Scenius: Brian Eno and Austin Kleon Say We’re Better Off Together
I’m on draft five of The Boy Who Brought the Sea, and thank goodness for that. It’s been a massive undertaking, working this story to the point at which I think it’s almost shareable with people who haven’t been privy to how sucky my writing can be in its day-three unwashed hair post-migrainous state. Draft five was a goal of mine because I once heard from a well-known literary agent that experienced writers shouldn’t even consider querying a novel until that point, and novice writers, well, they may need 10 or more drafts. (Please don’t shoot the messenger.)
I did, however, pluck this piece of advice and add it to my process, and in doing so, added this literary agent by proxy. She doesn’t know me, but she did provide the goal.
The second person I added to my novel process was my daughter. This spit-fire always listened to the scenes that I thought were pure magic. Despite my rose-colored glasses, I can read her face like a… well, a book, and know if I hit the mark at which I was aiming by the way her lips curled or her eyebrows furrowed. She is a teenager’s worth of honesty and an important member of my writing tribe.
Then there’s Fred. You know Fred, he’s the co-editor of Loud Coffee Press, and he edited draft one of The Boy Who Brought the Sea. He talked me through sticky points of drafts two, three, and four. He’ll read draft five. Writing person: collected.
Let’s not forget the Loud Coffee Press community, from which I’ve learned endless amounts about writing and creativity in general. There are the influencers who have come before; for now, I'll just say that The Boy Who Brought the Sea sits somewhere on a bookshelf between The Wizard of Oz and I'm Thinking of Ending Things, if you can imagine that.
And finally, there’s Brian Eno. Mr. Eno is a prolific musician, producer, and visual artist. While I wish I could say I added him to my book arsenal, that would be a lie. But, it was Mr. Eno that created the concept of scenius.
What is scenius? Why, I'm so glad you asked.
Brian Eno says that scenius is the phenomenon of the collective creativity, as opposed to individual genius.
"Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene.” - Brian Eno
In Eno’s words, “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 sort of appeared out of nowhere and produced an artistic revolution. But as I looked at art more and more, I discovered that that wasn’t really a true picture. What really happened was that there were sometimes very fertile scenes involving lots and lots of people—some of them artists, some of them collectors, some of them curators, thinkers, theorists—all sorts of people who created a kind of ecology of talent. And out of that ecology arose some wonderful work….
Scenius stands for the intelligence and intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius…Scenius is like genius, only embedded in a scene rather than in a gene.”
Creativity within scenius is supported by several factors: mutual appreciation between peers in the community, rapid flow of ideas, tools, and techniques, success claimed by the entire scene, and a tolerance for transgressions.
You may find yourself asking similar questions to mine: what if I’m not a genius? What’s my role in this tribe? Because, I'll be honest. While I love to write, I often feel very un-genius.
Author and artist Austin Kleon weighs in on that:
“What I love about the idea of scenius is that it makes room in the story of creativity for the rest of us: the people who don’t consider ourselves geniuses. Being a valuable part of a scenius is not necessarily about how smart or talented you are, but about what you have to contribute—the ideas you share, the quality of the connections you make, and the conversations you start.”
Scenius isn’t the lead singer of a band putting out a hit album. It’s not even the whole band. The concept contained within scenius embodies an album made by a band, producers, engineers and mixers, previous influences, musical peers… I could keep going. Scenius shows us that it takes a community to bring our creative best forward.
I look toward scenius in my non-writing career. When change is necessary, task forces are formed by groups that contribute from multiple departments and backgrounds. It brings vitality to change, thoughts, and ideas. Scenius amplifies our voices.
Now, you may be thinking (and rightfully so), Annie, how dare you sit here and compare your novel-in-progress to the scenius that occurs in the Silicon Valley offices, or Nashville music studios, or the galleries near the Louvre?! Well, going back to Austin Kleon's take on scenius, where genius is an "egosystem", scenius is an ecosystem. Thus, I'm taking the gentler approach and nourishing my creative ecosystem, while manifesting something great about to be born into the creative space.
In truth, I’m not sure what kind of voice The Boy Who Brought the Sea will lend to the literary world (although I know what I hope it will do). However, I know the tribe that will and has helped get it formed and out. Maybe it’s not genius, so much as it’s my contribution, my ideas to share, and my conversation to start. I certainly know that it wasn’t born from solidarity, but through a community of influence and support, and that, like many of our projects, yours and mine, make it a product of scenius.
What do you think of the concept of 'scenius'? Leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts!