Advice for Creativity Later in Life

Lessons from art history on why it’s never too late

Christopher P Jones
6 min readApr 22, 2022

Image by Edu Lauton from Unsplash

As a culture, we cherish the new.

We like the gleaming promise offered by fresh talent and untarnished creativity.

In art, this tendency is compounded by the centuries-old stereotype of great artists having a predestined pathway. As far back as the Greeks, stories have been told of the child prodigy whose talent was recognised in juvenescence.

Unfortunately, these cultural caricatures have the effect of persuading some people that, when it comes to creativity, they may have missed the boat.

But this is nonsense. As many artists in the history of art illustrate — creative success can happen at any age…

Artists Who Claimed Success Later in Life

It’s worth recalling that Edward Hopper didn’t sell his first artwork until he was aged 31. The painting, Sailing (1911), was displayed at the seminal Armory Show in 1913. This seemed to fit with the fact that Hopper’s pictures came on gradually. In a recorded interview in 1961, he described, “a long process of gestation in the mind and arising emotion.” He would choose his subjects carefully, then in preparation for the painting, make numerous small sketches, some dealing with the picture as a whole and others focusing on inner details. “That’s how it comes about… eventually,” he said.

Hopper’s painting career was slow and faltering in the beginning. Through his 20s and 30s, he exhibited his work in group exhibitions at smaller venues across his home city of New York, occasionally selling individual pieces, but always having to rely on his day job as an illustrator to pay his bills. “Illustration really didn’t interest me,” he later said. “I was forced into it by an effort to make some money, that’s all.”

Yet, bit by bit he gained recognition. In 1923, the Brooklyn Museum purchased one of his watercolour works, The Mansard Roof, for its permanent collection for the sum of $100. A year later, aged 42, Hopper held his first solo exhibition and sold all of the watercolour paintings on display. Shortly after, resolving to become an artist, he gave up his illustration job and devoted himself to painting full-time…