An inspiration for late bloomers — that’s one way of thinking about 76-year-old Clint Eastwood, who is currently in the running for best-picture and best-director Oscars.
Economist David Galenson and co-author Joshua Kotin portray Eastwood that way in a recent piece in the L.A. Times, but that’s not all they do.
“Is such creativity in old age rare?” they ask — and give the answer: “No.”
Experimental innovators who make “gradual improvements culminating in late achievements,” they write, “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.”
Among the late-blooming experimental innovators that they cite:
Titian, Rembrandt, Monet, Rodin, Cezanne, Jackson Pollock, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, sculptor Louise Bourgeois, Mark Twain, Henry James, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, Virginia Woolf, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Warren Buffett.
For example, “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.” Further: “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.
They don’t dismiss the early-blooming conceptual innovators:
Arthur Rimbaud, Pablo Picasso, T.S. Eliot, Orson Welles, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jasper Johns — who “all revolutionized their artistic disciplines in their teens or 20s — plus Bill Gates. “Picasso, for example, created the first cubist paintings at 25, and Welles made ‘Citizen Kane’ at 25.)” But those are the young geniuses that get the most attention.
“Our society prefers the simplicity and clarity of conceptual innovation. … 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.”
Their greatest message is for potential late bloomers: “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 (Cezanne), 70s (Eastwood) and 80s (Bourgeois).”