The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Is creativity valued and rewarded?

Is creativity valued and rewarded in modern society? This might seem like a silly question to ask, when such exemplars of creativity as Einstein, Shakespeare and Da Vinci are held up to universal admiration, but I am led to ask this question for a very clear reason: I don’t believe it is.

It is altogether possible, to live a life being creative in all spheres of that life, but to be utterly unappreciated, unvalued and unrewarded for doing so. There are no automatic rewards for creativity, in modern society, though, indeed, there do appear to be a number of automatic punishments.

A creative person, for instance, will quickly discover that, the moment anything creative is shown to other people, it will be plagiarized. This is so frequent an occurrence that I am willing to propose that it is universal, in modern times: everything that is created, gets stolen – without exception. This has certainly been my experience of creativity. Every unique or interesting art work that I ever created, has been plagiarized, upon being shown to others – every single one of them. The ideas have gone on to being used by and credited to, others, who are nothing but plagiarists. My ideas have, among others, ended up in the works of Marc Quinn, Cornelia Parker/Tilda Swinton, and Peter Blake. You should note that the former was at my College at Cambridge, the middle pair I have met personally and the latter I do not know, in person. My ideas have also appeared in a Nike ad, an ad for the Museum of the Moving Image, a film poster, and the works “of” the far from original Ian Hislop. All of this, without a single shred of credit. By the way, I only make note of those ideas which were so distinctive and unlikely that an accidental replication is remote, indeed – I also emphasize those for which I can trace a line from my work, to the plagiarist, through known contact with it.

I am sure that my experience with being plagiarized is common to many artists, or creative people. I came across a recent article in which FIFTEEN artists complained that Damien Hirst had plagiarized them. Some of them had even known him, in the course of their lives. Isn’t it wonderful how he repaid their friendship? By the way, a set of images by Damien Hirst in the 1990s, that appeared in an American magazine, perhaps Esquire (I cannot recall for sure), are also highly likely to have been derived from the same work of mine that Cornelia Parker/Tilda Swinton, imitated.

Another aspect of this is that creative people often do not receive any financial reward for their ideas or works. Besides the frequent theft of these works, even if not stolen, the work may never produce any financial reward. Certainly that accords with my own experience. As an adult I have been creative in science, literature, art and acting…but I haven’t really seen what you would call a decent financial return on my efforts. Nor has there been enough of any other forms of return, to have made the efforts worth it, other than their intrinsic value of self-expression.

I would like to think that, one day, my life of creative effort will be rewarded, suitably – but I am also aware that that may never be so. Certainly, many of my ideas have been adopted by famous plagiarists, which may deprive me forever of being credited for them. Even if I do receive credit in the end, and am suitably rewarded, thereby, I am not sure that the painfully long wait, to such a day, will be sufficiently compensated for. It is possible that that which must be endured, before any reward, may make any reward seem inadequate.

In theory, the creative life is an ideal one. However, in practice, we live in such an ugly world, with such ugly people in it (see the plagiarists above), that it can be one of the worst ways to choose to live. A creative life is often filled with such injustice, such pain, such suffering, such loss and such disappointment, that any rewards that are ultimately achieved, are far too little compensation. Of course, in many creative lives, there are no rewards at all (see Van Gogh, for instance).

As yet, I do not know if my own life, is going to be one of the creative ones that is ultimately rewarded. Up until now, it has not been particularly beneficial to me. I would have been better off choosing almost any other way of life, than the one I chose, in all material ways, and many other ways, too. I would also have been a lot happier never to have created anything, only to have seen it stolen by opportunistic others, whose names are better known, than my own. It would be worth it, not to have created those works, just so that they would not have been stolen. In that sense, choosing to be UNCREATIVE, might be a happier life choice, if one was aware of the costs of being creative, in the first place.

