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January 27, 2006

G and the Arts

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Agnostic has written a couple of extensive, provocative, and informative postings about race, sex, brainpower, and success in the high-fashion world. (Here and here.) I'm not sure I fully understand them or even have the G to keep up, but I certainly enjoyed having myself a wrestle with his arguments.

My main problem with much speculation about G/IQ and the arts is that most of what's asserted doesn't jibe with my experience. For the IQ-is-everything crowd, nothing explains success in the arts better than G. For me, nothing -- nothing -- has been more basic to my experience of the arts over the course of three decades than the fact that many talented and successful creative-types simply aren't very smart, and that many supersmart people who would like to be creative in the artistic sense simply don't have the creativity knack.

This isn't what I expected to find when I went into the arts, by the way. Like many Smart Kids, I'd been led by profs (and my own gullibility) to expect that brainpower was always and everywhere a good thing. That being so, and all other things being equal, Smart Kids would do better creatively in the arts than not-so-Smart Kids.

Wrong-o. Anything but.

I write as no G/IQ skeptic. I'm happy to agree that there's such a thing as cognitive horsepower, and that it tends to make a big difference in a person's life. But the arts seem to be a bit of an exception to many of the G/IQ-fundamentalist crowd's rules.

This isn't some theory I'm imposing. It's how I've found the arts to be. Creative artists certainly need to have the wherewithal to be semi-functional human beings. The severely mentally-defective generally aren't going to be creative artists, though the exceptions are certainly fascinating. But past a low level of acceptability, cognitive horsepower may or may not play a positive role in a given artist's life and work. As far as I've been able to tell, there's no hard and fast rule about this.

A few practical questions that need wrestling with:

  • How to define success in the arts? Answering this question is harder than it may look. Do you define success by comparing salaries? (But can Sly Stallone be called a better actor than many of the people he out-earns?) By asking profs to supply the rankings and make the judgment calls? (But profs ... Well, patooie on them.) And how about such basic questions as, How to compare across genres within a given art form? Was Mozart more or less successful than Robert Johnson? Mozart was a gift from the gods, of course. But Robert Johnson ... Well, he played a big role in establishing the Delta blues. That's a pretty divine thing too. My own solution to this dilemma: Mozart was a Very Big Deal, and so was Robert Johnson. Elegant! But it doesn't help sort the ranking question out much, does it?

  • There's the subjective factor, which can't be wished away. The arts have no existence apart from our experience of them, after all. In my own personal pantheon of artists, Townes Van Zandt ranks high, yet his work may mean nothing to you. Fair enough. But how can any of this be said to have anything to do with Townes' IQ? Or yours? Or mine? Townes made music that I dig and that you don't. History will rank him one way or another, and then change its mind. Or maybe not. And eventually some larger patterns of significance will emerge -- if people don't give up on history, that is.

  • Some will argue that the high-art/low-art distinction settles some of this out. The high arts are said to be more complex, and thus more G-dependent, and since they're higher, well then, the better artists have more G. But that's circular reasoning. The G-loaded activity is simply asserted to be a more valuable thing than the less G-loaded activity. A reasonable response is: "Oh, yeah? Sez who?" (I've never heard a convincing response to this challenge.) What if high art isn't automatically better than popular or folk art? Perhaps Son House -- a giant of a bluesman who would probably have barely made a dent on an IQ test -- is a greater artist than the cognitively-gifted high-modernist Elliot Carter. Perhaps not! But really, who's to say?

  • What to make of this everyday artworld phenomenon: creative-arts types who get high and/or wasted in order to do their work? These people aren't making themselves stupid in order to defeat their creativity. They're knocking out braincells in order to help the creative thang take over. At a minimum, this would seem to suggest that IQ can sometimes be the enemy of art-creativity.

  • Nothing's more common to encounter in the culture world than super-smart people -- onetime Smart Kids -- who think that they ought to be creative by virtue of being so damned smart, and who just aren't. They rage, they agonize, they put their impressive brains to as much use as they can ... And they grind out dud novels, paint dud pictures, perform lifeless music, and can't believe that people who strike them as idiots are so much better at this creativity thing than they are.

I've come to account for these facts to myself in this way: Art-talent is far more like athletic talent than it is like brainpower in the Smart-Kid sense. Art-talent is based in the body, in the personality, and in the instincts, and is to a large extent either given or not-given. Training can of course bring art-talent out and help it develop. But the fact seems to be that if you don't have the magic in the first place, it doesn't matter how smart you are. Further: art-talent comes in different quantities and intensities. Some art-talented people seem to be bursting with it to the point where they're blinded by the need to express it. Other art-talented people have real art-talent, but feel no overwhelming urge to do anything with it at all.

As far as I've been able to tell, art-talent and IQ-style brainpower are almost completely unrelated. They're gifts that exist independent of each other. A given Smart Kid might or might not have some art-talent. A given art-talent might or might not have some brains. The boxer Mohammad Ali strikes me as a helpful example. He wasn't much in the IQ sense -- he tested out at a mere 78. Yet what a brilliant and creative talent he was.

Hey, I can get even more elaborate in these accounts ...

You've heard of Howard Gardner's Multiple Kinds of Intelligence? (Here's an interview with Gardner.) Gardner proposes that there isn't just one kind of intelligence, there are many: kinesthetic, verbal, imaginative, emotional, etc.

The IQ-is-everything crowd ridicules Gardner for being a softy and a do-gooder, and I can understand why. There doesn't seem to be much behind his theory but a desire to be cuddly and kind. Yet I'm not going to sneeze at that desire. And there's something about his attempt to level things out that rings true too. I'm a bright guy who scores decently on intelligence tests, for example -- but there are many people less flashy than I am in an IQ sense who are far better plumbers, quarterbacks, singers, designers, and actors than I am. However glittering my IQ (ahem), it's plain to see that these people are gifted in ways that I'm not. Why deny this obvious fact? Why not take it into account instead?

So, for myself, I twist Gardner a bit. I don't account for the variety of gifts, talents, and brains by thinking of multiple kinds of intelligence. I do something sneaky instead. First, I re-label "intelligence" as "IQ-style brainpower." Then I pull a switcheroo. I don't make the meta-category "intelligence," I make it "talent." I don't think about many kinds of intelligence, in other words; I think in terms of many different kinds of talent.

As far as I'm concerned, IQ-style brainpower is an important talent, but it's also only one of the many kinds of talent a person might have. Multiple Kinds of Talent (with IQ-style brainpower as one of them) is a way of picturing the gift/talent/brains question that, however unscientific, suits the facts of the arts-life as I've encountered them.

