Ron Rosenbaum over at Slate writes about genius-dom. He discusses Me and Orson Welles, an upcoming Richard Linklater film about Welles rise. He also writes about other artists that we have dubbed genius.
Has the term been applied somewhat—or wildly (Tarantino?)—indiscriminately of late? And have the prerogatives of genius too often been used to excuse transgressions or mediocrity? (“Not his best work, but he’s a genius!”)
Those are precisely the questions—the nature of genius, the profligacy of genius, the questionable allowances made for genius—that are at the heart of Me and Orson Welles, which is perhaps Linklater’s most ambitious film and is scheduled to be released this Thanksgiving. I think it will cause a stir. Oh, let’s not be restrained: When I saw it, I found it amazing and moving.
Chiefly because of Welles, his genius and his tragedy. The film celebrates the triumph of Welles’ genius, but it also gives us a Welles who abuses the prerogatives of genius in ways we know will eventually cost him. The future casts a melancholy shadow over the proceedings.
He concludes at the end of the essay that instead of tagging artist’s as geniuses, we should only tag their work as genius. I agree, but I still don’t like the idea of genius. First, genius-dom is controlled by the high brow society. If you’re low educated you’ll never understand what’s so great about Picasso. Second, most of the time it’s in hindsight. It took some years, about a decade or so, for Citizen Kane to become one of the greatest films of all time. Third and lastly, it implies that people have unique and inherent talent that comes out of nowhere… or mythical muses in a soul. And this inherent talent myth is something that the neuroscience field keeps debunking everyday. It’s not that I’m against holding people’s work and art in high esteem, but the genius idea should be left back with the guys with wigs of the Renaissance.
NYT Op-Ed by David Brooks where he argues that what makes a person a “genius” is their intense and deliberate practice and not their genetic makeup. Like Gladwell, he mentions the 10,000 hour rule.
The latest research suggests a more prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of the world. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It’s not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess. Instead, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft.
Perhaps it still has a lot to do with genes, but the intelligence and creativity acquired doesn’t happen out of “thin air”. It’s individuals that are “hardwired” to do whatever it takes to learn everything they can about x subject.
The “Dunbar number“, which is supposedly the maximum amount (150) of people an individual can interact without loosing his mind, keeps being consistent. Even in online social networks like Facebook, no matter how big the friend list is, the number of people they interact with stays pretty low. A study done by Cameron Marlow shows the pattern:
Thus an average man—one with 120 friends—generally responds to the postings of only seven of those friends by leaving comments on the posting individual’s photos, status messages or “wall”. An average woman is slightly more sociable, responding to ten. When it comes to two-way communication such as e-mails or chats, the average man interacts with only four people and the average woman with six. Among those Facebook users with 500 friends, these numbers are somewhat higher, but not hugely so. Men leave comments for 17 friends, women for 26. Men communicate with ten, women with 16.
If more thinkers stopped with the “nature vs nurture” debate and take another approach to studying the genius phenomenon, maybe we can start understanding it better. From the Time article:
For most of its history, the debate over what leads to genius has been dominated by a bitter, binary argument: is it nature or is it nurture — is genius genetically inherited, or are geniuses the products of stimulating and supportive homes? Simonton takes the reasonable position that geniuses are the result of both good genes and good surroundings. His middle-of-the-road stance sets him apart from more ideological proponents like Galton (the founder of eugenics) as well as revisionists like Gladwell who argue that dedication and practice, as opposed to raw intelligence, are the most crucial determinants of success.
This one is gargantuan, so I’m just pulling a random quote so you can keep on with your life. Bookmark it now, panic later. From the Atlantic article:
No place in the United States is likely to escape a long and deep recession. Nonetheless, as the crisis continues to spread outward from New York, through industrial centers like Detroit, and into the Sun Belt, it will undoubtedly settle much more heavily on some places than on others. Some cities and regions will eventually spring back stronger than before. Others may never come back at all. As the crisis deepens, it will permanently and profoundly alter the country’s economic landscape. I believe it marks the end of a chapter in American economic history, and indeed, the end of a whole way of life.
An artists’ output and his best work usually peaks at a young age. It’s usually in their early twenties. The classic archetype is people like Picasso, who very early in their career spit out a masterpiece. But people peaking late, in their 40’s, 50’s and even 60’s, are more common than you would think.
Malcolm Gladwell writes in the New Yorker about these “late bloomers” and offers David Galeson’s theory, author of Old Masters and Young Geniuses, of the two types of creativity he has found: conceptual and experimental. Gladwell explains:
Galenson’s idea that creativity can be divided into these types—conceptual and experimental—has a number of important implications. For example, we sometimes think of late bloomers as late starters. They don’t realize they’re good at something until they’re fifty, so of course they achieve late in life. But that’s not quite right. Cézanne was painting almost as early as Picasso was. We also sometimes think of them as artists who are discovered late; the world is just slow to appreciate their gifts. In both cases, the assumption is that the prodigy and the late bloomer are fundamentally the same, and that late blooming is simply genius under conditions of market failure. What Galenson’s argument suggests is something else—that late bloomers bloom late because they simply aren’t much good until late in their careers.
This theory of course feels comforting -I’m 31- and it’s further evidence that classical advice like “If you really want it, you’ll get it” and “Fake it ’till you make it”, does work.
There are many “Why I Blog” manifestos out there, but this piece by Andrew Sullivan is the best I’ve read in a while. I don’t particularly agree with things like this:
A traditional writer is valued by readers precisely because they trust him to have thought long and hard about a subject, given it time to evolve in his head, and composed a piece of writing that is worth their time to read at length and to ponder. Bloggers don’t do this and cannot do this—and that limits them far more than it does traditional long-form writing.
That, I think, is very much debatable –I explain here why- and I think that being editorial about your shit, actually makes you a good blogger and even better than a “conversationalist.” But I do understand that this form, this medium, is not about being “literary”. People online are not looking to read Shakespeare.