Jewish Journal

Genius at Work

by Beit T'shuvah

June 17, 2013 | 2:15 pm

By Matt Shapiro

I stood there, transfixed. In passing, it's just a cabinet; the placard on the wall shared that it was filled with notecards, written and organized by Stanley Kubrick, put together for a project that was never completed. Kubrick was fascinated by Napoleon and spent years putting together plans for a movie that was never made. During my exploration of this exhibit, a retrospective on Stanley Kubrick's work, this was hardly the most visually impressive or historically relevant artifact present: a model of the war room from Dr. Strangelove, an original costume of one of the apes from the beginning of 2001, some of the sculptures from the milk bar in A Clockwork Orange. Though each of these items and the scope of the exhibit as a whole were impressive to experience, the cabinet spoke the loudest to me. It cemented for me the investment and effort he brought into each of his projects. One quote from Kubrick featured in the exhibit discussed how film can bypass the intellect to go right to the emotions, giving someone an experience that might not otherwise be accessible through regular conversation. Looking at that cabinet of notecards, I could feel that message within me, something that I'd previously learned intellectually but had yet to internalize: that genius and hard work are usually synonymous. 

I usually think of genius as a burst of insight, something divinely given beyond our control, yet this is rarely the case. Brilliant works of art, like anything in life, take an immense amount of work. It's a lot less exciting, in some ways, to see the sweat behind something that seems effortless. Watching the visual symphony of 2001, there doesn't seem to be strain in a single frame. At the same time, this perspective does the work a disservice, refusing to see the collaborative effort of the entire team that put the work together and ignoring the diligence it took Kubrick to move the project from a mere idea into a full-fledged reality. Paraphrasing something one of his collaborators said in a video in the exhibit, "It's easy to make a movie...but to make a great film is a miracle." This miracle, however, is not the Red Sea spontaneously parting, but rather the miracle that each of us has within us to commit to something and work our hardest to bring it to fruition.

There are certainly moments I have where I get frustrated about how, say, I haven't written a book yet, and that this makes me inferior because I don't possess the talents of others my age who may have written multiple works by now. Seeing this exhibit reminded me that this isn't because I'm not smart enough or talented enough (time will tell if this is the case), but because I don't make the regular commitment to put pen to paper and figure out what I really want to say. Not that I’m a genius, of course, but I also can’t expect things to magically just happen because I want them to. “You don’t have to complete the work, but neither are you exempt from it,” our Rabbis once taught. My file cabinet might be emptier than I would like, but I always have the opportunity to fill it up, one notecard at a time.

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