But I've strayed a long way from Agnostic's good postings. Agnostic isn't an IQ fundamentalist. He's open-minded, and he's much more culture-aware than most of the IQ crowd is. I learned a lot from his postings. And, sheesh, fashion: What a great topic. How to resist?

Excellent passage:

What [Charles] Murray missed as an academic, though, was the practical, profitable world of design, where IQ still matters: fashion design, graphic design, architecture / interior design, furniture design, and so on. In fairness, Murray stopped investigating once he hit 1950, so his surprise at the lack of Asian Big Names might have changed had he looked up to the present -- not just in the design world, but also in the sub-area of the fine arts world which is arguably the most practical and profitable: film. East Asian directors, directors of photography, and cinematographers could give Franco-Germans and Mediterraneans a run for their money any day when it comes to the purely visual and spatial aspect of artistic filmmaking. This is again probably due to the visuospatial flavor of g, since we note a relative dearth of visually artsy Ashkenazi or black filmmakers, both of whom tend to focus more on the verbal aspect of storytelling.

As The Wife and I often say to each other when watching an Asian film: Why don't we just give the whole filmmaking thing over to the Asians? Why do Westerners even try to compete?

Curious to hear about how others sort out the intelligence/talent question in the arts.



UPDATE: I just ran across this short Real Player video of Son House in full cry. Hoo-mama, now that's some serious talent. I wonder how he'd have done on the SATs ...

posted by Michael at January 27, 2006


In my own field, I can definitively say that you don't need a high IQ to be a good designer, and that plenty of people with high IQs are not good designers.

Nor do I think the best writers necessarily have the HIGHEST IQs.

But who says Genius is measured by IQ? Did Michelangelo have 150 IQ?

If top universities would share their stats (which they have from admissions), I'm sure we would find that architecture schools have the lowest IQs of all the "professional" schools.

And speaking of geniuses, Glücklicher Geburtstag liebem Herrn Mozart.


PS: Remember The Best and the Brightest? McGeorge Bundy was the best and the brightest all by himself -- but he did not have the best judgement. He went to Yale but was the youngest or one of the youngest ever to be named a Harvard Scholar, and he was the genius of the Kennedy administration -- responsible for a lot of our problems in Vietnam. When he ran the Ford Foundation in the "Go Go Market" of the 1960s, he decided that the market would always go up, and it no longer made sense to preserve capital. He spent Ford Foundation capital, and he would only give to institutions which also spent capital -- which is one of the reasons why Harvard's endowment is much bigger than Yale's. Yale took money from Bundy, Harvard didn't.

Those Harvard guys were smart.

Posted by: john massengale on January 27, 2006 11:06 PM


Nice commentary. I think a distinction needs to be made between emotive expressiveness and technical complexity. Blues music is not very technically complicated (a few scales, 12 bars), and the music relies almost solely on emotive expressiveness for its appeal. A Bach fugue, however, is a much more complicated affair. Elliot Carter is a technical master, but like many technical masters, though, his work is pretty empty emotionally (like a lot of contemporary composers, if you can stand to listen to them).

Then there is the issue of talent, which I would conveniently say is the ability to come up with An Idea which is compelling. The confluence of high technical competency (G), emotive ability, and talent are very rare. Actually, talent in the sciences is important too.

On the whole though, my experience of talented people in the arts is that they all are fairly, even extremely, intelligent. I am firmly convinced that more talented people would come from a higher IQ group than a lower one. All this predictive G stuff is rough estimation anyway. How do you predict great talent or genius? Its a random event mostly, although it does seem to have a genetic component.

As for what one would consider "good art", well, you have your work cut out for you there. Best stick with those artists the vast majority can agree on.

Posted by: Brian Minder on January 27, 2006 11:12 PM

Michael: first, many thanks for featuring my entries! A few words on g versus multiple intelligences. Gardner and Jensen somewhat appreciate each other; they're not the psychometric equivalent of Gould versus Dawkins. Gardner says that the exemplars of his academic intelligences (musician, painter, etc.) likely have minimum IQs of ~120, so even he believes there's a lot to it.

The intelligences he describes are not independent of each other, nor of g. Gottfredson has many articles here
See her 2000 article "Intelligence." The evidence shows there's one general factor (g) reflected in any intelligence test. The second-order factors are what you're talking about: visuospatial, verbal, musical, quantitative, etc. However, these are highly (though not perfectly) correlated -- if you're above-avg on verbal, odds are you are as well on quantitative. Thats why almost no one gets an 800 SAT verbal and only 400 math. They are also highly correlated w/ g. Gottfredson therefore calls them "flavors of g," a term I rather like.

People who are great painters but only somewhat eloquent are consistent w/ this. Let's scale your score for the flavor of g you excel at to 100, and say that your scores for other flavors of g, though near this value, are 80% of your highest sub-score. Then your verbal, etc. scores would be 80. Now, pretend you're a genius painter w/ a score of 200; now your other scores are 80% x 200 = 160. Say you're a giant at high score = 300; now their other scores are 80% x 300 = 240. Proportionally, the difference b/w your highest and other scores is the same (1/5 of the high score), but the raw distance is increasing (20 vs 40 vs 60). The more the person excels in one area, the more it looks like it has little to do w/ their other skills, but this is an effect of only looking at the singular souls out there, and of course their other scores are still impressive.

You're right, though, that I'm not an IQ fundamentalist. Having a good mentor is surely crucial. And many have noted a connection b/w artistic genius and "madness" -- common mental illness probably come from pathogens (Gregory Cochran & Paul Ewald's idea, which the latter wrote up in _Plauge Time_). So maybe to be Mozart you need the right bug to infect & subtly re-tweak your brain as an infant to supply your high-horsepower brain w/ plenty of whacked out imagery to ponder and develop. I looked & found most Big Names in pre-20th C classical music were born in winter or spring, when infections are most likely. I'll have to look more, but I'll write that up sometime too.

Posted by: Agnostic on January 27, 2006 11:34 PM

I go with Gardner. I think there is a "talent" for kinesthesia, for music, for words, for empathy, etc. etc. I had a roommate once whose tested IQ was 180 and I never met a stupider woman. Her achievement in classes was strictly according to whether she was interested, so she flunked most. Finally she got pregnant and dropped out. How smart was that?

One of the U of Chicago profs for whom I typed, Zimring, was dyslexic -- but he was a high achiever. (His parents, Michael, were Hollywood arts types.) Charlie Russell was both dyslexic and dysgraphic (terrible handwriting and phonetic spelling IF he concentrated). When I looked at the Blackfeet kids' IQ scores, I always automatically added 20 points because of the culture disadvantage. IQ tests are too skewed to pick up how smart they are. As the superintendent said, "One of the vocabulary words was 'awning.' The first, last and only awning in town blew away in 1959." Yet she herself is a Blackfeet. I know her IQ because she was once my student, and it was high.

