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Author Topic: Its all about the small details  (Read 18721 times)
hjulenissen
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« Reply #140 on: February 23, 2012, 09:48:17 AM »
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...in a discussion that started with advice on how to become a good photographer, not how to go back in time and be born a genius and child prodigy, it is misleading to judge the path to excellence by looking at the extreme outliers like Nobel prize winners: the vast majority of very good science is done only after a very long education, with not only a doctorate but some years of post-doctoral training beyond that.
I think that you are misinterpreting me. I am not suggesting that people go back in time and being re-born as a genius. I suggest that genes and young foolishness are significant contributors to doing ground-breaking work, and that a model that puts a lot of emphasis on 10.000 hours of training might conceal this. People may be offended or inspired by such a correlation, that does not change its correctness (if it is even right).

I am guessing that photography (to a larger degree than maths) benefits from "originality", "freshness", etc. If true, this would make it possible for a guy to "come from nowhere", get a camera, start making striking images, being discovered, having commercial success. Perhaps also artistic success, although that is a lot harder to measure objectively. I am certain that this happens from time to time with musicians.

-h
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jjj
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« Reply #141 on: February 23, 2012, 10:09:44 AM »
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I am guessing that photography (to a larger degree than maths) benefits from "originality", "freshness", etc. If true, this would make it possible for a guy to "come from nowhere", get a camera, start making striking images, being discovered, having commercial success. Perhaps also artistic success, although that is a lot harder to measure objectively. I am certain that this happens from time to time with musicians.
More like most of the time it is the fresh faced newbies who do new and original things in music.
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Ray
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« Reply #142 on: February 23, 2012, 10:28:58 AM »
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@jjj,

The root of our disagreement is in definitions. You're using a common definition of 'talent' which is not used in these books we're discussing. You're using 'talent' like most people use 'theory,' where theory=guess, or general idea, which is correct in popular usage, but not in scientific usage.

No, I'm not confusing my word usage, you or your precious authors are.
Talent and theory as words are not exactly comparable. One has a common meaning and a scientific meaning and the other simply has a common meaning.


I think this gets to the crux of the matter. So many disputes such as this arise as a result of different 'assumed' definitions of key words; in this case, talent.

The word 'talent' was used in Old English as talente, from the Latin talentum meaning unit of weight or money.

The word is now bandied around to refer to anyone who is particularly successful in any field, whether it be rock music, fashion designing, car racing or business acumen.

However, I wonder if those who argue that talent is not just an aquired state of skill above the ordinary, but something one is either born with or without, realise how arrogant their stance is.

Such a stance implies that they know exactly what talent is and its origins. It also implies that they can always recognise talent when they see it. Bear in mind that Van Gogh would have faded into oblivion had not the wife of his brother vigorously promoted his paintings after his death.

I also wonder if such people realise how negative they are being in asserting that 'talent' is something you either have or have not. Pompous, arrogant and negative, I would describe such people. Consider the many cases of people in history, who have later been recognised as having great talent, but who were informed early on by various authorities and contempories that they had no talent and should give up their pursuits.

One might wonder just how many people in history, of great 'talent', simply gave up because teachers and authorities, such as many posters in this thread, argued that talent was not something that could be acquired.

However, if one transcribes the generally understood meaning of talent to a more scientific phrase along the lines of 'inherited trait that may, by accident, be beneficial to an individual's survival or success', then one cannot deny that such traits exist. They are the basis of the Theory of Evolution.

As I understand, the process of Evolution relies upon both randon mutation of genes and the genetic variation resulting from different combinations of the male and female genes during procreation in life forms that have two sexes.

Is that 'talent'?  When an individual in a hot climate near the equator receives a survival advantage because he's born with a slightly darker skin than his fellows, as a result of what one might describe as an accidental mutation; is that 'talent'?

If that's your definition of talent, then you are right. Talent is something you are born with or without.

