Art and the perception of genius


Genius is a word that is thrown around and boldly claimed. Nun and Art critic Sister Wendy Beckett scathingly summarised the careers of artists Vincent van Gogh and Salvador Dali. “Van Gogh reaches past his (mental) abundance, incorporating it into his vision. He is communicating through his panics and delusions, passionately urging them into some sort of order. We are awed by van Gogh’s courage, his persistence, his seriousness,” she explained.

This is in contrast to Dali who dove head first into dream world to pull out what he thought would impress and/or outrage the world. With the question of his sanity as a calling card to draw an audience and notoriety, he built a name for himself leaving quotables and grand gestures as folly in self-indulgent interviews. Beckett posed that Dali was contrived as he presented products of his psyche as he saw it, not how it was. In this state, reality was diminished by allegory that is to say his interpretation of what he saw watered down the true meaning of his psyche because assessments are based on our own prejudices. The story (allegory) is subjective so it took away from reality.

Kanye West, like the aforementioned men, is one of the greatest artists of our age. By the end of June he will have released four albums from various artists, including his own, entirely produced by himself. Following his remarks on 400 years of slavery being a choice he has polarized public opinion with most stacking their chips against him. By the first week of June his 7 track album, Ye, was released and the feelings had relatively softened. In the said album he spoke openly about being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.

Closer to our border, South African artist AKA released two singles from his third album Touch My Blood. “Amen” is an L-Tido featured song which samples Hollis P. Monroe and Etta James “Goodbye” and also interpolates Faith Evans’ chorus from her guest appearance on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Stressed Out” from their 1999 album The Anthology. The second single “Beyoncé” is a confessional about his 2 year relationship with Bonang Matheba that sees AKA hit a falsetto that would make US rapper Future smile and adlibs to match. Many have already deemed the song extremely petty with childish blame shifting on his part and pure character assignation of his former beau.

Both AKA and Kanye West represent a merger of Dali and van Gogh – they are aware of their power to manipulate public perception but they lack the ability to fully tilt and make their individual truths explicitly clear to everyone else. Kanye’s politics have morphed due to stratospheric changes in his livelihood and status. AKA as well has seen such changes but his fame has deluded him from drawing a line on attention courting antics as evidenced in the ease at which he incorporates his immediate family in his music and by extension, public discourse.

The result unfortunately is that these two artists come off as clumsy savants talented in one field but failing to fully convince the majority of their genius. With a 50 year gap between the two generations of artists, it is clear genius and ego clash to complicate the other.