First one must have the capacity, second one must have the opportunity, third one must have the equipment, and fourth one must have the desire. Maybe that most of all. Probably a close fifth is that one must have an audience. If you're into the Apollonian and the dominant culture is into Dionysis, forget it. Unless you have a genius for persuasion and illumination, in which case you can start a new wave. Partly heredity, but also partly environment, and partly just whether or not you're paying attention.

And somehow one must learn to fend off all the people who are always trying to make one into THEIR project.

Posted by: Mary Scriver on January 27, 2006 11:44 PM

if IQ is related to our verbal skills (as it seems to be) then it is no surprise that "artists" (painters, dancers) who work in other media don't necessarily score high in vocabs. there is something else involved, and that is lack of time: artists are not thinkers (they are too busy developing a manual skill to have the time and energy to make am original, meaningful contribution to the world of intellectual ideas). one reason why so much art created today (under the general impression that an artist has to have some sort of message) comes across as so trivial is because these people are being motivated to deliver messages (which they may not have). best regards

Posted by: gawain on January 28, 2006 12:07 AM

Now, belatedly, I've read Agnostic's original post. I must confess that my GRE scores were 800 verbal and maybe 600 computational. (Maybe lower. I like to repress the whole thing.) This has little to do with my visuospatial scores, which are always high and less to do with manual dexterity. In high school, out of a class of 500 kids, I ranked 498. The top was the low numbers. Once I preached a sermon counter to the current mental health dogma that you can do anything if you want to bad enough, and told how much I had wanted to be a ballet dancer. They all laughed their heads off at the very idea. (I shed a tear or two when I got home.)

The designers named are people I've followed for a long time -- forty years or a little more. Some of them have created major bloopers that no one would wear. All of the ones I recognized have done a few exquisite things. I'm not sure all the names identified ethnically were original "real" names. But it seemed clear to me that people would laugh at the idea of Yugoslavian fashion, like my congregation thinking of me as a ballet dancer. (There have been a few people who choreographed for old fat ladies and, judged objectively, the work was quite good. NO ONE will get dressed in the evening to go out and watch old fat ladies dance!)

I just think there's a lot more to it than IQ, and that IQ is only a measure of how well one does on IQ tests.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on January 28, 2006 12:08 AM

This is an interesting topic, on which I find myself torn. Obviously IQ/g doesn't seem enough, on its own, to create art; I don't know of anyone who collects Isaac Newton paintings. But at the same time, Michelangelo, Rubens, Durer, Piero della Francesca, Giotto, Poussin, Picasso, etc., were all clearly very high IQ types. I suspect you wouldn't have thought it a waste of time to chat with Rembrandt, Velasquez or Raphael, either, although there isn't such clear evidence of at least verbal braininess in their cases. One does wonder if "talent" and "IQ/g" don't sort at least semi-independently. High IQ/g certainly doesn't hurt someone of very high talent levels (e.g., Rubens who left erudite correspondence in 5 different languages), but at the same time I wouldn't swear that every highly competent draftsman was automatically a mental giant--I've known a few who clearly weren't.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 28, 2006 5:46 AM

I suspect that the greatest artists (loosely defined as those whose works people still enjoy two hundred years later, which alas, is of little help settling whether a modern work is great "art") were also geniuses of the first order; Beethoven and Shakespeare certainly strike me as being on all together different mental plane than us mere mortals.

One probably doesn't need a huge IQ to be a competent craftsman of creative works. It would seems however that high G is a neccisary but not sufficient condition to make art that endures.

Posted by: Zetjintsu on January 28, 2006 11:18 AM

A famous survey of intelligence experts was conducted by Snyderman and Rothman in the eighties. I believe this survey found that many (most?) of these experts felt that IQ tests were not good measures of creativity. Since IQ tests are very good (but not perfect) measures of g, the implication is that these experts in the field of intelligence side with MvB and think that g and creativity don't have much to do with one another. I am assuming, of course, that 'creativity' means much the same as Michael's term 'art-talent'.

Posted by: PatrickH on January 28, 2006 11:34 AM

With rare exceptions, most of those who become artists as adults manifest evidence of what they will later develop into, very early in life: the kid who draws constantly, the kid with a musical "gift," maybe even the future writer who reads voraciously. This would point more in the direction of an X-factor (called talent) in the makeup of artists than particularly high IQ.

Posted by: ricpic on January 28, 2006 11:43 AM

Sports and music especially demand lightning-quick response and intuitive reactions, and people who think lack these. Any art demands some openness to impulse and to intuition, initially uscreened by critical thought.

I've argued on previous threads that the lack of support for artists is correlated several ways with their frequent personal problems. I think it's also true that the inhibitors, restraints and controls that make normal people normal are actually harmful to creativity.

The upshot of it is that the normality of our society is so dominaant and so demanding that much of our art comes from abnormal people.

I'm a big fan of the multi-IQ approach, which allows for idiot savants and other sorts of people who mix high achievement with virtual incompetence. My son saw the Thelonius Monk film, and says that Monk, whom we both admire tremendously, had to be taken care of like a little kid.

Posted by: John Emerson on January 28, 2006 12:11 PM

A related issue that has always fascinated me is the near-complete lack of women at the higher levels of musical composition. That, despite the facts that women are of the same average intelligence, are much better at musical performance than men, and are not bad composers, often good ones, just never great ones.

Posted by: Reg Cæsar on January 28, 2006 12:17 PM

John -- Thanks for the report from the field. Design especially seems like singing or cooking -- a matter of taste, look, and feel. Hard to imagine how those gifts would have anything to do with thinking-style brainpower. And yeah, couldn't agree more: it seems like 90% of the time we need to defend ourselves against the really brilliant. They've got a demonstrated and amazing ability to screw things up.

Brian -- I'm with you on much of that. But I'd also suggest that you're maybe underappreciating the role of technique in black music. (I assume you're referring to the blues when you talk about emotiveness.) As I understand it -- or as I've been taught to understand it anyway -- black technique and schooling are very different than they are in much white music. Much that whities take to be raw expressiveness -- growls, wah-wahs, callous-on-the-strings effects, whomps, etc -- are in fact learned and mastered techniques. And the kind of cultivation of Big Personalities that you see in the blues comes out of its own form of schooling, however informal. Blues guys (like jazz guys) are often ferociously competitive. So it's maybe not a contrast between the presence of technique and the absence of technique, but between two different kinds (or bodies) of technique. Anyway, if you find this line of reasoning interesting, you might enjoy Albert Murray's "Stomping the Blues." It's a meditation on blues, jazz, and black aesthetics that's fairly controversial, but I learned a lot from it. It blew my mind, really, but that's for a posting of its own.

