Friday, January 14, 2011



Cezanne: The Plodder
     Like the flowers of the metaphor, there are many varieties of late bloomers. While most people think of late bloomers simply as late starters, many actually have been working away at their art for decades. Some just are late-to-be recognized. The world needed time to discover them. Or rediscover them. In some cases, of course, it was the artists themselves who needed time -- to get good. It's the latter kind of late bloomer  that Malcolm Gladwell describes in a 2008 New Yorker article on Late Bloomers (one of the magazine's most emailed pieces in its history). Inspired by a study by economist David Galenson entitled "Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity," which compares the incandescent rise of Picasso with the slogging career of Cezanne, Gladwell contrasts the writing life and habits of Ben Fountain, who achieved success late in life, with the much younger Jonathan Safran Foer whose rise to fame was meteoric.

      I like to think of Cezanne and Ben Fountain as Plodders (and I mean that in the kindest of way). They are among the five varieties of late bloomers I've discovered:
     Some late starters have had a lifelong desire to be a writer, painter or musician, but have been sidetracked by family duties, work obligations and/or fear of failure. Late in life, these classic late bloomers are finally able to realize their dreams.
     EXAMPLE: Working as a nurse and raising children (including the future writer Ann Patchett), Jeanne Ray couldn't indulge in what she called her "little joy time" activity. When the kids were raised though, she completed her first novel, Julie and Romeo, about two aging lovers. She was 60.
     Not everyone dreams of creative pursuits, but some crusading late bloomers are drawn to launch creative careers to champion a cause or to share a lifetime of expertise.
     EXAMPLES: Helen Prejean was 54 when she wrote "Dead Man Walking," a book that inspired an Oscar-winning movie (and a national debate) on capital punishment. Dr. Ruth was 55 when she wrote "Dr. Ruth's Guide to Good Sex" and launched her sex advice radio program.

      Some writers, painters and musicians start working early on their art but they are plodders. They need time to get it right, only achieving their best late in life.
     EXAMPLE: Karl Marlantes took three decades and many rewrites to finally finish Matterhorn, his novel based on his experience as a Marine on combat tour during the Vietnam War. "Over the years, the book got better," he says. He finally published it, to critical acclaim, in 2010. He was 65.
     Some creative people who have been working at a high level of achievement for decades have had to wait a long time for the world to recognize their genius.
Susan Boyle's debut album.
     EXAMPLES: Susan Boyle, who had been singing all her life, was unemployed and never kissed when she appeared at age 48 on Britain's Got Talent and was turned into an international singing sensation. According to Guinness World Records, she is the oldest person to reach number one with a debut album in the UK. After decades of work, Carmen Herrera sold her first painting at age 89. Now at 95, she is one of the world's most collectible living artists (see post below).
     Some people achieve success early in life and then fade from view only to reappear stronger than ever.
     EXAMPLES: Comedian Betty White in her late eighties staged a heralded "comeback" in the field she never left. Oscar-winning actor Anthony Hopkins has been excelling in a completely different creative pursuit: In his seventies, he is touring as a concert pianist.

1 comment:

  1. I'm headed for my 31st birthday on 12/26 and I feel a rebirth coming on. I even made a plan to make 20 million dollars by 35 just for sh**s and giggles -- go figure :)

    Stop by why don't ya?