This world needs to change. It needs to be kinder to creators, and crueler to plagiarists. I do believe, for instance, that plagiarism should be made a crime, punishable by long prison sentences and extremely heavy fines. Were the world to move strongly against plagiarism, creators would find it easier to be appropriately rewarded and appreciated for their creative works. Plagiarists should be so scared of the consequences of plagiarism, that they don’t dare to do it. It would also be very interesting if such a law could be enacted so that it has retrospective force. Many of today’s “brightest names” (see above), would then have to spend long periods – well deserved periods – in prison.

I know, however, that such a world will never be. This modern world does not value creators and positively eulogizes plagiarists (for some of its greatest “stars” are serial plagiarists). The modern world seems not to care whether its favourite of the day, is a plagiarist or a true creator. There seem to be no consequences for plagiarism. So many times, for instance, has Damien Hirst been denounced as a plagiarist, without an idea to call his own – yet his works still sell for millions, or even tens of millions. It is, in short, madness. No-one seems to care for the true creators. Until that changes, it is probably not a good choice of life, to become creative. It is likely that anyone choosing such a life will endure much suffering, much rejection, much disappointment and little reward of any kind. It is likely that such a person will see many of their works stolen and see little monetary return on their creative investments. If a person wishes for success, in the conventional sense, any of the many safer choices, would lead to a life more fulfilled in those respects: be a banker, a financier, a doctor or a lawyer. These choices lead to conventional success in a fairly predictable manner. If, however, you choose to be creative, be prepared to see the world’s true ugliness –and be prepared to fight it.

That being said, it is possible to succeed as a creator. You just have to be more patient, more resilient, more lucky, more tenacious and more insistent than you would have to be in ANY other line of work. A creator who succeeds, is one who has overcome a truly ugly world. Theirs is a kind of unheralded triumph that far surpasses that of any other achievement. Yet, the difficulties they would have had to overcome, are unrecognized by all but those who have led a creative life. That, too, is one of the dooms of the creative person: to be forever misunderstood. The non-creative person has no idea, NO IDEA AT ALL, of what the creative person has to go through, to win through, in life.

So, if you choose to live a creative life, I wish you luck. It won’t be an easy life and you may never reach your goals – but it is a life that is worth it, if you believe in one thing: that to express the self, is the meaning of life. If you choose a creative life, you could, indeed, succeed, in expressing your self, your views and your world – but you may never succeed, in being rewarded for it. I wish you all, therefore, luck in achieving both aims: self-expression and suitable rewards.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 3:13 PM 


Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hmmm...this is a reply to one "Robin P Clarke" whose comment is far too unpleasant to print.

Firstly, Mr. Clarke (though, of course, it might be Dr. Clarke, or any other title too...), I do not have a "bureaucratic job". I do not do any bureaucratic work at all. I have a creative job. All I do is research. That is all. There are no other responsibilities.

Secondly, I shall detail the background to each of the plagiarisms or perhaps as the plagiarists might term them, "influences", one by one, in future posts. They are quite clear instances, in each case and are readily traceable.

Thirdly, you haven't read much of my site have you? There are plenty of references, now and again, to creative achievements.

Fourthly, your venom...and your attempted post is most venomous...rather demonstrates my point about the ugliness of the world, as it bears upon anyone of creative inclination.

Lastly, have you ever considered that you might know and understand less than you think, before you jump to conclusions about someone? Your stance is a sign of a rather impoverished mind and heart.

In time, all who have plagiarized me, will be known for that plagiarism. Perhaps they can join Semmelweis et al. then. You forget that people don't think ahead. They also think in terms of their own power. Those who are well known tend to think of themselves (in some cases) as above the restraints that constrain others. Hence, they find it in themselves to do what others wouldn't, who were more wise.

I have created many things in my life, "Robin P Clarke". Only some of those things have been made known, however.

As for your bizarre view, which shows no understanding of the internet, that people wouldn't dream of copying words from my site, quite a few of my articles have been lifted wholesale, to generate traffic for other sites. In some cases, the lifter has tried to give the impression that they wrote the articles. So, it does happen. You seem rather innocent of the issue, in a quaint sort of way.

