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How’s Your Myelin by Robert Genn

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How's your myelin?

By Robert Genn

During the past ten years we've probably learned more about the workings of the human brain than at any time in history. Neuroscientists have been busy digging around in our heads trying to get a glimpse of creativity, proficiency and talent. Something they were looking at was 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.

Best regards,


PS: "Practice makes myelin, and myelin makes perfect." (Daniel Coyle)

Esoterica: A current myelin hotspot is China. More than 2000 Chinese companies currently compete to make various types of scooters and powered bicycles. While lots of these two-wheelers are junk, it's safe to say the next generation of great scooters will come from China. In the painting game, Chinese workshop-schools, mainly in Shenzhen, teach economically-stressed youth traditional Western methods. Thousands of graduates currently work in the low-cost art-cloning industry. But look out. Quality work tethered to individual ego will be moving the Himalayas. And with the incredible bog of dilettantism through which the West currently slogs, we will soon be studying Chinese myelin.


Robert Genn has given artazine.org permission to add his postings to our website.  To view more of his insight, please visit his website: http://www.painterspost.com

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