Sunday, 1 May 2011

Types of Genius

I just re-read a fantastic article in WIRED about types of genius.

After examining art history, an economics professor noticed two distinct expressions of genius. There is the Conceptualist, who usually goes right after her goals with a preconceived notion of how to get there. Conceptualists usually peak early and loudly, they are the ‘typical’ kind of child genius people think of, like Mozart. The less well known creative genius is the Experimentalist. They slowly develop across their lives and their greatest work usually comes later in life.

Someone like Jackson Pollack didn’t really start producing until his thirties and didn’t really hit his stride until well into his forties. His early work is terrible. He developed his style through years of trial and error, hence, an experimentalist.

Picasso’s greatest works came early and created an incredible shock wave. He had a preconceived notion of what he wanted to do and did it. As a conceptualist his work presented a radical change in how things were done. While he produced many great works across his long life, it is generally understood that his early work presents his strongest.

I've always liked Robert Frost, and now that I know his history, I see he's an experimentalist, just like me. It's nice to be in such good company. As a late bloomer myself, I remember the painful efforts of my teachers to educate me when I simply wasn't ready for it. I was always a good reader and writer, but even my English teachers (I now have an honours degree in English) couldn't reach me (“a disruptive influence in class”). I finally had the sense to drop out (something kids aren't allowed to do any more) and work for a few years before I went back and graduated at the age of 22.

It makes you wonder just what a FAILURE in a course really means. I had my fair share of them, and they weren't exactly great for my slow-motion approach to development.

The recent round of 'your son is not up to STANDARDS' from his elementary teachers had me very worried, but when I dug up this article again, I feel a bit better. Even geniuses can arrive last, being off-average in school is by no means an indicator of your actual abilities, it's simply a system based on averages. Exceptionality lives outside of those averages, I'd rather be there than in the NORMAL range.