To continue with the Jeremy Millar theme (previous post, Cosmic Coincidences?) he ponders the age-old question of where does art come from? He also queries the possessive label we attach to a work as being ‘my‘ work? After all, how can you quantify something that has had some level of appropriation taking place in the process? By the same token, you could argue that this post is not strictly speaking, ‘mine’.
He suggests that in answer to the former question about where does art come from, we might consider the notion of genius. Not in the modern meaning of the word as someone who is exceptionally talented and original, intellectually and creatively, but more in the sense of the ancient cult of genius. In ancient Rome, the genius was the guiding spirit (or soul) of a person. The noun is related to the Latin verb gigno, genui, genitus, “to bring into being, create, produce.” (Apparently, it wasn’t until the time of Augustus, 1st Emperor of the Roman Empire, the word began to acquire the more modern interpretation of genius as someone associated with the achievement of unprecedented insight.)
The guiding spirit or guardian angel, is the personal deity or daimon of an individual. It was something you were born with and remained with you until your death. It needed to be nurtured, fed, indulged and if you respected your genius, that made you a ‘genial’ person. Every person, place or object possessed their own genii and were linked either to family gens, to things, or to a specific place genius loci, each taking on certain attributes of the Gods and Goddesses, the supreme deities who ruled over the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.
The notion of clan or gens, can be seen in our own Celtic cultures – and later formalized religions – who also had their guiding spirits or guardian angels. Does it also account for the behaviours we exhibit that seem to shape our characters? What drives one person to be a minimalist and another an avid collector? Why do some artists want to be hands-on sculptors while others want to make 3D work using digital media?
As readers of this blog, I know the eagle-eyed amongst you may have already realised something about me that is fundamental to the way I work. I’m a collector. Not of valuable antiques (I have a few treasured family pieces) or priceless artworks (only works by friends which may or may not be priceless but are of huge value to me). I collect ideas or inspirational quotes and appropriate them for my own purposes. My studio is organised around the discarded detritus that no-one else wants. I find textural beauty in the rubbish that a storm throws up and dumps on our shore. Instead of throwing away my kitchen china when it breaks, I gather up the pieces and put them carefully in the box marked ‘broken china’ where all the other shattered shards are stored.
Sometimes, something will trigger my interest, or I will feel compelled to do something for no apparent reason. Its latent meaning will remain dormant for a while until something happens to reignite my interest and, ‘ping’, a connective synapse is made. Call it coincidence (for want of a better word), serendipity or whatever. I believe my guiding spirit – or my genius – is showing me the way with gentle nudges of recognition. When those light bulb moments happen I cannot help feeling that they can only be divinely inspired and find myself raising my eyes to heaven with hands clasped, graciously thanking my guiding angels for their incredible gifts.