Notes For Creators

creative soul surfing

Austin Kleon: It doesn’t require genius, just scenius

Austin Kleon in Show Your Work! (Grab this book if you are creative and want clean cut simplicity on how to get started in your creative career):

There are a lot of destructive myths about creativity, but one of the most dangerous is the “lone genius” myth: An individual with superhuman talents appears out of nowhere at certain points in history, free of influences or precedent, with a direct connection to God or The Muse. 

When inspiration comes, it strikes like a lightning bolt, a lightbulb switches on in his head, and then he spends the rest of his time toiling away in his studio, shaping this idea into a finished masterpiece that he releases into the world to great fanfare. 

If you believe in the lone genius myth, creativity is an antisocial act, performed by only a few great figures— mostly dead men with names like Mozart, Einstein, or Picasso. The rest of us are left to stand around and gawk in awe at their achievements. 

There’s a healthier way of thinking about creativity that the musician Brian Eno refers to as “scenius.” 

Under this model, great ideas are often birthed by a group of creative individuals— artists, curators, thinkers, theorists , and other tastemakers— who make up an “ecology of talent.” 

If you look back closely at history , many of the people who we think of as lone geniuses were actually part of “a whole scene of people who were supporting each other, looking at each other’s work, copying from each other, stealing ideas, and contributing ideas.” 

Scenius doesn’t take away from the achievements of those great individuals; it just acknowledges that good work isn’t created in a vacuum, and that creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds. 

What I love about the idea of scenius is that it makes room in the story of creativity for the rest of us: the people who don’t consider ourselves geniuses. 

Being a valuable part of a scenius is not necessarily about how smart or talented you are, but about what you have to contribute— the ideas you share , the quality of the connections you make, and the conversations you start. 

If we forget about genius and think more about how we can nurture and contribute to a scenius, we can adjust our own expectations and the expectations of the worlds we want to accept us. We can stop asking what others can do for us, and start asking what we can do for others.

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