Aging and Creativity

Creativity and Maturity

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by Douglas Eby

Age and maturity can bring a new level of passion, ability and insight for creative expression. Although some areas that depend on physical performance, or accumulating and processing vast amounts of information, may become less easy or available, many creative endeavors flourish with increasingly varied life experience and the kind of vitality adult development can nurture.

There are many examples of people making significant creative projects in middle age and beyond. Despite losing a leg (in her early 70s), Sarah Bernhardt continued acting until age 78. Martha Graham danced until age 75. Sidney Sheldon, in his late eighties, still writes best-selling novels. Edward Albee,75, won a Tony award for a new play in 2002. At 97, architect Oscar Niemeyer is developing one of his most ambitious projects.

Many actresses face a loss of opportunity due to ageism, but a number continue to create rich and appreciated characters. Tyne Daly, in her late fifties, has commented about her acting in the TV series "Judging Amy" and elsewhere, and the value of maturity: "I feel less obliged to protect any made-up version of myself. I've kind of moved on from caring very much about other peoples' judgments of me."

Candice Bergen, 59, acclaimed for her acting in the TV series "Boston Legal," has commented that people "sometimes get crazier as they get older" and that she can "just be weird whenever I want."

One of the keys to experiencing maturity in positive ways is in how we think about getting older. The word "aging' often refers to the darker aspects, but aging can also be the natural process of adult development in which we grow fuller and more dynamic.

Faith Ringgold, a painter, sculptor and writer, now in her 70s, thinks her age is a definite advantage: "I am in my mature phase now, at the top of my game. Every day and every way I'm getting better."

Novelist and poet Maxine Hong Kingston once declared, "At mid-age I have an energy I never had before. I am much more effective in the world than when I was young."

Researcher Howard Gruber, co-author with Doris Wallace of the book Creative People at Work, writes that their studies show creative work takes a long time: "It is not a matter of milliseconds, minutes, or even hours -- but of months, years, and decades."

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has studied hundreds of creative people over the course of many decades [books include "Creativity : Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention"], and concludes "these individuals' curiosity and interest is still childlike... an almost childish curiosity is typical of creative adults."

Children also have an ability to create without censoring themselves; their uncritical exuberance is a mindset that we often stifle as adults, in order to produce "meaningful" and "excellent" work.

In his chapter "Becoming an Imperfectionist" in the book "Inspiring Creativity," Edward B. Kurpis notes his six year old niece Gabrielle was a "veritable artwork factory" and each day "happily produced scores of new drawings that pushed the bounds of creativity... She did not really care if you liked her work or not; her personal goal was to create the art and get it out into the world to be seen... Her art, in her own mind, was always perfect, the ideal expression of herself.

"Many would-be artists who strive to create meaningful stories, pictures or music are not always able to approach their creative work with the same sense of fearlessness and abandon," Kurpis notes.

Being creative throughout our mature second halves of life can be nurtured by staying open and curious, seeking ways to reconnect with interests we may have had as children, but abandoned in favor of the mundane necessities of making a living. And modulating our needs to be perfect.

Not that it is always easy, but new interests can be developed and pursued at almost any age. Just because we haven't done something creative before, does not mean when we are older we can't do it, and find great pleasure in the doing.

Sophia Loren has an inspiring perspective on maturity: "There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of the people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will have truly defeated age."

Suggestions for Further Reading

Author:Douglas Eby, M.A., is an interviewer and writer about psychological aspects of creative expression and personal achievement. Douglas Eby may be contacted at

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