Art & Development


Tomorrow night (Thursday, May 6), We have as much time as it takes opens at the Wattis. My text and light installation, Unlimited Promise, will make its superterranean San Francisco debut.

In June, one of my ideas for an art project will be on display in an exhibition called Unrealised Potentials at Cornerhouse in Manchester, UK.

So this morning, I was tickled to read this interview with David Shenk (“Why genius isn’t in the genes,” by Robin McKie,, May 2, 2010), which ends with the phrase, “unactualized potential.

Shenk, the author of The Genius in All of Us (Icon), advances the idea that genes get too much credit for genius and talent. Instead, we ought pay more attention to personality and psychology. According to Shenk, attitudes like drive, motivation and resilience are important factors:

For example, they looked at how [professional] violists practise. To the untrained eye and ear, it seems obvious: they all do a great deal of practising – hours, hours and hours. But if you look very carefully at those who end up being the best, you discover – by doing intensive tracking of them – that they do practise more, and better, than those in the class below them.

That is a theme that extends to all achievements. There is a quantitative and qualitative difference in the practice undertaken by the super-greats – say in basketball – and the mere greats. They work hard at being great. It isn’t bestowed at birth.

I read this as an affirmation of what I learned about professional practices in the arts — to be successful and sustain a lifelong career, artists have to have a sense of agency; that what one does matters, that one’s destiny as an artist is not limited to being in the right time at the right place, being friendly with the right people, or making the trendiest/most outrageous art.

Instead, first, one makes the art that one wants to be making; then one plans and partners with others strategically to find success, however it is personally defined. As Shenk said, it’s valuable to “work hard at being great.”


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