Creativity and Getting Old

Recently, a friend sent me a technical paper entitled, “Optimum Strategies for Creativity and Longevity” by Sing Lin, Ph. D.  Now, I’m always looking for a little light reading, so I dove right into it.  The paper cites Dr. Leo Esaki, a Nobel Laureate, who claimed that:

“…Most of the great discoveries and innovations by the Nobel Laureates occurred at the average age of 32 even though the Nobel prizes were awarded 10 or 20 years afterwards. Furthermore, Dr. Esaki indicated that the peak creativity of most scientists occurred around the age range of 20 to 30 years. As one gets older, the experience increases but the creativity decreases steadily with the age. “

The paper concludes, “The most precious, creative and innovative period in your life is the 10-year period around the age of 32.”  It goes so far as to imply that one should plan for one’s creativity to wane and to be prepared for other roles as you mature in your career.

Of course, this study looked specifically at creativity as it related to engineering and the sciences.  Does this also apply to artists as well?

Maybe to some degree. Certainly for dancers and performing artists whose bodies are their art, the unyielding passage of time robs some of us of aspects of our artistic ability. Also, the somewhat capricious bias toward youth in music eventually limits a great many songwriters and musicians as they age.  Old eyes, old ears, and old legs can hamper many an artist.

But in my experience—and in those of many of my friends—creativity isn’t concomitant to chronological age.  A mixed media artist friend is just now entering into a wonderfully prolific period in her life.  A musician friend is experiencing rebirth and artistic renewal as a book author.  A pysanky artist friend is just now beginning to be discovered for the work she’s been doing over the past decade and a half.  Another friend I know has just begun taking piano lessons.  All of these people are way beyond their twenties.

For years, I’ve wanted to try writing a screenplay.  And just recently, I decided that now was the time.  So I read a few books, researched the topic on the internet, and even studied scripts of movies I’ve seen.  A few days ago, I began my first draft. Now, I don’t have any aspirations to be one of those successful Hollywood film writers. I only have aspirations to learn something new and interesting, and hopefully write something worth writing.  I realized that it would be hard work.  What I didn’t realize is how much fun I would be having.  Honestly, it’s a blast.

So here’s my (non-scientific) theory.  Maybe creativity is no more nor less than the simple willingness to be open to the possibility. And that possibility, whatever it is, can be found at the end of a paintbrush, the other end of a camera lens, at the tip of a ballerina’s shoe, or at the bell end of a saxophone.  There’s a word for this: Wonder.

If this is true—and I have a sneaking suspicion it is—then maybe, just maybe, if we keep our hearts young and learn to embrace the wonder of it all, creativity can happen at any age.

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3 thoughts on “Creativity and Getting Old

  1. Great post, but I sincerely hope this paper is not true! My desire to create has increased with age, as I have delved into my writing with fervor. My creativity…well that is open to debate. What someone else views as creative, another might view as run-of-the-mill, ordinary blabber.

    1. I TOTALLY agree! Creativity CAN and DOES happen at any age. I think it’s a case of having a love of learning which can then translate to creativity on so many different levels!

  2. I have heard this theory of Mr. Lin, PhD from my youth filled sons during their college years. I suppose it depends on what one considers “creativity” is for. My dad was born in 1925, dirt poor. “Artist” certainly wasn’t valued, survival was. But a rooked rug hangs on my wall made by his mom. Something created from “nothing”. Old wool found in thrift stores. Mens suits taken apart. Huge pot of pink dye on the stop top. Pieces taken out at intervals to provide shades for the roses that would emerge as she forced the hook needle down through a canvas sort of fabric and pulled the pink spaghetti up through the space between the threads. No money for paintings, but beauty available out of desire and vision.

    Dyslexic dad “created” pieces of metal that were on every rocket during the early years of the space race. He didn’t consider that art. It was necessity to survive. It wasn’t until he retired at age 65 that he picked up a knife and began pulling birds and giraffes out of a piece of drift wood or cast of piece of lumber. At the time of his stroke he was beginning to be able to capture the character of his old friends carved out of the wood. He never considered himself an “artist”. Whatever that is.

    During my 16 years as parent volunteer in public schools one of the most creative things, that I still covet, was from a class of 7 year olds. An art docent was teaching about Monet. Provided with paint each child “copied” what he or she saw. Grouped together these twenty pieces created this stunning vision.

    I read about an Alzheimer’s sufferer that had a period as painter. As the brain was deteriorating, for a time, painter was revealed. For a brief time and then faded away.

    Does age have anything to do with creativity? I agree with Manuel. Will we follow the tug that urges us to “create”. Does it matters if anyone enjoys it except for us. If anyone calls it creative?

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