I just remember, and still know, the feeling of thinking, “If I could just make a film, my genius would finally get out,” as though my distinct vision is so bold and vivid and demanding that it requires film—“the liveliest art”—to be fully realized. My first screenplay, “Paranoia,” was like that; brash and distinct, violently individualistic in its intentions, it was written in such a way that the camera would intentionally be visible in every shot, shockingly, invasively, capturing the horror of the life in which we live. Although I did sign up a director and a cinematographer, “Paranoia” was never shot, mainly because shooting movies is difficult.

But getting back to these days: recently I’ve been hooked on this Bjork song “Bachelorette” from the album Homogenic. It is a brilliant, immersive “emotional landscape,” to use Bjork’s words from another song, caked in briny, swirling orchestration like a magnificent whirlpool, dragging its victims down towards a dark ocean floor. Yet, it is a “song” like any other, short and structured and one of many. Only “eccentricity” can capture the ideas of some well-known visionaries, true, but not the outright mania required to avoid “songs” altogether and seek some completely new structure, some new system. It would seem manic indeed—quite irrational—to do so, because no one [but the avant-garde] would listen, understand, and buy. Although merely “eschewing the conventional” isn’t adequate for an unconventional and “unique” soul like Bjork, a complete and vast break with the extant systems and methods of expression would be too far.

Why must such “genius” cleave to “music” or “film” at all? True expression along these lines of originality—a “visionary” line—should reject all prevalent forms of expression and stop trying to “innovate” in such realms as painting and film where “everything has been done.” Even if the “new” field is somewhat derivative—like writing a novel on a stretched canvas and calling it a work of visual art—it is logical to assume that true originality, and therefore greater expressive fulfillment, would be more possible within such invented fields rather than the ones we see everywhere and from which most modern advertising techniques derive (see French New Wave). But most artists possess a desire to connect, to exercise their social instinct, to be seen and “recognized” in the Hegelian sense, i.e. that unless and until you recognize me and what I am doing, I have no personhood. And without that recognition, there would be a loss of feeling, for it is believed by these artists that art is based on feelings, and feelings exist for other people and cannot be only beheld by the emoter. To attempt to do so would create mental instability, whether from lack of recognition or just from being “bottled up,” and remaining unexpressed (same thing?).

So it is our society of affirmation and social validation (i.e. self-affirmation is impossible; teachers, bosses, friends and families exist to affirm our existence and performance: “Remember, George, no man is a failure who has friends” says Capra, admittedly) that creates this aspect of genius. Or that emphasizes it. It is believed that genius is original; but Edison- or Jobs-style genius is originality based on human need, which is not original; it is derived.

Is Bjork a genius? Or rather, sticking with our subject, am/was I?

There was a time when it seemed liked if I could simply harness the “total” or “complete” expression of my artistic vision, then “success” would be essentially guaranteed based on that vision’s ability to “change the world.” “Changing the world” is what people get recognized for, a lot. My mistake, perhaps, has been reliance on conventional forms of expression, and on a conventional idea of success. The obvious solution would have been to incorporate some aspects of human need fulfillment into the conventional art forms that I clung to. My third and yet unfinished novel, “Mere Love,” was going to be that. Instead of being exploratory, it would be linear. Instead of depicting deeply flawed characters who never learned and never progressed, its character would learn and change and mature. Instead of having an indeterminate number of “acts,” it would have three acts. I learned about all of these conventions from books and classes that teach people “how to write” and how to “succeed” at it. You have to give the people what they need in order for them to purchase something.

Instead of a having a spiritual or philosophical crisis, the main character would have material one, an “event,” that he has to deal with. That event was the death of his father, which I based on the long, slow death of my own, and is the reason I never finished “Mere Love.” Maybe I couldn’t handle “reality” enough to write about it; readers want true-to-life struggles, something they can relate to. Who can’t empathize with the concept of the loss of a parent? It’s practically universal. And universality is needed. But I couldn’t “hack” it, so I did not succeed. I couldn’t give the people what they need.

