As the years add up, so it seems does the list of things we can no longer do. One by one the abilities we used to take for granted seem to slip away, leaving us wondering what the next thing to go will be. While we may not remember what we did yesterday or be able to climb a flight of stairs without pausing for breath, two things remain as strong as ever: our desire and capacity to create.
This is not a new concept. According to Melissa Castora-Binkley and Elizabeth Handing in an article in Hektoen International, “Both professional and amateur artists alike have created some of their best works in later life. Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Virginia Woolf, and Robert Frost did so when they were arguably past their ‘prime.’”
Many less well-known artists only began their artistic endeavors when they were in their late sixties. William Edmondson, an African American Nashville native was sixty-five years old when he began carving limestone. Just a few years later his work was featured in the first solo African American exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art. Irving Dominick, who became an artist after a lifetime in heating and air conditioning, began creating sculptures out of sheet metal. At the age of sixty-six, Dominick created “Marla,” which is on display at the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C.
“These examples illustrate that one does not need to be a professional, lifetime, or ‘primetime’ artist to produce and inspire creativity,” write Castora-Binkley and Handing. “Moreover, changes in the aging brain may yield themselves naturally to enhanced creativity in later life.”
I love these examples because they hit so close to home. I don’t claim to be in a class with Rembrandt, Woolf, or Edmondson, but I can definitely relate to their passion for their art and their talent for producing their best work late in their lives. I have been an artist all my life and a writer for fifty-five years. I have just completed my most recent book and begun art lessons at the age of eighty-five and feel that I am just getting my second wind.
I think this is important, not only for me but also for my contemporaries who are contemplating the years ahead with concern or curiosity. Spoiler alert: From my vantage point, these years are full of promise. Creativity has many meanings. In general terms, it is a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is formed. The creation may be intangible—an idea, a scientific theory, the solution to a problem, or a musical composition—or tangible—an invention, a printed piece of writing, or some type of art.
Whatever form it takes, for each of us creativity is unique, but more important, for all of us it is absolutely possible.