Agnostic -- Fun comparing notes, and learning from your researches and thinking. Looking forward to more. I suspect my appreciation for the depth and extent of G is much weaker than it should be, but I'm trying to get up to speed ...

Mary - Those are great stories and snapshots, thanks. I'd add one more element to your list of necessary elements -- luck. Bumping into the right teacher, the right friend ... Having decent health and a character that doesn't crumble under pressure ... All that (and much more) is at least in part a matter of luck. Anyway: I'm with you. I think whatever it is that goes into productive creative activity in an arts sense has a lot to do with a lot of elements, and relatively little to do with flat-out cognitive brilliance. Actually, fond though I am of the GNXP team and respectful though I am of IQ research, I rather like the fact that art throws a spanner into their theoretical works ...

Gawain -- That's saying a lot in very few words! Artists are makers of things. Just as a matter of practical experience and common sense: Since when do makers of things tend to be brainiacs? (Even granting that sometimes brainiacs are makers of things.) Thanks.

FvB -- Yeah, exactly. My point isn't that you never run across art-creativity types who are also supersmart, just that I've never discerned any necessary relationship at all between brain wattage and art-creativity (once past rudimentary life-competence, anyway). Actually in some fields -- acting, for instance -- brainwattage seems to be a drag on creativity. Nearly all the actors and directors I've ever talked to have said that acting is 110% intuitive, and that if you don't deal with it as such you won't get any acting at all. There are some actors who are also smart people in an IQ sense, but they're pretty rare. It seems as though high-IQ people are generally less able to switch off the cognitive buzz and switch into an intuitive groove than other people are. Which makes sense. If you're gifted in an IQ sense, it's a strength. Why would you even want to switch it off? Yet as an actor you simply have to ...

Zetjintsu -- The whole "greatness" thing strikes me as booby-trapped when it comes to topics like these. I'm no politico and god knows no partyline feminist. But the critiques of the cult of greatness made by (mostly) gals seems to me to have some validity. It all becomes circular. If you define "great art" as "art that has a high degree of structural complexity," then of course "those who have created the greatest art" are also going to be relatively high-IQ types. (They're also going to tend to be guys.) But what has been proved by saying this? Nothing at all, it seems to me. And the male-female thing is interesting too, as is the "art that endures" question. Women often seem to express themselves artistically in somewhat different ways than guys do. Guys often like to build things. Gals often seem to like to embody and present their feelings in a physical and personal way. Which means that, where a guy might build an Arch of Triumph, a gal might sing at a nightclub. Of course the Arch of Triumph is going to last longer. So "the art that endures" is going to tend to be male ... And the "great" art from that category is going to have "structural complexity" (something guys get entranced by) ... Yet that one gal's nightclub performance might have been a gem. What to make of this? I'm not sure myself, but I am left both respecting tradition and suspecting there's a lot more to the whole culture thing than the "greatness" canon ...

PatrickH -- Interesting info, thanks. And it's got me wondering about those scientists: On what basis did they decide who was "creative" and who wasn't? Scientists' ideas about creativity often strike me as charming but hyper-naive. (They'll go through reference books, or look for citations in "the literature," for instance. Yet who created that literature? Art critics, art profs, journalists ... And is there any reason why we should trust them?)

Ricpic -- I love your idea of an X creativity factor! It's an interesting puzzle, isn't it? I mean, creativity is a slippery subject, yet it'd be cool if it were sensibly studied. Yet the kinds of people -- ie., scientists -- who might do such studies often seem to have only the most literal-minded grasp on what art-creativity is. And literal-mindedness is the antithesis of art-creativity ...

John -- It's true: High IQ types tend to turn first to their mental horsepower, where art-and-creativity require you to turn to some other faculty entirely (and to do so instantaneously) -- to get in the groove, to be familiar with the groove, and to be able to find it pretty much at will. I saw a Monk movie myself years ago, and the guy did seem to be a quasi idiot savant. The tension you see between art-creativity and normality in the States is one I'm often struck by too. Where does it come from? Despite the cult of self-expression and creativity in schools, there often seems to be an active antagonism between the art-life and the normal-life in this country. Living in NYC, I put the blame as much on the artists as on the normals, but I might see things differently if I lived in the heartland. I'm hard-put to explain the mutual hostility. I can cite a few semi-explanations -- Puritan legacy, historical preference for practicality, suspicion of fancy fruity stuff, money-centricity, etc. But it doesn't seem to add up, or add up to enough, anyway. One of the best attempts at an explanation I ever heard came from a friend from England, who said that in his view we Americans have so much freedom that we're terrified. We're so left to invent ourselves and our lives that many of us wind up, in a panic, doing what everyone else does -- relying on the informal consensus -- and then policing each other. He was amazed we don't enjoy our freedom more, to swing a bit and have a crazy-good time. Instead, many of us chase after what everyone else is chasing after, and then demonize anything that doesn't play along. Because, I guess, if we stopped to think or muse for a few seconds, the whole foundation of our lives would crumble and what then would we be left with? I'm thrilled to mock boho silliness and arrogance on a steady basis, but I think there's also a lot to what my friend suggested too. What's your take on it?

Reg -- It is interesting, isn't it? My guess is basically that the usual way we conceive of "musical composition" has to do with building-complicated-stuff, and that chicks by and large aren't into that. They're into other stuff -- for example, and as you say, performance. They don't tend to love far-out pyrotechnics: few chicks are great guitar soloists, virtuosic technical figure-drawers, or even great op-ed columnists. But I don't think it's because they're failures; I think it's because they tend to do other things. Guys seem to love building stuff, and doing extreme and physically daring stuff, where chicks seem to prefer enjoying and presenting their feelings and their beauty. Where math and engineering are concerned, I guess that means that the really brilliant ones will by and large be male. But I don't know that art needs that kind of hierarchicizing (sp?). Do you think it does? My own pref is to do my best to enjoy things for what they are. Chicks like to sing and act! Hey, I like watching them do it. Guys like to build stuff -- rock on.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 28, 2006 1:19 PM

Speaking of "hierarchicizing (sp?)", it's striking how women disappear as the musical demands of the particular genre increase. Country music produces many successful female songwriters thanks to its low threshold-- Nashville has been rehashing "the fast one" and "the slow one" for 85 years now-- and so would rap, were it not a male field for sociological reasons. But there are somewhat fewer in rock, and progressively fewer in pop, jazz, Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, romantic and classical-- kind of like the disappearance of white babies as you ascend in the Andes.

