Prodigies and late bloomers

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lmpower
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Prodigies and late bloomers

Post by lmpower » Wed Jan 31, 2007 3:58 pm

This article in the Los Angeles Times touches on a subject of great interest to me. An employee of mine informed me that Handel wrote the Messiah at the age of 16. I corrected her error, but it demonstrates the popular prejudice that geniuses must be prodigies rather than late bloomers. I find late bloomers to be just as interesting in their own way as prodigies, and they give hope to some of us older folks.
Creativity is not the domain of youth; some innovators get there through trial and error.
By David W. Galenson and Joshua Kotin, DAVID W. GALENSON is an economist at the University of Chicago. JOSHUA KOTIN, a doctoral student in English at the University of Chicago, is editor of the Chicago Review.
January 30, 2007

AT 76, CLINT EASTWOOD is making the best films of his career. "Letters from Iwo Jima" has been nominated for four Academy Awards — including best picture and best director. ("Flags of Our Fathers," which Eastwood also directed last year, received two nominations.) New York Times' film critic A.O. Scott recently named him "the greatest living American filmmaker." Such accolades are the latest development in Eastwood's creative ascension. Two years ago, his "Million Dollar Baby" won best picture and best director, a repeat of his success with "Unforgiven" at age 62 — his first Oscar after making movies for more than 20 years.

Sculptor Louise Bourgeois is 95. Later this year, she will be honored with a retrospective at London's Tate Modern museum. Last November, her "Spider," a sculpture she made at the age of 87, sold at auction for more than $4 million, the highest price ever paid for her work and among the highest ever paid for the work of a living sculptor.

Is such creativity in old age rare? Eastwood and Bourgeois often are considered anomalies. Yet such career arcs — gradual improvements culminating in late achievements — account for many of the most important contributions to the arts. That our society does not generally recognize this fact suggests that we're missing a key concept about creativity.

We often presume creativity is the domain of youth, that great artists are young geniuses, brash and brilliant iconoclasts. Arthur Rimbaud, Pablo Picasso, T.S. Eliot, Orson Welles, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jasper Johns all revolutionized their artistic disciplines in their teens or 20s. (Picasso, for example, created the first cubist paintings at 25, and Welles made "Citizen Kane" at 25.) These artists made dramatic, inspired discoveries based on important new ideas, which they often encapsulated in individual masterpieces.

But there's another path to artistic success, one that doesn't rely on sudden flashes of insight but on the trial-and-error accumulation of knowledge that ultimately leads to novel manifestations of wisdom and judgment. This is Eastwood's and Bourgeois' path — and it was the path for a host of other artists: Titian and Rembrandt, Monet and Rodin, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, Mark Twain and Henry James, Robert Frost and Elizabeth Bishop, to name a few. (Twain wrote "Tom Sawyer" at 41 and bettered it with "Huckleberry Finn" at 50; Wright completed Fallingwater at 72 and worked on the Guggenheim Museum until his death at 91.)

Paul Cézanne is the archetype of this kind of experimental innovator. After failing the entrance exam for the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts, he left Paris frustrated by his inability to compete with the precocious young artists who congregated in the city's cafes. He formulated his artistic goal, of bringing solidity to Impressionism, only after the age of 30, then spent more than three decades in seclusion in his home in Aix, painstakingly developing his mature style trying to represent the beauty of his native Provence. Finally, in his 60s, he created the masterpieces that influenced every important artist of the next generation.

Frost also matured slowly. He dropped out of Dartmouth and then Harvard, and in his late 20s moved to a farm in rural New Hampshire. His poetic goal was to capture what he called the "sound of sense," the words and cadence of his neighbors' speech. He published his most famous poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," at 49.

At 63, Frost reflected that although young people have sudden flashes of insight, "it is later in the dark of life that you see forms, constellations. And it is the constellations that are philosophy."

These two creative life cycles stem from differences in both goals and methods. Conceptual innovators aim to express new ideas or particular emotions. Their confidence and certainty allow them to achieve this quickly, often by radically breaking rules of disciplines they have just entered. In contrast, experimental innovators try to describe what they see or hear. Their careers are quests for styles that capture the complexity and richness of the world they live in.

The cost of ignoring Cézanne's example is tremendous — and not only for the arts. Our society prefers the simplicity and clarity of conceptual innovation in scholarship and business as well. Yet the conceptual Bill Gateses of the business world do not make the experimental Warren Buffetts less important. Recognizing important experimental work can be difficult; these contributions don't always come all at once. Experimental innovators often begin inauspiciously, so it's also dangerously easy to parlay judgments about early work into assumptions about entire careers.

