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Genius Child

May 26, 2011

I began to like the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat in college. I was consumed with the way he lived his life through art or vice versa. The high point for me was when there was a retrospective of his work at the Brooklyn museum, and I got to go to a private viewing. Being with his work, alone, and at night was amazing. I love being surrounded by art when no one is around. You can truly see and study the pieces in front of you.

The most intriguing part about the exhibit was how smart and how artistically talented he was. No one ever said he could actually draw realistically and that his “style” was basically to play to the masses. I was told recently, by someone that knew him, that he lived his life in such a fast paced way that they did not think that he would live very long. But in the time he was here (and still to this day), he convinced people of something that very few artists can do. I have always wondered whether it is better to be talented or just make people think you are? Do collectors value the art they buy or do they want to convince others that they see something that is not really there?

I always loved the Radiant Child piece that Rene Ricard wrote. Its sad but I think its still important and true today.

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The Radiant Child by Rene Ricard (Excerpt)

Everybody wants to get on the Van Gogh Boat. There is no trip so horrible that someone won’t take it. Nobody wants to miss the Van Gogh Boat.

The idea of the unrecognized genius slaving away in a garret is a deliciously foolish one. We must credit the life of Vincent van Gogh for really sending that myth into orbit.

How many pictures did he sell? One. He couldn’t give them away. Almost no one could bear his work, even among the most modern of his colleagues…

When I went to the Art Institute of Chicago to see the Grande Jatte, it was having a hard time competing with the white walls of the gallery. This habit of putting old pictures up against the white walls is deadly. The walls reflecting more light than the picture, but van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles was on the opposite wall and it was screaming at my back and I turned around and I listened.

He has to be the most modern artist, still. Van Gogh’s don’t crack. But everybody hated them. We’re so ashamed of his life that the rest of art history will be retribution for van Gogh’s neglect. No one wants to be part of a generation that ignores another van Gogh. And yet looking at art history we see that these other guys were pros. They started when they were kids. They sold their work. They worked on commission. There is no greater artist in all of art history who was as ignored as van Gogh, yet people are still afraid of missing the Van Gogh Boat.

… When you first see a new picture, be very careful. You may be staring at van Gogh’s ear.

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Another poem which applies to this is by Langston Hughes.

Genius Child by Langston Hughes

This is a song for the genius child.
Sing it softly, for the song is wild.
Sing it softly as ever you can –
Lest the song get out of hand.

Nobody loves a genius child.

Can you love an eagle,
Tame or wild?
Can you love an eagle,
Wild or tame?
Can you love a monster
Of frightening name?

Nobody loves a genius child.

Kill him – and let his soul run wild.

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