Thursday, June 5, 2014

Somebody Loves the Genius Child




Somebody Loves the Genius Child

I recently watched the documentary Basquiat: Radiant Child, by Tamra Davis. It made think of people who find themselves alone or misunderstood, people who live on the fringes of society and never find a place where they belong.  Famous painter Jean-Michel Basquiat started as a homeless graffiti artist in the late 70’s when downtown Manhattan was experiencing a cultural and artistic renaissance. He rose to become incredibly famous, dating Madonna, close friends with Andy Warhol. Basquiat was super cool and handsome to boot. The world loved him, and the art world cherished him, but the world is fickle.  They turned on him, he lost friends, became alone, riding the highs and lows of his career, the praise and the criticism.  He was one of the few (famous) black artists of his time and he often experienced discrimination, or was perceived as a novelty to the largely white intelligentsia of the art world.  At the end of his career, he became addicted to heroin and died of a drug overdose at the age of 27. Basquiat took his own soul from this world, far too early. It was a tragedy for his friends, and a mere interest story for the media.


Basquiat was praised, rejected, cast-out, and then upon his death, many of the art critics praised him yet again.  How often do we make money off the marketing of real souls? As Basquiat said of them, “they’re mercenaries, all of them. They all want to make money.” To be fair, Basquiat was not a victim. We all make choices and he made some bad ones. Davis, furthermore, does a good job of showing how many of his friends tried to love him, and were at the same time just as messed up and struggling as he was. As his fellow artist and friend reflected, “What a creep I was,” because he sold the last painting that Jean-Michel made for him as a gift.
Throughout the film, Jean-Michel’s need for acceptance and belonging is striking. He appears to be constantly trying to prove his own worthiness. It is apparent that his father rejected him as a “black sheep,” casting a dark edge over Basquiat’s life. Jean-Michel seems to ride the extremes of his career as if they define him. When his work is praised, he is good, worthy. When he is cast-out by the critics, he is worthless and must strive harder to prove his own value. The thing that troubled me most while watching Radiant Child was where was the Christian to stand beside Basquiat and show him the love of Christ?  I just wished that could have happened.  Not to simply share a Gospel track, but to just love Basquiat. I wanted to tell him so badly, that he was loved. That God created him. That God gave him those amazing gifts. That Jesus loved him, whether or not he was famous, in or out, but just loved him. I wish he could have known that.   


None of us love perfectly. His friends showed their disappointment, their regret, their imperfections toward him, even while they loved him. They tried. We Christians don’t love perfectly either. When I am troubled by that fact, I always remember there is one who does.
He lived over two thousand years ago and like Basquiat become quite famous. He was often alone and misunderstood. Sometimes he was praised, with crowds scrambling to just to touch him or catch a glimpse of his face. Other times he was seen as dangerous, insane, and out for his own profit. His own inner circle turned on him, right before his death. And he died, just like Basquiat, far too young, at the tender age of 33. Why did Jesus go through all this?


He did it for too many reasons to name here, but one thing is for certain. It was done to identify with people like Basquiat, people who have been alone, mocked, humiliated, praise for fleeting glory, lifted up and brought down, spat upon, and hopeless. He did it so everyone can say, “I am loved. Jesus died for me.” How I wish Jean- Michel knew that there was someone who knew exactly what he was going through and would love him all the same. And for those of us who know, how are we going to find people like Basquiat, people on the fringes? People who are so weird that they might literally turn heads in some of our churches? I don’t know exactly how to reach them, but I know we need to try.
Throughout the documentary, Davis weaves a narrated recording of the poem “Genius Child,” by Langston Hughes.
Genius Child
This is a song for the genius child.
Sing it softly, for the song is wild.
Sing it softly as ever you can -
Lest the song get out of hand.

Nobody loves a genius child.

Can you love an eagle,
Tame or wild?
Can you love an eagle,
Wild or tame?
Can you love a monster
Of frightening name?

Nobody loves a genius child. Nobody loves a genius child.

Kill him - and let his soul run wild.
The meaning is clear: there are some people like Basquiat who are too brilliant, too bold, too misunderstood to ever fit anywhere. They are simply unlovable. I disagree. I think there was a place for Basquiat and there was a person- Jesus, who gave his very life for him. I just wish someone could have told him.
The last line of Hughes poem, is the most interesting, “Kill him and let his soul run wild,” It seems to convey that within the strict moral confines of this world, love must always be earned or reciprocated. We must be lovable in order to be love. Within that moral system the only possible outcome is death.  Adapt, make yourself worthy, loveable, or perish. How many of us are capable of such a feat? I know that even at my best, in my heart is a lot of ugly things that aren’t very lovable. Adapt or perish. Basquiat perished. Adapt, be lovable, or perish. This is true of the world’s system that is based on performance, creativity, wealth, reputation, beauty, coolness, or whatever one can bring to the table. But God broke that system through Jesus, who did die and rose again so that the unlovable can and will always find love in him. Jesus loves the Genius Child. Jesus loves the Monster Child – tame or wild.

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