Sunday, December 22, 2013

Why the Fascination With Creative Peaks?

A recent article in Pacific Standard stated that researchers have long been fascinated with determining when a highly accomplished creative person reaches his or her peak. The article briefly mentioned the creativity of scientists, painters, and composers, referring to two studies. One 2011 study noted that the majority of modern-day physicists make their most innovative discoveries around age 48. Another study found that plenty of artists from the 19th and 20th centuries painted their most significant works when they had lived nearly 62% of their lives, which happened to be as they approached age 42.

But, here’s the thing: there are always exceptions. What happens if you’re a person like Harper Lee who wrote only one novel (I don’t know how old she was when she did), yet its significance is quite obvious. Once more, when it comes to art and books, who has the final word on which piece was the most important?

Experts tell me that one should write at least a million words before publishing a book because it takes years to learn the craft and find one’s voice. Readers complain that someone’s series isn’t as good as it used to be and that the writer should have packed it in six books earlier. Maybe all these points are valid, but maybe there are plenty of artists, composers, scientists, and writers who are steadily getting better at their professions decade after decade. I’m sure many won’t peak until much later in life, or sadly run out of time before they produce their best work.

Artists will work at their craft until they no longer wish to, or no longer can. At the end of the day, whether they peaked early, or as predicted, or much later in life doesn’t really matter to me. And what does one do with the information anyway? Will aspiring artists feel pressured to get to work before they're ready?

While it’s interesting to read articles like this, it’s probably not a good idea to take it to heart, especially if you’re just starting your creative life after long years at a day job. However, if you want to read the studies, you can find links in the article at

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