AI: Who Decides?

I was watching this video clip at work because, well, (full disclosure) I had to. But they bring up an interesting topic on the nature of genius. Video clip below:

Video Clip from this year’s World Science Festival (Sorry for the link, but you can blame wordpress’ war on embedded, non-youtube media for that).

Is there a difference between artistic and scientific geniuses? And why are scientific geniuses so readily accepted as such by their peers while many artists are recognized posthumously? Are artists just tougher on each other? Philip Glass comments in another part of the program that it seems like scientific geniuses tend to create their magnum opus at a very young age and then drop off (hilariously to the chagrin of du Sautoy), while artists slowly build towards a body of work that exemplifies them as such.

What do you think? How is such a subjective term decided? As skeptics, do we share geniuses from the art/science pool, or do you think we have some specifically of our own?

The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.


Maki Naro is an artist, incurable geek, and lover of cooking, public radio, small animals, and Blade Runner. He comprises one half of the Sci-ence Webcomic's dynamic duo.

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  1. I think we’re back to the objective ideal of science and subjective reality of art. Any scientist can examine the revolutionary ideas or solutions of a genius and know that he’s right.

  2. In science the term genius can have objective measures applied to it. You can look at their body of work and determine if it does in fact fit the reality that they were trying to describe. Like most things in art the term is used there more nebulously. Take Mozart for instance, he’s often described as genius but he was not in fact an innovator. His work fit within the established practices of the time and didn’t push those boundaries at all. That boundary expansion is I think crucial to scientific genius. To be fair to Mozart he wrote the same chordal cadence sequences over and over again (V-I) and somehow managed to keep finding interesting, beautiful ways to do so. So maybe the genius term is appropriate.

    With musical performance genius can have a more objective meaning. The term is often applied to performers who wiggle their fingers with the fastest and the most precisely . I’ve always found that sort of thing to be more an athletic thing than an artistic thing but there are those who would disagree.

    Shorter me: in science the term is decided by anyone with the knowledge to exam the body of work of the scientific genius and judge it’s congruence with reality. In art the term is applied by anyone to any artist whose work they find to be exceptional.

    Hmm, skeptical geniuses? Sure, why not? I’d put them in with the objective, scientist crowd. If their arguments are consistent, logical and evidenced based almost all of the time I’d say that’s genius. Such thinking isn’t easy.

    Skeptical artistic geniuses? Off the top of my head Tim Minchen comes to mind. I wonder how one would judge such a thing. Say Tim’s skepticism was spot on 100% of the time but his composition or playing was pretty average, would he still be a skeptical artistic genius? It’s a pretty tall ask to find both exceptional skepticism and exceptional artistic talent in one person.

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