But perhaps the most important lesson is for experimental innovators themselves: Don't give up. There's time to do game-changing work after 30. Great innovators bloom in their 30s (Jackson Pollock), 40s (Virginia Woolf), 50s (Fyodor Dostoevsky), 60s (Cézanne), 70s (Eastwood) and 80s (Bourgeois).

Who knows how many potential Cézannes we are currently losing? What if Eastwood had stopped directing at 52, after the critical failure of "Firefox," his 1982 film about a U.S. fighter pilot who steals a Soviet aircraft equipped with thought-controlled weapons?

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Post by Ralph » Wed Jan 31, 2007 4:47 pm

At 63, Frost reflected that although young people have sudden flashes of insight, 'it is later in the dark of life that you see forms, constellations. And it is the constellations that are philosophy.'"

I fully concur. I see constellations everywhere. (I am also 63).
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Post by Stonebraker » Wed Jan 31, 2007 5:37 pm

Ralph wrote:At 63, Frost reflected that although young people have sudden flashes of insight, 'it is later in the dark of life that you see forms, constellations. And it is the constellations that are philosophy.'"

I fully concur. I see constellations everywhere. (I am also 63).
I do not understand the above statement. (I am 20)
Paul Stonebraker - Promoting orchestral music since '06

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Post by Ralph » Wed Jan 31, 2007 5:53 pm

Stonebraker wrote:
Ralph wrote:At 63, Frost reflected that although young people have sudden flashes of insight, 'it is later in the dark of life that you see forms, constellations. And it is the constellations that are philosophy.'"

I fully concur. I see constellations everywhere. (I am also 63).
I do not understand the above statement. (I am 20)
*****

You will in a few decades. :)
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"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

Albert Einstein

Agnes Selby
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Prodigies and late bloomers

Post by Agnes Selby » Wed Jan 31, 2007 6:57 pm

No doubt late bloomers have contributed greatly to our culture but
there are definitely some exceptions.

A late bloomer is unlikely to excel in ballet or as a virtuoso on the piano,
violin or other musical instruments. These two disciplines require
early training and constant practice.

Regards,
Agnes.
---------------------

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Post by Werner » Wed Jan 31, 2007 7:15 pm

True, Agnes, and I don't expect to see any exceptions to that rule, certainly in these disciplines.

The thread does awaken a distant memory of an upstate New York artist who, as nearly as I recall, had no preparation for artistic creativity until she was old enough to justify the name by which she gathered a measure of fame as a painter - Grandma Moses.
Werner Isler

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Post by jbuck919 » Wed Jan 31, 2007 8:11 pm

Ralph wrote:At 63, Frost reflected that although young people have sudden flashes of insight, 'it is later in the dark of life that you see forms, constellations. And it is the constellations that are philosophy.'"

I fully concur. I see constellations everywhere. (I am also 63).
I always knew you spent a lot of time lying on a bench at Grand Central. :)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Post by Niki » Wed Jan 31, 2007 8:48 pm

I think we lost a bit the sense of what genius is.
Clint Eastwood, with all due respect, is not a genius and I'm sure he would laugh if anyone seriously addressed him as such. Neither Louise Bourgeoise is a genius or anything close to it. These are talented, creative people.
DaVinci, Michelangelo, Bruneleschi, Newton, Mozart, Mendelsohn, Einstein, Niels Bohr, Heisenberg, Shakespeare, Proust, ... these are geniuses. You want to add Picasso, Matisse, Monet,...OK.
If someone want to pay $4M for Louise Bourgeoise or $32M for Jasper Johnes... this will not make them geniuses.
There is the tendency today in our society to declare a genius just about anyone that is smarter than your average Joe, specially if he made a couple of good investments.

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Post by piston » Wed Jan 31, 2007 9:08 pm

Broadening the meaning of late bloomers to composers who experienced a highly productive and creative period late in life, I suggest the names of Ralph Vaughan-Williams, Anton Bruckner, Leos Janacek (a real late bloomer!), Gabriel Fauré (virtually deaf, too), Sir Michael Tippett, and ...Havergal Brian. Beethoven and Brahms might be acknowledged as well, even though they were highly productive and creative most of their adult life. By way of contrast, a Sibelius or a Glazunov experienced rather unproductive "senior" years.
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

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Post by jbuck919 » Wed Jan 31, 2007 9:11 pm

Domenico Scarlatti wrote all his sonatas, his only important works, after the age of fifty, some say even later than that. Of course I do not believe that his talent was undecked de novo and without some kind of foundation at that age, but them's the facts.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Geniuses

