Bite Sized Philosophy, 1 September 2015: The Prodigy Problem

When one thinks of prodigies, one irrevocably thinks of Mozart – the prodigy, a child genius born with the utmost blessings of heaven and endowments of nature. It is, however, a disservice to his character and work ethic to think the greatest expressions of his genius followed anything but an equally great amount of time and effort. Mozart may indeed be one of the most naturally talented artists to have ever lived, and certainly a prodigy by any definition; the lesson to be learned is to not be daunted by the presumption of prodigy, as each new artist begins at the same place, at the bottom of the mountain, whether you compose, or paint, or write, It is not beyond your reach, if willing and dedicated, fully focused and properly motivated, to create great works of art.

Leonardo da Vinci’s first painting wasn’t the Mona Lisa; Jimi Hendrix didn’t play Voodoo Child the first time he picked up a guitar; Jacopo della Quercia’s first piece of writing wasn’t his excellent novel The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy. (Unless he is an actual insight machine — and in that case, that’s not fucking fair, robot!) If human – such a work is the product of study and education, along with the creative application of knowledge coupled with an understanding of form. Shakespeare studied Livy, Plutarch, and combed through Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles long before he wrote MacBeth or King Lear.

Despite what abilities one is or isn’t born with, it is possible to claw through sheet music and become a competent pianist; it is possible to study writing and read great books to become, if not a great writer, at least a good one; and though it may not be possible for everyone to paint like Rembrandt or play the piano like Franz Liszt; it is possible for everyone to produce respectable art and contribute to the intellectual culture of humanity in a unique and personal way. For talent without effort remains unspoken, shapeless, and without that some of the defining works of our culture and history would be lost. Don’t be afraid to try and fail. No great work of art has ever been created by just thinking about it really, really hard. 

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