Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Finders and Seekers

This was in The New Yorker a few weeks ago, and I keep returning to the ideas in it.

The distinction between "Late Bloomers" and "Prodigies," is interesting, but I was more intrigued by the deeper divide between conceptual thinkers and experimental thinkers.
Prodigies like Picasso, Galenson argues, rarely engage in that kind of open-ended exploration. They tend to be “conceptual,” Galenson says, in the sense that they start with a clear idea of where they want to go, and then they execute it. “I can hardly understand the importance given to the word ‘research,’ ” Picasso once said in an interview with the artist Marius de Zayas. “In my opinion, to search means nothing in painting. To find is the thing.” He continued, “The several manners I have used in my art must not be considered as an evolution or as steps toward an unknown ideal of painting. . . . I have never made trials or experiments.”

But late bloomers, Galenson says, tend to work the other way around. Their approach is experimental. “Their goals are imprecise, so their procedure is tentative and incremental,”
The idea that we can blossom as we age is a story we tell ourselves so that we won't feel the blunt defeat of growing older. It's a youth culture, and the prodigies always win. But I imagine, that in the distinction between the conceptual and the experimental, one definition will make perfect sense to the reader, and the other will seem sort of blurry, depending on their own style.

For instance, I've discovered that even at work I'm much more experimental than conceptual, while most people in my field seem to be the opposite. In the work world, your goal is to execute plans and find solutions, whereas I'm more interested in rethinking how things are done and reworking projects in an iterative fashion to see what comes of it. Curious.