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« My Kind of Nanny State | Main | Don Bachardy »

May 24, 2006

More G and the Arts

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Agnostic thinks that G (or at least a subset of G) can function as a measure of creativity. I disagree, but I sure found his case a fun one to wrestle with. I wrote about G and the arts back here.



posted by Michael at May 24, 2006


Thanks for the hat-tip. Just one reminder to those who haven't read it yet: I (nor anyone else) proposes that g is the sole factor involved in creativity, only that it is one, even if heavily weighted, and that higher g always helps no matter what.

Posted by: Agnostic on May 24, 2006 10:01 PM

Should've said: "nor I nor anyone else proposes"... me and my high-falutin' syntax. :P

Posted by: Agnostic on May 24, 2006 10:02 PM

Michael – Interesting stuff. Sadly, Agnostic appears somewhat out of his depth. In the end, he says little of interest or use about creativity, and instead falls back to defend a safer, and altogether more trivial ground when he states that “higher g always helps no matter what.”

One of the things about artistically creative people that interests me is how many of them select themselves out of traditional, rigorous or more rigid educational systems, drop out of school at an early age, or attend performing arts schools. By the way, although I know that prospective students often have to audition for higher level performing arts schools, I have no idea of the degree to which SATs or similar tests are required.

I am also astounded to learn how many of them were dyslexic or had other learning issues in school, and which they also struggle to overcome in their chosen professions. As IMDB notes, Stephen J Cannel “suffered from undiagnosed dyslexia, which made it nearly impossible for him to do well in school--he either flunked or was held back many times.” And yet the creator of “The Rockford Files” has written or co-authored over 3,000 scripts. So I immediately wonder whether anyone has studied or compared creative types to the general population with respect to learning problems, etc. I don’t know how many accountants, chemists or engineers have been dyslexic, but I suspect that it is fewer than artists. Despite Agnostic’s claim that higher g helps no matter what, the behavior and attitudes toward school of many creative people I know more closely resembles that of athletes than that of more traditionally academic students.

I used to do some tax work for actors and musicians and I was often astounded to see how many of them combined an appalling ignorance with an odd indifference towards their financial affairs. While a lot of regular folk would experience mild anxiety when thinking about the IRS, the artistic folk just didn’t care, and often would create unnecessary complications. For example, one artist required a series of amended returns because she simply would not keep track of W2s or other payments that she received from jobs, and would just call up and say “Oops, I found another one” and keep on going. Colleagues reported the same thing about their artist clients. It is such a problem that there are those who specialize in handling entertainment industry clients not because of any particularly complexity of the tax code, but because they can more easily deal with the temperaments and personalities. Just as there are parents who have children who always end up looking like a mess no matter how neatly and carefully the mothers or fathers dress them, there are creative people who simply cannot keep records or sometimes remember what they have earned no matter how carefully an accountant or bookkeeper attempts to set up an easy system for them.

What I have taken from this is the strong suspicion that creative types have a different frame of reference, process the world differently than other people, and that this different kind or way of thinking is important in and of itself.

On a related note, a couple of years ago I had to take care of some business at Caltech. While meandering around the campus, I asked one engineering student about college life. He noted that one of the things that he found frustrating was that most of the students were so physically uncoordinated that he could never organize a decent game of softball or touch football. This was not just an amusing reinforcement of the nerd stereotype (with obvious exceptions since the student I had spoken with obviously had athletic talents that were withering even as his intellect was being stimulated), but also a strong suggestion that people who otherwise think and write provocatively about human talents are missing something important about variation when they try to collapse everything onto a single measure.

Posted by: Alec on May 25, 2006 5:59 AM

Agnostic -- Always fun to check in with what your brain is up to, and congrats to you as well for your interest in "creative" types.

Alec -- Your experience jibes with mine completely. I've often found myself comparing art-talent to athletic-talent (or more recently with cooking talent) -- it's in the instincts and the body, not the brain, or (as you say) it operates around an entirely different frame of understanding than academic-type smarts do. Artists are generally people who did terribly in school, and who can't think their way out of a paper bag, yet who have talent and drive, whatever the hell those are. (And in my experience, having too much in the way of brains on top of talent and drive often proves to be an art-deficit, not a plus. People will tie themselves up in thought-knots or they'll meddle too much or overcomplicate instead of getting on with it and letting the creativity flow and take on its own shape.) Fascinating to learn what it's like to deal with them re money and business, tks.That'd be a hilarious HBO sitcom, btw: a guy/gal whose job is doing taxes (or contracts) for artists and creatives. Plenty of opportunities for whacky guest-star appearances and comic exasperation, god knows.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 25, 2006 10:28 AM

"a strong suggestion that people who otherwise think and write provocatively about human talents are missing something important about variation when they try to collapse everything onto a single measure."

I think this is the heart of the whole matter. But artists do tend to collapse everything into a single goal -- getting that art done. Those who don't simply starve, Darwin-style.

Re: disregarding money, it does matter to them when there isn't enough money to buy materials, etc. But here's a funny story about Nick Eggenhofer, an old Western artist whose specialty was early transportation: stagecoaches, jerk lines and the like. The IRS wanted him to list all his research deductions. They actually sent someone to his house, where that official demanded the documentation. Nick looked at him solemnly for a minute while he thought, then got a good-sized cardboard box and went around the house looking in drawers and the pockets of jackets, etc. Pretty soon he came back with the box, now full of scraps of paper: notes, receipts, pages out of catalogues.

The IRS finally agreed to accept an estimate.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on May 25, 2006 11:00 AM

Hmm. I guess what Alec and Michael are saying explains why I was never quite good enough to do art professionally.

And even more disheartening, I was never that hot at academics either (barely made high school honor society, never made college dean's list).

I'll just have to be content being a Blowhard.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on May 25, 2006 1:04 PM

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