By the way, I am well aware of the distinctions between "giftedness" "genius" and "creativity". It is quite possible to exhibit all three at once, you know...they are not mutually exclusive.

Also, that you are not aware of any of my creative achievements, indicates poor research skills on your part. But then, that shouldn't be surprising, should it? (Given the entirely erroneous take of the rest of your comment.)

9:47 AM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

The reference to "Semmelweis" is not my own. Robin P Clarke appears to be trying to make a point by using Semmelweis as an example...though it is not clear whether Semmelweis' life is actually an example of what he is trying to say. In fact, it may be a counter example...

10:20 AM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

By the way, "Robin P Clarke", it is most telling that you do not believe that people would plagiarize creative geniuses. This indicates that you have no experience of the situation and proves that you have never had an idea, yourself, that anyone else thought interesting enough to steal.

It also shows that you have not read my article. Most works of Damien Hirst, for instance, are alleged, by other artists, to have been the product of plagiarism. This suggests, perhaps, that all his works are plagiarized (assuming that other artists have not come forward/have not noticed/have died etc.)

1:10 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hello again, Robin.

Your further comment is also unprintable, since it uses the some of the same kind of language, though in a more moderate way and really has no place on a family blog.

You suggest that I have libeled you by accurately describing your first comment as “venomous” etc. Well, stating the truth is not libel. It is the truth. I think most people would react to and understand your words in the same way that I did. However, if you wish to introduce the idea of libel into the conversation, you might want to look again at your first sentence directed towards me. That is a fairly clear case of libel, as, I think, everyone would agree.

You make an interesting number of assumptions about what a government research job entails. You seem to think it is about bureaucracy. My experience of it was very different. I had almost no bureaucracy to deal with. The only forms I ever filled out were to requisition equipment for experiments. Other than that, I was really free to pursue the projects in hand, in any way that seemed appropriate. It was a creative, open environment that allowed me to invent something useful. I was doing research in Applied Physics, at 17. I am no longer 17, but now I do research into psychology. You are of the view that “most” researchers are not remotely creative. Again, that is not my personal experience of it, though I would agree that there are uncreative researchers out there. In my observations, there are two core types of researcher: the ones who seek to do incremental (or even replicative) work, that adds little to the sum of human knowledge – and those who seek to strike out into new territory, or, perhaps, to find a new way of seeing old territory. The latter type is most definitely creative in how they approach their work and they do add to the sum of human knowledge in a meaningful way. However, it can take time to recognize the value of their contributions, if a field is conservative, as many are.

I am of the latter type and do new work in new ways, for new understandings.

You do appear to have overlooked the value, meaning and purpose of this blog. To my mind, it is important to make a record of this time, in my children’s lives, for many reasons, not least the personal ones of being able to show them, their childhood, when they have grown up. There are also other reasons for making a record which should be clear. Ainan, for instance, is already showing scientific creativity – and there is likely to be lasting interest in a record of his childhood, made at the time, in the distant future, should he maintain his interest in contributing to science. This blog is both a responsible thing to do, and a meaningful thing to do. I am sorry you don’t see that.

I do not mind those who reprint my articles elsewhere, as long as they link back to the original and credit me for writing them. The ones that bother me are those who print the articles and CLAIM AUTHORSHIP OF THEM. That is both irritating and a breach of copyright/moral rights. I also note a trend by students to present my essays as their own work for assignments. However, they often get caught when their teachers google excerpts and find my original version online.

I would agree that highly controversial ideas that are unpopular in their time are unlikely to be stolen, since that would “endanger” the thief, too. However, less controversial ideas, whilst still original, are likely to be stolen, given the opportunity. Damien Hirst’s entire oeuvre is an example of this, I would suggest (that is, he stole it all).

Thank you for clarifying what you meant regarding Semmelweis et al. It wasn’t clear. I had thought you were trying to use their life stories in a different way and it didn’t quite work.

6:51 PM  

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