I’m a fan of Stapleton Kearns. I enjoy his blog for the information he shares, but sometimes I just have to answer back, particularly to this post about the difference between art and craft – although probably not for the reasons you imagine.
The discussion about art vs. craft was intended to arouse controversy, something Stape does and does quite well – part of why I like him because he gets people to think, sometimes, and generates a lively conversation. But it was this statement – which has nothing to do with either art or craft – that was slipped in before the main event and snagged my attention:
"I had someone tell me on Facebook that it was too bad I didn't like older painters. I like em fine, and well enough not to jive em about what their chances are of achieving mastery and competing with those who have done nothing else all their lives."
So here’s the pebble in my shoe: It is human nature to interpret the world from our own viewpoint and to then extend our own reality into the lives of others with similar experiences. But this interpretation that it takes an extended length of time (i.e. doing nothing else all your life) to reach mastery is flat out wrong from a research standpoint.
Consider this - in my recent research into creativity and age I came away with these ideas:
- According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, creativity is a function of our cognitive abilities as well as certain personality traits that are strengthened with age, such as the ability to persevere despite setbacks, to be less influenced by conventional wisdom or peer acceptance, and the emergence of a stronger sense of personal calling or purpose. In this post that I wrote in 2008, The Seven Characteristics That Distinguish Older Artists From Their Younger Peers you will find more information on this idea.
- Recent brain science supports the theory that, with the development of efficient neural networks within the mature brain, mature adults have the ability to process information faster, discover unique insights due to both education and life experience, and focus more intently upon mastering a technique or subject, making it possible to condense the standard generalization of 10 years of concerted effort to attain mastery into a shorter period of time.
- According to research by Stephanie Z Dudek and others from the University of Quebec at Montreal, personality and the level of commitment are the most significant determinants for success in the profession of art. In their definition, commitment comes from self-awareness and an intense identification with the work, manifesting as a “difficulty in distinguishing where the self ends and the work begins,” adding, “It is possible to work at a profession for a lifetime and never be committed to it.”
- Early development of artistic skill is often more the result of the artist finding himself in a nurturing and supportive environment, enabling the sustained growth necessary to realize potential; but success as an artist has nothing to do with “when you started,” only that you were able to start at age twelve instead of age fifty. There is no genuine reason why - if you have the commitment, the willingness to put in the concerted, hard effort to learn and master skills necessary, and the ability to resist conventional wisdom - that you cannot achieve some level of success in the profession of art if you want it bad enough.
The only difference is the length of time you will have to enjoy the success before really old age takes a toll, but we are living healthy, productive lives well into our 80’s and 90’s so there’s no reason to conclude that if you start to pursue the profession of art at age fifty you cannot realize a measure of success by the time you are sixty, which allows at least two decades or more of pure enjoyment, artistic commitment and creative success.
Those seem like good enough odds to me.
As an aside, my painting, Chokecherry Farm, won the Cheap Joe's Award for Excellence in the 12th National American Impressionist Society's Exhibition going on right now at Mountainsong Galleries in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Plus, the painting sold. I am both humbled and honored.