Mac Daddy

The MacArthur grant is the Nobel Prize for the rest of us. Seriously, if you're not married to a brilliant astrophysicist, you're never gonna be like, "unless it's the King of Sweden, we're not here," to your assistant. And even then, you'd probably be getting up at 5AM anyway, because you're eighty years old.

Sarah Sze during the installtion of her piece at the Fondation Cartier, 2000, image:
But the MacArthur Fellows Program goal, "designed to emphasize the importance of the creative individual in society," casts a pretty wide net. Almost anyone doing something that has an impact is, at least theoretically, eligible for the "so-called genius award." And the famously confidential selection process helps cut down on the self-importance of geniuses who'd otherwise wear their lives out mugging for the prize.

With the exception of inveterate schmoozers Diller+Scofidio, who should probably cut their man at the Times, Herbert Muschamp, in for a piece of that obligation-free dough, most of the visual arts recipients are pretty low-key: Janine Antoni, James Turrell, Errol Morris, Vija Celmins, Ann Hamilton, and Sarah Sze (a friend who just won, and who has a bunch of geniuses on her technical team, too. Congratulations, all! Woo Hoo!).

[Hmm. No conceptualist poster children, and an element of the excruciating in all those artists' work. Artistic genius, it seems, is grueling work. Let me think about these aesthetics of Genius and get back to you.]

If anything, the MacArthur grant is designed to strip away all the tedious or boring parts of giving--proposal writing and ranking, grovelling, project oversight, accountability, the weary feeling people are just after your money--leaving just the payoff. ěThe call comes out of the blue and can be life-changing,î says MacPres Jonathan Fanton, and indeed, these calls lead coverage of the award. It's the institutional philanthropic version of porn, which, I guess, is better than the prostitution model they're replacing.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've gotta get back to shaking my moneymaker on the street corner, getting the attention of a John (T. Mac).

Related: You have four days to see the Sze at the Whitney.

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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greg [at] greg [dot ] org

find me on twitter: @gregorg

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first published: October 5, 2003.

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