The concept of “scenius” refutes the Lone Artist/ Great Man Theory, noting that extraordinary creative breakthroughs emerge out of vibrant “scenes”, where a group of people, often crossing disciplines and areas of expertise, are pushing into something new as they push each others’ creative edges and aptitudes. What Eno refers to as “the ecology of talent” and “the intelligence of the whole” pops up in the arts, science, philosophy, and technology throughout cultural history.
Brian Eno quote:
“I was an art student and, like all art students, I was encouraged to believe that there were a few great figures like Picasso and Kandinsky, Rembrandt and Giotto and so on who sort-of appeared out of nowhere and produced artistic revolution.
As I looked at art more and more, I discovered that that wasn’t really a true picture.
What really happened was that there was sometimes very fertile scenes involving lots and lots of people – some of them artists, some of them collectors, some of them curators, thinkers, theorists, people who were fashionable and knew what the hip things were – all sorts of people who created a kind of ecology of talent. And out of that ecology arose some wonderful work.
The period that I was particularly interested in, ’round about the Russian revolution, shows this extremely well. So I thought that originally those few individuals who’d survived in history – in the sort-of “Great Man” theory of history – they were called “geniuses”. But what I thought was interesting was the fact that they all came out of a scene that was very fertile and very intelligent.
So I came up with this word “scenius” – and scenius is the intelligence of a whole… operation or group of people. And I think that’s a more useful way to think about culture, actually. I think that – let’s forget the idea of “genius” for a little while, let’s think about the whole ecology of ideas that give rise to good new thoughts and good new work.”
My advice? In small and large ways, value your collaborators. If you don’t have them, go looking for them. Start noticing the people who spark you, and stop snarking about “his work looks like her work, same as that work, so-and-so did that last year…”
That’s the whole point of Scenius; when we see emerging patterns of thought and form, the cultural ecology is informing us that we might, indeed, just be on to something!