Our unkempt yard stands out among our neighbors’ lush green lawns. Their leaves and sticks are promptly removed after storms, their yards are neatly mown, and their borders are crisply edged. My wife and I imagine that we get a pass on our shaggy, limb-cluttered yard because everyone knows we’re academics, bookish types who aren’t much use at real work—otherwise we might have already been voted off the street.

I don’t see the point of constantly struggling against nature when she will certainly outlast me. What’s more, I like my yard shaded and shaggy, with leaves and sticks all around. It feels more natural—it is more natural. Why put so much energy into fighting it? [Read more...]

Nebuchadnezzar, Nevermore

Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.
—Daniel 4:33

In the summer of 1999, I wore an anthropomorphic foam-rubber “Mr. Recycled Paint” costume in 104 degree heat in a parade that began at Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis, Missouri. It was an exercise in instant humility for me, as it would be for anyone forced to don such an abominable outfit.

Allow me to clarify something upfront: I did not volunteer for the onerous honor of playing the part of Mr. Recycled Paint. As an intern at the largest independent public relations firm in St. Louis, my employer enlisted me for this exercise in embarrassment, and thereby satisfied some sadistic client contractual obligation. [Read more...]

Halos and Other Important Things

By Jessica Eddings-Roeser
Guest Post

In second grade my mom put me in an art class taught by a fluffy-haired blonde who took us to a museum to sketch a Madonna with child. Before we began, our teacher asked us what we noticed about the painting. I raised my hand.

“She has a golden crown.”

“It’s a halo, not a crown,” my friend Sarah corrected.

“I want one,” I said.

“You can’t have one,” she said. “Only angels have them. Or if you die and go to heaven.”

I didn’t like those options. [Read more...]

Art at the Crossroads, Part 2

Continued from Friday

 

In order to start treating being an artist more like a job and less like some precious ritual, an alternative lifestyle that non-artists don’t understand, I have done a lot of reading about how people throughout history have defined art and artists.

For hundreds of years, there has been contentious discussion about who can be called an artist. For example, for many years potters, weavers, carpenters, and sculptors of religious or ritual statuary were not considered artists because what they made was useful: if I can drink out of it, carry things in it, or wield it in some way, then it is not art but a tool.

On the other hand, the term artist has always been connected to the magical—the creation of something from within, like a poem or a melody, or the transformation of one substance to another more valuable one (alchemists were known as artists). Based on this definition, up until the Renaissance, painting was not recognized as one of the arts because it was seen as merely decorative—used to adorn and gild, rather than as a medium for the creation of something new. [Read more...]


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