The Color of Genius

To step foot into Sakura Hall is to step into a bizarre world in which the rules of common sense do not apply. Strings of cabbage line the floors, women walk around without their underwear and one of the residents exists only on the aether we call the Internet. Though the tenants of Sakura Hall seem strange, they are also geniuses: those blessed few, gifted with greater talents than the average man. Or are they?

Everything Through Effort

The true color of genius― effort, effort, effort.

Sakurasou no Petto na Kanojo raises objections against the very idea of genius. Genius is nothing more than all-consuming passion and years of hard work. Though I hesitate to cite Malcolm Gladwell, his “10,000 hours rule” summarizes Sakurasou‘s position: if one practices a craft or a task for 10,000 hours, one will probably emerge as an expert in one’s field.

To illustrate this point, let me recount an old story about Pablo Picasso. Once, he charged a woman $1,000 for a quick sketch he made in 10 minutes. Angered, the woman said to him, “How can you charge me that much money for something you made in 10 minutes?” Picasso looked at the woman and said, “Madam, I’ve been working my whole life on this sketch.”

“Genius” is no more than the manifestation of countless hours of hard work. From Sorata’s perspective, the residents of Sakura Hall are more “talented” and “gifted” than he, yet he forgets that while he whittles away his hours pondering life and taking care of cats, his housemates are hard at work― Mashiro on her manga, Ryuunosuke on his programming, and so on and so forth. Sorata thinks of his housemates as geniuses because they possess talents he does not― yet, to them, their craft is nothing special. Mashiro thinks of art as her life. Drawing pictures is as normal to her as breathing, or eating, or sleeping (one might even say that art comes even more naturally to her than all of those other things).

“I drew pictures.”

The core “gimmick” of Sakurasou no Petto na Kanojo is Mashiro’s inability to manage her own life, to the point where she willingly places herself in a pet-and-owner relationship with Sorata. (Of course, this is problematic for many reasons, but I’ll leave the experts to sort out the implications.) Why is it that Mashiro can not live her own life? It is because she is so consumed by her love for art that she has simply decided that nothing else in her life matters. Her disregard for her own quality of life is readily apparent, as is her lack of concern for self-improvement in all non-artistic areas. When asked by an exasperated Sorata what she’s done with her life up to this point, she says, “I drew pictures.” When pressed, she echoes, “I drew pictures.”

Her response is played off as a cheap gag, but it reveals an important fact about her: she cares about almost nothing else other than art. Every waking moment of her life is spent thinking about art or creating art. She lives and breathes her passion, which has allowed her to surpass her peers and become a rising star in the art world. Though critics and those around her hail her “genius”, she does not think of herself as such. She is not a diva, just a girl who is incredibly self-aware and knows exactly what she wants to get out of life.

Insanity is in the Eye of the Beholder

Is Mashiro insane for disregarding every other facet of her life so she can draw?

The rest of the world seems to think so. But is this evaluation relevant?

Hardly. Though Sorata is exasperated at first with Mashiro’s lack of common sense, he comes to understand that she has sacrificed it for her dreams. The key to “genius”, to success, lies in one’s ability to prioritize. We often think of the highly gifted as somewhat insane because they do not worry about the same kind of things that the “regular” person might, but in reality, it is simply a matter of prioritization.

“All I wanted was for someone to tell me I did a good job…!”

Take a look at Sakurasou‘s negative example― Aoyama Nanami. She is unable or unwilling (still unsure which) to prioritize. She does not sacrifice any portion of her life in order to pursue her dreams. Every part of her life is integral. While this may seem “normal” at first― after all, she must be at once a good student, financially independent and an aspiring voice actress― her project is doomed to failure. She overreaches, pushes herself too hard in an attempt to prove both to herself and to her friends that she is competent and capable, resulting in a catastrophic crash which jeopardizes her career and her health.

I’ve got friends who exhibit this kind of behavior. In order to prove to themselves that they are capable, they pile responsibilities upon themselves in an attempt to force themselves into developing good time management skills. This behavior is akin to attempting a marathon without training. Inevitably, their plan backfires, leaving them stressed, dejected and in self-doubt. It’s a vicious cycle and heartbreaking to watch.

In contrast, people like Mashiro, Misaki and Ryuunosuke don’t have these kinds of problems because they are confident in the path that they have taken. They have elected to prioritize certain facets of their life (art, anime, programming) over others (being sociable, doing their laundry, eating) and have freed up time as a result. Unlike Nanami or (especially) Sorata, they know where they are going in life. They have a strong mental map which guides and controls their actions, and they are aware of their own limits. They are simply more effective people than those around them, and that, not any kind of inborn talent, is what differentiates them from the rest.

Perhaps, then, the secret of genius is much more mundane, yet much more attainable, than God-given talent. “Genius” is the product of iron-hard discipline, clear-eyed vision and all-consuming passion.

5 responses to “The Color of Genius

  1. Intelligence is desire. Let us look at a specific intelligence that would be an excellence within a craft (any in your mind will do).

