Cara/Andrea here, musing on creativity . . . and, well, the A-word. Ah-ha! (No, it’s not Ah) now that I have your Attention, I shall explain. But first, a bit of backstory. I am excited about an upcoming lecture I’m going to attend in a week on the painter J. M. W. Turner. Mike Leigh, the director of the movie, Mr. Turner, will be discussing the making of the film and the artist, who is credited not only with being one of the great luminaries of the Romantic era, but also with being one of the pioneers of modern art.
Turner has always been a favorite of mine. I love his sense of color and light, and his flair for dramatic composition. But most of all, I love his sense of exploration, his inquisitiveness, his willingness to constantly challenge himself to see things in a new light. And this brings me to the A-word—which is Age. Contrary to the common perception that most people grow more conservative as they grow older, Turner became more radical, more willing to experiment and try new things.
Now that got me to thinking . . . about creativity and aging. In his early work, Turner showed was a consummate draftsman he was—his watercolors resonate with beautifully wrought realism and nuanced attention to detail. He could have been satisfied with the accolades, and had a stellar career showcasing those gifts. Yet as he matured, his work became looser and more focused on capturing emotion rather than merely depicting a scene.
Again, he could have rested on his laurels, for the powerful new paintings made him famous. But as he got older, instead of doing what was familiar and ‘comfortable” he kept pushing himself to keep looking at the world around him with fresh eyes. The quixotic effects of color and light became fascinating to him, and the work he did at the end of his life was focused on capturing their ethereal qualities. His paintings became abstract—and many credit him with inspiring the Impressionists.
So I find his career—and life—inspiring on so many levels. (Yes, I know, it seems he wasn’t a pleasant person, but I’m putting that aside just to look at his art and his creative spirit.) And when I started to think of other artists and writers whose work I admire, I realized that many of them kept growing and experimenting until the very end. Going further afield, I think in music you have the same thing. So while the elderly are typically viewed as people who retreat into a tiny cocoon of familiar habits, conservative in their thinking and afraid to try new things, those “old geezers” who are in the creative arts seem to turn that stereotype on its head— for which, given all the wonderful things I get to enjoy, I am profoundly grateful!
I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that age often brings with it a growing realization that time is finite. When one is young, it seems as if there is infinite time in which to do all the things one wants. Age sharpens the awareness that life isn’t infinite—which perhaps for creative people is an impetus to work even harder to achieve all that one wants to achieve.
I know that I feel a little like the Nowhere Man in the movie Yellow Submarine—Ad hoc, ad loc and quid pro quo! So little time, so much to know! I’d like to get back to painting in watercolors . . . I’d love to learn Latin . . . I’d like to take a wine course . . .
What do you think creativity and age? Do you find yourself more willing to experiment or push your comfort zone as you get older? Or are you happy within the world you’ve created, and take pleasure in what’s familiar? If you could choose one new skill to learn, what would it be?