Polymaths vs Monomaths

Via the Economist. 

Via the Economist. 

We have the privilege of working with incredibly talented, creative people every day. These days, it's rare to find an artist or maker who does just one thing. In fact, they are usually required to do more: artists need to write, run their business, be a dedicated parent and/or spouse, and more. But the driving force behind their creative practice might be incredibly focused on one topic, one mission and one passion. That focus and unique story that bubbles beneath the surface of daily activity is what we love seeking out.

This article, The Last Days of the Polymath from INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Autumn 2009, explores great minds of the past who are considered either polymaths or monomaths. The writer admits his disappointment that polymaths are a dying breed. "Part of my regret at the scarcity of polymaths is sentimental. Polymaths were the product of a particular time, when great learning was a mark of distinction and few people had money and leisure. Their moment has passed, like great houses or the horse-drawn carriage. The world may well be a better place for the specialisation that has come along instead. The pity is that progress has to come at a price. Civilisation has put up fences that people can no longer leap across; a certain type of mind is worth less. The choices modern life imposes are duller, more cramped." 

Polymaths possess something that monomaths do not. Time and again, innovations come from a fresh eye or from another discipline. Most scientists devote their careers to solving the everyday problems in their specialism. Everyone knows what they are and it takes ingenuity and perseverance to crack them. But breakthroughs—the sort of idea that opens up whole sets of new problems—often come from other fields. The work in the early 20th century that showed how nerves work and, later, how DNA is structured originally came from a marriage of physics and biology. Today, Einstein’s old employer, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, is laid out especially so that different disciplines rub shoulders.
— Edward Carr

Though a great number of artists and creatives would be first to say that money and leisure are two things greatly missing from their lives, they are people who must traverse between fields and disciplines to prove their points, to stimulate dialog and honor their creative drive. 

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