On Genius and Art Supporting NGO’s I NR Magazine I August 2017
In the aftermath of the birth of conceptual art, talent, which was already a controversial concept, became even more indefinable. Manifesting itself in the lively atmosphere of the 60’s and 70’s, conceptual art aimed to bring arts down from its elitist and unattainable status. It suggested the definitions to be reconsidered about who is an artist, what is an artwork and how it should be presented. For the first time in history the idea that anyone can be considered as an artist, even without a talent in drawing or sculpting, was mentioned.
French artist Robert Filliou, born in 1926, referred to himself as “genius without talent”. Reflecting a very critical approach to the artist identity, he verbalized the restrictive nature of talent as a concept. He argued that we were all born geniuses, with our ability to think, create and feel; but that the idea of having a talent lead us to work in a specific direction, which finally caused us to forget about our mind and intuitions. Filliou appears as one of the most influential figures in the major perspective shift that ever-happened in arts: the questioning of the canonical art terms.
In fact, as a predecessor, contemporary art is all about that: re-thinking definitions but trying not to reinvent them, blurring the lines between an artist and a scientist, a dancer or a scholar. In the contemporary world, artists adopt multi-, inter- or trans-disciplinary approaches, which further raise questions about whether the artist has a talent and expertise in a given subject.
While the debate about defining the talent goes on, one thing remains certain: there are extraordinary people around the world who bring out fresh discourses and intellectually stimulating creations on the contemporary times we live in. The need for expression is such an urge that every individual, regardless of his or her origin, nationality, religion or political system, have something to offer. In this regard, Filliou has democratized the idea of talent, transforming it to a more inclusive concept. From now on, I will continue using the word talent but in the broader sense, as interpreted by the artist.
As humans we live in social settings and, even if we resist it, our environment affects us. We can be motivated with the sound of applause and demoralized with a negative criticism. Thus support and positive feedback arise as the non-materialistic, desirable returns of talent; while income and other resources constitute the material proceeds -which we often tend to confuse with success. Herein has to be a vehicle, a bridge between talent and its returns. Considering the social and monetary returns that are supplied by outside entities such as patrons or art institutions, it is crucial that the products of talent reach them. Particularly speaking about contemporary arts, this bridge includes funding, press, legal issues and other operational tasks.
Most of the time, you see an artist talking enthusiastically about new ideas and projects. Realizing them however, is not always an easy task, as it requires a set of resources. Financials make up the most pressing necessity on our list as for production costs, living costs (if the artist do not earn income from his art) and travelling costs (if relevant). The non-financial side, on the other hand, includes tasks like legal obligations, media planning and network building. These are mostly the parts of a gallery’s job but for an independent artist these require either long working hours or a special assistant.
In countries that fall below a certain amount of disposable income per capita, an artist’s opportunities to reach aid in the aforementioned categories become harder due to less philanthropy and patronage activity compared to saturated art markets like New York, leaving limited funds available for research, education and institutional tasks. The problem of accessibility constitutes a friction force for artists in collecting the returns of their talent.
NGO’s in the field of visual arts plays a significant role as the bridge between talent and its returns. In a wider context, they act as facilitators for increasing the visibility of artistic production from their local geographies in the international arena.
SAHA Association, a Turkey-based NGO that supports contemporary art from Turkey, has been a game-changer since its foundation in 2011. Having recently funded Ayşe Erkmen’s On Water installation in the Skulptur Projekte in Münster and Cevdet Erek’s site-specific installation, ÇIN, in the Pavilion of Turkey at 57th Venice Biennial, the organization has played a pivotal role in enhancing the quality and quantity of artistic productions in Turkey and their representation in the international arena. SAHA, meaning field in Turkish, describes its mission as improving “the education and production infrastructure of artists, curators, art historians and critics working in the field of contemporary art”, stating its interest in establishing a sustainable model for the future while responding today’s shortcomings in the developing arts ecosystem of Turkey. The vision of infrastructure for the future reflects a holistic approach focusing not only on the artist but also on the researcher, educator and the writer, with an understanding that by elevating intellectual opulence, one can transform the cultural production at large.
Organizations similar to SAHA, like Sharjah Art Foundation in United Arab Emirates or Outset in multiple-locations including Israel and Estonia, functions as vehicles to tie talent and its returns together to ensure the sustainability of artistic production. These organizations divide the load of work needed to be undertaken for local and global improvements in contemporary art. After all, it takes a collaborative effort for artists and communities to improve ways to express our talent-or should I say genius?
 De Appel, “Genius Without Talent” group exhibition statement, 2011. Retrieved from: deappel.nl
 Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), “Genius Without Talent” retrospective statement, 2003. Retrieved from: www.macba.cat
 SAHA Association, “About” webpage. Retrieved from: www.saha.org.tr