Meditations on “Genius”

Nearing the Finish of an Earlier Painting of the Laguna Madre

Nearing the Finish of an Earlier Painting of the Laguna Madre

What makes men of genius, or rather, what they make, is not new ideas, it is that idea—possessing them—that what has been said has still not been said enough. . . . Novelty is in the mind that creates, and not in nature, the thing painted. . . . That fever, you take it for the power to create, but it is, rather, a mere need to imitate. . . . Ah, no.  The fact is that they have not said the hundredth part of what there is to say; the fact is that with a single one of the things that they skim over, there is more material for original geniuses than there is . . . and that nature has put in safe keeping in the great imaginations to come more new things to say about her creations than she has created things.

Eugene Delacroix. Journal

Recently I listened on Youtube to the late Abstract Expressionist painter Robert Motherwell, fielding questions from an audience. He was asked about why he painted “Elegy to the Spanish Republic” over a hundred times. Was it a series. His response was No, not a series. His reason for the repeated paintings was that he felt that he never found what he was looking for as he explored that composition. He believed that was the same reason Paul Cezanne painted mont sainte victoire over fifty times. Delacroix, in his journal, pointed out that “genius” believes there is still much to be said in the subject under consideration.

The topic of genius is one that has intrigued me for a number of years.  I confess that in graduate school I dreamt of publishing an original idea (probably the dream of over 90% of dissertation authors).  Once I landed in the teaching arena, I continued to look for that original idea to publish, to put myself on the map so to speak.  As time went on, I came to this notion that creative genius is manifest in the act of configuring ideas in a way not done before.  As history continues to unroll, it becomes increasingly impossible to be “original.”  Once I began to think down this track, I tossed the vision of originality and instead found my joy in the act of creating, no longer fretting over whether or not my work would stand the test of time.

Back in 1993, I was enraptured by an article published in Newsweek, titled “The Puzzle of Genius,” written by Sharon Begley.  I saved the issue, and twenty-one years later, I still read it, and now quote from it:

The creative geniuses of art and science work obsessively. They do not lounge under apple trees waiting for fruit to fall or lightning to strike. “When inspiration does not come to me,” Freud once said, “I go halfway to meet it.” Bach wrote a cantata every week, even when he was sick or exhausted. Though most composers would kill to have written even one of his best pieces, some were little more than wallpaper music. Eliot’s numerous drafts of “The Waste Land” constitute what one scholar called “a jumble of good and bad passages [that he turned] into a poem.” In a study of 2,036 scientists throughout history, Simonton found that the most respected produced not only more great works, but also more “bad” ones. They produced. Period.

A few years back, I stopped using my full-time job as an excuse, and leapt from averaging fifteen-to-twenty watercolors per year to well over a hundred.  Sure, some of them are 5 x 7”, but some are 22 x 28”.  Some are quite bad, but others are quite alright.  I’m pleased that I’m cranking out creations, no longer fretting over every one of them being worthy of framing and hanging.  Funny—around the time I began feeling somewhat smug over cranking out great quantities of art work, I read about the day in 1975 when Andrew Wyeth was approached by Thomas Hoving to assemble a major exhibition for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Wyeth unlocked his cabinets and drew out more than fifteen hundred pre-studies for his tempera, dry-brush and watercolor masterpieces.  Fifteen hundred!

In my life today, I frequently encounter colleagues who describe themselves as “frustrated artists.”  Oftentimes, I discover that they haven’t created anything in years, using as an excuse their job, family, health—any number of obstacles that all humans encounter during this all-too-brief sojourn on earth.  David Bayles and Ted Orland collaborated on a book that has impacted me probably more than any other book from this recent decade: Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking.  I was stung by this observation: “The world is filled with people who were given great natural gifts, sometimes conspicuously flashy gifts, yet never produce anything.  And when that happens, the world soon ceases to care whether they are talented.”  I loved the musings of Howell Raines, long prior to his becoming the Executive Editor of The New York Times.  He movingly testified that “we are not on this earth for long.  Part of what a midlife crisis is about is figuring out what gives you pleasure and doing more of that in the time you have left without asking for permission or a financial or emotional subsidy from anyone else.”

As I write this, I am aware of file cabinets jammed with my old sermon manuscripts, my graduate school term papers, my lectures from college and high school classrooms, public speeches given, and over 130 volumes of my journals dating back to 1987.  And I look across my library shelves jammed with volumes filled with highlighted, underscored and marginally-noted texts spanning over three decades.  The shelves are also crowded with VHS tapes and DVDs of documentary and Teaching Company lectures.  And they continue to whisper their invitations for me to explore new pastures, but I simply cannot get at them all, not just now, and probably never will.  Yet still I find time sufficient to think on these treasures, and tonight am delighted to have a little space to write what’s on my heart.  On this day, I also had the pleasure of picking up a painting that I had stopped working on a few weeks ago. Though I was at a crowded art festival, I still found some time to tinker with the painting, trying to learn a new angle in watercolor. I enjoyed the time painting, and I enjoyed the wonderful chats with patrons throughout the afternoon. It’s been a good day.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not quite alone.

