Songs for the Struggling Artist


I Am a Genius
August 26, 2020, 12:11 am
Filed under: art, feminism | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Does it make you uncomfortable when I say I am a genius? I can see why it might. Women aren’t supposed to be geniuses, for one thing, and they should be modest, as well, so even if women COULD be geniuses, they shouldn’t go around declaring themselves such. We learn very early that we should hide our intelligence, that we should be quiet about what we’re good at and that we are never going to be seen as brilliant. Because being brilliant, and being a genius, is for boys.

Think that’s all in the past? Well, you’d be thinking wrong. Forbes just published a piece about a study that shows that there is an unconscious bias in both men and women that associates men with things like genius and brilliance and not women. Forbes declares that women tend to not apply for jobs that list a brilliant mind as a qualification. Their solution? Stop putting “brilliant mind” as a qualification.

That’s one way. Another way that I see is to purposefully cultivate an immodest attitude of brilliance. To practice calling girls brilliant and genius. Changing the language on job listings is only a change in semantics – changing how we talk about the brilliance, the genius of women and girls is another.

The culture we’ve been swimming in loves a genius. We are a culture that believes in genius and will excuse all sorts of bad behavior when a genius does it. Picasso! What a genius! It doesn’t matter that he abused the women in his life, neglected his children and made a seventeen-year-old girl his lover when he was 45. The genius effect is powerful and will overshadow any wrong doing.

Here’s his granddaughter describing his genius: ”His brilliant oeuvre demanded human sacrifices. He drove everyone who got near him to despair and engulfed them. No one in my family ever managed to escape from the stranglehold of this genius. He needed blood to sign each of his paintings: my father’s blood, my brother’s, my mother’s, my grandmother’s and mine. He needed the blood of those who loved him — people who thought they loved a human being, whereas they really loved Picasso.”

And here she is describing his relationships with women: ”He submitted them to his animal sexuality, tamed them, bewitched them, ingested them and crushed them onto his canvas. After he had spent many nights extracting their essence, once they were bled dry, he would dispose of them.”

Nice genius right there. That’s genius built from the blood of women. That’s not just a really sharp, smart, cool artist. He was that, sure. I like his artwork very much. But he was pretty awful to the people around him. We excuse it though, because of that genius effect.

But no matter how brilliant a woman may be, no matter how prolific and original, it is highly unlikely that she will be called a genius or even brilliant – and if she made even the smallest of errors, she will be pilloried for it. There’s no genius effect for her.

I am so incredibly tired of this and have made it my practice to call myself a genius and to tell myself I’m brilliant at every opportunity. When the silly video game calls me a genius after I string together a long line of dots, I say to it, “Thank you. I know.” Sometimes I don’t even say thank you because of course my genius is obvious and I don’t have to be polite about it.

Is this immodest? Yep. I’m done waiting for the world to recognize my genius. If the orange dumpster-fire-in-chief can call himself “ a very stable genius,” there is literally no reason in the world I should not declare my own genius. I may not be as brilliant as Einstein but I am for sure more brilliant than the fascist meme machine in charge. He got pretty far by declaring himself a genius. Can I do worse?

But most importantly, I am trying to normalize women being seen as geniuses, as brilliant. I want the next generation of girls to know they are brilliant and geniuses and to apply for and get all the jobs for brilliant minds out there. (By the way, what are these jobs? I’ve never seen a job listing that asked for a brilliant mind ever. Was it because I was looking at theatre and education listings? No one would ask for a brilliant mind in those fields, I don’t think. Not the way they’re currently administered. A brilliant mind would only make trouble. As I often did.)

Anyway – I’m a brilliant genius. I hope you’ll agree. And make it a practice to call other women and girls geniuses, too. Start your practice with me, if you want – because I will, for sure, accept it. If you call me a genius, I will say, “Thank you, I know” just like I say to my game and then you can move on to your next genius, who may have been taught to be modest and deny it. They may be embarrassed and uncomfortable to hear it but call them a genius anyway. One day it will stick.

The only reason I got comfortable calling myself a genius is that I have a handful of people who have called me brilliant, who have called me a genius. It didn’t come from nowhere. You can help me spread it. 

Here’s me with my genius rainbow brain just geniusing it up out here.

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Feedback Loop
October 4, 2015, 9:28 pm
Filed under: art, Creative Process, theatre | Tags: , , , , ,

When I first started making my own work, I got an extraordinary amount of very positive feedback. While a lot of it was from the audience, the most consistent voices of support were those involved in the production. Based on their enthusiasm, I thought I must have been a genius – at writing, at directing, at producing.

It occurs to me now, though, that I was doing shows with theatre people and I now understand that theatre people tend to think everything that they’re currently working on is genius. I fear now that I ended up on this path because I believed all those theatre folk when they told me I was brilliant.

I started to think about this recently while accidentally witnessing a production meeting in a coffee shop. The creative team was young and very enthusiastic about the piece at hand. Many of them were genuine in their excitement but the lighting designer, it seemed to me, was just playing the game. He understood that he was expected to blow some smoke and so he did but he was struggling. I could feel him grasping for the words and tone to fit into the love-fest happening at the table. I suspected that most people in the group were fully convinced that this project would be the one to give them all their big breaks, while the lighting designer was there to do the job. It felt like he knew what he was doing and he also knew that the show under discussion was no better or worse than anything else he’d done. He was likely the most experienced artist at the table. I sympathized with his struggle.

A lot of us indulge in that “This shows is going to change everything!” idea – especially at the beginning of a career. And we all encourage each other in this delusion. It really can help buoy up a project. The endless feedback loop of people calling one another geniuses can be the fuel that gets a show off the ground. But it can be very painful when you’re the person in the group who knows that this piece is probably not going to be anyone’s big break. The odds are good that the show will close with not much notice and probably no one in that group is a genius. Most of us aren’t really geniuses and I wonder what we lose in imagining or pretending that we are.

On the other hand, I’m very grateful to each and every one of the people who thought (or even just said) I was brilliant. It was very nice. It felt good. That encouragement kept me going. And maybe what this post is really about is my need to have some of those people around again. It’s been a long time since someone called me brilliant and maybe that is what I need. Even if it’s just smoke. Maybe.

I just started reading The Rise by Sarah Lewis and she opens with a discussion on Mastery. She explores the idea that Mastery is the continued work on improving a thing, regardless of outside influence or possibility. Archers, for example, continue to work on their aim, despite the lack of outside adulation or approval. (There aren’t a lot of lucrative Archery contracts, you see. And can you name a famous Archer?) So, I’m interested in a theatre that is more interested in Mastery than approval. And while I like to be called brilliant as much as the next theatre person, I don’t want to depend on that “brilliant” feedback loop anymore. I want to get my aim exactly right for my own mastery and my own satisfaction. THAT will be brilliant.

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