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BJL
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« Reply #143 on: February 23, 2012, 10:30:53 AM »
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I suggest that genes and young foolishness are significant contributors to doing ground-breaking work ...
No dispute from me or almost anyone else.
... and that a model that puts a lot of emphasis on 10.000 hours of training might conceal this.
And I was pointing out that your urban legend about mathematical greatness hides the decades of preparation, well over 10,000 hours I would estimate, that was needed even by a child prodigy like Terry Tao to reach his greatest accomplishments. Ditto for Picasso, by the way: his first great works came after well over a decade of training and work. So I see not the slightest refutation of the idea that many, many hours of preparations are _also_ important.

And surely, when giving advice, it makes sense to emphasize the part that people _can_ do something about! One frustration that I have as a teacher of mathematics, is this myth (far more common is the USA than in most Asian countries) that mathematical ability is an innate dichotomy, "you either have it or you don't", so often used by both students and parents as an excuse for not even trying.
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hjulenissen
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« Reply #144 on: February 23, 2012, 10:41:17 AM »
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So I see not the slightest refutation of the idea that many, many hours of preparations are _also_ important.
Sure. On average, training, genes, motivation all seems to play a significant part.

For any individual, it seems that one or two factors can occasionally dominate the outcome. It _is_ probably possible to make a "successful" piece of art with no training, but basing your choice of education and future on such an event to happen is probably very unwise. It _is_ possible that a few documents from a bored patent engineer will rock the world of physics, but chances are that they won't.

My experience as a student (not as a teacher) is that some get a reasonable understanding of maths with moderate effort, while others don't really grasp maths even though they seem to put considerable effort into it. Some are good teachers without ever taking ped classes, others have 5 years of university education in pedagogics but should never have been allowed to be a teacher. Some bands struggle for 20 years without ever having success, while others are "discovered" at their first ever concert at age 17. Life can be fair or unfair, but it is up to you to make the best out of what you got and enjoy the ride.

-h
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theguywitha645d
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« Reply #145 on: February 23, 2012, 10:50:26 AM »
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And surely, when giving advice, it makes sense to emphasize the part that people _can_ do something about! One frustration that I have as a teacher of mathematics, is this myth (far more common is the USA than in most Asian countries) that mathematical ability is an innate dichotomy, "you either have it or you don't", so often used by both students and parents as an excuse for not even trying.

And I wonder if that comes from the Western myth of the genius--the artist that is just brilliant. In Asia, or Japan with which I am more familiar, there is the idea of studying the form from a master and that skill can be handed down. Once the skill is mastered, then the artist has the potential to push the art beyond that. Spontaneous artistic expression, like we have in the West, is not really recognized in the traditional arts. This is not to say the Japanese model of traditional arts is not flawed, but it is a difference. Where the West stresses the ego, the East rejects it.

While we cannot teach an artist to be innovative, we can teach methods and techniques to be competent in a medium--just like math. Creativity does not have to be unique, it can also simply mean applying known conditions to create solutions.
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Ray
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« Reply #146 on: February 23, 2012, 11:35:46 AM »
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The point regarding apparent differences in martial arts talents, that some posters have mentioned, seems a bit specious to me.

Whilst it may be obvious that two newbies to the sport may exhibit vastly different talents, it may well be he case that the person who seems a 'natural'  has previously engaged in activities that require similar skills.

A young child who has already had experience in opening windows, and who then successfully opens a door for the first time, may seem to be innately talented in door-opening. However, opening windows is very similar to opening doors, so one should not assume that such ease in opening doors is an indication of a special inherited talent.
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theguywitha645d
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« Reply #147 on: February 23, 2012, 11:48:30 AM »
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Whilst it may be obvious that two newbies to the sport may exhibit vastly different talents, it may well be he case that the person who seems a 'natural'  has previously engaged in activities that require similar skills.