I think it's the conjuction of several different bell curves. On some, like intelligence, only the extremes are male, and the greats come from the right extreme. On others, like mathematical and visuospatial reasoning, insanity, brattiness, etc., the male curve is to the right of the female. Put 'em all together, and composition is a boys' club, despite the often amazing talents of the girls in most other areas of music.

Posted by: Reg Cæsar on January 28, 2006 3:49 PM

I suspect that a high IQ won't get you very far in the arts without talent, but combined with talent, IQ is useful for enjoying a longer career. Madonna supposedly claims to have a 140 IQ and I wouldn't bet against it, judging by how long she has managed to stay in the limelight.

In contrast, I doubt if Elvis had a 3 digit IQ, and that, along with his excessive politeness and lack of self-assertiveness, helps explain why his career is so frustrating to contemplate -- artistically, his career mostly consists of 3 or 4 great years before going in the Army in 1958, plus a brief revival in 1968 (Burning Love and Suspicious Minds).

On the other hand, talent and timing matter a _lot_ more than IQ in popular music. So, in the history of American music, I suspect Elvis' big year of 1956 outweighs Madonna's entire quarter century career.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on January 28, 2006 8:18 PM

A lot of musicians have good technical minds like engineers, and can think formally, but are verbally inarticulate.

Posted by: John Emerson on January 28, 2006 10:50 PM

I tend to think of a person with a very high IQ as analagous to a computer with a very fast processor.

The faster the processor the better, but the speed of the processor tells us nothing whatsoever about the quality of the data that's being processed.

I believe in IQ, but it does not measure, and should not even pretend to measure, the quality of mind of an individual in its entirety. It only measures the quality of certain kinds of problem solving.

I deal with people at many different IQ levels yet I seldom meet an individual who comes across as genuinely stupid.

Without kindness and creativity, high IQ usually doesn't seem to amount to much.

Posted by: Graham Lester on January 28, 2006 11:16 PM

Michael, this is just brilliant stuff.

Thinking. Thinking. Trying to come up with something worth adding...and not succeeding...

Posted by: Steve Burton on January 29, 2006 10:09 PM

And now, from the other side of the brain: as an engineer, I look for what I call the CSQ – Common Sense Quotient. The best design engineers I have worked with were generally not the A students in college and many had no college at all. By design, I mean creating or managing the creation of a product or process and not how the product looks. This job requires an understanding of science and engineering principals, how the product will be used, and who will use the product.

When I was in college back in the 60’s, the education folks were trying to teach this ability. But even then I felt it was a knack or gift as surely as the ability to write a great symphony. Don’t get me wrong, I still want those high IQ straight A persons on my design team but I want someone with a high CSQ to manage the project, regardless of their IQ, grade point, or college degree.

Historically, it seems the best generals, politicians, and leaders of industry were most likely C students. And seldom does the exceptional athlete become a great coach.

Posted by: JG on January 30, 2006 10:11 AM

See Gottfredson's website; g is not reflected so much in book smarts, grades, etc. as in an IQ test score. Look here">">here for examples. These skills can be taught to the extent Tetris can. Again, not saying IQ is all, but some are proposing what are really "flavors of g."

Creativity is another key, but I doubt fine motor skill is -- most Big Name composers suggest composing in one's head. And even hearing it aloud isn't necessary, as Beethoven's deafness shows. Re: African vs Western classical -- the former focuses more on melody & improv, whereas the latter focus more on harmony (as well as melody). An impressive melody composer is like a skilled baton twirler, while a composer skilled at harmony is like an adroit juggler. Most Western composers combine the flare (though not improv) of the former w/ the mental juggling of the latter. For reasons not well understood, watching a flowery juggler gives us that same sense of "How did a human being manage that?" as when we try to take in a Bach fugue. Again, trying to separate disinterested judgments of who's most impressive from who best suits our personal tastes.

And re: women in music (or visual arts), just distinguish creators from executors. Which requires greater relevant flavor of IQ and creativity? Do we observe a more male-skewed ratio among creators than executors? Yup.

Posted by: Agnostic on January 30, 2006 12:05 PM

See Gottfredson's website; g is not reflected so much in book smarts, grades, etc. as in an IQ test score. Look here for examples. These skills can be taught to the extent Tetris can. Again, not saying IQ is all, but some are proposing what are really "flavors of g."

Creativity is another key, but I doubt fine motor skill is -- most Big Name composers suggest composing in one's head. And even hearing it aloud isn't necessary, as Beethoven's deafness shows. Re: African vs Western classical -- the former focuses more on melody & improv, whereas the latter focus more on harmony (as well as melody). An impressive melody composer is like a skilled baton twirler, while a composer skilled at harmony is like an adroit juggler. Most Western composers combine the flare (though not improv) of the former w/ the mental juggling of the latter. For reasons not well understood, watching a flowery juggler gives us that same sense of "How did a human being manage that?" as when we try to take in a Bach fugue. Again, trying to separate disinterested judgments of who's most impressive from who best suits our personal tastes.

And re: women in music (or visual arts), just distinguish creators from executors. Which requires greater relevant flavor of IQ and creativity? Do we observe a more male-skewed ratio among creators than executors? Yup.

Posted by: Agnostic on January 30, 2006 12:07 PM

A shrink named Robert Sternberg has a book called Successful Intelligence. He says getting ahead in life requires three types of mental skill:

1. Analytic Intelligence: the ability to solve problems. This is what gets taught in school and measured by IQ.
2. Creative Intelligence: The ability to pose problems that are worth solving in the first place.
3. Practical Intelligence: The ability to organize work, plan, prioritize, work with other people, and get the job done. Sort of like JG's Common Sense Quotient.

I would imagine that any art project requires a large amount of the third skill, which rarely gets mentioned. In Mozart's last year, for instance, he ran to Progue and wrote an entire opera in three weeks, and dashed off his three final symphonies in a month or two. This kind of thing requires a great deal of practical savvy, good old-fashioned prudence, the Stuff They Don't Teach You At Art School.

The second one, Creative Intelligence, is the most mysterious to me. How do you decide what to work on in the first place? It's not unreasonable to suspect that the world is full of people with a great deal of talent who are wasting it on stuff that is either too unimaginitive, too incomplete, or too silly to ever make an impact.

His book is here.

Posted by: Brian on January 30, 2006 4:56 PM

Nice use of blockquoting, eh? Posted by: Brian on January 30, 2006 4:57 PM

In the 1970s I dropped out of Yale and worked for a year as an auto mechanic in North Carolina. There were about 12 real mechanics in the shop. Some were exceptionally gifted.

