Genius Thought

If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s recent New Yorker piece on the late-blooming genius, you may think that your own genius is just twenty or so years away from being recognized. Perhaps pandering to the accountants who really wanted to act, Gladwell writes, “Whenever we find a late bloomer, we can’t but wonder how many others like him or her we have thwarted because we prematurely judged their talents.”

Gladwell compares writers and artists like Jonathan Safran Foer and Pablo Picasso to Ben Fountain and Paul Cezanne. His point is that sometimes genius comes early, and sometimes it takes time to develop. Fair enough, but he makes it seem as if prodigies like JSF and Picasso never had to struggle for their art.

JSF and Picasso may have had instant acclaim and will be/were more prolific than their Gladwell assigned foils. But their youthful genius doesn’t preclude them from the frustrations of “late-blooming” ones. As the Picasso postcard my mom sent me from Spain reads, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

Talent—whether late blooming or precocious—is useless without hard work. Cezanne and Fountain, for all their later success, were always painting and writing, even if onlookers thought they were fools. And prodigies must work too. No one’s going to create for you.