But is the "natural" talent the martial art or physical dexterity? I would think that a martial artist would also be good at dancing. Can a painter and photographer share the same talent of an intuitive understanding of spatial qualities? I would imagine that talent would be useful to both. It would also be useful in architecture. It think the specific discipline is irrelevant, but the attribute that allows proficiency in a discipline is more important.
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Isaac
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« Reply #148 on: February 23, 2012, 12:06:21 PM »
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Come back Mark Dubovoy all is forgiven!

The generalities and special pleading (and unsourced factoids that won't check out) in the comments over the past day are no better than the reasoning in Mark Dubovoy's essay - and at least he managed to talk about photography! ;-)
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Rob C
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« Reply #149 on: February 23, 2012, 12:12:06 PM »
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.And I was pointing out that your urban legend about mathematical greatness hides the decades of preparation, well over 10,000 hours I would estimate, that was needed even by a child prodigy like Terry Tao to reach his greatest accomplishments. And surely, when giving advice, it makes sense to emphasize the part that people _can_ do something about!

One frustration that I have as a teacher of mathematics, is this myth (far more common is the USA than in most Asian countries) that mathematical ability is an innate dichotomy, "you either have it or you don't", so often used by both students and parents as an excuse for not even trying.



And here we go again: regarding talented kids, I spent some early school years in India, and one event that amazed me to the extent that I remember it still, was as follows.

Our maths master brought into the classroom a man, and a boy of around twelve years of age. The maths master wrote up a long list of multi-digit numbers on the blackboard in the form of a typical addition sum. This boy looked at the list, and without benefit of paper or pencil, almost instantly wrote down the total. He was correct, on every different such set of numbers he was given to face. So how would you classify that ‘skill’ if not as some sort of inborn talent? Devil-worship?

My wife, who coached me through a maths exam during an engineering apprenticeship I had undertaken, could add up a shopping list more rapidly and accurately in her head than I could with a pocket calculator. Her Dad was the same. In school, she sailed through maths and advanced maths where I managed to go down thrice and only come up twice. In English, she was faultless regarding grammar but feared writing essays; I never gave grammar a thought and loved essays as a route to higher marks than the majority of the kids in the class. Again, where the benefit of those friggin’ 5000 hours: all of us brats had to put in the same time, few of us came out of it with similar abilities or desires or even levels of achievement.

Ray commented that there was a sense of superiority associated with the belief in talent. I don’t accept that as necessarily being the case. I see the belief in talent as a straightforward example of one’s experiences in life. Indeed, I have known several people who just ‘had’ it in their discipline; why should that be considered negatively? I would also add that that talent didn’t mean that they were especially intelligent or great in all the other aspects of their lives…

Rob C
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Isaac
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« Reply #150 on: February 23, 2012, 12:20:49 PM »
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I could hardly talk for 30 seconds on an Ansel Adams picture, but can wax boringly on for hours (to myself, I don't subject others to it) about Manuel Alvarez Bravo, or Andre Kertesz, or Robert Adams.
What's the role of context in your appreciation of a Robert Adams' pictures?
What's the role of Ansel Adams' "...clouds of Michelangelo. Muscular with gods and sungold" in your appreciation of a Robert Adams' pictures?
What's the role of Ansel Adams' American West in your appreciation of a Robert Adams' pictures?
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BJL
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« Reply #151 on: February 23, 2012, 12:28:20 PM »
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So how would you classify that ‘skill’ if not as some sort of inborn talent? Devil-worship?
I would characterize it an inborn talent: is your question addressed to someone else who is denying the significance of inborn differences completely, or is it not clear from my comments that I acknowledge both variations in innate potential and the need for much time and effort to turn that talent into the ability to do something of great value? As stated in the subject line of my post and your reply, for example? Because that ability to do arithmetic in one's head alone is not enough to win you the Nobel Prize, or Fields Medal, or even get you a low-level academic job.
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BJL
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« Reply #152 on: February 23, 2012, 12:35:58 PM »
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And I wonder if that comes from the Western myth of the genius--the artist that is just brilliant. In Asia, or Japan with which I am more familiar, there is the idea of studying the form from a master and that skill can be handed down.
Maybe in part, but I suspect not entirely: surveys indicate that with many educational accomplishments, American parents do in general give significant credit to the importance of hard work (in the spirit of the power of positive thinking, protestant work ethic, "every child can grow up to be president" and such), but some areas like mathematics are far more likely to get the "you have to be born with it" attitude. So this "mathematical fatalism" seems somewhat common even in parents who vigorously encourage their children to work hard from an early age in other endeavors like music or sports.
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Rob C
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« Reply #153 on: February 23, 2012, 02:43:05 PM »
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A.   I would characterize it an inborn talent: is your question addressed to someone else who is denying the significance of inborn differences completely, or is it not clear from my comments that I acknowledge both variations in innate potential and the need for much time and effort to turn that talent into the ability to do something of great value? As stated in the subject line of my post and your reply, for example?