Because I had just come from an environment of people with conventionally-measured, high IQs, I kept trying to understand what made some of these mechanics so much better than others.

Much of it probably was the result of the capacities that the shrink, Sternberg, described (as noted in Brian's post above). Plain-old "experience" was another.

But what always struck me was that the best of these mechanics had something else. Fixing a broken car can be frustratingly difficult. A lot of moments of "stuck-ness", as Pirsig would say.

These best mechanics had exceedingly calm temperments that seemed to allow them to arrive at a creative solution more quickly than everyone else.

Is there a way to test for that? I think it can be a relatively common a recognizable quality, "calm under fire". It's partly the ability to focus your thinking and concentrate without getting all pinched up about it.

Posted by: heron543 on January 31, 2006 7:37 PM

For whatever my 0.02 cents' worth may constitute, I am fully in agreement with Michael Blowhard on this one.

I speak as one who over decades was surrounded, on a literally daily basis, by musicians. The bad musicians were among the biggest morons I've ever met, in any field (though with a horrible Joan-Crawford-style pretentiousness which other morons don't, usually, have); and of the good musicians, only about one-third were intelligent in any non-musical sense. Of that one-third, I can't think of a single one who did well in formal non-musical exams, or wanted to do well.

Easily the most intelligent musician I have ever met, as well as one of the most brilliant men I have ever met, was a chap who did abysmally in formal testing. (He acquired astounding erudition in his own spare time, having basically told his teachers to take running jumps at themselves.)

On the other hand, the bad musicians often scored rather well in a formal testing context. Especially bad musicians who were women, and whose fundamental moronity had a patina of quick-wittedness.

Posted by: R J Stove on January 31, 2006 11:48 PM

I agree that many who are in the Arts today do not have high IQs, but I think you are way off thinking that those who are most creative do not have high IQs. Very few people who are involved in the Arts are in any real sense creative. To be blunt I think you have been sucked into one of the greatest pieces of silliness that our time has to offer: mistaking performers for creative artists. The examples that you offer of blues artists are pretty trivial: as creative artists their contribution is to tweak a formula slightly. A composer is creative, a poet is creative, a painter may be more or less creative—but actors, musicians, singers? Come on.

Also, your argument that claims for high culture over popular culture are circular is frankly absurd. There is no such circularity. But because you have swallowed this line you are then wide open to the problem that I mentioned above.

When one genuinely identifies the creative then it is fairly evident that there is such a correlation. The real problem is that their presence in the world today is vanishingly small.

Posted by: Eluard on February 1, 2006 5:34 AM

Agnostic -- I have much to learn about G! That said, if what G really is is Gardner's 7 (or was it 8? my own failing G can't remember) Different Kinds of Intelligence, then why are the IQ fundamentalists so antagonistic to Gardner? I will take issue with your contention that performers are, by definition, less "creative" than, say, composers. For one thing, it has to be taken on a case-by-case basis. A given composer might be a stiff, where a given performer might be wildly creative. An example: I've seen *lots* of theatrical performances where the play was lousy -- ie., the "truly creative" person, the playwright, had failed -- but where the performances were spectacular. For another, we're all bouncing off of models and forms, whether we're the person who writes the score down on the person who performs it. (The person writing down the score has learned harmony, genre, etc -- he's operating in just as tight a framework as the performer is.) For a third, there are entire art traditions where there simply is no distinction between "composer" and "performer." *All* the art in these traditions is essentially performance-based, and not composition-based. This doesn't make it automatically better or worse than, say, Western fine art. But it does undercut arguments that the composition end of things is automatically more fundamental than the performance end of things.

Brian -- Sternberg's model seems like a reasonable one, doesn't it? I suppose there are always more elements you can cite too, as many people in this thread point out. Character is one under-discussed element too. Guts, instinct, stick-to-it-iveness, wariness of corruption, etc ... I've known lots of gifted people who crapped out creatively, as far as I could tell, largely because they took the easy road. And in the arts there's also the element of look-and-feel -- a kind of tactile, in-the-flesh feeling for "rightness." When does that layout click? When is the music really cooking? When does a dish need more garlic? Etc. Where does such a thing come from? It can obviously be developed, but it also seems built into the system or not. I'm a little more picky about how things look than most straight American guys are, for instance, but I've got nothing like the sense of visual taste and snazziness (let alone the ability to generate and come up with it) that real visual people have. On the other hand, I've got a pretty strong sense of when and if certain kinds of pieces of writing are working or not. It just bugs me when I run across a piece of writing that doesn't come into the right kind of focus. (It's a modest gift and I take no credit for it -- apologies for seeming to brag. It's all I've got personal experience of.) I don't know where it comes from, it seems to be completely intuitive, and I recognize that there are people who lack it entirely, as well as people who have it in greater abundance than I do. But there it is.

Heron543 -- Patience is a really important element, many thanks for pointing that out. It's an interesting and undersung one too, don't you think? It isn't just being vague and tolerant. It seems to have to do with an ability to be active, curious, investigating, objective and yet open and ... well, patient. What a blessing it must be to have such a quality. Funny that it isn't recognized more, let alone cultivated more. We could almost all do with more of it.

RJStove -- Musicians are such a good example! Man, but a lot of them are double-dumb. And good lord but a lot of them like getting blasted and wiped out. Yet, wow, how talented they can be. You're making me think of a couple of related examples ... My guy Townes Van Zandt, for instance, was apparently a smart guy. But by the end of his life he'd obviously done his brain serious drug-and-alcohol damage-- there wasn't too much cognitive capability left in there. Still, he was writing and performing music as beautiful as he ever had. Another example is an Irish accordionist I once saw performing. He was old and was clearly suffering from Alzheimer's. Barely knew where we was, had to be led out in front of the crowd, etc. Much of his brain had clearly been erased already. But once he had the instrument in his hand, he performed beautifully, and the music he performed was emotionally expansive and very moving. He wasn't an intelligent guy evoking depth and feeling. He was a guy with barely a brain any longer yet whose musical abilities and instincts (and, apparently, whose humanity) were still completely intact.

