The theme of The Atlantic's annual Ideas issue this year (July/August 2014) is creativity, under the banner "How Genius Happens." In this, one of our largest issues of the year, writers explore the secrets of extraordinarily creative brains; debunk the myth of the lone genius in favor of the creative duo; and reveal the surprising origin stories behind everything from Google Glass and a Beyoncé music video to The Sun Also Rises and Taco Bell's Doritos Locos Taco. The issue features three commissioned covers, each depicting a different aspect of creativity, and illustrated by the incredible talents of Shepard Fairey—who renders the Beatles' John Lennon and Paul McCartney—Geoff McFetridge, and Eddie Opara. The issue is now available online.
The July/August double issue is released during the 10th annual Aspen Ideas Festival, a partnership between The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute spotlighting today's leading thinkers across a series of interviews, panels, and presentations in Aspen, Colorado. The Atlantic will continue its annual multimedia dispatch from the festival, covering sessions and related news in an Ideas Report, available now. More than a dozen Atlantic editors are speaking or moderating conversations during this year's event. Live streams of select sessions are available at TheAtlantic.com/Live and www.aspenideas.org/live. Follow the conversation via @AspenIdeas, @TheAtlantic, and @Atlantic_LIVE, and with #AspenIdeas. For more, visit http://www.aspenideas.org/.
Cover Story: Secrets of the Creative Brain
If high IQ does not indicate creative genius, then where does the trait come from, and why is it so often accompanied by mental illness? The latest research by the neuroscientist and literary scholar Nancy C. Andreasen comes closer to answering this question than has any other work to date. Over decades at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Andreasen has worked with many gifted subjects, including Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, and John Cheever, from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her career has focused on the neuroscience of mental illness and, in recent decades, on what she calls "the science of genius, trying to discern what combination of elements tend to produce particularly creative brains." Andreasen is now halfway through a second creativity study, working with artists and scientists including George Lucas, the mathematician William Thurston, the novelist Jane Smiley, and six Nobel laureates. As she relates, her findings reveal much about how these brilliant minds work. Read more.
Cover Story: The Power of Two
Though we fetishize the lone genius, many great achievements hinge on creative partnerships—as the unforgettable case of John Lennon and Paul McCartney makes clear. In an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Joshua Wolf Shenk uses the famed Lennon-McCartney songwriting team to debunk this myth. Tense and competitive? Fiery and sometimes dysfunctional? Sure. But it was this tension, this periodic unpleasantness, that produced some of the most tremendous music of all time. Read more.
Cover Story: The Creative Process
"How do you make a computer that people will want to wear on their face?" / "Linklater wanted the movie to 'unfold like a memory,' in a series of small, almost banal moments." / "In one early attempt, they reportedly used a paint gun from Home Depot to blast plain tortilla shells with cheesy dust."
Google Glass. Boyhood, the film-festival favorite directed by Richard Linklater, shot over 12 years using the same actors. The Doritos Locos Taco. All have origin stories. To understand the creative process, our editors—led by Associate Editor Sarah Yager—asked people in diverse fields about the inspiration for and evolution of their work. The collection also examines the "illustrated documentaries" of the artist Wendy MacNaughton; the making of the music video for Beyoncé's single "Flawless," as described by her creative director; and Singapore's fusion of art, ecology, and engineering to create "supertrees." Read more.
- After Karzai: Some 12 years after taking office, Afghanistan's outgoing president, Hamid Karzai, will leave his successor a legacy of genuine progress—but little power to maintain it. Mujib Mashal, writing from Kabul, details what, aside from survival, has motivated Karzai, and what has constrained him. Mashal interviews Karzai about leadership and legacy, and describes a man relaxed and confident of a smooth transition of power, while seething with anger at American officials for what he describes as their betrayal. The West, Karzai tells Mashal, "wanted me weak, and in conflict with the rest of the leadership of the country." Western leaders, he says, "wanted an isolated president, a president they could use." Read more.
- Why Are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?: "Bambi's mother, shot. Nemo's mother, eaten by a barracuda. Lilo's mother, killed in a car crash ... Human baby's mother in Ice Age, chased by a saber-toothed tiger over a waterfall." The dead-mother plot is a classic of children's fiction, but contributor Sarah Boxer ponders the new twist in animated movies: the fun father has taken mom's place. Animated fathers have it all! They are the perfect parent, a lovely catch, a "protector and playmate, comforter and buddy, mother and father." Boxer explains why this trend persists, and asks whether it matters. Read more.