Age & Creativity

By William Markiewicz

Hokusai said, "At seventy years I'm starting to learn."

My artist friend said, "By the time he's 40, the artist has already shot his bolt. He spends the rest of his life repeating himself."

For my friend the creative act is first of all psychosomatic. Creativity can evolve, even explode, as long as the primal forces remain intact. A French painter of the 16-17th century, Le Bel, looked at the connection between creativity and the body from another angle, i.e. how creativity affects the body (see "Pondering Evolution" in Vagabond, issue #9). The idea of the organic nature of creativity could have been born in the West because, contrary to what happened in the East, Western creativity in ancient times was more connected to craft than to philosophy. The West made art like Monsieur Dupont made prose, so the field for speculation about cause-effect remained open.

Hokusai's attitude to art remains purely philosophical, which not only excludes conflict between aging and creativity, but accords virtue to time and thus to aging. It's true that Titian was claiming at the age of 90: "give me ten more years and I will learn how to paint" -- but in Titian's case it was not philosophical; Titian was a force of nature, a "sacred monster" who refused to age. Many were like him, which makes aging a dramatic affair for the Western creator.

The Oriental creator looks for a perfection that preexists on some esoteric super-human level. According to this approach, the human, through his own error, has lost connection with Perfection, with "paradise", and the Oriental creator has a sort of a monk-like religious duty to patiently seek the way back, following the masters' rules and formulas. Evolution means then going not forwards, but backwards to the mystical source, to be reunited with the static ideal. The art of youth grows organically, following impulse more than knowledge. No "wisdom" to be sought by the young Western creator. For him, art is an unpredictable mystery; the old Oriental master who "evolves" doesn't expect surprises on his pathway toward perfection.

The Western conception of science is similar to the Western conception of art in that they both reject the concept of 'wisdom.' The scientist looks toward less ambitious, more accessible realisations. He looks backwards for formulas allowing immediate steps forward. The main difference between artist and scientist in the Western culture is that the scientist uses his brain and the artist his impulses.

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