Eluard -- I'm not sure what to say in response to your comment. I once held views rather close to yours, but based on lots of experience I've come to consider them wrong. One example of why I've revised my ideas: Many of the most creative people I've ever known have been performers. Being close to them, knowing them, hanging around them, seeing them work, observing "the creative process," etc -- I've learned a lot more about creativity from performers than from anyone else. I'm now respectful and grateful towards them -- they strike me as the purest of art-creative creatures, in fact. (However silly they often also are.) I find you a little harsh towards the arts. As far as I can tell -- and whether or not I like their work and whether or not we're living in a great art era -- there are tons and tons of creative people around. Our era may be lacking for something, art-wise, but it isn't lacking for raw (and even schooled) art talent.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 1, 2006 11:41 AM

Does anyone here doubt that creative people like Phidias, Shakespeare, Bach, Palladio and Dickens had very high intelligence? I find it incredible that the question could even come up. For those of you with IQs of 125 or better, why don't you show us how easy it is to create an immortal masterpiece. I'll wait.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on February 1, 2006 8:52 PM

Michael — I think what you are saying is beyond wrong. To be creative (by definition!) is to produce something new and original, to conceptualise something that has never been conceptualised before, to find new forms of expression for fundamental human truths. The guy who writes the film may be creative, but the actors are just saying his words. They are not creative and you are debasing the idea by pretending that they are. The Nineteenth Century would have laughed itself sick at the idea that the third oboeist from the left is a creative artist. He is not, and nor is the conductor—the composer is.

The lunacy of our time is to pretend that performers are creative. And they of course have very readily swallowed this self-serving nonsense. Actors are paid millions, while writers are paid a pittance.

Of course actors and musicians can be talented, but their talent is to be good interpreters. Nothing more. That does not make them creative artists.

If there were more genuinely creative people around the public might not lionise to the point of silliness the singers, the mimes, the guitar strummers, the actors, the jugglers. and the rap clap-trap artistes (note that extra 'e'!).

If you think that there are a lot of creative people around then I think you just don't have a clue what creativity is. Because it certainly isn't Robert Johnson. (And, hey, as a blues singer I like him as well. I'm just not prepared to redifine the word 'creative' so that he gets in there!)

But once you have widened out the concept of creativity to include mere performers, of course their IQs look a bit suspect. But that, Michael, is just a reductio ad absurdam on your bad redefinition.

Posted by: Eluard on February 1, 2006 9:43 PM


Robert Johnson is an interpreter. Granted. A mere performer.

Who created the blues?

To whom do we look?

Posted by: heron543 on February 1, 2006 10:18 PM

Charlton -- That's an impressive bunch of smart and creative people!

Eluard -- I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. I'm not quite sure I see any reason behind your dismissal of performers. And I'm not sure what your theory would make of, say, a brilliant jazz performance of a lousy song. In that case, we have (in your terms anyway) a "creative person" (the songwriter) who's been very uncreative, and an "uncreative person" (the jazz performer) who's been brilliant. It doesn't seem to me that your theory can accomodate phenomena like this, yet they happen everyday. Still, if you insist ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 1, 2006 10:46 PM

Eluard: "The guy who writes the film may be creative, but the actors are just saying his words."

This year Warner Brothers will release The Maltese Falcon on DVD. The package will include the 1941 version with Bogart, Greenstreet, Lorre, Astor, and Cook, as well as the 1931 version with Cortez, Daniel, et. al.

I suggest you watch them both. The scripts are identical - both drawn directly from the novel - so it's ceteris paribus. Any difference between the two is caused by the creative decisions of the actors. I think you'll find that, in business school parlance, the '41 cast "adds value".

Posted by: Brian on February 2, 2006 2:11 AM

Michael — I don't insist on a strict distinction between performers and creators, I just insist that these are distinct *functions*. Of course I grant you that a jazz musician may be both a performer and a creator in the one act. That is what improvisation is. But agreeing that someone can be functioning as creator and performer at the same time is a far cry from claiming that performers are creators *in virtue of being performers*.

Brian — I don't disagree that actors add value. They do. Sometimes a lot. I'm not saying that performers are not valuable. But I think its a bit of a stretch to go from that to saying that it is their creative input that *makes* the 1941 The Maltese Falcon: it is their superior craft, their presence (surely that!) yes, but I'd hang back a bit from investing too much in *their creative decisions*. They are just doing their job—as is the director and the cinematographer we must remember. Huston was no slouch.

Also, I'm not saying that every person who picks up a pen to compose or write is automatically superior to a performer. There are many bad creative artists just as there are many great performers. I'm merely saying that when the creative task succeeds—so that we are prepared to say that this individual really is creative—they are doing something quite different to what a performer/interpreter does. To succeed they need intelligence, a performer does not.

If you separate out the functions in this way, you do not end up with the counter-intuitive consequence that started this blog entry, because you will not be mis-labelling the performative function as inherently creative.

Posted by: Eluard on February 2, 2006 6:14 AM

Oh and one other thing: I may have inadvertantly given the impression that I'm anti-popular culture. Not so. There are many modern songs (for example) that I'd take over Schubert Leider any day.

Posted by: Eluard on February 2, 2006 6:19 AM

Eluard -- I think you need to think about what "creativity" means with a bit more broad-mindedness. To me, creativity involves inventing new ways of doing things. In that way, actors can and are very creative. So's a quarterback who devises a new way to throw a certain pass. There are many kinds of creativity and all of them are rightfully defined as such.

Posted by: jult52 on February 2, 2006 9:11 AM

Maybe we can distinguish between two orders of creativity in regard to a particular art work:
1) the Primary
2) the Secondary.
The Primary creativity belongs to the one who creates the work. The writer, the sculptor, the painter, the composer.
The Secondary creativity belongs to the one who interprets the work (if it is a performance piece such as a play or a musical composition). The actor, the actresses, the performer.
Because a performer is a necessary to the realization of a performance piece of art (such as a song or a movie), the performer must be considered a creator - a co-creator. Squiggles on a page, for example, are not music. Music is what you hear; this art requires a performer if it is not to be mere calligraphy.
The "primary" "secondary" distinction is faithful to our personal impressions about the differing intelligence level in Primary Creators (Shakespeare) and Secondary Creators (Ingrid Bergman). (Btw, Hitchcock, who had a life-long crush on the brilliantly creative Bergman, is said to have commented about her: "So stupid.")
But I want to add there is a lot of overlap. For one thing, consider the Primary creators who are also great performers of their own material. Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff were all top-rank performers (especially of their own music). And it is well-known that a number of actors are "frustrated writers," inventing lines and giving writers fits with suggested "changes" to a script. (Often this is no more than ego operating, but sometimes it isn't.) But this latter phenomenon of Secondary creators trying to be Primary creators probably is due simply to their regular function as co-creators of adding value to a work by fleshing it out.
Michael, another fascinating subject.

Posted by: David on February 2, 2006 10:45 AM

David —the primary/secondary distinction is a good one, but I think it would be more clearly put if one stressed that one individual can carry the two different functions: creator and performer. I agree that improvising actors are taking on the role of the writer; I merely say that in so doing they are performing a creative function that goes beyond a mere preformative function. (It was Dustin Hoffman who improvised the final, crucial, line of Straw Dogs—the line that really makes the movie! But he got no writing credit.)