Post by Agnes Selby » Wed Jan 31, 2007 11:29 pm

Niki wrote:I think we lost a bit the sense of what genius is.
Clint Eastwood, with all due respect, is not a genius and I'm sure he would laugh if anyone seriously addressed him as such. Neither Louise Bourgeoise is a genius or anything close to it. These are talented, creative people.
DaVinci, Michelangelo, Bruneleschi, Newton, Mozart, Mendelsohn, Einstein, Niels Bohr, Heisenberg, Shakespeare, Proust, ... these are geniuses. You want to add Picasso, Matisse, Monet,...OK.
If someone want to pay $4M for Louise Bourgeoise or $32M for Jasper Johnes... this will not make them geniuses.
There is the tendency today in our society to declare a genius just about anyone that is smarter than your average Joe, specially if he made a couple of good investments.
--------------------

Niki, I agree with you on all points but I love your last sentence in particular. How very true.

Regards,
Agnes.
----------------------

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Grandpas and Grandmas

Post by Agnes Selby » Wed Jan 31, 2007 11:39 pm

Werner wrote:True, Agnes, and I don't expect to see any exceptions to that rule, certainly in these disciplines.

The thread does awaken a distant memory of an upstate New York artist who, as nearly as I recall, had no preparation for artistic creativity until she was old enough to justify the name by which she gathered a measure of fame as a painter - Grandma Moses.
-------------

A newer edition of this genre is our friend, Zel. Zel is a well known Sydney cardiologist, retired. His painting hobby is being applauded
and he has become a newly discovered painter. At 85 years old, he has found a new career. No one is more surprised than Zel himself.

Regards,
Agnes.
------------------

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Post by IcedNote » Wed Jan 31, 2007 11:49 pm

Great article...thanks for sharing.

I would comment further, but I see that Niki has pretty much summed things up. :)

-G
Harakiried composer reincarnated as a nonprofit development guy.

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Post by Teresa B » Thu Feb 01, 2007 7:23 am

Hmm, I feel somehow reassured...

:) Teresa
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Post by Werner » Thu Feb 01, 2007 10:35 am

Well, certainly NOT Grandma Teresa - at least not yet. And your Mozart is entirely too yourhful!
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Post by greymouse » Thu Feb 01, 2007 11:17 am

Even the great prodigies don't usually create their masterpieces until they've paid their dues. With Mozart, you can hear a gradual stretching of his own horizons. Pushing himself and improving his technique until the last few years of his life when his work was flawless. So some of it may just be that older artists have had time to improve their technique.

I wouldn't say Eliot was a genius. An important poet and very clever, but not a genius.

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Re: Prodigies and late bloomers

Post by lmpower » Thu Feb 01, 2007 12:16 pm

Agnes Selby wrote:No doubt late bloomers have contributed greatly to our culture but
there are definitely some exceptions.

A late bloomer is unlikely to excel in ballet or as a virtuoso on the piano,
violin or other musical instruments. These two disciplines require
early training and constant practice.

Regards,
Agnes.
---------------------
You are right. A late bloomer is out of luck in acquiring a physical skill. Sibelius was already to old to become a concert violinist at the age of fifteen. It is in works of the spirit that a survivor like Beethoven just keeps getting stronger and stronger. Wagner was rather a late bloomer and he expresses this thought well in the monologue of the elderly Hans Sachs. When you have been through the mill and can still sing a beautiful song you deserve to be called master.

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Post by lmpower » Thu Feb 01, 2007 12:21 pm

greymouse wrote:Even the great prodigies don't usually create their masterpieces until they've paid their dues. With Mozart, you can hear a gradual stretching of his own horizons. Pushing himself and improving his technique until the last few years of his life when his work was flawless. So some of it may just be that older artists have had time to improve their technique.
This is quite true. The truly great prodigies continue to develop like Mozart and Schubert. This is why I have some reservations about Mendelssohn. Someone said he started as a genius and wound up as a talent.

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Post by lmpower » Thu Feb 01, 2007 12:27 pm

Niki wrote:I think we lost a bit the sense of what genius is.
Clint Eastwood, with all due respect, is not a genius and I'm sure he would laugh if anyone seriously addressed him as such. Neither Louise Bourgeoise is a genius or anything close to it. These are talented, creative people.
DaVinci, Michelangelo, Bruneleschi, Newton, Mozart, Mendelsohn, Einstein, Niels Bohr, Heisenberg, Shakespeare, Proust, ... these are geniuses. You want to add Picasso, Matisse, Monet,...OK.
If someone want to pay $4M for Louise Bourgeoise or $32M for Jasper Johnes... this will not make them geniuses.
There is the tendency today in our society to declare a genius just about anyone that is smarter than your average Joe, specially if he made a couple of good investments.
Bravo Niki! This reminds me of George Gershwin telling Oscar Levant the difference between genius and talent. Naturally he inferred that Gershwin was a genius and Levant a mere talent. We are accustomed to exaggeration and hype. It also reminds me of Herman Hesse's lampoon of the misuse of the word tragedy by journalists. Every time a chicken is run over crossing the road the press calls it a tragedy.

