Service of Lag Time for Recognition: Are Geniuses Discovered More Quickly Today?

September 16th, 2019

Categories: Artist, Fame, Famous, Scientist, Writers

Photo: goodreads.com

Fortunate is the artist, writer, scientist, poet or inventor who is recognized and reaps the benefits in his/her lifetime. There are so many who died on the equivalent of Skid Row only to be discovered once they were long gone. Just these few names that fit this tragic situation–Oscar Wilde, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Keats, Johannes Vermeer, Gregor Johann Mendel, Edgar Allan Poe and Vincent Van Gogh–make the point.

Swiss-born photographer died recently at 94 and enjoyed a different experience. While his early and some say best work was widely criticized when first seen, it garnered the praise it deserved long before his demise.

J S Bach Photo: classicfm.com

In her Wall Street Journal article “Robert Frank, 1924-2019: He Saw America Without Illusions,” Mary Panzer wrote: “Published first in France in 1958 and the following year in New York, ‘The Americans’ was deemed mean and depressing by critics in the U.S. Popular Photography’s editors called it ‘a wart-covered picture of America by a joyless man.’ Reigning photography critic Minor White found it ‘Utterly misleading! A degradation of a nation!’ The book sold less than half the print run of 2,500 copies; the rest were remaindered. Within 10 years, the critical tide had turned, and today the book is considered one of the most influential art publications of the 20th century.”

Panzer reviewed highlights of Frank’s life in her article and concluded: “’The Americans’ remains Robert Frank’s most important legacy, a modest book with 83 photographs that changed the way we see and photograph the world around us.”

Gregor Johann Mendel Photo: biography.com

It only took a decade for “The Americans” to be reevaluated and admired. So it’s hard to argue that a short life is the reason for a lag in appreciation of seminal work.

Might it be that since the middle of last century tastes and mores changed more quickly than before allowing visionaries to see their work accepted? Do drastically improved communications tools help geniuses in arts and science spread the word to a wide spectrum of people allowing more to “get” what they do? Is there an historic or contemporary person you admire who wasn’t discovered during her/his lifetime or someone who isn’t yet and should be?

Edgar Allan Poe Photo: poemuseum.org

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6 Responses to “Service of Lag Time for Recognition: Are Geniuses Discovered More Quickly Today?”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    When Andy Warhol said, “everyone will get 15 minutes of fame“, I think he was answering your question.

    Yes, the speed of communication — getting the word out, nowadays, helps allow people like Warhol and his peers and thousands of others to be recognized sooner than they might have.

    Some deserve it, like Warhol, others… Your choice… Just don’t.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hank,

    While perhaps not perfectly pertinent to the subject of this post–though a lag is involved–when you mentioned Andy Warhol I thought of a friend of my husband who worked at the same agency as Andy early in both their professional lives. She could have smacked herself, she said, because had she known where his life was taking him she’d have kept some of those sketches he’d toss on the way to the final version of a project that was shown/given the client for a campaign.

    How many conversations have I had about “art” that I didn’t consider art? MANY! The most recent was an installation that got a lot of publicity because the artist featured all –or a lot–of Hillary Clinton’s emails stolen by Wikileaks. She visited the exhibition adding to its publicity value. The “collection” might be something that a library could use in its archives but art? Uh-uh.

  3. Martha Takayama Said:

    The delayed, overdue or postmortem recognition of artistic achievement is a matter of long-standing. One friend of mine said that musical taste evolves more quickly than visual. I am not sure that is correct. Medical and scientific recognition of genius seems to be evaluated differently based more on concrete results rather than individual or group taste.

    However, there is no question that the rapid expansion of communication and its global reach have accelerated the time frame for brilliance or genius being recognized. Scientific and medical research even as it is in progress is constantly being shared and acknowledged even though it may be accompanied by controversy or dispute. Artistic recognition is facilitated not just by the speed of communication itself. The very nature of social media, and all the choices for instant communication it offers, makes the even instant qualification of artist output as genius possible. We are constantly bombarded with a plethora of press releases, blogs, and newsletters.

    The endless modes of information sharing and publicity including self-promotion via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram make it possible to declare or anoint just about anything or anyone as spectacular and genius-like. The public is saturated or suffocated with information. Fortunately for some this makes for an easier or more affluent life and assures continuity in a career. At the same time it is important to maintain a healthy cynicism about accepting all the new marvels that are constantly being launched or announced as important as they are proclaimed to be. At the moment I don’t think that there is one individual that I would nominate as under recognized, but I question many of those designated as visual artistic geniuses.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    There must be surveys and studies that try to capture information about musical vs. visual taste and which changes faster but I’m not certain about how accurate they would be, how you’d measure such things and what demographic you’d tap to gather information. That’s now.

    But with all the data being gathered about millions who buy or approve on the Internet, tapping “like” on social media, soon this information will no doubt be available monthly if not sooner.

    The results might mislead. The perfect example was a book I borrowed from the library written by a person well known on HGTV and from her work in design magazines. She had the big following which is pretty much required to get a book published by a distinguished publisher these days. It was one of the most hollow, nonsensical, useless books I’ve tried to read. Yet based on her high visibility, no doubt some bought it–unless they leafed through it in a bookstore. Hope the data does a better job than that publisher did by betting on data and not on the quality of work.

    Clever marketers have always had the edge when it comes to fame in the arts and design in this country. Why else would people with deep pockets pay $millions for plastic sculptures that aren’t even made by the so-called artist? The man is brilliant! Famous! Smart! But deserving to be remembered by future generations as an artist? I can’t imagine.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    There’s no good answer to that question. No doubt thousands, if not millions of superb human beings have gone unrecognized over the centuries. Others, highly recognized, are vastly overrated. Here are a couple of questions: What are the qualifications for being recognized as genius, and who is qualified to bestow such a distinction upon others?

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    A genius in a field whether music, art, science, politics, medicine, research, etc., is a person whose work stands out for some reason.

    My heart bleeds for the many super talented students I heard at the Fisher Center at Bard College who played their instruments like angels. How will all of them reach the top, or even be able to make a living in music? At Bard, these students must have a double major for just that reason–to ensure that they will be able to make a living. But so many won’t be discovered or recognized.

    I knew a surgeon who had magic fingers who used them to diagnose, open, close and heal patients and also, I was told, he played the piano equally well. In his field of medicine he was recognized and lauded. The world at large didn’t know him but does that matter?

    My husband’s neurologist was such a person. Humble, great sense of humor, confident but not arrogant, held in high regard in his field. Is that recognition enough? I’d say so. Is he a genius in his field? He has my vote.

    On the other hand, we had the misfortune of dealing with an infectious disease doctor with the fanciest Park Avenue office I’ve seen who, I later discovered, was in New York Magazine’s list of “best doctors” in his specialty. He was a disgrace.

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