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Grafica e comunicazione

More on the creativity, talent and genius

Thanks to the acumen of friends like Max Alajmo, world-renowned chef, and Maurizio Tiso, recognized U.S. financial analyst, I am still around to discuss creativity and its delicate mechanisms. Both, separately, have commented on my previous snapshot "The key to creativity comes before a Martini." Max objects to the use of the word "creativity", calling it inappropriate, inaccurate, exaggerated, not related to the facts, in the sense that the act of creation is not human: "The distillation of genius and talent is reflected in art, but not creation... We assemble, mix, transform, and discover, but we don’t create... Our children are creations, which are actually a gift received... ". So that was Max’s response, as always profound and enlightening. Maurizio, however, asked for clarification on the alleged differences between talent and genius, in his opinion they were not well defined in my previous comment. Indirectly both of them asked me to explain myself better and I can’t thank them enough: I like to discuss the meaning of words.

In response to Max, I would say that in practice our visions substantially coincide and, if anything, ours is a problem that arises with the relationship between language and reality; as if we were a part of opposing medieval philosophical schools, the Realists and Nominalists. In short, a simple problem of interpretation of words, perhaps due to the fact that I loved poetry as a boy because it leaves room for doubting what is real. The question for me is just how much freedom we have if a word is dominated by facts. The intellectual journey of Max, which is quite different, can justify this little misunderstanding. But I believe that the origins of this controversy may exist in the very nature of language. Based on normal, and not strictly poetic, use of our language, words still leave ample room for interpretation, i.e. of doubt and uncertainty. This affects their use. Words can be played with by using them to the extreme (Max himself can’t resist a good pun). The same word can mean different things and can even be contradictory. Words can cause misunderstandings, quarrels, but also fantasies... I am convinced that the qualities (and defects) of different languages  forge and characterize people more than we think. English, for example, is a much more precise than Italian and it is no surprise that our captiousness is so very appreciated by the Anglo-Saxons. We are children of the Latin consecutio temporum, sons of Cicero, therefore our desire to play with lexical-grammatical-logical rule is almost imposed (at least to some degree) by our models of intellectual reference.

For me, the English language is represented by Maurizio and his legitimate demand for a more precise explanation of the (alleged) differences between talent and genius. I rate both genius and talent (genius comes first) in both the etymological and interpretive sense -  hence the degree of "personal interpretation." There is, of course. Genius is a Latin word meaning to ancestor, nume tutelare. Something that is beyond us. Something that concerns us intimately, but in a way that is not controlled by us. In Late Latin it was also intended as a natural endowment, in fact, something that was instilled by our ancestors. Something that we carry but not for any specific merit. Talent, for how we understand it today, is a word of Provencal origin (Greek-Roman legacy, ça va sans dire); the word indicated the inclination of the balance as far as weight. Earlier, in Mesopotamia, talent was a measure of mass and indicated a very large weight. Hence also the parable of the Talents of Jesus. Talents are distributed by their owner and what does he ask? That they be used to bear fruit. Therefore he asks for effort and not to bury them under the ground and wait for the return of the master. Genius has to do with innate gifts. Talent has to do with the will and responsibility of realizing something with the innate (via the labor that comes with knowledge). All this, perhaps, is the end of our stingy creativity.
With this reading, we can clarify the seemingly paradoxical words of Carmelo Bene: "Talent does what it wants, genius does what it can. As a genius, I have always lacked the talent."  "Talent does what it wants" (very beautiful the use of the verb want): you can want a little or a lot, it depends on you. "Genius does what it can": meaning it’s been given to you as a dowry, and to have to make do with what you were given. And you can only take advantage of it with... talent, of course. "As a genius, I have always lacked the talent," said Bene. I concur. With his innate qualities, his crazy intuition, his wit... he could have to rewritten the history of world theater. Instead of him we are left with only fragments. Immeasurable moments in works not entirely his own, often not entirely successful. He lacked talent – i.e. the will and responsibility. To rewrite the history of world theater you must have genius, but you must also feel the responsibility genius entails and the will to work on it. Michael Jordan had a superabundance of genius, but to rewrite the history of basketball he had to feel the responsibility of it at some point and the will to work on it. Every day. Knowledge is what ultimately comes from that daily work (which is the biggest, most difficult and important part of all, without which neither genius nor talent is capable of the least expression). Talent, in short, is the link between genius and knowledge (the knowledge of which I spoke about in the previous snapshot).

I admit that my words are not precise, they are, at most, hermeneutics, which is the art of interpretation. An art, in fact. Rebuttable by its nature, and his fortune. By the way, and to conclude: the sciences, which I studied briefly at school, seemed inhuman in their accuracy, incontrovertible as death. I avoided them like the plague until I came across (thanks to reading narratives) the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and then quantum mechanics. I was filled with joy. It is no coincidence that I when I was growing up I saw poetry become science and science, poetry.  I conclude with a symbolic episode (also fun I believe) that marries science and art, through the "creativity" purer than a well-assorted trio of artists.
The uncertainty principle states that the elementary level of the physical universe does not exist on a deterministic level, but rather as a collection of probability. For example, the model produced by millions of photons passing through a diffraction slit can be calculated using quantum mechanics, but the exact path of each photon can’t be predicted by any known method. And it is this interpretation that Einstein was questioning when he said: "I do not believe that God has chosen to play dice with the universe." Bohr replied "Einstein, stop telling God what to do with his dice." Later, Hawking said: "Einstein was wrong when he said: ‘God does not play dice.’ Consideration of black holes suggests, not only that God does play dice, but that he sometimes confuses us by throwing them where they can't be seen.”

25/05/2012 Filippo Maglione