This paper was published for my MFA Graduate Seminar. Also available in a PDF: Oct 16 – Literature and Art and Gertrude Stein – Jorge Silva.

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Gertrude Stein was one of the most important art collectors of the 20th Century. She was also a very influential writer in her own right, having written important yet obscure works of literature. Yet, if examined closely, the life of Gertrude Stein seems to be more a guide book into the development of what we have come to call “genius”. The term refers to someone, generally in the arts and sciences that possesses an almost supernatural understanding and ability at his or her own field. Gertrude Stein was as interested in developing her aura as a “genius” as she was in dedicating time to the work itself.

Her art collecting was a way of affirming her own genius by surrounding herself with other individuals of the same stature[1]. An example of this is the relationship between Stein and Picasso. “His reputation as a genius, and Stein’s reputation as his first major advocate, lay the latter’s credibility as a collector and an artist”[2]. By recognizing Picasso as genius, Stein confirmed her own status as genius and reaffirmed her authority. By the gradual increase of her authority as an art collector, Stein was able to become, not a mere collector, but almost an artist of grand stature herself[3].

The interesting part in all this lays on the fact that being a genius is also ‘staged’. Many times, artists and writers don’t become geniuses just by going about their work, but by consciously ‘acting’ as geniuses. This seems to be something that Gertrude Stein understood very well. Robert MacAlmon writes of Stein: “There could be no doubt that [Gertrude Stein] knew how to stage-set herself as an eccentric, and thus become, aside from her writing, and exotic character and celebrity”[4]. This is not unique to the Gertrude Stein as an artist, but very common throughout the history of art and literature. The artist must create the image/identity of the genius in order to recognized as such. In the case of Gertrude Stein, this might have been more important and present because of her status as woman[5].

The recognition of the artist as ‘genius’ has, many times, very little to do with the work of the artist itself. Many times, this recognition comes from the performance of the artist. How the artist frames his or her work, who the artist surrounds himself or herself with, their eccentricities, how he or she views and describes himself or herself… All these are as important (sometimes even more) than the actual work of the artist. Gertrude Stein, who for most of her life wrote for half and hour a day, is not one a perfect example of the laborious and uphill task of being an artist, but rather on the psychological personal views and the image the artist portrays.

 

* The theme for this writing is a loose interpretation of Color and Literature. In my opinion, color and art are very much related (This for example is exemplified in Color Codes, in which a large portion of the book is dedicated to art). Hence the theme, color and literature is closely related to “Art and Literature“. By this standard, writing about Gertrude Stein is highly appropriate, considering her importance in the connection between art and literature in the 20th Century. The concept of the “genius“ is related to all these three themes: art, literature and Gertrude Stein. Hence why I felt it appropriate to consider it in my writing.

1 · “Stein ‘genius’ did not reside in her literary talent alone but also, and perhaps more importantly, in her capacity to assemble around her a world that affirmed her artistic stature.” Latimer, Tirza. ““In the Jealous Way of Pictures”: Gertrude Stein’s Collections.” Women’s Studies 39.6 (2010): 562-84. Pg. 563.

2 · Latimer, Tirza. ““In the Jealous Way of Pictures”: Gertrude Stein’s Collections.” Women’s Studies 39.6 (2010): 562-84. Pg. 563.

3 · “the creation of a personal network of artist finessed Stein’s transformation from a connoisseur of art into a producer of art”. Latimer, Tirza. ““In the Jealous Way of Pictures”: Gertrude Stein’s Collections.” Women’s Studies 39.6 (2010): 562-84. Pg. 564.

4 · Latimer, Tirza. ““In the Jealous Way of Pictures”: Gertrude Stein’s Collections.” Women’s Studies 39.6 (2010): 562-84. Pg. 566.

5 · “For Stein, being a genius ( or being perceived as such) was not as straightforward as it might have been for a male artist”. Latimer, Tirza. ““In the Jealous Way of Pictures”: Gertrude Stein’s Collections.” Women’s Studies 39.6 (2010): 562-84. Pg. 566.