According to the MacArthur Foundation, fellows are selected who "have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction." Past artist recipients include Mark Bradford, Tara Donovan, and Kara Walker. Arts writers have also sometimes been honored with the grant, with the acerbic critic Dave Hickey and New Yorker music critic Alex Ross among previous winners. There were no critics among this year’s class.
The "genius" grant has been criticized by some since, unlike many other prestigious awards, it does not fund the completion of any specific project and tends to provide funding to people who are already well positioned within their respective fields. Other opponents of the award, such as writer John Leo, have said that the selection committee favors political correctness over actual accomplishment, focusing on "low-luster laborers in the traditional vineyards of the left."