All art that is allowed to be commercially successful does so because it fulfills “established” human needs; it is unoriginal in form and essential content and caters to the same themes (love, death, war, self-sacrifice, family values, other ideologies), and forges a “human condition,” which is merely the “universally” dominant (i.e. repeating) themes in popular art that appear again and again because they are perceived to fulfill some human need, some basic human emotion, and in effect, to “recognize” it and with it the consumer. This is the comfort of popular art forms and their dominant ideological content: to validate and legitimize the needs of the consumer, and to tell that consumer, “it’s okay you feel that way,” whether about the ache of a broken heart, the importance of war, the desire to be and look “cool” like in hip action comedy films, or the desire to kill someone who gets in your way as you exercise your “individuality.”

{Aside: I am not completely contemptuous of the concept of “the human condition,” because I realize that there are experiences we all share to some extent. It would be inhumane to deny that all people are susceptible to suffering, loss, misery, et cetera, or that these experiences don’t “unite” us in some form. The distinction I am trying to make is similar to that which exists between the two types of nationalism: one type is the “nationalism” in the sense of Che Guevara’s call, “Patria ou Muerte,” where one believes that the attributes of one’s country are essential to it, outside of the authority of any oppressive state apparatus or another, and in fact those apparatuses are to be overthrown in order to restore those essential attributes that they have eroded. Whereas the “human condition” I describe above is akin to the other form of nationalism, the proto-fascist type, where a preconceived notion of a nation is perpetuated to justify certain oppressive conditions such as war abroad, racist policy at home, and the general destruction of civil liberties in the name of “national security.” The good forms of both “the human condition” and “nationalism” derive from the individual and shared experiences of human beings and in so doing preserve both individuality and community consciousness; the bad forms of “the human condition” and “nationalism” are manufactured and sold by authority figures (the media, and the state, respectively), and attempt to repress these tendencies.}

“True artists” who hope to change the artistic landscape are lost within this cultural dynamic, where art must fulfill some perceived human need—possess some use-value—just like any other commodity. And these artists are tricked into using conventional means of expression—writing, painting, drawing, filmmaking, photography, sculpture, music, dance, et cetera—to try to “change the world,” when in reality the last thing people want—and will pay money for—is to have their world changed. On the whole, they want their world reinforced, recognized, “related to.” And these “true artists” grow frustrated with themselves and believe themselves a failure, as I did and do.

The alienation of the true artists who seek to change the world with art results in the state of art under capitalism whereby, to paraphrase Adorno, the media, the press, and the other instruments and venues of communication—by which the arts are proliferated and made “successful”—are indeed just another business, which is used as justification for the “commercial” rubbish they deliberately produce. Anyone aiming to disassemble, deplete, or destroy the current social order—i.e. to “change the world”—has no hope of doing so in the popular arts if fame (i.e. mass recognition) and a decent paycheck are to be the ends. Foreseeing “failure” as an artist results in art being forsaken as a career and replaced with a dayjob or something peripheral to the arts themselves, e.g. a writer becomes a book editor, a painter becomes a gallery manager, a filmmaker becomes a camera operator, a dancer becomes a dance teacher, and so on. And the arts stay more or less the same, more “true artists” being born every day, who perceive that the world needs to be changed, and who will try to do it with artistic weapons that remain perpetually pointed at themselves, having been engineered that way.

The solution, then, is not for artists to withdraw into the world of feelings, but to learn about and attack those attributes of the world that make it in need of change, and to do so with all means at our disposal: high arts, low arts, new arts, old arts. Movies, TV, radio, visual arts, music, dance, drama, and everything in between. Make art as I described above, completely devoid of any connection to “accepted” media that defies and rejects all demands of fulfilling human need, to the best of your ability. OR, use conventional means, and specifically cultivate humanity’s unmet need to do something, to fight for good. Use that as the cardinal need that your work fulfills. Depict the world alternatively as it is—unjust, war torn, in the midst of inexorable change—and as it should be. Choose a target and blast it out of the water as best you can, in the voice that is the target of YOUR target. Want to end racism, sexism, homophobia, oppression and consumerism? Learn about and try to speak in the voice of the oppressed, and empower others to do so (but don’t culturally appropriate or resort to stereotypes. That’s bad). Don’t do it for money, don’t do it to be loved by everyone (but expect appreciation from the people you give voice to, assuming you do it well); do it because the world needs it. It doesn’t need you; it needs change. That is the role of the arts: not the celebration of the individual genius and the successful commoditization of her art, but of our ability to recognize injustice and attack it, and to validate people’s need to attack it also.