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Post by Niki » Thu Feb 01, 2007 9:18 pm

Thanks Agnes , Impower.

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Post by Teresa B » Thu Feb 01, 2007 9:31 pm

Werner wrote:Well, certainly NOT Grandma Teresa - at least not yet. And your Mozart is entirely too yourhful!
As is yours, Werner-- Thanks! 8)
Teresa
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Post by jbuck919 » Thu Feb 01, 2007 9:46 pm

About that woman named Moses:

First, odd name, no? Did you know that the character Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies was actually named Daisy Moses? (She was Jed's mother-in-law.) Then there was my great-grandmother, Lena Lapointe Desmarais (anglicized to Morris) a pure Quebecoise who as a widow took a second husband named Moses, so I actually had a Grandma Moses (though I never knew her).


Ironic, since my parents did not grow up far from, and I do not now live far from, Eagle Bridge in Washington County, NY, where Anna Mary Robertson Moses spent a large part of her life. Ironic also that another chunk was spent with Mr. Moses in the Shenandoah Valley, basically another half of my life. (Washington County, BTW, has unique scenery even for something stuck between the Adironcacks and the Green Mountains of Virginia. It is quite spectacular in its quite way as Eastern US rural agrarian scenery.)

Another irony, many would not perhaps expect. Everything you see in a Grandma Moses painting, though depicted in her accidentally surrealistic primitivist style, is absolutely authentic. It was perfectly possible in the lifetime of my own mother, who grew up on a farm with no electricity or indoor plumbing, to find people in the winter in the same landscape, perhaps somewhat condensed, preparing for a sleigh ride (albeit utilitarian), tending the animals in the winter barn, and skating on a pond.

Now I am as city-slicker spoiled as anyone here, and I have no desire to use bedpans and commodes to avoid frostbite of the nether parts by visiting the outhouse, ride in a sleigh ten miles to get basic provisions and still freeze nearly to death even under buffalo robes (this a story I just got from Mom last week), skate at all (I never learned how to do it), or run the Stony Creek annex of Noah's Ark. But the idyllic aspect of it can't in a certain sense be gainsaid, and even through the Great Depression my mother had a happy childhood. And the artistic representation of such a life, aside from its ineffable inherent qualities as art which even a sophisticated New York dealer instantly noticed, is, well, not really represented anywhere else very well except Grandma Moses.

Several years ago my sister and I saw what was probably the biggest Grandma Moses retrospective of all time at the National Museum for Women in the Arts. I have posted elsewhere how we found the best exhibits by accident when the "main course" was often disappointing. (We also enjoyed the Postal Museum more than the Holocaust Museum on another one of her visits.) This was a drop-dead exhibit that we had to go through twice, and I mean look twice at every painting, because we simply could not believe our eyes. The reason people don't see this stuff up close very often is because it is scattered all over the place and much of it is still in private collections. Last summer we took in the Bennington, VT museum which has the largest standing collection of Grandma Moses in the world, but it was disappointing in comparison.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by Donald Isler » Fri Feb 02, 2007 12:12 am

We have a cousin who lived for many years in Hoosick Falls, New York, near Eagle Bridge. She says you could have bought Grandma Moses paintings very cheaply at the corner store there before she became famous. It's hard to imagine all that someone whose lifespan went from Presidents Buchanan to Kennedy (1860-1961) must have experienced. She certainly wasn't a sentimentalist. I once saw a televised interview with her, made when she was 96. She was asked if she missed her paintings after she sold them. "No" she said. "We can always use the money."
Donald Isler

James

Post by James » Fri Feb 02, 2007 8:02 am

Prodigy = Mozart

Late bloomer = Wagner

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Post by diegobueno » Fri Feb 02, 2007 8:43 am

I don't know how the word "genius" got mixed up in this discussion, but the original article that started this thread only talks about people who are creative at an advanced age, people whose creative works deepen over time, rather than burning out.

For us classical music lovers, this should be a no-brainer. Most of the great composers we revere got better as they grew older.
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