Grandma Moses was an old lady from rural New York who enjoyed doing delicate needle work all her life until arthritis got her hands. This must have been devastating, but she took up painting at 76 years old and went on to become an international art sensation. Everybody who takes up painting at 76 isn’t going to turn into an international art sensation, but Grandma’s Moses’s story illustrates an important fact, which is that Creativity gets sharper with age.
There’s scientific reasons for this which I learned about on Krista Tibbet’s wonderful Podcast, On Being. This episode, called “Creativity and the Everyday Brain”, features Rex Jung (Young), who is a PhD neuropsychologist.
This is fascinating stuff, I hope you’ll listen to the whole thing. But in a nutshell, here’s what Rex says: First of all creativity is different from intelligence. The intelligent brain is loaded for bear, it’s got a thick, firm cortex, many nimble neurons and it’s maxed out on bio chemicals. Everything is set up to work in a fast, precise, efficient manner. Rex Jung says that intelligence is the super highway of the brain designed to go quickly from a to b. An example of the intelligent brain’s thinking would be: One (of anything in the world) plus One (more of that thing) equals Two. Doesn’t matter if the two things are battle ships or dill pickles, as long as they’re the same. This is brilliant stuff, a universal mathematical truth the likes of which allow us to build sky scrapers, travel to outer space and cure dread diseases.
However, like most of the other firm, nimble parts of us, intelligence peaks in youth, which is why Einstein spent his last 56 years noodling over little details of the big ideas he’d had in his 20’s.
Creativity, on the other hand, is a whole different animal. It comes from a capacity of our brain that is looser, thinner and not so hopped up on neural chemicals. Creativity gets off the intelligence super highway, takes detours onto country blacktops, turns down lanes and dirt roads, where it discovers seemingly unrelated things and pulls them together in ways that make not logical sense, but another kind of often bigger sense: For instance: One (subdued and moody landscape) plus One (thoughtful, upper-class housewife, possibly on the verge of smiling), equals The Mona Lisa.
I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say I have noticed an increase in my brain’s ability to be undisciplined, to hang loose, to wander free as a browsing deer among various seemingly unrelated thoughts and memories.
That’s the place of creativity.
And that is why I, who could never paint a lick before, found painting almost easy when I first joined my artist friend, Juliann Johnson’s, class in botanical watercolors at 66 years old. That is why I still get hours of pleasure and relaxation from painting. And why people actually like my paintings and are happy to get them as gifts.
And that is why Grandma Moses became an international art sensation at 76 years old. Doesn’t she look happy:
…Try it. You’ll like it…
Krista Tippet’s interview with Rex Jung on the brain science of creativity is available at her website, On Being. It is all about neuroscience, but quite understandable and really fun to listen to. Click here to listen:
Originally posted 2015-09-20 16:40:09.