Ever wanted to know what it takes to become a genius? Well, Alva Bernadine reveals one of the important secrets.



Portrait of the artist as an inchoate genius at the age of six with a perspicacious glint in his eye.


A young man came to see me the other day. He said, “Maestro, how do you become a great artist?” He was a mere youth just starting out in life. I looked him up and down and pondered whether to reveal to him the verity or not. After all, I have always held my own genius accursed, for it has been to me what the shirt of Nessus was to Hercules – diabolical and perfidious. “Young man,” I said, “are you happy?” “Yes”, he replied, “fairly.” “In that case,” I said, “you shall never be a great artist,” and I went on to explain why.

In Bernadinian theory, to be a great artist one must be unhappy. Unhappiness is the wellspring of creativity. As Freud teaches us, accumulated sexual frustration leads to sublimation and creation. Melancholia is the octane that fuels the creative impulse, but it is not enough to be unhappy – one must be splendidly unhappy. When I reached my apotheosis, I offered my soul up as holocaust to Moloch and became an angel. Everyday I wrestle with the angst that threatens to overthrow me. I am locked in mortal combat with my grief. And it is here, in the white heat of this mighty conflagration, the Bernadinian poesy is created. Show me a happy artist and I will show you a mediocre talent. Was Da Vinci happy? Or Michelangelo or Van Gogh? No! The unhappier you are the greater artist you become. I am the unhappiest man in Great Britain!

He left me rather like the Wedding Guest left the *Ancient Mariner – a sadder and a wiser man. I told him to go home and practice being unhappy. He may not become a genius (there are so few of us about) but he would be a much better artist. I felt I had done my good deed for the day, and went about for the rest of the afternoon with joy in my heart, whistling happily to myself.


*The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge



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