Still the Lucky Few Reflections on Life as a Senior
Creativity And Age—Some Startling Truths
Posted on March 27, 2016 by Still the Lucky Few
When I was younger, I delighted in the work of Grandma Moses. Imagine, I marveled, starting painting in your 70s!
Now, I just shrug, so what? She had a busy life. She was a live-in housekeeper, a wife, a mother of five, and a farmer. Although she painted throughout her life, she couldn’t take it seriously until she was in her mid-70s, and able to take time off from earning a living.
But compared to other older people, who suddenly emerge out of nowhere, to thrill and impress us with achievements at an advanced age, she was a youngster.
Here are a few older people who made it to notoriety:
Lorna Page wrote her first novel, A Dangerous Weakness, at age 93
Frank Lloyd Wright completed the design of the Guggenheim Museum in New York at and 92,
Millard Kaufman wrote his first novel, the hit book Bowl of Cherries, at age 90.
Harry Smith wrote his ground breaking book, Harry’s Last Stand, at 91
Giuseppe Verdi wrote Falstaff, perhaps his most acclaimed opera, at the age of 85.
Thomas Hardy published a book of lyric poetry at age 85
Jane Goodall, an environmental activist, travels 300 days a year at 82, bringing her message to the world.
My husband, Bob LeBlanc, writes and produces original Broadway Variety Shows, playing piano non-stop for 90 minutes, at the age of 81.
Fueled by the aging of the baby boomer generation, there has been an explosion of interest in older adults recently—their physical prowess, their well-being, their achievements, their creativity. Research of this demographic reveals that creativity is not the dominion of only the young and physically vigorous. Older adults have access to an increasing store of knowledge gained over a lifetime of learning and experience. This knowledge, researchers are discovering, provides fertile ground for creativity in the aging brain.
It’s not only about life experience
But the story does not end there. Recent studies of the creative process have revealed that some innovators produce their greatest work late in life for reasons that go beyond their accumulated life experience.
In 2010, David Galenson, an economist and researcher at the University of Chicago, made a decision to study a source of technological change that drives economic growth—creative people. He made some startling discoveries about these creative individuals, with dramatic implications for the field of ageism.
” Recent research has shown that all the arts have had important practitioners of two different types—conceptual innovators who make their greatest contributions early in their careers, and experimental innovators who produce their greatest work later in their lives. This contradicts a persistent but mistaken belief that artistic creativity has been dominated by the young. It may be damaging for economic growth to continue to assume that innovations in science are made only by the young.”
Shelley H. Carson, Lecturer at Harvard University, (Department of Psychology) has studied creativity and the aging brain. She concludes:
“These changes in the aging brain may make it ideally suited to accomplish work in a number of creative domains. So instead of promoting retirement at age 65, perhaps we as a society should be promoting transition at age 65: transition into a creative field where our growing resource of individuals with aging brains can preserve their wisdom in culturally-valued works of art, music, or writing.”
Combining bits of knowledge into novel and original ideas is what the creative process is all about. Elders have both: knowledge and the capacity for original thought. Who knows what can happen next? The sky is the limit, it appears.
“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” Betty Friedan