Elena Manferdini: [email protected] Genius vs Masters (May 19, 2017)



Elena Manferdini begins a series of discussions on topics relevant to graduate students working on their thesis projects: collage, color, the sketch, and the idea of Genius/Master creativity cycles.
She begins by identifying some questions raised by recent graduate thesis projects: What happens when architecture borrows from another medium? What happens when ideas become subject matter? What happens when subject matter is mistaken for content?

She presents the two paths of creativity, and creative production discussed in David Galenson’s Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity (2007).

In Galenson’s formulation, the Genius type focuses on realization of precisely-determined goals. Once a problem is solved, they pursue new goals. Their careers tend to demonstrate discontinuity, and peak early (Picasso, Frank Stella). Architects of the Genius category might include Vitruvius, Palladio, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, Aldo Rossi, Rem Koolhaas, Peter Eisenman, Greg Lynn, and Santiago Calatrava.

In contrast, Galenson’s Master type explores vaguely-defined goals patiently over time. Their careers tend to demonstrate continuity, and peak late (Cezanné, Rothko). Architects of the Master category might include Frank O. Gehry, Thom Mayne, Zaha Hadid, and Eric Owen Moss.

Manferdini discusses the evolution of the idea of genius from the classical sense of artist as vessel of divine inspiration, to the modern, 18th century secular aristocracy of intelligence and talent (Voltaire, Newton, Einstein). Since World War II, critiques of its sexism, racism have demoted the Genius, though a romantic aura still clings to the idea of creativity—cultural baggage in the way we look at ourselves, and our production.

As a counter-example, Manferdini reviews the careers of exemplary women artists of the Italian Renaissance: Properzia de’ Rossi (c. 1490–1530), Sister Plautilla Nelli (1524–1588), Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1532-1625), Lavinia Fontana (1552- 1614), and Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-c. 1656). Manferdini stresses how each of these women were able to fashion careers because of access to education.

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