Are Only Young People Creative? Quite the Contrary
As so many artists consolidate their work only in maturity, questioning the alleged relationship between youth and creativity seems well in order.
In the history of art, if we take certain characters as milestones for specific eras, it’s not very common to simultaneously think of so simple a biographical detail as age.
This perspective assumes, to some extent, that we pay more attention to an artist’s work rather than to the artist’s life. It also leaves the impression that great creative geniuses are outside of time, outside of its passage. As sometimes happens with our parents, great artists are imagined nearly always at the same age and with those same aspects as the first time we became acquainted with their work or learned of their existence. It’s not easy then to think that Da Vinci, Shakespeare or Cervantes were once as young as anyone. And, as happens so often, their youth is in fact doubted.
Is there an age for mature creativity? Maybe we wouldn’t have asked this before, accustomed as we are to always seeing artists in the same light. But the question isn’t folly, particularly in a time like ours, which seems to bear little patience and to default to the imperium of instantaneity.
A few weeks ago, Sean Braswell, a Senior Writer at the website, Ozy, shared an interesting reflection on the blooming of genius “later in life.” This characterization, not without its own drama, goes against the more or less widespread and accepted idea of our own time that creativity is an exclusive feature of – and an idea inseparable from – youth. It’s as if only the young are able to propose ideas quite out of the ordinary. In industries like information technology or advertising, where creative CEOs and VPs reach their posts at ages like twenty or thirty the impression may seem to be confirmed. But the impression is at best partially true, and uniquely in these types of ambitions.
In the arts, the opposite is far more common. Except in extraordinary cases like those of Rimbaud or Mozart, perhaps the most precocious geniuses of history, it’s been common for artistry to truly start to show in adulthood, and the work is only really brought together at one step away from old age. Robert Frost always wanted to be a poet, even as a teenager. But he published his first book at age 39. And at 63 he intuited:
Young people have insight. They have a flash here and a flash there. It is like stars coming out in the early evening. […] It is later in the dark of life that you see forms, constellations.”
Examples can be multiplied and can be in any artistic discipline. Braswell also relates the case of Cézanne who before becoming one of the most revolutionary painters in history, followed his father into banking. He made this life decision at age 22, and it wasn’t until the age of 56 that he had his first solo exhibition.
Yet there’s something even more interesting and subtle to notice in each of these cases. Age is important, indeed, overall if we want to bet on maturity in these precocious times. But one can’t help but notice that in the cases of both Frost and Cézanne (and in likely many others) is another common quality: perseverance.
It shouldn’t be easy to make the decision to be a painter at 22 years old and then to wait another 30 to receive some incontrovertible recognition. How many in a similar situation would not have given up?
Beyond the patience to which we referred earlier in this text, there may be another lesson to be learned from these late flowering of geniuses. To hold on and to not let go of what you really want is something to which we’re not accustomed in our own time, and this always affects likewise, both the ephemeral and the disposable.
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