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18 Responses to “Meditations on “Genius””

  1. Jodi Says:

    So poignant David. Thanks for sharing as I sit with morning coffee on the deck at the beach on a little vacation. I love watching your painting evolve.

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    • davidtripp Says:

      Thank you, Jodi, for including me in your morning. I’m just now rising, a little later, still kind of wiped out by all of yeserday’s energy! I’m always happy to know when something I write make’s a good morning a little better.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Laura (Createarteveryday) Says:

    Word. I needed this one today, sir! I’ve been watching the watercolor paintings stack up and wondering if anything I do will ever really be good. One thing I do have is a passion to create. It won’t let me go, so I will keep going. Thanks for the encouragement.

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    • davidtripp Says:

      I’m glad that encouraged you, Laura. I am neck-deep in paintings from the recent years. Like wild mushrooms, they almost take over my interior! But still, I’m so happy with the act of creating, that I no longer get upset over whether or not I have value in these finished products. I hope you stay encouraged. I really believe that creative acts improve our day-to-day lives.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Laura (Createarteveryday) Says:

    Also, David, a question, if you don’t mind: I am absolutely determined to paint seascapes. I don’t want to use masking fluid. I was following a video tutorial by Grant Fuller yesterday that was great, but the rolling waves was a painting fail. So now I know that is the hardest part of the painting, I will practice rolling waves on scrap paper. Can you suggest a book that was helpful for you? Those I’ve found are showing techniques with mask, and I’d really like to try the other methods…..rewinding and pausing the video while painting (and paper was drying) was difficult, so I thought a book might be my best bet. Taking a shot in the dark you might know of one, as I admire your seascapes very much! Thanks.

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    • davidtripp Says:

      Oh boy, I’ll be of no help in this! I have never consulted a book on seascapes. At the Laguna Madre I had no clue of what I was doing. I spent most of my time staring at the broad expanse of flat water (there are no gravity tides in the lagoon) and trying to find a way to translate it into watercolor. I used masquing some of the time, and frankly, I never got what I wanted. As to rolling waters, I have no clue. I’m sorry, but you are definitely in an area that is not my expertise. Because I want to solve the lagoon in painting, I’ll keep searching for ways to get it done. If you find a source in the meantime that is helpful, would you please share it with me?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Laura (Createarteveryday) Says:

        Yes! I definitely will. I could refer you to Grant Fuller’s video on Artist’s Network TV, but it’s subscription-based. For someone experienced such as yourself, I’m sure his demonstration would be a snap! Thanks for your willingness to help. I’d have never thought this was beyond your expertise! I think your paintings of that area are wonderful!

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      • davidtripp Says:

        Well, thank you. Really, I was out of my element painting the lagoon and horizon. But I’m trying to meet that challenge. Thank you for the positive feedback.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Laura (Createarteveryday) Says:

        You’re welcome! I’m happy for you that you have an “element” to be out of! Oh, for the day when I can actually have an element!!

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      • davidtripp Says:

        You’re selling yourself way too short!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Laura (Createarteveryday) Says:

        Thank you for saying so. Artists are kind folk. ❤

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      • davidtripp Says:

        As for “out of my element”–note that I’m not painting portraits, figures, wildlife, flowers, etc.! I’m only comfortable in a few areas.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Laura (Createarteveryday) Says:

        I appreciate your comment. I’m painting everything, trying to find my niche. If such a thing exists for me. But what I really want to do is beach art. It’s what’s been calling me loudest…..and seems a difficult subject. I’ll get there though, if only because I have a triple dose of stubborn. 🙂

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      • davidtripp Says:

        That inspires me! Always follow your bliss.

        Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

        From:”David Tripp’s Blog of Watercolors and Ideas” Date:Mon, Jul 20, 2015 at 10:05 AM Subject:[David Tripp’s Blog of Watercolors and Ideas] Comment: “Meditations on “Genius””

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Xraypics Says:

    Yes, David, I’ve met and mentored talented researchers whose ideas are always “in their head” and have had to tell them it is nothing until you write it down on paper, only then does it have substance. Only then to discover they have no idea how to construct a sentence; who was it said genius is 10% talent and 90% sweat (I paraphrase). I love to watch the development of your paintings, thankyou for sharing them.

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    • davidtripp Says:

      Thanks for that encouragement, Tony. It may have been Einstein who said that inspiration was 90% perspiration, I’m not sure, but I love the notion! Woody Allen had a similar remark: 90% of success is showing up. I’m delighted that you cared enough to tell those under your charge that unless they put their ideas into tangible form–writing, art, music–they evaporate. I’m glad I kept journals over the decades–many times I read pages of ideas I don’t even recall thinking! Someone once said journals were nets for organizing wonder. I’m glad you read my blog and responded. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Segmation (@Segmation) Says:

    Interesting on Eugene Delacroix. How about some Fun Facts About Eugene Delacroix >>> http://segmation.com/blog/2016/04/26/eugene-delacroix/

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