Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Myth of Genius and Youth

As some of you may know, I find the cultural assumptions surrounding the idea of genius to be fascinating--what we think about the appearance of genius, what we assume about it, and who we think has it.  Therefore, I was predisposed to enjoy Malcolm Gladwell's "Late Bloomers: Why Do We Equate Genius with Precocity?"

Gladwell explores the difference between early-onset genius and late blooming genius, noting,  "Genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity--doing something truly creative, we're inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance of youth."  When we think of genius, we imagine Beethoven publishing his first composition at 13, or John Keats, whose poetry was published at age 21. 

Gladwell, however, points out that this is just one type of "genius,"   referencing David Galenson's work, a University of Chicago economist, who polled literary scholars to find out which poems were, in their opinions, most important to American literary canon.  Galenson then traced how old the poets were when those poems were created.  He found no connection between the "best" poems and youth, instead defining two types of creativity: conceptual (in which a person immediately finds his or her own particular brand of genius) and experimental (in which a person experiments for years and years before finally "discovering" this genius).

What gives me (and probably anyone else who has ever aspired to create something new and fresh) both hope and a bit of consternation, however, is this: "On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure: while the late bloomer is revisiting and despairing and changing course and slashing canvases to ribbons after months or years, what he or she produces will look like the kind of thing produced by the artist who will never bloom at all."  It is only by putting in years of hard work that one can discover he or she is just spinning the wheels of creativity, or whether discovery is just around the corner.

It kind of makes me wish I was still working on my various novels.  I'm never going to discover my genius without them.

2 comments:

Jason Miller said...

I am enjoying this great blarp of blog posts you've published recently.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

Oh, thank you! I enjoy blogging, I just don't do it that much when I'm working because I do so much writing there that I can't force myself to do it for fun. It's much better suited for vacation. :)

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