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Creativity and maturity

by Douglas Eby

"The most creative force in the world is the menopausal woman with zest."

That comment by anthropologist Margaret Mead affirms that age and maturity can bring a new level of passion, ability and insight to creativity.

"At mid-age I have an energy I never had before," novelist and poet Maxine Hong Kingston once declared (at age 59), adding, "I am much more effective in the world than when I was young."

Many women have continued, even expanded, their creative expression in mid life and later. Toni Morrison received a Pulitzer Prize for "Beloved" at age 57. Despite losing a leg (in her early 70s), Sarah Bernhardt continued acting until age 78. Martha Graham danced until age 75. 

Anni Albers was the first weaver to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, at age 50, and she published two books and took up print-making after age 60. Photographer Berenice Abbott was commissioned by MIT to illustrate physics textbooks at age 60, and also developed new photographic techniques and patented several new cameras. 

Georgia O'Keeffe painted during most of her long life, and has been quoted, "Art is a wicked thing. It is what we are." 

This sense of creativity being intimately part of our identity has been expressed by many other artists as well.

"Creativity is not always something to do with the arts or writing," Isabel Allende has said. "It has to do with the way you carry your life."

A novelist, journalist and playwright, at age 57 she exclaims, "Now, finally, I have a room of my own where I can write. Silence and solitude are important to me. They weren't important before because I was trained as a journalist and could write anywhere. But as I get older, I need more concentration."

Novelist Sue Miller, who chose to do other work and raise her son for about eight years, resumed her writing career at age 34, and has said "I've always felt life is long. That there are second and third acts. I think that I'm a better writer for having stopped for some years, for having given myself over to life in a different way."

Of course, mid-age can be a challenge to realizing one's talents, as well as a catalyst. In a Journal of Humanistic Psychology article on self-actualization, a gifted woman in her mid 30s was profiled. 

"Her exceptional intelligence was not fully recognized or nurtured," the article stated, and she married and dropped out of graduate school. "She described the first 6 years of her marriage as a period of disintegration, in which she felt disconnected from the person she was before- husband was abusive - she came close to suicide...

"'Participating in a church group brought on a reawakening of her inner self,' she says. 'Spirit is no longer a concept but a very tangible mode of being... I am becoming a new creature - more whole than the first structure of me.'"

Professor Faith Ringgold, a painter, sculptor and writer, now in her 70s, thinks her age is a definite advantage: "I am in my mature phase now, at the top of my game. Every day and every way I'm getting better." 

She has advised others to "Expect your creative process to change, your interests to change, your ideas to change because that is as it should be. If you don't change, you go backwards. You can't control how your work develops because you are your work." 

She also thinks "A lot of time should be spent just looking, thinking, reading. You shouldn't be doing all the time."

Psychologist Deirdre V. Lovecky, Ph.D., Director of the Gifted Resource Center of New England, has written "female giftedness could be termed 'knowing/feeling.' Creativity comes from how the characteristics of cognition, empathy and perceptiveness are used in connection... what is produced is part of the woman's life, of the wholeness of her being and her relationships."

That relates to another comment by Ringgold: "I look for creativity in everyone. Inspiration is the height of my day, and people inspire me."

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some resources:

National Museum of Women in the Arts

Women Artists in History 

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