Rudimentary Creativity and the Nature of Intelligence

On Twitter, the author Tom Chatfield shares some charming photographs of the menu for his son’s new ‘restaurant’…

I just love the way that children misspell words. I think that the particular mistakes they make are actually very hard for adults to fake.

This is also true of children’s drawings. We very often see faux naïve pictures in popular culture and design, and they’re always scruffy in the wrong way. Precisely how, I cannot articulate: if I could, those drawings wouldn’t have the ‘irreproducable’ quality I am trying to describe.

And yet I think we know it when we see it. Perhaps CAPTCHA and Turing tests should incorporate something of this. I suspect (and this theory is falsifiable) that humans would be better than machines at identifying which stick-man drawing was created by an actual child, and which was an adult’s approximation.

Now I think of it, this phenomenon is not just present in kids drawings, but in other creative endeavours. There is a je ne sais quois difference between actual historic newsreel, and pretend versions you see in fiction. By this, I don’t mean that digital filters aren’t good enough: rather, rudimentary choices of shot, framing and editing are hard for people who have sophisticated training in those skills.

And we all think that we can tell the difference between a genuine comment made by a child, and one that has been made up by an adult and posted to Twitter in the hope of retweets.

All this reveals something about the nature of creativity and human intelligence. Perhaps it is revealed not in the sublime, the perfect, the culmination of the learning process… but in how we learn, and how we fail.

Update

The artist Austin Kleon shares this quote from Saul Steinberg:

… what you respond to in any work of art is the artist’s struggle against his or her limitations.

When children write or draw, they’re working to their limits.

2 Replies to “Rudimentary Creativity and the Nature of Intelligence”

  1. On children’s language errors, the mistakes they make are often systematic and indicative of (or caused by) certain aspects of how language (and spelling) is learned. Someone who knows about this subject would be able to reproduce it accurately. Check out Steven Pinker on this.

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