Friday, October 17, 2008

Hey, Late Bloomers

In the latest New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell argues that you don't have to be a precocious young punk to be a genius. He proposes a model of creativity that takes years and years to develop, years that might look like total failure while the artist slowly works out her thing. Wow, I love this: the idea that slow, hard work and inspired originality are not mutually exclusive. For too long I thought they were; I thought if the work didn't come to me in a big flash it probably wasn't any good, and if I had to pick at ideas to get them right, they were dead. These days, nothing comes easily, and I like thinking that my labors are just part of a longer, more frustrating, but equally rich experience.

Boy, though, that bit about Jonathan Safran Foer -- who tossed off his first novel at 19, having not really read much or thought about writing until then -- was a bit hard to take...

Anyway, read the article. Unless you're a 19 yr old genius, it will make you feel good.


Andrew said...

I sent the following message to Malcolm Gladwell:

A commenter pointed me to your recent New Yorker article, which interested me because, as a statistician, I am very aware at how different abilities develop as we get older. As a child I was a math prodigy, now in middle age I am an applied statistician. A wonderful statistician and teacher, Dick De Veaux, has written that math is like music, statistics is like literature. He asks, "Why are there no six year old novelists?" Statistics, like literature, benefits from some life experience. Dick writes:

"We haven’t evolved to be statisticians. Our students who think statistics is an unnatural subject are right. This isn’t how humans think naturally. But it is how humans think rationally. And it is how scientists think. This is the way we must think if we are to make progress in understanding how the world works and, for that matter, how we ourselves work."

A link to Dick's talk is here. I think you might find it interesting.


No reply yet, unfortunately.

Aos said...

I agree, it gives one hope.

However it also suggested that to make it as an older bloomer required more patronage, connections, lucky breaks. Of course, the older you are, the more likely you will know more people who can open doors.

5 Red Pandas said...

I haven't finished the article yet, but before you even got to the part about Foer, I thought about how much your formal education aids you in your initial attempts at creativity. From what I know about Foer's biography, he had a great formal education. Not that education alone will make you an early success, but it must be an advantage in some way.

I would like to see a study on how much of a correlation there is between formal education and creative success.

As a teacher this interests me, especially after seeing the extreme disparities in our education system. We try to surround kids with books, but we don't necessarily treat books as creative works of art, but rather as texts that, once mastered, will render students proficient enough to meet state standards. The pressure to get kids up to that speed is so great that teachers in schools that serve poor students often forget to treat books as art(myself included, at times). If novels aren't treated like art, and something you aspire to create, rather than a skill to be mastered, then how many great writers are going to come out of that system? I try to nurture students who seem to have that spark of interest in writing, but it's not easy to fit in with all the other demands of the job. And I'm the librarian!

All that aside, what I read of the article was encouraging, but also made me anxious. It reminded me that I'm no longer in my 20s. Gah!

Warren Adler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Warren Adler said...

There are numerous examples of creative artists in their seventies, eighties and even nineties who continue to ply their creative gifts. What they truly offer is a valuable gift of generational relevance and wisdom and as more and more of us morph into these precious years, they offer the possibilities of exquisite late blooming joys for our growing ranks.

Very interesting article and post.