B.   Because that ability to do arithmetic in one's head alone is not enough to win you the Nobel Prize, or Fields Medal, or even get you a low-level academic job.



Okay, let's take the points in the order as I've separated them:

A.  I'm glad we both agree about the existence of 'inborn talent'; your post was quoted because it included the points I wanted to respond to in the simplest way.

B.  'Doing arithmetic in one's head' is a very offhand way of describing what that small Indian boy could achieve in the twinkling of an eye! I couldn't have done that, then or now, with any amount of time allowed. Further, your reference to winning awards has little to do with talent per se; talent does not need to be turned into some form of gain to exist; it's sufficient unto itself - it just is.

Rob C
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Dave Millier
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« Reply #154 on: February 23, 2012, 03:23:06 PM »
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Ultimately, the limits of any living thing is genetically determined, that is trivially obvious: blue whales are very bad at sipping nectar from orchids irrespective of the amount of practice they may put it.  Somethings simply benefit from certain design parameters, some things from other design parameters. This is so obvious it barely needs discussion. It's also rather irrelevant and uninteresting to this thread. And those like Rob who are pursuing the idea it's all about "talent" are just espousing bar room prejudice.

Excellence at certain skills (like photography) where both the skill and the recognition of excellence are often arbitrary, fashionable or disputed is very different from simple measures like height, eye colour etc that are generally distributed as a bell curve with the majority clustering around the mean and an increasingly smaller percentage at the extremes.  The idea that best photos are only produced by the greatest talents is ridiculous. Photographic skill isn't measurable in a simple sense. First of all, there's no fixed undisputed way of judging the "best" photographs, it's a matter of personal taste. Fashion, cultural traditions and any number of other things make declaring something the "best" to be meaningless.

Even if it were somehow possible to agree a universal ranking for photographs, how ever could we decide the reason why a particular photographer produced the "best" work? It's easy to declare your favourite photographer "a talent" but what does that mean (beyond you happen to like their work)? Production of a photograph isn't something that depends on a simple measure like how tall you are or how fast you can run, it is a complex amalgam of multiple factors, some related to the photographer, some to the means at their disposal for making photographs and some more to do with the audience than the photographer. 

Even if we stick to just the photographer's contributions, how can we possibly decide which of the many factors a photographer contributes to the process are the cause of the greatness? Is there work the result of insights gained from suffering childhood trauma, or insights gained from long hours in the darkroom? Or maybe they had a friend whose style they liked and copied, worked on and developed and then brought to the wider attention of the world through the influence of a good agent? How can we tell, we always have incomplete knowledge about the mix of circumstances, politics, fashion, friends in high places, practice, talents and dumb luck that all play a part.

