Thursday 21 October, 7.00pm until 8.30pm, Royal College of Music, Prince Consort Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2BS
Venue: Royal College of Music, Prince Consort Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2BS
Tickets: £7.50 (£5 concessions) per person. Tickets are available from the Academy of Ideas website.
From Bach to the Beatles, the image of the prodigious genius effortlessly composing masterpiece after masterpiece holds a romantic sway over the popular imagination. Whether one believes Kierkegaard when he says, ‘geniuses are like thunderstorms…they go against the wind, terrify people, cleanse the air,’ or Schopenhauer’s claim that ‘genius aims at sights that others can’t see’, artistic genius tends to be regarded as a special force of nature, which makes the extraordinary look ordinary. With that comes the acceptance that geniuses don’t play by the same rules as ordinary folk: what else other than their sublime talent could allow us to enjoy the work despite Wagner’s anti-Semitism, Ezra Pound’s involvement with fascism or Phil Spector’s conviction for murder?
Yet while works of genius are notoriously hard to define, geneticists argue we are moving closer to decoding the talent gene, whilst a link is regularly drawn between genius and autism or other mental disorders. As a counter to this apparently deterministic view, books such as David Shenk’s The Genius in All of Us, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated seemingly confirm Edison’s intuition that genius – whether on the sports field or in the conservatoire and exhibition space - really is 1% inspiration and 99% (or 10,000 hours of) perspiration. Yet with the inspiration behind genius so often claimed to stem from intense spiritual devotion or an obsessive quest for aesthetic perfection – both seemingly anathema to rationalist, secular 21st century society – some doubt modern Western culture will ever again be able to produce a true genius capable of standing above his or her contemporaries in the way previous generations have.
What do we understand by genius in the 21st century? Is it a sum-total of DNA or a more subtle configuration of individual talent and the historical moment? Is genius something that is of its time or outside of it? What part does society play in the formation of genius and what potential does our current society have for ‘standing on the shoulder of giants’ and nurturing the geniuses of the future?
deputy editor, Time Out London; theatre writer, Independent, Financial Times and Evening Standard
|Professor Colin Lawson|
director, Royal College of Music; period clarinettist; author, Mozart: Clarinet Concerto and Brahms: Clarinet Quintet
arts editor and founder member, Independent; fellow, Royal Society of Arts
advisor on arts and philanthropy; former deputy mayor of London for education and culture; author, The Politics of Culture: the case for universalism
former Olympian; columnist, The Times; author, Bounce: how champions are made
new technology journalist, Daily Telegraph
retired art historian; author of catalogue raisonnés for JMW Turner and William Blake
Dr Shirley Dent
communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor, tlfw.co.uk; author, Radical Blake
Genius is not about being very, very good at something but about changing things fundamentally.Shirley Dent, Prospect, 16 October 2010
Teddy Roosevelt once said that “in this life we get nothing save by effort.” Syed shows how trenchant Roosevelt was.Peter Orszag, New York Times, 9 September 2010
Maybe – if they practised for about 10,000 hours. An Olympic sportsman turned award-winning sports writer argues that the idea of natural talent is overrated.Mick Hume, spiked, 27 August 2010
The art that we as a culture seem to value most is one in which competence, in the old-fashioned sense, comes low down the list of priorities. Thought comes higher; the investigation of the material fact comes higher than the mastery of conventional media; the struggle with the image is something we rate higher than an easy rendering of it.Philip Hensher, Independent, 7 August 2010
A new biography records the extraordinary achievements of this hyperactive everyman and shows for the first time how completely Wells was a man of his timeClaire Harman, Times Literary Supplement, 4 August 2010
New research proves that the real beneficiaries of good teachers are those from poorer backgroundsJohnjoe McFadden, Guardian, 10 July 2010
Everyone knows that David Beckham crosses the ball better than anyone else and that Tiger Woods never "chokes". But what are the hidden factors which allow the most successful sports stars to rise above their competitors – and are they shared by virtuosos in other fields?
Matthew Syed, Fourth Estate, 29 April 2010
David Shenk, Icon Books, 1 April 2010
Who would have guessed that a routine revival of “La Traviata” at the Metropolitan Opera could cause such a ruckus? The problem was that the conductor Leonard Slatkin, appearing at the Met for the first time in 12 years, showed up for rehearsals not fully knowing the score.Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, 31 March 2010
You’ve probably heard it at one time or another: Most of us use only 10 percent of our brains. More factoid than fact, a claim of unknown provenance and dubious accuracy, the idea sticks around because of the enduring appeal of its underlying premise. We’d all love to think that we’re in possession of tremendous untapped potential, of latent mental powers just waiting to be activated.Annie Murphy Paul, New York Times, 19 March 2010
Gladwell examines how the careers of Bill Gates and the performance of world-class football players are alike; why so many top lawyers are Jewish; why Asians are good at maths and why it is correct to say that the mathematician who solved Fermat's Theorem is not a genius.
Malcolm Gladwell, Penguin, 24 June 2009
In English writing we seldom speak of tradition, though we occasionally apply its name in deploring its absence. We cannot refer to “the tradition” or to “a tradition”; at most, we employ the adjective in saying that the poetry of So-and-so is “traditional” or even “too traditional.”T.S. Eliot, quotidiana.org, 1920