Creativity and Age

I think there is this weird idea floating around that creativity is a young person’s game, particularly certain genres of creativity (photography and music for sure). That somehow you are at your peak creatively in your twenties and thirties, and then it’s downhill from then on. I think that’s insane.

Some of us can find the courage for creativity when we are young, and for others it takes years or decades to turn onto this path. Some find creativity but not their voice when they are young, and age brings a settling into themselves and an ability to reveal something unique.

For me as a photographer,  I could certainly say that I had a good eye when I was young, that came quite naturally. But it took me many years to find my voice and my style. And longer still to find a place for that in the world.

I would like to say with certainty that the ability to be creative increases as we become older and wiser. It should, given the experiences we build up, but it’s not automatic.

Age can actually bring about the reverse effect, and make us more fearful and less creative. More aware of the passing of time, more aware of what we haven’t achieved (that we thought we should have), more aware of the things we do badly.

“No, that is the great fallacy: the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.” Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Venice at Dawn, © Anthony Epes

I think sometimes it takes effort and focus not to grow ‘too careful’. To remind ourselves that at any point we can create new ideas, new skills, new ways of living and creating.

Age is never something to hold us back. If you don’t do it now, then when? When you are younger? We are all able to bring something new to this world, that will create bursts of recognition and connection with someone else.

Let age bring us the ability to be free instead.

“Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty.

Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths.

We all derive from the same source. there is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.” Henry Miller

It just takes courage, even if that courage comes and goes, as it does with most of us. I suppose it’s a little bit like a wave that you ride.

There are many great artists and writers who came to their practise later in life, and still had stunning success. And we can use that to spur us on. But recognition from others shouldn’t be the driver. That’s not the true gift of creativity.

Louise Bourgeois made her greatest work after the age of 80. When she was 84, and an interviewer asked whether she could have made one of her recent works earlier in her career, she replied, “Absolutely not.” When he asked why, she explained, “I was not sophisticated enough.”‘- from The Huffinton Post. 

Venice at Dawn, © Anthony Epes

Creativity doesn’t have to have any purpose. It doesn’t have to go anywhere. Of course, if you want it to there is so much to do – the opportunities available to us artists are, I believe,  the 21st century’s best gift. (I will write more about that another day)

Creativity is a release from all that ties us to a life that’s lived in habit. It’s a reminder to pay attention to what matters most.

It’s like bursts of interestingness, jolting us awake and out of our ‘to-do list’ and our crazy minds that push us into the future instead of allowing us to live in the present.

And it’s not just about giving yourself something to do when you retire or as a replacement for your job, it’s about weaving into your life a sense of exploration, a way to enhance your life every day. It doesn’t matter what age you come to it (15, 45, 85) because at each point in life you have something to reveal, something to explore.

Venice doorVenice at Dawn, © Anthony Epes, 2015

Creativity is a way to discover who you are underneath of all of the layers that you’ve built up in the noise and distraction of your everyday life.

Creativity is about finding a freedom within your life that is unrelated to achievement or productivity. It’s your mind being released from daily patterns to wander over the vast plains and mystery of life, in way that is completely unique to you. It is about enriching your life, bringing you a deep sense of joy.

But it’s not a freedom whose path comes in a blissful and easy way; it’s not a straightforward process. It can feel uncomfortable, painful even. It can confront you with what you’re hopeless at or ill at ease with.

It can involve vast swathes of boredom, and it certainly isn’t always a joyful thing for me. But it has added a deep, rich layer to my life that makes it feel more fulfilling. It’s the place I go to often to work things out.

“What’s thrilling to me about what’s called technique, I hate to call it that because it sounds like something up your sleeve, but what moves me about it is that it comes from some mysterious deep place. I mean it can have something to do with the paper and the developer and all that stuff, but it comes mostly from some very deep choices that somebody has made, that take a long time, and keep haunting them.” Diane Arbus

Waiting for the boat
Venice at Dawn, © Anthony Epes

Your creativity is waiting to be revealed right now, and that’s what I want you to remind you of.

“…Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.” Anne Lamott

In my younger years I was really caught up with the prestige of commercial photography – getting cool, flashy clients – until I realised that I wasn’t a flashy commercial photographer.

My personality just isn’t suited to that hustling vibe. I like going off and wandering around on my own. I am drawn to my own little adventures and making my own projects, that’s how my creativity works best and that’s how I’ve created my life around.

Venice statueVenice at Dawn, © Anthony Epes

With age we can release the addictive powers of expectation (if we chose to). You can unmoor yourself from the ferocity of expectation. You can free yourself from how you perceive your life should be, and instead find what is fascinating in what your life actually is.

It takes bravery to step out of the manner in which most of us live and try to look at things in a different way. To look at the morning sunshine and ponder it. To be reminded of the fleeting nature of life and to still look, search, explore and do what makes you truly excited and truly happy. Being creative takes bravery, for sure, but the rewards are beyond measure. It’s never too late.

Couple of interesting other things, age related:

  • This amazing photo project on older people who’ve taken up things like ballet when they were 80 and now at 94 dance professionally is really cool.

  • I like this theory that your creativity actually starts to decline from the age of five because you don’t get to use your creative skills so much when you start school: “The scary coda to this story is that by the age of twelve, our creative output has declined to about 2% of our potential, and it generally stays there for the rest of our lives.” So if that’s true then we should be at the same creative level at 20 that we are at at 95! Awesome!
  • Photographer André Kertész found recognition late in life, but I love that he continued throughout his life to work at what he truly believed in, what interested him and thrilled him. He stayed true to the craft and I love his work, his was amazing a composition.

I would love to hear about what you think. Are you getting more creative? Please let me comment here, or send me an email – I read and love to read them all!

And thanks to Diana, for her extensive help and writing on this week’s blog.

Happy Photographing!