It is probably true that there have been untrained artists who produced splendid work at the first attempt because they have some instinctive visual flair; it is also true that great work comes as the end result of a lot of personal development and learning first. Many endeavours are mostly craft with a dash of inspiration, most aren't things that just spring fully formed from the ether (even if John Denver claimed he didn't compose songs, they just arrived fully formed!). Successful artists, like physicists, musicians, mathematicians and any other trade are often falsely stereotyped as 'genius' as if that were all that were required to explain success. In truth, no two people become successful in exactly the same way by exactly the same route and as the result of exactly the same abilities - and indeed lots of people are not recognised at all until change in the vagaries of fashion propels their previously ignored or overlooked work into the limelight.

Yes, genes set the absolute limits but they are very rarely the significant limits and anyone who claims that lack of talent is holding back their photography would do well to examine rather a lot of other factors before falling back to that one... 







And here we go again: regarding talented kids, I spent some early school years in India, and one event that amazed me to the extent that I remember it still, was as follows.

Our maths master brought into the classroom a man, and a boy of around twelve years of age. The maths master wrote up a long list of multi-digit numbers on the blackboard in the form of a typical addition sum. This boy looked at the list, and without benefit of paper or pencil, almost instantly wrote down the total. He was correct, on every different such set of numbers he was given to face. So how would you classify that ‘skill’ if not as some sort of inborn talent? Devil-worship?

My wife, who coached me through a maths exam during an engineering apprenticeship I had undertaken, could add up a shopping list more rapidly and accurately in her head than I could with a pocket calculator. Her Dad was the same. In school, she sailed through maths and advanced maths where I managed to go down thrice and only come up twice. In English, she was faultless regarding grammar but feared writing essays; I never gave grammar a thought and loved essays as a route to higher marks than the majority of the kids in the class. Again, where the benefit of those friggin’ 5000 hours: all of us brats had to put in the same time, few of us came out of it with similar abilities or desires or even levels of achievement.

Ray commented that there was a sense of superiority associated with the belief in talent. I don’t accept that as necessarily being the case. I see the belief in talent as a straightforward example of one’s experiences in life. Indeed, I have known several people who just ‘had’ it in their discipline; why should that be considered negatively? I would also add that that talent didn’t mean that they were especially intelligent or great in all the other aspects of their lives…

Rob C

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BJL
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« Reply #155 on: February 23, 2012, 03:38:06 PM »
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'Doing arithmetic in one's head' is a very offhand way of describing what that small Indian boy could achieve in the twinkling of an eye!
And could he already discover wonderful new mathematical results? I severely doubt it. My point is simply that early manifestations of inborn talent like that, while somewhat common in areas like mathematics and music, totally fail to justify all the skepticism in this thread about the need for many hours and years of preparation before achieving valuable results, because in virtually every case I know of, the inborn talent alone is far from enough: it is a seed.
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Further, your reference to winning awards has little to do with talent per se; talent does not need to be turned into some form of gain to exist; it's sufficient unto itself - it just is.
My reference to winning awards was just a figure of speech, picking up on someone else's comment about Nobel prizes: it was a reference to accomplishments, not "talent", which I prefer to use in the original biblical sense of inborn assets.  If it helps, translate "prizes" as "discover wonderful new mathematical results" or "produce a body of memorable artists works" or such.


P. S. Since the word "talent" arose from a biblical parable, and the talent there was a gift of money, not itself an accomplishment, the source might be worth citing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_talents
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Dave Millier
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« Reply #156 on: February 23, 2012, 03:42:30 PM »
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I have a paper somewhere by a mathematics teacher on teaching children who have difficulty with mathematics. It is a very interesting read.

It contains a number of ideas that I imagine would surprise many people: for example that the potential to learn mathematics to the level of a bachelor's degree is within the capabilities of the majority of children (because although such achievement sounds impressive to lay people, the level of mathematics involved is achievable by graft alone). Another is that although there is a wide range of mathematical ability amongst children at an early age, often it is the case that those who find it easiest at say age 7 might go on to be the ones that struggle at say age 13. Why is that you might think? The author does not claim that there is no instinct in mathematical success; quite the opposite, true mathematical invention requires insight.  He says an awful lot of basic maths depends on process, not inspiration. And that children who have a natural early knack tend not to knuckle down and graft their way through learning the rules and techniques by rote, instead relying on their intuition. They are often encouraged to do this at the beginning because it's a good party trick. But later in their education, when the problems get harder, they cannot do it by intuition any longer. Because they have skipped learning the step by step, skill layered upon skill drill, they can flounder and drop away completely.

