We all have that one friend who seems to be a ‘natural’ at everything. They are insanely smart, talented and creative - nothing is too difficult for them. But then we also have that one friend who may be a lovely person, but doesn’t seem to have even an ounce of creative potential. They are so tone deaf that when they start to sing the neighbour’s dog starts howling. Then of course there are those four year old kids who can play classical music in a way that is guaranteed to give everyone who watches them an inferiority complex. I myself have wondered about the origins of creative geniuses. Are they born or made?
The science behind this is incredibly complex. But before we delve into that, we need to understand the difference between creativity and skill. Artistic skill is not necessarily linked to creativity. For example, a person can be the most talented pianist in the world but be unable to compose music. This means they are incredibly skilled, but not creative. Similarly, a creative person need not be artistic. People who find new ways to do anything – whether it is a new way to manage a project or an interesting way to get work done – are also creative. These same people may not be able to sing or dance, but creativity is defined by thinking differently from other people in a way that is clever and innovative. There are also people who are neither skilled nor particularly creative but can still appreciate art, be it music, dance or anything else. But does all this have anything to do with genes? There are a few theories regarding this:
According to this theory, genetics play a major role in development of a skill set of an individual. This theory applies to behavioral traits as well. To test this theory, fraternal twins were raised for a while in different environments. However, they still showed similar behavioral patterns. The theory states that if your parents are skilled or creative, then there is a good chance that you will be like them.
This theory is very different from the previous one. It acknowledges that genes may have a small role to play in determining a person’s skill set, but, this theory puts environment into precedence. This means that even if a person has a certain innate amount of skill, it is the environment they grow up in which allows for that skill to develop in a way in which it is useful. This means that if you are exposed to music or another kind of art form when you are young, chances are you will develop the skill sets related to your environment. So people who listen to music from a young age will develop a sense of musicality through sheer exposure. Also, without the correct training and environment, the small amount of natural skill that a person may possess will eventually be rendered obsolete, as it will not develop.
This theory is quite interesting. I’m sure you are aware of the fact that if people whose genes have been mutated by radiation have children, then their children will also have that genetic defect. Epigenetics is the study of the effect of the external environment on genes. When applied to creativity and skill, this theory consider the possibility that when a person develops a skill, their genes undergo a change to incorporate that skill, which is then innately transmitted to their children. This means that if your parents are skilled and were raised in an environment which allowed that skill to develop, then there is a chance that their genes changed to incorporate that skill, which will then be passed on to you.
I find this theory quite fascinating - if proved to be true, it would explain a lot of things. For example, why some babies react to music and others don’t is still a mystery. There was this one baby named Mary who I saw on YouTube reacting to her mother singing her a song. Her reaction is one of the reasons I decided to write this blog.
Most babies who have a certain amount of sensitivity to music will smile to happy music or cry to sad music. In fact, my mother told me that I used to start crying as a baby whenever she played “Goldeneye”. Apparently the beginning of the song scared me. But the song that Mary’s mother sings to her doesn’t have a particularly sad melody (for those who understand music, the song is in a major key). The lyrics are a little sad, but Mary was too young to understand them. Then what was it that made her cry? Also, you will notice that she is crying tears of empathy and joy that are far beyond her years. Here, see for yourself:
Although none of these theories are conclusive, it seems apparent that there are multiple factors at play when it comes to creativity and skill. There seems to be an innate element to them, but the correct environment and training seem essential as well. People who appear to be a “natural” at something have probably worked very hard for many years to develop their skills. At the end of the day, I feel that it is safe to say that creative geniuses are not born, they’re made. Natural talent can only take you so far. The rest is all hard work.