I was just visiting my father, who is an artist, in Ashland, Oregon. He mentioned that because of some health reasons he had stopped painting. It had been a few months. I asked him if he missed it and he said he did but, at the same time, he reasoned that because you get older your creativity lessens which makes the whole process of creating not longer as satisfying.
He cited various artists whose careers petered out in their later years. I agreed, however, I also thought of that Gerhardt Richter movie showing the 82 year old artist miraculously dragging giant squeegees across enormous paintings. If you have not watched this movie, do so as it is truly inspirational. So clearly there are some exceptions to this idea that creativity wanes later in life.
I goggled the research and learned a little bit about how our brain works, how it seems to build and expand itself mostly when we are learning new things. Young children, for example, are just utterly preoccupied with learning because their world is still brand new. Their brains are madly creating new neural pathways all day long because their curiosity is on fire.
How does a ball point pen work? Can you really grow an avocado from the pit by sticking toothpicks in it and hanging it in a cup of water? Why do flies fly in square formation? Why does it smell like that after an electrical storm? Can a thought actually bend a spoon? How does a bee find its way home again? How can the sky sometimes be that impossibly beautiful blue?
My father thought one of the primary reasons we might lose our creativity was because we had already been there before. In other words, we already have done so many paintings, so many figure drawings, so many doodles in sketchbooks that we already know how it is going to turn out. There is so much behind us that it begins to inform and predict the future outcome. Not entirely of course but just enough to maybe think twice about starting yet another painting when making the previous 3 wasn’t particularly inspiring. We no longer are particularly curious.
And this curiosity part is where I found a foothold in coming up with my own idea about stemming the tide on creativity later in Life. I notice in my own life that I am busy with a capital B and unless I choose something new and exciting to do, it just won’t happen.
However there is a choice. And this is key. We either go somewhere we haven’t, choose something unfamiliar, take a chance when we don’t know how things are going to turn out or we don’t. Having things always work out the way you predicted they would is somewhat reassuring, but it comes at a cost. Predictability has been exchanged for curiosity, surprise, and most importantly, wonder. It seems to me that there will hopefully always be so many things yet to know.
I know I can grow an avocado tree from a seed having grown one that grew faster than I did as a child, and I know a lot about honey bees, but I do not yet know why the sky can be that amazing untouchable, beautiful blue.
It still fills me with curiosity. It makes me wonder. And as a result, thankfully, it gently nudges me back into the studio to start looking for answers.
With appreciation, Nicholas