Magic is a word that falls short of explaining the difference between the artisan who is wildly talented in his craft versus the person that is a genius in that same craft. Yet we can understand that Michael Jordan was a genius on the basketball court and Beethoven was a genius in the concert hall.
German Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer found the distinction between talent and genius easy to delineate.
“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”
American Novelist Jack Kerouac, a writer who felt he had nothing to offer but his own confusion, found the roles between talent and genius clear.
“Genius gives birth, talent delivers.”
The difference between the two elements that rise from deep within the artist does not separate him from the pains that all artisans experience. Jan Swafford shared in Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, his tragic and triumphant genius that made him an outsider. She stated that he was “utterly sure of himself and his gift, but no less self-critical and without sentimentality concerning his work.”
Swafford also shared her perspective on talent versus genius:
“Genius is something that lies on the other side of talent… Talent is largely inborn, and in a given field some people have it to a far higher degree than others. Still, in the end talent is not enough to push you to the highest achievements. Genius has to be founded on major talent, but it adds a freshness and wildness of imagination, a raging ambition, and unusual gift for learning and growing, a depth and breadth of thought and spirit, an ability to make use of not only your strengths but also your weaknesses, an ability to astonish not only your audience but yourself.”
Being self-aware, Beethoven described genius in his letter to Emilie:
“The true artist has no pride. He sees unfortunately that art has no limits; he has a vague awareness of how far he is from reaching his goal; and while others may perhaps admire him, he laments the fact that he has not yet reached the point whither his better genius only lights the way for him like a distant sun.”
Skills are taught and will accompany inborn talent, but genius is that elusive element that births the wow factor. Genius is not learned. It is what I describe as a supernatural gift that allows the artisan to create things that no one else considers. It gives him a vantage point on life that no one else can see without him manifesting it within his art.
A good example might be the author who gets writer’s block. He may be a skilled writer, but the talented continue to play with words until the story comes together. The talented has several books inside of him waiting to come out, but the genius has an unlimited supply of stories to share for his lifetime.