prodigies: pilgrimage to simplicity

The prodigies. Children who know too much. The old sixteenth-century proverb says “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” What makes a prodigy? It seems pretty evident that there is a genetic component to the form of genius or exceptional talent found in the prodigy. Whether the gift is generalized as in polymathical or focused, there is usually precedent for talent in the family which mean a generally higher level if intelligence or elite level. What is unknown or or known fragmentarily is whether prodigies are born with superior motor skills, or if these are honed with extensive practice that follows their  interest in a given field.

---Among Caravaggio's early works, this painting, in which the pose of the arm may recall his debt to the kneeling shepherd in a fresco by Peterzano, belongs to the small group which has always been seen as self-portraits. The livid colours of the subject's face, his teasing smile and the mock seriousness of his mythological dignity all reinforce the attempt to undermine the lofty pretensions of Renaissance artistic traditions. Here is no god, just a sickly young man who may be suffering from the after-effects of a hangover.---Read More:

F.W. Westaway:The mind’s undoubted power of detecting identity and difference, co-existence and succession, seems to be original and inborn. Still, the power is exercised only on a contemplation of actual things, from without or from within, and all such primitive judgments are individual. The mind compares two things and proclaims them to agree or disagree. The judgment is immediate, and it is felt to be necessary; it is irresistible and does not admit of doubt; it seems to be independent and to hang upon nothing else, and seems therefore to be primitive. But although the power is innate, this does not mean that the judgments themselves are innate.Read More:

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In the arts, Leonardo and Caravaggio could be called prodigies; exceptional work. However, it appears in their cases that in there early work there is something profound, even noble they are reaching for even though the technical skills may have been fully developed.More interestingly, there is probably a sensorial memory at work that builds slivers of truth in memory into visual forms or a visual language. The integration of the complex and abstact, the illogical and non-linear compressed into a form of “simplicity as the ultimate sophistication” as DaVinci said

…The other Leonardo portrait is the first of the three, and, to my way of thinking, the least attractive of the trio. It was painted in 1474 and is said to depict Ginevra de’ Benci. Of the three, it’s the only one I’ve seen and the only Leonardo in the U.S. It’s the proud possession of the National Gallery of Art in Washington (also probably it’s most valuable possession). In the Mona Lisa, Leonardo seems to have been experimenting with circles and ovals but he at least kept his geometric interests subtle. In his portrait of Ginevra De’ Benci, his fascination with the circle almost literally leaps off the canvas, the roundness of her head and hair perhaps the first thing that strikes you in seeing the work. So help me, the effect is uncomfortably close to a “smiley face” except, unfortunately, she’s not smiling (perhaps with good reason). Her skin is ivory and cold, the face is colorless and bland, the mouth tight and too tiny, the curls in her hair, tight and labored. Added together, I find it stiff and unattractive. Of the three, it is the least successful portrait, though Vasari and a number of other experts disagree with me on this. But, it was an early effort (Leonardo would have been 22 at the time), and it appears that he learned from it. Even of Leonardo, what more could you ask. Read More:

Read More: ---Lady with Ermine, Da Vinci, 1490, Oil on Panel, National Collection of Krakow. An ermine is a stoat in its winter coat. The importance of the animal depends on the time of year its killed. It will make itself fat, in the ugly brown coat of the plentiful summer, and then instead of risking starvation, death for humanities luxury. There is an almost Aesop level of metaphor there. This portrait—the woman, in her blankness„ and her vacant, distant gaze disallows us to place meaning on her. In opposition, the stoat in anthropomorphizing evil settle into the usual narrative of nature “red of tooth and claw”. The story’s a set of immaculate surfaces.--

But, teaching still has a value.Da Vinci and Caravaggio apprenticed to learn their art. In the bygone era of our grandparents, teachers were to a large extent content to regard their pupils as so many pails into which they were satisfied simply  to pour a prescribed ration of intellectual content; raw material into the production process. A Da Vinci or say a Bobby Fischer knew they were not a finished structure; there had to be some perception of organic growth, changing, adjusting, experimenting since their gift was new methods – for old madness- and a deliberate casting aside  of previous approaches that were incomplete or obsolete.

