Sunday, October 19, 2008

Young or Old Artist Genius?

Yesterday, I read this very interesting article in The New Yorker on geniuses and when genius artists produce their best work. Is it early when they are young and creativity is fresh, or is it later on when the artist has matured?

Do you think that genius comes earlier or later, or do you think it's different for every person and every situation?

This article, "Late Bloomers" written by Malcolm Gladwell, believes that it can come earlier or later. His two main examples were Pablo Picasso, who started creating at twenty years old and his greatest some of his greatest masterpieces were created just then, and Cezanne, who made his greatest works after the age of forty and beyond.

He also focused on two current writers, Ben Fountain who was a lawyer and, who later on in his life, began publishing a lot of popular books, one being Brief Encounters with Che Guevera, and Jonathan Safran Foer, young author of the best-selling book Everything is Illuminated that he wrote when he was nineteen. Genius must be relative.

I think the argument was very interesting to read about, maybe because I'm a younger person who wants to consider herself an artist. I like to dream that I have talent and could someday produce something with meaning to a larger audience. This article is inspiring for younger people (and older people) like me who have dreams and aspirations of becoming a recognized artist but struggle or don't have enough confidence to get there just yet.

This article makes me want to sit down at my computer and pound out a novel, novella, or short story. It's just that passionate and touching.

The article also had some very interesting facts and studies, as other people have tried to research this very question on artist genius, young or old?

Look at the following artists who published early on in life:

-Orson Welles produced Citizen Kane at the age of 25.

-Herman Melville wrote his first book in his late twenties, which culminated to write Moby Dick at the age of 32.

-Mozart wrote his smash symphony Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-Flat Major at 21.

-TS Eliot wrote "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" at 23.

-Picasso created Evocation: The Burial of Casagemas at age 20 and Les Demoiselles d'Avignon at 26.

The University of Chicago came out with a study to try to answer this question. They surfed through poetry anthologies to pick out the top 11 poems. They then determined the ages of the poets when they created the poems to see if there was a pattern. Here is what they found, in order from 1-11:

1. "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" by TS Eliot: 23
2. "Skunk Hour" by Robert Lowell: 41
3. "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost: 48
4. "Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams: 40
5. "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop: 29
6. "The River Merchant's Wife" by Ezra Pound: 30
7. "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath: 30
8. "In a Station of the Metro" by Ezra Pound: 28
9. "Mending Wall" by Robert Frost: 38
10. "The Snow Man" by Wallace Stevens: 42
11. "The Dance" by William Carlos Williams: 59

You can see that it's all over the place. No conclusion was drawn from the study.

Here are some artists that produced later on in life, to support that end of the argument:

-42% of Frost's anthologized poetry were written after the age of 50.

-44% of William Carlos Williams' poetry was written after 50.

-49% of Wallace Stevens' poetry was written after 50.

-Alfred Hitchcock peaked later on, producing such films as Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble with Harry, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Pyscho between his 54th and 61st birthdays.

-Mark Twain published Huckleberry Finn at 49 (after laboring 10 years over writing and re-writing it).

-Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe at 58.

So, now that you've read some facts and considered your own ideas and knowledge, what do you think: Do artists perform better earlier or later on in life, or does it all depend on the artist?

1 comment:

Bourgeois Surrender said...

I once did a similar study on my own with regard to literature and found that the most common age for publishing a masterpiece, or major work, was 41. This seems to be the case particularly with novels. Some examples:
Tolstoy completed War & Peace right at 41.
Joyce published Ulysses at 40.
Dickens finished Bleak House, which many people consider his best book, when he was 41. I like David Copperfield a little better, which he finished at 38.
Shakespeare, who had the most ideal career projectory as well as the best career, wrote his first plays at 27, was regularly producing masterpieces at 35, peaked right around 41 with plays like Hamlet (38), Othello (40), Macbeth (41), Antony & Cleopatra (42) and King Lear (43), and retiring at 47 having evidently accomplished everything he desired to.
Le Cote du Chez Swann was published when Proust was 42.
A lot of film directors with long careers follow this general trajectory too. For some reason Bergman (Seventh Seal & Wild Strawberries, both age 39) and Woody Allen (Annie Hall, age 41) are the only ones who come immediately to mind. I don't know the exact birth years of people like Truffaut, Fellini, Kurasawa and other film auteurs, though they seemed to have a similar career pattern.
For those of us whose careers did not get going in youth there are still Cervantes, who was 58 when Don Quixote came out, and Dostoevsky, whose string of great novels commenced at 45 and culminated with the Brothers Karamazov at 60, to look to; Solzhenitsyn did not publish his 1st book until he was 44. though of course all three of these spent considerable periods of their time in prison, or otherwise would probably have been producing work of some kind all along, though perhaps not of the quality that came later.
The lesson of course is that if one is a true artist one will produce work at some point, and if one is merely defrauding oneself, eventually the circumstance that nothing of any value has been or is being or will be produced will become manifest enough