Brian Eno On Genius, And “Scenius”

brian-eno

Brian Eno had some interesting comments on genius vs “scenius” at the Sydney Luminous Festival:

I was an art student and, like all art students, I was encouraged to believe that there were a few great figures like Picasso and Kandinsky, Rembrandt and Giotto and so on who sort-of appeared out of nowhere and produced artistic revolution.

As I looked at art more and more, I discovered that that wasn’t really a true picture.

What really happened was that there was sometimes very fertile scenes involving lots and lots of people – some of them artists, some of them collectors, some of them curators, thinkers, theorists, people who were fashionable and knew what the hip things were – all sorts of people who created a kind of ecology of talent. And out of that ecology arose some wonderful work.

he period that I was particularly interested in, ’round about the Russian revolution, shows this extremely well. So I thought that originally those few individuals who’d survived in history – in the sort-of “Great Man” theory of history – they were called “geniuses”. But what I thought was interesting was the fact that they all came out of a scene that was very fertile and very intelligent.

So I came up with this word “scenius” – and scenius is the intelligence of a whole… operation or group of people. And I think that’s a more useful way to think about culture, actually. I think that – let’s forget the idea of “genius” for a little while, let’s think about the whole ecology of ideas that give rise to good new thoughts and good new work.

Certainly there was a “scenius”for electronic music in the 1970’s, when Eno did some of his most important work. We may have a scenius now, too, spurred on by the surge in creativity that Internet media is driving.

What do you think is more important – the contributions of individuals like Eno, or the time and the scene that they work in?

via MoreDarkThanShark


16 thoughts on “Brian Eno On Genius, And “Scenius”

  1. What prevails time and time again throughout history is that no matter how brilliant or talented someone is, they can't succeed on a large scale without opportunities: such as finding an incredibly well-matched promoter to get the word about them, and learning the right tools to connect with fans. (Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers examines this in greater depth, such as Bill Gates' already financially-privileged background giving him access to computer time that was rare.)

    Thus, one cannot contribute without a scene which is receptive. I was just reading about Paul Oakenfold's early "acid house" sound not making it big in Ibiza until some years later, and how wildely popular the descendants of that are today. Persistence, it seems, is a necessary constant — along with change.

    I love hearing artists' inspirations of what initially got them into making music, or whatever creative craft they've dedicated their life to. Those are the very keystones upon which their accomplishments are built.

    Specifically to this article, reminds me of Aphex Twin's quote: "I guess you can say I'm a modified Brian Eno, though I never heard any Brian Eno before I started making records." So I wonder if he actually listened to someone(s) else who was influenced by Eno, thus continuing the chain of inspiration! (And to wit, all those people wanting to get into game music because of Nobuo Uematsu's battle themes, not realizing they often draw from ELP.)

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  2. Your comment reminded me of the band Jet – which reminds me of PInk Floyd & The Beatles.

    My kids listen to Pink Floyd and think they sound like Jet……

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  3. i think eno is spot on with his observation, but i also think that a big part of being called a genius is summing up an era nicely for historians. so, once history is generally agreed upon, the place of the genius tends to be reinforced. as an example, beethoven might not have been the most brilliant composer of his time, but when you put him central in that place and time, it's becomes a nice way to characterize the time and place in the way we do now.

    it reminds me of steve reich being asked in an interview about how it was for the '4 geniuses of minimal music' (reich, glass, lamonte young, riley) in the 70s. reich said that there were hundreds of minimal composers around at the time, and that nothing put them in a special position.

    personally, i think the whole idea of a genius comes out of the human urge to tell stories. of course, at the center is somebody doing something extremely well, but historians can make it seem as if all the good work from a time and place can be attributed to that person. a scenius indeed.

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  4. As a race, we prefer to celebrate genius to scenius (note that 'celebrate' and 'celebrity' come from the same root). In pre-1970s science textbooks, the transistor was invented by Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley working at Bell Labs. At some point in the '70s, it was as though the corporation asserted some kind of historical rights, and textbooks started to read "the transistor was invented in the 1950s by (note, not "at") Bell Labs."

    I suspect that the latter may be more accurate, but, for inspiration, I preferred the romance of the former statement. I'm sorry, but I cannot recognize Bell Labs, nor "the minimalist movement", as a personal hero.

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  5. It *is* easier to recognize individual personalities than relate to groups (especially "faceless corporations"). Mythological stories often reflect this, too — there are main characters. As in "Jason and the Argonauts".

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  6. And that reminds me of younger folks who heard Oasis and then the Beatles, and go, "Wow! The Beatles sound like Oasis." Thankfully that doesn't happen very often because Brothers Gallagher have been open about their influences. :)

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  7. Mr. Eno can always get right at the meat of a thing. Scenes and cultures can cultivate mediocrity and me-too-ism, but they also provide incubation for those that can take all the pieces and parts and really make it happen, separating the clever from the stupid, or just making the stupid clever.

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  8. Personally I think Eno himself is a perfect example of 'scenius' — his rise to prominence happened in the context of an absurdly creative scene in the UK of the early 70s. I haven't liked anything he's done since about 1990 though, and I think a large part of the reason is that he became more isolated and singular.

    Not to mention he and David Byrne forming a mutual admiration society…

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  9. I'm with you completely on the idea of having personal heroes.

    Eno's "scenius" idea is interesting to me because it suggests that we may be able to cultivate these scenes and encourage more great work.

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  10. I think he'd agree.

    He's said in the past that he's not a musician, he's questioned whether what he does is music and it's hard to imagine him thriving in the music world in an earlier time.

    That doesn't diminish his importance or the importance of his work, though.

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  11. Agreed. In fact, I'd go so far as to call him a 'genius'… And so is David Byrne. I don't always like their music, but they regularly come out with some very pertinent observations about music and their place in the great scenius of things…

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  12. therefore genius is a summation and representative of the scenius they came from?

    dunno about contributing Eno's brilliant work to a collective tho…as nice a thought as it might be

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  13. In your message I find the formulations, „created a kind of ecology of talent“
    and „the ecology of ideas“.

    „Ecology“ is a terminus technicus meaning the “science or teaching of the
    relationships between living entities (animals, plants) and their non-living environment”. I
    am a trained (marine) ecologist, and may be that my scientific manner of
    thinking disables me to understand all those other modern meanings of this word and made me too narrow-minded.

    The word „ecology“ has been coined by Ernst Haeckel in Leipzig around 1850
    with the above mentioned meaning.

    So I do not understand what it means to talk about the „ecolgy of the
    talents“.

    The „evolution of consciousness“ needs a very accurate language. That is why
    I insist of using well defined and known words – we have enough of
    them – or we must invent really new ones and define them properly and openly – .like your “scenius”.

    Sincerely Dr Aryaman Stefan Wellershaus

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