The Rage To Master: talent and motivation in artistically brilliant children
HARRIET WISEMAN ELLIOTT WAS A PIONEER IN WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND THE SUFFRAGETTE MOVEMENT AND SERVED IN THE 40s AS PRESIDENTIAL APPOINTEE UNDER THE ROOSEVELT ADMINISTRATION. AT THE TIME OF HER DEATH IN 1947, THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA IN GREENSBORO ESTABLISHED THE HARRIET ELLIOTT SOCIAL SCIENCE FORUM TO HONOR THIS DISTINGUISHED AND INNOVATIVE PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE AND DEAN OF WOMEN WHO TAUGHT ON THE CAMPUS FROM 1913 UNTIL 1935.
IN APRIL OF THIS YEAR, DR. JENNIFER DRAKE, CO-AUTHOR WITH ELLEN WINNER, Ph.D., PROFESSOR AND CHAIR OF PSYCHOLOGY AT BOSTON COLLEGE, OF THE STUDY OF PREDICTING ARTISTIC BRILLIANCE, WAS INVITED TO SPEAK ON THIS SUBJECT AT THE UNIVERSITY’S PRESTIGIOUS HARRIET ELLIOTT LECTURE SERIES.
HELD AT THE UNIVERSITY’S WEATHERSPOON ART MUSEUM, A STRONGHOLD OF MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN ART THAT INCLUDES WORKS FROM THE DILLARD COLLECTION OF ART ON PAPER AND THE ETTA AND CLARIBEL CONE COLLECTION OF PRINTS AND BRONZES BY MATISSE, JENNIFER INTRODUCED HER LECTURE AS FOLLOWS:
Some young children are able to create stunningly realistic drawings that resemble those of adult artists. In this talk, I present research examining the perceptual and cognitive skills that underlie this talent.
TODAY, THE LRFA BLOG IS PLEASED TO POST PART II OF THE ARTICLE.
Exceptional realism, such as that displayed by Arkin, is one important sign, but it is not the whole story. Not all adult artists drew as convincingly as Arkin when they were his age, and some young children are now being discovered who show a skill for producing nonrepresentational art, rather than realistic works. We have identified five other characteristics that we believe foretell artistic creativity. A budding artist’s drawings are often well composed and display either a decorative, colorful aspect or an expressive power. The child also has a hunger to look at art, possesses an enormous drive to create and wants to be original. Last, we contend that outstanding artists, and perhaps geniuses in all domains, not only possess innate talent but also are intrinsically motivated in a way that others may not be—something we call the rage to master.
Motivated to Master
I. Artistically gifted children may see the world differently than other youngsters do. They discover advanced compositional techniques many years before their peers.
II. These precocious children tend to be self-motivated and deeply interested in honing their skills.
III. These early signs and others are helping researchers to predict which children are likely to pursue art as adults.
Birth of a Skill
Scientists and educators have long sought to demystify the emergence of expertise, artistic and otherwise. Many researchers have argued that exceptional achievement can be boiled down simply to hard work—about 10,000 hours of it. Studies of eminent scientists in the 1950s supported this view by underscoring the individuals’ capacity for endurance, concentration and commitment to effortful practice. Benjamin Bloom, a prominent education psychologist who studied mastery, wrote in 1985 that none of his subjects achieved expertise without a supportive environment and a long and intensive period of training. This education came first from encouraging instructors and later from demanding master teachers. A few years later psychologist K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University conducted studies of experts in piano, violin, chess, bridge or athletics. The investigations revealed that a person’s level of achievement correlated strongly with the amount of practice put in.
These studies, however, have not been able to tease apart hard work and innate ability. The children with the most talent may also be the ones most interested in an activity, who begin to develop their skills at an early age and who work the hardest at it. Committing time and energy to a task likely is easier when advancement comes quickly but not when every step is a painful struggle.
PRECOCIOUS ARTISTS BEGIN TO DRAW REPRESENTATIONALLY BY AGE TWO
AT LEAST ONE YEAR AHEAD OF MOST CHILDREN, WHO DRAW ABSTRACTIONS.
We have tackled this question by examining the earliest signs of artistic talent. Researchers have long assumed that the first inkling of it in humans, and especially in the young child, is the ability to portray the three-dimensional world realistically on a two-dimensional surface. Art historians have been struck by the realism of cave paintings done by our Paleolithic forebears, leading many to assume that this style is the most natural form of art. Although most children’s drawings are schematic, certain youngsters, including some with autism, can draw in a highly naturalistic fashion from a very early age, mirroring those paintings done by our ancestors. We refer to children who show an early ability to draw in this manner as precocious realists, and we now know a great deal about their developmental trajectory.
IN THE NEXT LRFA POST, THE ARTICLE EXPLORES THE SOPHISTICATED PICTORIAL TECHNIQUES ADOPTED BY ARTISTICALLY BRILLIANT CHILDREN.
UNTIL THEN, THANK YOU FOR READING!