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Why Do We Equate Genius with Precocity?

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/10/20/late-bloomers-malcolm-gladwell

newyorker.com

Why Do We Equate Genius with Precocity?
Doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the exuberance and energy of youth. Malcolm Gladwell questions whether this popular assumption is true.

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Genius is not tied to age

Genius is not tied to age

Genius is tied up with precocity. We think brilliance requires youth and energy and freshness. Mozart wrote his breakthrough Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-Flat-Major at the age of twenty-one. T.S. Eliot wrote "The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock" at the age of twenty-three

Economist David Galenson decided to find out whether the assumption is true that creativity, when discovered early, burns brightly, and then die out at an early age. He found that is what not so. Some are late bloomers. Mark Twain published "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" at forty-nine. Daniel Defoe wrote "Robinson Crusoe" at fifty-eight.

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Early and late bloomers

Prodigies like Picasso, who created a masterpiece at age twenty, tend to be "conceptual" in the sense that they start with a clear idea of where they want to go, and then accomplish it. Picasso once said that he could hardly understand the importance given to the word 'research.'

But late bloomers tend to work the other way around. Their goals are imprecise and their procedure experimental. They build their skills gradually throughout their careers, improving slowly over long periods.

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Experimental artists

Experimental artists are perfectionists and are typically plagued by frustration in their inability to reach their goal. Their creativity proceeds through trial and error and takes a long time to come to fruition.

  • When Cézanne was painting a portrait of the critic Gustave Geffroy, he made him endure eighty sittings before he declared the project a failure. He was notorious for slashing his canvases to pieces in fits of frustration.
  • Mark Twain was the same. He fiddled and despaired and revised and gave up on "Huckleberry Finn" so many times that the book took him nearly a decade to complete.

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Late bloomers: the dilemma of personal worth

Late bloomers don't realize they're good at something until they're about fifty. It's not that they start late; It's that they simply aren't much good until late in their careers.

Young Cézanne had rare endowments, but he couldn't draw. Cézanne required decades of practicing before he could master his ability.

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The hard road to achievement

Prodigies have it easier. Their genius gets noticed from the start.

Late bloomers have it harder. On the road to great achievement, they will resemble failure. They may revise and despair and change course and slash canvases. After months or years, what they produce will look like a thing produced by the artist who will never bloom at all.

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The necessary support for a late bloomer's success

The success of the late bloomer is highly dependent on the efforts of others.

  • In the biographies of Cézanne, his father didn't appreciate his genius. His father didn't have to support him all those years. He was well within his rights to make Cézanne get a real job. Instead, he paid Cézanne's bills.
  • Writer Émile Zola convinced the awkward Cézanne to come to Paris and served as his guardian, protector, and coach through the long, lean years.
  • Camille Pissarro was the next person who took Cézanne under his wing and taught him how to be a painter.
  • Then Ambrose Vollard sponsored Cézanne's first one-man show, at the age of fifty-six.

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