Robert Genn does it again!

I’m a huge fan of Robert Genn. What other visual artist provides such a wealth of provocative ideas in his twice weekly letters and still has time to paint. Here’s an excerpt from his latest:

How’s your myelin?

Long neglected by scientists, myelin is a whitish mass that surrounds our nerve fibres. Now it seems that myelin is a sort of electrician’s tape that insulates our wiring. The more myelin the better. As our brain fires off instructions to parts of our body, these myelin coatings have the effect of changing “dial up” to “broadband.”

You can’t build myelin by taking pills, nor can you inherit it from your parents. Myelin builds through active and repetitious use of your brain. Scientists are now calling this “deep learning.” No room for the lackadaisical here, proficiency happens when you’re intense. Whether learning to play soccer, blow a clarinet or paint a picture, you need hard repetition, long hours, student mentality, and strong desire. While this may seem old hat, the relationship to measurable myelin is new.

The value of myelin is well discussed in The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. He fingers a number of historical periods when deep learning took place. Florence from 1440 to 1490 is one of them. Verrocchio, Donatello, Ghiberti, Ghirlandaio, Michelangelo and da Vinci swapped ideas and technologies as well as competed with one another. Craft guilds arose and excellence prevailed.

Talent occurs when folks don’t fear failure and there’s a premium on getting good.

Myelin works in all human pursuits. In soccer, for example, Coyle looks at the remarkably high percentage of world-class soccer players generated by Brazil. With 40% of the country in poverty, soccer is seen as an avenue of economic escape. But the main credit for Brazilian soccer excellence goes to “futsal,” a similar game played in indoor courts with a small, heavy ball. Kids learn sophisticated, clever little moves not available to those out on the big grass of other nations. Reverse spins, back-shooting and ultra-short passing are ingrained through energetic, competitive hours spent in neighborhood pick-ups.

Looking for little moves that count? Make small paintings, make lots of ’em, make ’em often, and you’ll be in the winning circle when you come to make the big ones.”

Robert’s always worth a visit and you can find him here. He’s on Facebook too.