---To about the year 1472 belongs the small picture of the “Annunciation,” now in the Louvre, which after being the subject of much contention among European critics has gradually won its way to general recognition as an early work by Leonardo himself.--- F.W. Westaway:Consider even Einstein's work; what is its main value? that> underlying the diverse phenomena of the natural world, there has been dis- covered a harmony more all-embracing than any ever before dreamed of. I do not know if it may be adequately maintained that harmony is the most essential factor in beauty, but assuredly it is the desire for harmony that animates the modern searcher after the secret of the ordered relations of the universe, just as it animated the Greeks in their star-gazing and their geometry. I find it very hard to distinguish the passion for truth from the quest of beauty. Certainly we need never despair of the beauty-blind boy if he is taught mathematics as it might be taught. Read More: image:

The prodigal life is similar to the European folk tale about a young man embarking on a long journey. After arriving at the destination what he found there was what he had brought with him from home. The pilgrimage of a Poussin to study in Rome or Da Vinci forced on them the disconcerting question as to the inherent purpose and value of a pilgrimage. Their art in a sense, seeks to answer why we seek out pilgrimages: the locus of the answer being we seek out pilgrimages because inner and outer are not two separate realities and that art is an integration of seeming contradictions, an absurdity

has a logic that is not logical. ” If wherever we go, we only find our own selves, then existential loneliness can become unbearable. that is the reason we know, or we intuit, that we can go ‘out’ on a pilgrimage and find an “other”, not just our own selves. if we say ‘thou’ to it, then we stand a chance..” ( Hune at Martin Buber Dialogical )


Pesenti and colleagues have now used functional brain imaging to examine the calculating prodigy Rüdiger Gamm, and to compare his brain activity with that of normal control subjects as they perform mental arithmetical calculations. Gamm is remarkable in that he is able (for example) to calculate 9th powers and 5th roots with great accuracy, and he can find the quotient of 2 primes to 60 decimal places. The authors found that Gamm’s calculation processes recruited a system of brain areas implicated in episodic memory, including right medial frontal and parahippocampal gyri, whereas those of control subjects did not. They suggest that experts develop a way of exploiting the unlimited storage capacity of long-term memory to maintain task relevant information, such as the sequence of steps and intermediate results needed for complex calculation, whereas the rest of us rely on the very limited span of working memory.Read More:

---But Kieron Williamson's attempts are so beautifully rendered that artists ten times his age will be filled with envy. Experts have said that the six-year-old's atmospheric paintings, which began with harbour scenes and expanded to include rural vistas, animal portraits and landmarks, have perspective, shadow and reflections that demonstrate an ability well beyond his years....Art expert Jeremy Green, owner of The Canon Gallery in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, said of Kieron's work: 'It is unusual to see someone of that age painting with such definition and in such a stylistic way. Normally they would be splashing colour all over the place. 'Some of these watercolours have a very rigid structure as if he has been painting in that style for some time. They are very good, there's no doubt about it.' Read more:

Art, for example, is one area where young prodigies are uncommon, and child authors are rarer still. One of the prodigies in Feldman’s study was a boy named Randy, who began writing plays at the age of five. Though he was wise beyond his years, Randy’s dramas still tended to revolve around superheroes, and his language would not be mistaken as the work of an adult. This is in contrast to musical prodigies like the violinist Mi Dori or athletic prodigies like figure skater Tara Lipinski, both of whom were able to compete successfully with adults in their fields at the tender age of thirteen. Feldman proposed that children are most likely to be able to compete at an adult level in fields that are highly structured, with a clear set of established rules. Children seem especially drawn to domains like music or chess, which rely on symbolic representation that relate to each other in fixed patterns. Fields that have more open-ended goals, such as writing or scientific research, often require a depth of experience and abstract thinking that make them difficult for children to master.Read More:

---I agree that although great artists are born with a natural inclination and ability, there are still techniques and skills that cannot be self-taught. This is what is being argued. That, yeah, she's good but "someone must have taught her." But that's the catch. No one did. And that's what gives her that "prodigy" title because they are born with a gift, regardless of if it's the ability to retain loads of information in your memory, play Beethoven by the age of 4 on the piano, or teaching yourself Chemistry at the age of 7. Why is it any less valid for Akiane?---Read More:


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