And it came about . . .
...that all the earth was a lip united
And words united.
And it came about as they started out from the east.
And they found a plain in the land of Shinar,
And they dwelt there.
And they said one to another, “Come, let us make bricks
And burn them, burning them.”
And there was for them the brick for stone,
And bitumen was theirs for mortar.
And they said, “Come, let us build for us a city
And a tower whose head is unto the heavens.
And let us make for us a name, lest we be scattered over the face of all the earth.” — Genesis 11:1-4
This passage begins to resonate as I consider my artistic heritage. On its way out, though still prevalent in our experience, is a cultural belief in something called a Genius. As the name implies, a genius is preeminently one who creates (think "genesis", "generation", "progeny", etc.). Pre-Enlightenment era, a genius was not a creative person per se but a creative spirit by which a person might be guided. Given the enthronement of human reason that took place in the Enlightenment, it is easy to see how this spirit of creativity eventually came to be conflated with the human psyche. Man has no need of creator gods, only the divine spark within himself. (Note that the gender-specific language of the preceding statement is not so much mine as that of the period.)
It is fortunate that we have adopted the term Cult of Genius to describe this thought development. Though not a cult in any proper sense, the belief is cult-ural and does carry cultic overtones, most notably its orientation toward reverencing individuals. Men (almost always) considered to have exceptional vision, power, and will are raised up as close to divine, regardless of whether they left any lasting impact. In fact, it is almost more attractive for a genius to die ingloriously and then to have his work resurrected and leave a legacy. This is where artists get the platitude "My work will be appreciated long after I am dead." This is why we call a philosopher or scientist "ahead of his time" and think of that as a good thing. Conversely, it is almost necessarily an evil for a living artist to be appreciated while living. Speaking personally, the knowledge that my work is palatable to a wider audience has been as much a source of anxiety as of encouragement. Still, all I can do is embrace this irony if I want a stable connection with my listeners. Perhaps I lack vision.
Of course, even the distinction between myself as "composer" and others as "listeners" is built on cult foundations. The artist-pleb dichotomy is a flawed image—not untrue, just not the whole truth. Every person alive is creating something, be it art or wealth or children or mere refuse. Even the sloth has to work incredibly hard to create an environment without work that still has food in it. It is true that some of us are artists, insofar as we spend more time than others creating the stuff called art (assuming we have a useful definition of the word). It is not true that art-making is a kind of creation that only artists can do—or worse, that only geniuses can do. We happily recognize that some are born with special aptitudes for art-making. We also are shown repeatedly, especially by those with an aptitude for teaching, that anyone can attain appreciable skills in art with enough time and the right practice.
For those like myself who are a heterogenous blend of aptitude and study, breaking down the artistic pedestal can be quite liberating to the creative spirit. At some point along the way, it fell to men like myself to build a way out for the world, an experiential bridge to the beyond—something that would last for ages to come. It comes as a welcome relief to know that I am not responsible for building such a bridge. My works will return with me to dust, and I will not be alone. The works of women will be there too.
And descended Yahweh . . .
...to see the city
And the tower which the sons of man had built.
And said Yahweh, “Behold, a people united,
And a lip united for them all.
And this they began to do,
And now nothing will be withheld from them of all which they plan to do.
“Come, let Us descend
And there confuse their lip, that they will not hear one another’s lip.”
And scattered Yahweh even them from there over the face of all the earth;
And they slackened from building the city.
Therefore was called its name Babylon, for there confused Yahweh the lip of all the earth,
And from there scattered them did Yahweh over the face of all the earth. — Genesis 11:5-9