Most lay people don't know really know what is involved in attaining mastery of many disciplines and are too easily impressed by displays of competence in fields outside their experience. This ignorance leads to myths such as the idea that "it's all natural talent".

Maybe in part, but I suspect not entirely: surveys indicate that with many educational accomplishments, American parents do in general give significant credit to the importance of hard work (in the spirit of the power of positive thinking, protestant work ethic, "every child can grow up to be president" and such), but some areas like mathematics are far more likely to get the "you have to be born with it" attitude. So this "mathematical fatalism" seems somewhat common even in parents who vigorously encourage their children to work hard from an early age in other endeavors like music or sports.
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« Reply #157 on: February 23, 2012, 03:54:58 PM »
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@Isaac

You want an essay? Smiley

Context of course is important in all discourse, and photography is no exception.

My appreciation of Robert Adams is only minimally informed by Ansel Adams' work; although I have spent a little time with many of AA's books and images, they don't hold my interest. I have borrowed many from the library but have never purchased any to own and return to many times. I don't "get" them, and I don't see them in RA very much except as a reaction. I see far more of Edward Weston and Dorothea Lange in his images, and I see parallels to other non-American photographers too, photographers of the African landscape for example. That is the personal context I bring to RA's work. And of course I see RA everywhere you look in today's famous photographers in art, landscape, documentary and even fashion photography.

If you tell me that I might have a fuller appreciation of RA's work if I studied AA more, and it's time I cured my ignorance -then well, that I suppose is a reason to look again at AA, but not for the work itself which I don't really find terribly interesting in its own right. Maybe as I continue to read and study I will be able to appreciate AA in the same way as others do. That would be just fine by me. And I'm sure that if I do then I will be able to sit and think and talk about the things that interest me about the images.

But this is a digression, and the point I was originally trying to make was the correlation between that characteristic of studied practice which Gladwell describes as being able to maintain a running dialogue or commentary on the thought processes involved when analysing a game of chess or a musical performance and comparing that to MR's notion of being able to articulate what your own pictures are about and the importance the process this plays in his tutorials.

This is why I so dislike the forum habit of selective quoting of parts of posts; the bits that are often stripped out for comment often miss the overall thrust of what the original poster was trying to say.
 


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Rob C
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« Reply #158 on: February 23, 2012, 04:11:06 PM »
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... because in virtually every case I know of, the inborn talent alone is far from enough: it is a seed.



And there, I think, you've come full circle to my point of view though you might not accept that, even though we both seem to agree that talent exists. I call it talent, you call it seed, but without it the ground remains stony. Much human ground is pretty well littered with friggin' great rocks! You can't develop what isn't there, no matter how many precious hours you devote to the exercise. But, you certainly can develop any number of mediocre abilities to the top level of their natural mediocrity.

But I need air; that's all on this particular circular (yet another one!) topic from me. Over and oot!

Rob C
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Isaac
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« Reply #159 on: February 23, 2012, 07:21:36 PM »
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I don't "get" them, and I don't see them in RA very much except as a reaction.
Yes - as a reaction - as reaction to a landscape tradition reaching back more than a century, as a rejection of that traditions relevance in the face of suburban sprawl, as lost landscapes that can no longer be shown.

This is why I so dislike the forum habit of selective quoting of parts of posts; the bits that are often stripped out for comment often miss the overall thrust of what the original poster was trying to say.
Conversation as usual - people pick up the thread that they feel they can say something about and are then tugged back to the points others wish to discuss, and around we go until everything has been said clearly ;-)
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