    The majority do not care for the craft, have no experience within it, and would be labeled ‘dumb’ within that field. Next come those who ‘would like to be good at it’, but the drive never goes beyond that, merely a stated desire, and thus no progress is made outside a peripheral understanding of the craft. Next are those who follow through with effort to learn the craft, who show some intelligence, but only to a point. Beyond that point, next come those who ‘NEED to be good’; it has become a need, more than a want, the need being an internal need, not an external predicament, and thus the craft gets, as you would say, a different prioritization; but these are only the ‘very good’ of the craft.

    For epoche making excellence, one must contain an inner makeup to NEED to radically bend the entirety of the craft in their ideal direction. They do not NEED to be good via sanctioned means, but by their own inner drive, expressed in a monomaniacal pursuit of perfection of their craft, in the face of life and even others of his craft. How often do you see the greatest of the great lash out in contempt at all the other greatest of the great? Much more often than you see the merely good do the same.

    Final point: to be great is to be abnormal, and that abnormality is often only blessed as a good thing after the fact (of future success, if there be any). Instead, these abnormalities are often considered maladies, from obsessive compulsion to hyper competitiveness and beyond. I credit many ‘faults’ of my own for what intelligence I have been able to acquire. In the pursuit to cure humanity of these ills, would we not lose “the great man” in the process?

  2. Love it. Welcome back. :)

    I was drawn to this part of what you said:

    [Nanami] does not sacrifice any portion of her life in order to pursue her dreams.

    It’s fascinating to me, because it highlights what we might call a negative reading of genius. Deciding to “live and breathe art” is one thing. Deciding to *give up* what people would consider a healthy human life is quite another. (Not a reverse of what you’re saying, but you could call it the shadow cast by the light.)

    Doesn’t this mean that, rather than discipline, vision and passion, genius is primarily the product of sacrifice? And hence, to be a genius, one must be willing to endure a whole lot of pain? And I suppose Mashiro does, to a largely hidden degree.

  3. One could say that anything and everything is in the eye of the beholder. It’s our job to try and eliminate this bias and figure our what is really going on.

    It’s pretty clear to me that Mashiro has a mental illness of some sort. It isn’t what most people would consider insane, but I think her behavior lies under the same classification. The fact of the matter is that Mashiro would likely die if left to her own devices. She is an exceptional painter, but it seems that her basic life and social skills have been sacrificed for this one talent.

    As Michael said, by definition all geniuses are abnormal, but Mashiro takes that a step further into what might be described as insanity. The other members of Sakura Hall (excluding Kanda and Aoyama) have struck a healthy balance in their lives that allows them to live and work at a sustainable pace. As the series progresses, I’m sure we’ll see Kanda, Aoyama and Mashiro all reach this same point in their own separate ways.

  4. Whoa nice work on this post Akira!

    I definitely enjoy watching the characters show off their passion in their various fields of art, anime and programming! Because I love to draw and I have always wanted to try and make my own manga, but of course I have a long way to go…then again I like to be somewhat social even though that “social” part involves the internet 90% of the time.

    I don’t think I could give up that part of my life right now, but I can’t wait to see how all the characters grow <3

  5. Interesting post! Genius VS madness, social determinants of intelligence, the nature VS nurture debate, so much to discuss…

    First things first: I highly approve that you are able to look past what comedic value Mashiro’s social awkwardness to and realise it for what it is worth. However, be careful of falling into the mindset that this behaviour is only acceptable when taken in tandem with the fact that she is a genius painter. Don’t forget, for every try-hard who succeeds, there are many others who don’t. Sakurasou’s index example of this, the “everyman” who tries, but, as Rita says, couldn’t ever hope to reach up to the ankles of the greats. is Mikita Jin. You could argue that he’s not quite as dedicated as Mashiro with his playboy ways, but its undeniable he has a good level of passion for his craft, works on it a good deal, yearns for it to be on a level where it would complement Misaki’s talent as opposed to weigh it down, yet is all-too-often told he’s just, well, “not good enough”.

    The reality, whether we like it or not, is that most of us are on his level; not Misaki’s (talented); let alone Mashiro’s (HISTORY-changing talent). However, the real kicker, comes in when you correctly identify that even the latter two need to put it LOADS of work to even get where they are. This raises some very difficult questions:
    -If Jin becomes as dedicated as Mashiro/Ryuunosuke, could he hope to become as successful as his craft as they are at theirs?
    -Even assuming Jin does that, how can he let go of his other responsibilities in ways that don’t cause too much of a shock to those involved? (also see above comments on how genius=sacrifice)
    -How “early” can one identify talent? Were Mashiro/Misaki simply born drawing awesome, or did they only become that good after putting in all that work? And if it was the former, can one build a case arguing that those who AREN’T born that way should not sacrifice so much for it; and instead do something that they ARE good at? (also see Rita’s rants against Mashiro in ep 10)

    I could try and go into these but I think I’ve written enough of a wall of text ^^; What do you think??

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