Genius theories

Pablo Picasso came onto the art scene with a bang when he was 20, with the masterpiece Evocation: The Burial of Casagemas. On the other hand, Paul Cézanne’s later work is generally considered his greatest.

Malcolm Gladwell (one of my favorite writers) asks in the New Yorker: Why do we associate genius with youth?

Gladwell posits that it’s not necessarily better to be a prodigy than a late bloomer. In fact, the way each approaches his or her craft is entirely different. It comes easier to a prodigy, perhaps, but the payoff for a late bloomer—someone who has to really work at it—can be just as great. In the article, he explores various fields, looking at the work styles of both a wunderkind and someone who paid his dues, sometimes for decades. It’s really interesting reading.

(And just for fun: in this episode of “This American Life”, Gladwell tells a tall tale about his first job and a “perverse and often baffling” competition he and a coworker created.)

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2 thoughts on “Genius theories

  1. Samantha Lindsley

    This platitude is examined and refuted in a wonderful book that I recently picked up called "The Brain That Changes Itself" by Doidge. It looks at the old belief that areas of the brain are hardwired to preform specific functions and presents what neuroscientists are beginning to find out: that the brain is capable of undergoing massive changes not only in youth but throughout our lifetimes. The belief that age=mental decline is not based on any natural decay of mental capacity, rather it is the product of the tendency towards cognitive indolence that most people accept as they age. Like muscles, mental acuity must be constantly challenged lest it begin to atrophy. This book is written so that the reader need not have any basis in neuroscience to understand it. I can not recommend it highly enough. We live in such an amazing time. Questions that have for thousands of years been the sole jurisdiction of philosophic speculation are finally beginning to yield answers in light of new scientific capabilities. As artists this is will open a new chapter in our ability to understand and advance the creative process. For those interested in this nascent field it is being referred to as neuro-aesthetics.