Tips from the old masters: How to age successfully

Monet, 1916The latest work of University of Chicago economist David Galenson pushes his explorations beyond the fundamental observation that experimental innovators tend to do their best work later in their careers. (See my “Arts of Innovation” Web site for dozens of examples.)

Galenson is now addressing the question of why some experimental innovators peak in their 40s while others keep going strong to the end of their lives.

“Understanding why some experimental artists remain creative longer than others may … help us to increase the productivity not only of artists, but of innovators in all intellectual activities,” he writes.

In a draft paper, titled “Wisdom and Creativity in Old Age,” he contrasts Renoir and Pissarro, whose best works came before age 50, with Cezanne and Monet, whose gradual experimental approach resulted in the creation of revolutionary works in the final decade of their lives. (Monet’s water lily paintings, for example.)

In a nutshell, Galenson’s finding so far is that Renoir and Pissarro were experimental innovators who failed in later life because they tried to take a conceptual approach, adopting radically new styles and techniques, while Cezanne and Monet were experimental innovators who kept plodding along.

Put another way, Renoir and Pissarro gave in to the temptations of a mid-life crisis, which is a good idea for conceptual innovators but a bad move for experimental innovators.

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