In fact I think this really is the heart of the problem that I have with this discussion: you are all falling into the trap of classifying individuals as either creators or performers, rather than thinking of the function that they are exercising at any one time. Michael has solved the problem of making the necessary distinction by making everyone (performers and creators) a creator. But this is just mad. My own view is that some individuals perform more of the creative function and others less, and differently at different times. But when we say of someone that they are truly creative, we mean more than that they perform a creative function, we mean that they do it exceptionally well.

And such people are never stupid.

There is a very dumb unspoken agenda at work here: you are (all) really trying to redefine creativity so that more people get to have that honorific applied to them. This is of the "they may not be able to do algebra but that doesn't matter because they are creative" kind of move. But it just won't wash. You don't make people creative by debasing the word to the point of uselessness. (And please Jult52, quarterbacks? Spare me.)

Real creativity is incredibly rare in the modern world: We have a World population that is now vastly larger than that of Tudor England, but we do not have many, many Shakespeares. We have none. That is the modern situation.

By redining the word 'creative' in the silly way that you are doing you are trying to hide that elephant in the living room by having it hold the ashtray.

Posted by: Eluard on February 2, 2006 7:43 PM

Eluard -- Look, I really don't know what to say. Your model would imply that Louis Armstrong was being more "creative" when he wrote his autobiography than when he played his trumpet. It'd suggest that Muddy Waters, Cary Grant, Sarah Bernhardt, Ella Fitzgerald, Gelsey Kirkland, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and whoever it was who designed the Cord automobile weren't creative, let alone gigantic and wonderful cultural creators/creations, and that the writers of Hitchcock and Altman movies were more "primary" than Hitchcock and Altman. By the way, Altman often stresses that the really creative people in his films are the performers.

My response to your arguments is twofold: "You're putting me on, right?" And/or "What universe are you living in?" You seem, for one thing, unaware of the anthropology of art. Most cultures make little if any distinction between "composing" and "performing" -- most art exists entirely in the performance of it. Indian classical music, for instance, is improvised by performers on a finite (if large) number of scales, tunes, and requirements. You also seem unaware of how most art is produced. Who's the "primary" creator behind most films, for instance, let alone most opera productions? (Answer, as far as I'm concerned: either "who cares?" or "let's take it on a case by case basis.") The Homeric and Hindu epics were probably generated by wandering bards, all of them illiterate, who were performers -- in other words, what's "primary" (sigh) in poetry is performance, not the writing-down/coming-up-with thing. If a novelist takes an idea from his agent (not an uncommon occurrence) and spins it into a book, who's primary?

You might also want to take a look at the posting again. 90% of the time I use the term "art-talent" or some variation on it, not "creative." "Creative" is loaded in a way I don't really want to get into. Moms and math teachers and salesmen can all be creative, after all -- we nearly all show some "creativity" in our day to day lives. Art-talent is art-making talent. Some people have some, and when you're with and around them it's hard to avoid it. Actors, for instance, often play hugely important roles in the cultural activity we know as "putting on a show," and if you know or hang around actors it's hard not to be impressed by the energy, the conviction, and the gifts. Designers are often just as visually-talented as fine-arts painters (often more so these days, it seems to me). Hang around studios, and it's hard not to be struck by the fact that these people have eyeball/look-feel talents that are very impressive.

I marvel a bit at your determination to hammer home your idea about primary and secondary, and to diss performers. What's that about? But it's really none of my business. Presumably it serves your purposes in some way, and if it does so, then best of luck to you.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 3, 2006 11:31 AM

Michael — I thought I'd pretty well put your origial contentions to rest, but apparantly you don't agree. So on the ''What Universe are you living in?'' question, I'll just make a brief answer.

I'm living in a world where the concepts of art and creativity haven't been trivialised to the point of complete silliness; where real art is still possible because it hasn't been eroded of all meaning; where the hope for something really great hasn't been given up on.

And no — You don't live in that world.

But good luck to you: low expectations are probably the right way for you to go. We all get the art we deserve.

Posted by: Eluard on February 3, 2006 7:24 PM


I'll state at the outset that I am with Michael on this one.

Nonetheless, I will take you at your word, that you live in a world where art and creativity have not been trivialized.

Give us a window into that world. Name three artists of your choice whose reputation is simply not the result of received ideas. Name the artists whose work, for you, has not been eroded of all meaning. Give us their names.

Name them.

Posted by: heron543 on February 3, 2006 9:17 PM

Wow, people are still discussing this! Re: Gardner, he refuses to test & measure his multiple intelligences; he only asserts their existence. Two are not intelligences but have to do w/ personality (interpersonal, intrapersonal); and one has to do w/ motor control (kinesthetic).

The ~100 years of intelligence research show that there is only one general factor, g, to intelligence -- multiple intelligences like visual, verbal, etc. are real, but 2ndary in the hierarchy to primary g, and they are all highly correlated w/ each other. It doesn't have to be that way -- there could be several top-level factors, but it turns out that there's only one.

Sternberg is the same; he tried to measure "practical" intelligence & found it didn't correlate well w/ IQ differences -- but he messed up by only checking Yale undergrads & brainy managers. All g-theory researchers examine the general population, and "common sense" correlates highly (but far from perfectly) w/ IQ -- e.g., telling how to use a bus schedule, recognizing symptoms of a disease, etc.

Posted by: Agnostic on February 3, 2006 11:59 PM

Heron543 — Glad to oblige.

So what you want is for me to name people (contemporaries I assume) who deserve the honorific 'creative artists'. Easily done.

Since the movies seem to be disproportionately important around here I'll start with those.

Kubrick (for the length of his career); Fellini, through the 60's ; and Godard, again through the 60's (before he fell into his Maoist sulk). All of these people invented forms in filmmaking that were shockingly original and indisputably brilliant.

Writers: Pynchon and Robert Coover. Extraordinarily inventive both of them. Poets: Ashbery and Bonnefoy. Montale too, but he is dead now.

Painters: after Picasso no one has really looked creative. The last 40 years have been lean for painting, perhaps because Picasso cast such a long shadow. But this century: Klee, Ernst, Morandi (maybe), Pollock.

Music: I think Arvo Part is pretty impressive but a conductor that I know tells me that it is structurally too simple. She may be right.

And since screenwriting seems to get mentioned here a lot, I'll say that I think Michael Tolkin has incredible ability.

Well, that is more than the three that you asked for but I think it represents pretty well what I think is genuinely creative in our time. I certainly *like* many more artists/writers than this —but this selection I think can speak for themselves.

Posted by: Eluard on February 4, 2006 5:25 AM

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