On the day of our 40th Wedding Anniversary Holly and I revisited the city we enjoyed so much on our European honeymoon. The first time, I don’t remember why, we were not able to visit the original statue of David by Michelangelo.
Instead we settled for the replica placed outside Florence’s Town Hall (Palazzo Vecchio) in the Town Hall Square (Piazza della Signoria.) In our walk around Florence I decided to go there first to see if I could rekindle old memories. All the statues were still there as they had been for 100’s of years.
The Plaza was great but a replica is a replica and plus this David was covered in pigeon poop. This time we decided to visit the real-deal David in his protected home at the Galleria dell’Accademia.
So on the morning of our 40th wedding anniversary we hiked down the street from our hotel to find the Gallery.
Even before the gallery opened tour buses spilled out multitudes of tourists onto the street and the line-ups grew quickly.
So I bought VIP express passes to be the first two people into the museum in the morning.
For about 10 minutes we had David all to ourselves.
To be alone with David in the silence left me awestruck. The lighting, the architecture, the ambiance and, of course, Michelangelo’s amazing statue of David, to me, defines human perfection. “All else” shall be judged and measured using David as the standard but only whereas David, the manifestation of Michelangelo’s vision or idea, represents us as being “only human” in our imperfect form. In other words, yes we see flaws and inconsistencies in the form, but in the end it, Michelangelo’s work, is perfect in it’s realization.
I haven’t felt this way since I first stood in front of Rembrandt’s Mona Lisa in Paris or Vincent van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows in Amsterdam. Shortly after seeing the psychedelic impressions of Wheatfield with Crows I wrote my book of poetry Woodsmoke & Perfume. It took me roughly as long to compose my chapbook of poetry as did Michelangelo to carve out David from a block of marble but in the end my book, like this statue, become something tangible and lasting.
“When all was finished, it cannot be denied that this work has carried off the palm from all other statues, modern or ancient, Greek or Latin; no other artwork is equal to it in any respect, with such just proportion, beauty and excellence did Michelangelo finish it” was how Renaissance art historian Giorgio Vasari introduced in a few words the marvel of one of the greatest masterpieces ever created by mankind.
To visit David is an opportunity to be inspired but in what mysterious ways does inspiration work? What inspired Michelangelo and Leonardo to create their masterpieces, ironically, was a commission. They were paid to produce their art. But, at the same time, they did so with game changing creativity that cannot be explain in any other way than pure genius. When you browse the museum you also come across the names of other familiar geniuses: Stradivari, Bartolini, Botticelli, as well as Rembrandt and Leonardo da Vinci.
What struck me was the familiarity of those names but if someone asked me to name a living genius of our time only Stephen Hawkins would immediately come to mind. After that I would stall out.
In my opinion, genius is the manifestation of one’s ability to recognize and take advantage of one’s time and place. To be classified as a genius, you have to achieve something notable and to do that you have to have intelligence and luck. Why luck? Well none of the Renaissance geniuses would have been known today if Europe had not flourished with the rich patrons that commissioned statues, violins, pianos, and paintings. They were in the right place at the right time. So does that help us define the geniuses of today?
How about Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Jimmy Wales, Mark Zuckerburg, Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison, Sergy Brin or Larry Page? Are they in the living genius category? Well each of them built their genius status on creatively making use of recently made available inventions. If they have been born 10 years earlier or 10 years later someone else would have done that they did.
How about Sam Walton, George Soros, Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, Michael Bloomberg, Elon Musk or Richard Branson? Does figuring out how to make lots of money make you a genius? Are they creative or merely opportunistic?
How about Stephen Hawkins, Alain Aspect, Frederick Sanger, Albert Hoffman, Timothy Berners-Lee, Roger Penrose, Edward Wilson, Edward Witten, James Watson, Andrew H. Knoll, David Baltimore, Charles K. Kao, Gordon Moore, Craig Venter and George M. Whitesides. Certainly inventive or innovative scientists must fall into this category as did Newton, Edison or Einstein before them?
Let’s try Richard Dawkins, Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Fareed Zakaria, Bill Maher, Michael Moore, Steven Pinker, Steven Weinberg, Philip Pullman and Christopher Hitchens? Does recognizing the fallacy of man’s religious and political beliefs make these candidates special or catapult them into the genius category? I believe these candidate’s genius is defined by their ability to follow intellectual lines of reasoning and to communicate this clarity of thought to the public. Smart and logical, no doubt, but does that give them the genius cookie?
What about the proliferation of today’s writers, musicians or artists? Who of them are geniuses?
The one category I am sure contains no geniuses is politicians. Watching the American elections and listening to the banality, hypocrisy and absurdity of Trump’s rhetoric assures me that political geniuses are far and few between.
I am not sure of who we should, in our day and age, call a genius. There is so much more to our new age world than what was available during the classical or the renaissance ages. But by standing at the feet of David and admiring the perfection of his art I recognized that genius is also the result of hard work and perseverance. After carving out David Michelangelo went on to paint the Sistine Chapel. Thomas Edison summed it up by saying:
None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.