The Genius In All Of Us

Who doesn’t remember the agony of being picked last for a ball team at school or the playground? I know I do. And for all those who had the same experience it could have very well sealed your future—cross off ever excelling in sports from your personal A-list. Not so, according to David Shenk, author of the recently published The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told about Genetics, Talent and IQ Is Wrong. Instead, Shenk goes as far as to tell the reader to cross out terms like “natural born” athlete, “innate” musical talent, and get this—“gifted” student. A journalist, Shenk, provides the latest science on the genes, the brain and what it means in the realm of intelligence and talent. Individuals are not products at birth with a fixed DNA map but just the opposite. The point that Shenk wants to drive home is that rather than a “thing” intelligence and talent development is a dynamic ongoing process. When intelligence and talent is measured through testing it only reflects what it is at that point in time because it is continually in process, always evolving. The reason, according to Shenk, is that the equation involves many variables. Although, environment has always been an important consideration hence the nature vs. nurture argument, Shenk tells us that it is more like G X E; i.e. Gene x Environment. Parents count as their child’s first teacher as do other role models throughout a child’s early development. And then it also falls on the individual and the choices he or she makes. How committed is an individual to become the best hitter in baseball like a Ted Williams, or a hoops star like Michael Jordon who both devoted time and endless hours of practice to perfect their craft. It can also mean going against the grain as in the case of Mark Bradford who is the recent recipient of the 2009 MacArthur grant. Imagine how many people the young Bradford left scratching their heads when the young 6 foot 8 African-American youngster refused to be enticed by the potential millions he could make as a basketball star. Instead he went to work as an assistant in his mother’s beauty salon all the while noticing a voice inside. “I thought I had something else in me.” That something else was 5 years as a returning student taking art courses and finally earning a master’s degree at CalArts. (To read more about his process and direction see NYTimes article at link below)Bradford’s work has been included in several exhibitions and in 2013 Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art will mount a solo show. Shenks’s book is a must read: get the science, get more details in the copious endnotes and do note Shenk’s own process throughout the book. It’s brilliant.
Read an interview with David Shenk:
See Mark Bradford exhibit “Alphabet” at Studio Museum in Harlem through March 13.

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