Saturday, September 22, 2018 9:30 am - 1:15 pm
Robert Allison / Suffolk University
Benjamin Franklin was a genius. He dabbled in many things, but also mastered them—philosophy, electricity, diplomacy—and shaped his world and ours. He coined electrical terms like "battery," "positive," "negative," "charge"—he wrote about demography, economics (Adam Smith was among his friends), made the post office operate efficiently (inventing an odometer to measure how far the mail wagon traveled), and he invented a musical instrument for which both Mozart and Beethoven composed. He built things—bifocal glasses, an arm extender to reach books on high shelves, an electrical apparatus to cook a turkey, swimming fins (he is in the Swimming Hall of Fame), more efficient street lights, and when his brother suffered from kidney stones, Franklin made him a catheter.
How was Franklin able to do so many things? He explained his method so that others could do the same. Franklin was that rare genius who wanted to share his accomplishments—he never patented any of his inventions, and welcomed challenges and improvements to them. He wanted others to be able not just to do what he did, but to improve on what he did. What drove him to invent and create was his boundless curiosity—wanting to know more about how the world worked and how better to live in it—and his great optimism, his faith that people cold make the world a better place.
Robert Allison is a professor of history at Suffolk University. He is involved with several museums and historical societies in Boston, and has delivered public lectures at the Bostonian Society and the Adams National Historic Site. Professor Allison also teaches in the Harvard Extension School, and is president of the South Boston Historical Society, vice president of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, and a fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Denise Budd / Columbia University
When considering artistic genius in the Italian Renaissance, the individuals who most commonly come to mind are the great triad of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Michelangelo and Raphael. These three often contentious rivals have been categorized as Universal Men, gifted in many arts and areas of intellectual pursuit. It is Leonardo who is most often imagined in this multifaceted way, as artist, scientist, engineer, and musician. Yet, in reality, unlike his more productive counterparts, Leonardo was a painter who infrequently completed a painting, a sculptor who rarely sculpted, and architect who never built anything. He penned drafts of treatises on the arts, and planned many more on wide-ranging subjects, although none of these were completed or published in his lifetime.
Even more elusive than his artistic identity is his personality. Described in the 16th century as possessing a divine combination of beauty, grace and talent, the several thousand pages of notes he carefully penned reveal almost nothing about himself. What they do demonstrate, however, is Leonardo’s genius of sheer invention and investigation, with ideas that he envisaged so relentlessly that they became his art. That he rarely had the will, time, or even ability to carry them out is beside the point. This course will discuss Leonardo’s career, examining several of his most canonical works, as well as considering his most ambitious plans that never came to fruition.
Denise Budd teaches art history at Columbia University and a wide range of Renaissance art classes at Rutgers University. She has published several articles on Leonardo da Vinci based on her studies of the artist and his documentary evidence. Following this interest in archival work, her current research has extended to the history of collecting Renaissance art in Gilded Age America, with a focus on the tapestry collector and dealer Charles Mather Foulke.
Craig Wright / Yale University
When asked to provide a list of “geniuses” in Western cultural history, virtually all respondents would include the name Mozart. What is it in Mozart's music that makes it among the most sublime ever written? What personal traits did Mozart possess that enabled him to create music of this extraordinary quality?
Using live music and video clips from operas, as well as from the film Amadeus, we will explore the enormous diversity of Mozart's music. At the same time, by examining color photographs of his autograph manuscripts and draft sketches, we will witness Mozart's attention to the smallest detail. Having explored his music in both breadth and depth, our attention turns finally to the enablers of Mozart's genius: genetic gifts, mentoring, motivation, concentration, self-confidence, and just plain luck. By the end of this session, we will come to see that not only is Mozart's music great, but Mozart himself was unique, and arguably the most extraordinary creator ever to set foot on this planet.
Craig Wright holds an M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard and has taught at Yale for more than forty-five years, where he continues to offer annually “The Genius Course.” Professor Wright has published six books on music and cultural history, and his “The Hidden Habits of Genius” will appear in 2020. Yale has recognized Wright’s contribution to undergraduate teaching in the form of its two most prestigious prizes, the Sewall Prize and the DeVane Medal. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Chicago and in 2011 was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.