“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
— Thomas Alva Edison, inventor
Talented and gifted individuals create splendid soulful works of art, literature, music, and dance. They discover mathematical formulae, genetic maps, various vaccines, technological marvels and cyber gadgets.
In a parallel sense, all of these are the concrete manifestations of profound mental and spiritual insights.
Great ideas have vastly improved the lives of millions of people and transformed the world.
In the past century and in this millennium, we have experienced and benefited from the revolutionary inventions and discoveries of brilliant minds. We have electricity, the polio vaccine, the X-ray, CAT scan, MRI and other machines, the automobile and the spaceship, the computer, the theory of relativity, robotic surgery, IVF (in vitro fertilization) and cloning, the mobile phone, to name a few.
We enjoy the immortal works from the past centuries — the sublime music of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Tchaikovsky, the exquisite Renaissance artworks of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, the modern and surreal paintings of Picasso and Dali, the poetry and plays of Shakespeare, the philosophical writings of Aristotle, Socrates and Plato.
What do these creative individuals share? The insightful mind of a genius.
What makes a genius different from ordinary mortals? Is it true that a fine line separates genius and madness? Is eccentricity a characteristic of a genius?
One can only speculate or attempt to probe the highly creative mind. It is awesome to imagine the breadth of the gifted spirit. Just as it is impossible to measure infinity or plumb the depths of the ocean.
The artist Vincent Van Gogh is one genius on the edge. He had a consuming passion about life and interpreted it in a style different from the Impressionist Claude Monet. His angst and immense talent overflowed into shimmering sunflowers, moving landscapes and hypnotic starry nights.
Ironically, his paintings were not appreciated during his lifetime. He plunged into despair as he heard excruciatingly painful sounds within his head. (It was middle ear syndrome, and possible bipolar disorder that were not medically treatable at that time.) In a dark state of what he believed to be madness, he cut off his ear and later ended his suffering with a bullet. It was a monumental tragic loss.
Many decades later, his powerful masterpieces command staggering, record-breaking bids and sales at auctions. They are now enshrined in prestigious museums and private collections of the world. The genius was posthumously recognized and acclaimed. In June, the museum Lumiere will send his popular high-tech exhibition of moving lights and colors to Asia.
Genius spans the spectrum from the sublime to the malevolent. In diverse ways it has been good and bad for mankind.
History has seen spiritual leaders and men of peace such as Gandhi and egocentric maniacs who began world wars and systematic ethnic persecution and genocide.
Nuclear energy has been utilized as an alternative to fossil fuel and to vanquish enemy troops. Viruses and bacteria are used for life-saving vaccines and as ingredients of the diabolical biological weapons of mass destruction.
“Eureka” the grand insight does not come easily — not even for the genius.
Journals of scientists, artists and inventors reveal the arduous work, painstaking research, sleepless nights, the feverish desperation, frustration, sheer determination that go into an important creative project.
The emotional and commitment involved may surpass the material value or financial gain of the product. But the psychic income and level of fulfillment are beyond quantification.
Perhaps it is true that a tinge of madness is a spark for the creative mind to conceive a spectacular idea. It takes superhuman patience to wait and persist – despite the odds. Others may not readily understand the quixotic pursuit of a genius-dreamer. Who can comprehend the workings of a complex, superior mind?
Who else would imagine inventing an aircraft that defies gravity? The mythical Icarus once attempted to fly like a bird with his wax-sealed man-made wings. His impractical whimsical invention melted in the sun.
The visionary Leonardo da Vinci designed the prototype of the first aircraft several centuries before the Wright brothers flew in an airplane. He personified the genius, the true Renaissance man — the scientist-artist-historian-inventor who was known for his famous works Mona Lisa in the Louvre of Paris and Last Supper in Santa Maria Della Grazie in Milan. He designed and built an architectural maquette of a city complete with bridges and towers and he designed and made a hand pistol. Centuries later, millions of people are still fascinated by his enduring legacy.
“It takes chaos in the soul to give birth to a dancing star,” German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche once wrote in his Thus Spake Zarathustra.
In the local scene, genius may not be visible and tangible — outside the hallowed halls of the academe, the studios and laboratories. Instead, one finds some complex sculptures and published articles embellished with high-sounding words and impressive, incomprehensible statistics. To understand the pretentious makes one feel inadequate and intimidated.
The creators could have made their works basic and concise.
To summarize, the American musician Charles Mingus, one of the leading composers in jazz, interpreted and illustrated “genius” in one sentence: “Everyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.”
Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.