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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 23, Issue 5

How to Spot Artistic Brilliance

A “rage to master,” as observed in some precocious young artists, may help define extreme visual creativity

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Arkin Rai, a seven-year-old child living in Singapore, draws dinosaurs with exquisite realism. At age three his dinosaurs were simple and schematic. A year and some months later, however, he created a complex drawing in which dinosaurs were layered one on top of the other, an image that bears an uncanny resemblance to a drawing of horses and a bull by the adult Pablo Picasso.

In Arkin's fanciful scene, the long, graceful neck of an Apatosaurus-like beast obscures the view of other dinosaurs. One of them is a Tyrannosaurus rex, drawn in profile with one leg mostly hidden behind another—an effect called occlusion, which most children discover at age eight or nine. In the ensuing months his drawings became shockingly realistic. He started using fluid contour lines to give figures shape. At age six he was depicting dinosaurs fighting and running, using various advanced methods to convey the distance between objects.

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