There’s a new show on Hulu called Genius. The first season followed Einstein’s life, and the second is following Picasso’s, following a format where each episode switches back and forth between a chronological telling of the life from birth, and the life in older age, generally around 60 or so. Both men lived around the same time, more or less. Both old ages dealt with Nazi Europe. Both youth’s dealt with visionary minds in a world that was not built for nor appreciated visionary minds. Both men raised their metaphorical (and sometimes not so metaphorical) middle fingers at all the odds and the bad mouthers and convention and insistently, obsessively, did their work anyways. Both men were horn dogs, enthusiastically terrible to and disrespectful of women all while equally as enthusiastically appreciative of their womanly virtues, shall we say. Both lived in a world over run with artists and brilliant minds, at a loss as to how to make their voice heard amongst the loud din of voices all saying things pretty similar to themselves. Both lived during the rise of fascism in a time rife with anxiety, aggressive convention and the militant hand of cultural comportment.
And it struck me how many similarities there are between both times in history. When I first wrote that sentence I thought was thinking about the relationship between society and artists and the proliferation of the artistic community, about the current inarguable rise of fascism, the feeling of everything falling apart and the artists place in fighting that and finding a place for art in that, the feeling of increasing insecurity and instability and anxiety. But then I thought, with the admittedly high intensity nature of all of this right now, you could say the same to some degree or another throughout all of our history. At any given moment in human history there are heartless, complicatedly evil people seeking power, there are human made disasters, there are societies fighting the urge to implode and in some ways failing and in some ways winning, there are warriors of convention and complacency and status quo fighting against the voices of rebellion and vision and color and art and dream. So yeah, maybe it’s not much to say that there are parallels, many parallels, between the times of Picasso and Einstein and now. All the same, back to my point. Picasso.
And in the face of all this, it’s really, really easy to get caught up in the hopelessness of making your voice heard in the din, in doing anything unique. You’re no Picasso, after all. You’re no genius, you tell yourself. You don’t, and haven’t, as he did, live and breath art in every waking moment. What hope is there – in your late 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, etc and how much time have you wasted to chores and social media and paying bills when he lived in poverty so he could continue to paint every moment he was awake.
Does that sound as silly to you as it does to me?
What’s the saying? Genius is 99% hard work and sweat? Well, maybe 97%-the rest is coffee and wine. Picasso, for the majority of his life (at least until his older years when his ego kicked in high gear) did not go around convinced he was a genius. He was convinced he was an artist, he was convinced he absolutely had to paint no matter what and against all odds, he was convinced that he had a unique voice and he wanted to make it heard, but he did not go around convinced he was a genius. He just worked. He picked his path, he knew his passion, and he put that path and passion above absolutely all else. Sometimes detrimentally, but even so, in many ways, admirably.
His chances were no better than ours. He didn’t live in a particularly more “allowing” time. We have social media addiction? His society had their own. He had his detractors, his massive obstacles against being a working artist, just as we do. Almost identically, I dare to say.
So I remind myself of this, in an effort to not toss my pens out the window in despair that I will never be a Picasso. So what? Picasso didn’t create because he wanted to be a Picasso, or whatever equivalent he had. (Ok, maybe he did a little bit, he was fixated on Matisse…). He created because that was his passion, his obsession, and he decided he had no choice. He had to paint to be alive, he had to paint to be sane. I feel like even the healthiest person has a penchant for a little obsession, and it’s in our best interest to direct that, to focus that. To decide very consciously that we need to do X to be sane. We can convince ourselves of anything, so why not convince ourselves that we need to do art to survive? Because honestly, the world, right now, needs us to make art, to survive. Just like his did.