Thoreau on the Difference Between an Artisan, an Artist, and a Genius
“The bird of paradise is obliged constantly to fly against the wind.”
BY MARIA POPOVA
“Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins,” James Baldwin admonished in his advice to aspiring writers as he considered the real building blocks of genius: “Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.” Two decades before that, in pondering whether great artists are born or made, Jack Kerouac proclaimed: “Genius gives birth, talent delivers.”
More than a century earlier, Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817–May 6, 1862) — one of humanity’s greatest artists, in the most expansive sense of the word — brought his formidable intellect and spiritual genius to this question in his 1849 masterwork A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (public library).