Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Once someone has great talent, we assume that they must have great taste

I was listening to KDFC, classical radio at 102.1, on my way back from the gym today when I heard that the next song they were to play was composed by "Beethoven's favorite contemporary musician." I think it was they said his name was Cherubini or something. Anyway, when I heard that he was one of Beethoven's favorites, I perked up. I don't know much about classical music, but I do know that Beethoven was really nice, and if he thought this Cherubini cat was all right, then I should probably listen up. Right?

The more I thought about it (and the more I thought the piece was boring), the more I realized that this we go through this sort of thought process all of the time. If somebody excels in their field, then we assume that they must be apt at deciphering who else is talented in their field. For the most part, I think that we are correct in reserving talent analysis to those that have had success in their field. Certainly a soccer pro would be better at determining talent among a high school team than one of the parents. But I think that it is not always the case, and I have come up with two reasons to support my opposition:

a) If somebody is really skillful, it is possible that they will be focused too much on the details while everybody else cares more about the bigger picture. For example, a director or two might really appreciate a movie because there are some great angle and lighting shots, but the rest of the audience might think the movie sucks because there is little plot and no excitement (ahem, Rear Window, ahem). In this case a an experts opinion is clouded by his obsession for minutia, which is essential when working at the highest levels, but not always necessary for functioning in the more intermediate.

b) Experts in some fields may be more likely to support up-and-comers in which they see bits of themselves over the up-and-comer with the most overall talent. To continue with the soccer analogy, if a pro is known for his prowess in the air, he may overrate a young player with a penchant for heading, or even a player who excels at crossing the ball into the box, because that was his niche. In doing so, he may underrate the midfielder with good ball control or the striker with exceptional speed.

There you have it, simultaneously a theory about Beethoven's ability as a movie critic and concrete proof that Classical music promotes the creative thought process.