Jack Grapes | The Accidents of Genius

Stephen Chow
6 min readFeb 24, 2023

Link to the YouTube: https://youtu.be/KlAqvVJTDU8?t=516

Jack Grapes: Everyone has genius in them — they just don’t know what it is. What they do know is their talent, and your talent will never produce anything great — it will only produce something that’s good. Your genius is what is capable of creating something great. But because we rely on our talent, we often never get to our genius, because talent is the obstacle to genius. It’s when you don’t know what you’re doing sometime — it’s when you are falling and you’re just at the mercy of the gods — that your genius wakes up and says, This looks like a job for Genius-man! And genius comes through and you do something — and it’s amazing. And whether it’s a painting or a story or a poem or whatever — when they get something that’s utterly amazing, what do you think are the two things they say to themselves?

Film Courage: It’s crap.

Jack Grapes: No — they know it’s great. What do you think they say to themselves?

Film Courage: I’m a genius. I’m amazing.

Jack Grapes: No, that’s not what they say. Have you ever had that experience? Where you did something and you go, Oh, fuck!

Film Courage: I thought it just a minute ago.

Jack Grapes: Okay — what do you say to yourself?

Film Courage: I thought I was going to ask a brilliant question and then I realized that it wasn’t.

Jack Grapes: No you asked a different question! I wanted you to ask the question, Why? That’s all.

Film Courage: I mean I’ve done things where I thought it was amazing and it didn’t get that reception, and then vice versa.

Jack Grapes: But when you knew it was amazing, what was the first thing you said to yourself?

Film Courage: That it’s powerful.

Jack Grapes: Okay I’m gonna say it and you’re gonna go, Oh of course, you’re right: You write something or you do something as an actor maybe in the middle of a scene and afterwards you go, Oh my god that was amazing! And then you say to yourself, Where did that come from? Because you don’t know where it came from! All the other stuff you did you know it came from your talent — you know that you know how to do that stuff. But this thing you go, Where did that come from? Then what’s the next thing you ask yourself?

Film Courage: How can I do that again?

Jack Grapes: Exactly! How can I do that again? And the point is: there is no formula for that. Otherwise, people would be accessing their genius constantly, but they’re not. They’re usually depending on their talent — which is understandable, that’s okay — but talent will only get what’s good. Genius will get what’s great. But your talent is your biggest obstacle. And when you let go of your talent sometime and are willing to fail — because you have no idea what you’re doing — sometimes your genius comes to the rescue. And when it does, you do something — and it shocks you. And your first thought is, How did I do that? And your second thought is, How can I do it again? Because you want to do it again, but you can’t make it happen — you can only be receptive to it happening. You can only be available for it happening. And how do you make yourself available and receptive? By getting rid of your talent. And if you think that’s easy, you have another thought coming, because you and your talent are in cahoots. You say to your talent, Make me look good and I’ll keep you on the payroll. And your talent says, Keep me on the payroll and I’ll make you look good. So the two of you got a deal going here: You’re both gonna make the artist look good — but that’s not what you want! What you want is something great — and it’s always unexpected, and it’s always an accident of your genius. And the accident happens when you’re falling off a cliff and all of a sudden you fly — you wouldn’t fly if you were on Earth. You can’t make it happen — but you’re falling, you’re in the unknown, you don’t know what to do. And you’ve got to do something, because the moment is presenting itself. And when it does, you write something or you do something with your paintbrush or sculpting — you put this here and you go, [In awe:] How did I do that? How can I do it again? So that’s the relationship between genius and talent. And guess what? I went to a Chinese restaurant one night and I got a fortune cookie, cracked it open, and you know what it said? I’ve kept it all these years — it said: Talent does what it can, genius does what it must. And I went, That’s it! Talent does what it can — it’s limited, it does what it can. But genius does what it has to do because you’re in trouble: you’re falling off a cliff, you’ve come to a point in your art where you have no idea what to do next. And you blunder into something and you go, Fuck! — Where’d that come from? How do I do that again?

Film Courage: And is that where people get themselves in trouble? Is they think that they can duplicate that over and over again?

Jack Grapes: The whole idea of creating art is to get yourself in trouble as much as you can — and in acting, too: my acting teacher always used to say, Put yourself in danger. Not, Get yourself in trouble — he said, Put yourself in danger. What he meant was: Be in a place where your character is in danger and things will happen. None of us want to be in trouble! We do the best we can, and we will rely on our talent. The more talented you are, the more you will rely on your talent. The less talented you are, the more likely you are to have creative accidents, because you have nothing to rely on — you have no idea what the hell you’re doing. And sometimes the amateur wins at poker the first night because you don’t know what you’re doing, so that can happen. But if you’re going to do it long enough, at some point you can’t say, I’m an amateur, anymore. You have to say, I know what I’m doing: I have some talent — I know I’m going to rely on it sometime. But if I can once in a while get rid of my talent, hopefully — because if your genius came up every time you got rid of your talent then it would be simple! It’s the accidents of your genius. And when it doesn’t come up, what happens? You create shit.

Film Courage: I’m a failure.

Jack Grapes: Not, I’m a failure — this failed right now. And that’s how I get better by failing: my attitude toward failure is, This doesn’t define who I am. Just because I drop the ball when I’m juggling doesn’t mean I’m not a good juggler. I can be a good juggler — I just have to keep doing it. So how I interpret the failure is different from the willingness to have that happen when you take a risk. And most of the time when you take a risk, genius doesn’t come. See, that’s the point: it’s an accident of your genius — it doesn’t always come. But are you willing to lose a few times to get something great? Because when they give you the Nobel Prize, Karen, they are not going to take it away because someone went back to your home and rooted through your trash can and found that you wrote 100 poems that were shit — they’re not going to take it away. That’s what every artist does: they write crap, they fail — it happens all the time. They’re willing to take chances! So no one’s going to take it away from you when you win the Nobel Prize, but you got to be willing to fail. And when you do, it may not end up being great. But you got to keep at it, because when you’re willing to face that unknown — when you put yourself in danger, not knowing where you’re going, and you risk failure — sometimes the accident of your genius comes up. It’s like a mushroom-shaped cloud.